I have been thinking about Al Franken's final victory over Norm Coleman, so I watched the Ken Burns documentary film about Congress. It's a great overview of the history of that particular branch of government and the building(s) it has occupied, and the colorful characters that have festooned its halls and chambers:
Davy Crockett sat here. So did Joseph Pulitzer and Horace Greely. William Randolph Hearst and Emily Dickinson’s father. Isadore Strauss, the founder of Macy’s, and a man who pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.
Over ten thousand men and women have served here. Farmers and housewives. Rhodes scholars and ex-slaves. Astronauts and priests. Basketball stars and convicted felons. School teachers and playwrights. And lawyers. Always lawyers.
[…] One member has gone insane in office. One has taken maternity leave and several have served jail terms for bribery. Members have fought on the floor with fists, fire tongs, shot each other on dueling grounds, and been shot at from the galleries. 23 from Congress have become president.
We can now add to that motley list of professions and personalities a comedian.
He's definitely tried to keep a low profile on his humor since he decided to run for the senate seat. When he finally spoke in his new official capacity during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, I was relieved to see that his unique sense of humor is still lurking beneath the surface, intact, just waiting for any prudent opportunity to surface.
When I survey the history of Congress over the last two centuries plus, it's clear that he has some pretty big shoes to fill and a great responsibility is entrusted to him, a responsibility that anyone familiar with his former show on Air America Radion knows he takes very seriously.
- Henry Clay - voted speaker of the house on his first day there for his oratory skill.
- John Quincy Adams - Old Man Eloquent, the only U.S president to serve in Congress after his presidency.
- Thomas Hart Benton of MO, the voice of western expansion (he once shot Andrew Jackson in a street brawl)
- Sam Houston, future president of Texas, who sat in the house chamber whittling a pine stick.
- Daniel Webster of Massachusetts . . . It was said that no man was ever so great as Daniel Webster looked and sounded.
- Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who was in charge of the construction of the Capitol while it was being built. He would go on to become the president of the southern Confederacy before it was completed.
- On the floor of the senate, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beat the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner (Mass) with a cane. Sumner tried so hard to get away that he wrenched his desk from the floor
- Hiram Revels-first black man ever to serve in the senate. Ironically, he filled the seat that had last been held by Jefferson Davis.
- James G Blaine - who almost became president - had it not been for previously accepting money from corrupt corporate barons.
- Thomas Bracket Reed of Maine Speaker of the House- staunch anti imperialist at a time when we were collection colonies.
- George W Norris, who finally broke speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon's (Foul-mouthed Joe) iron rule on congress.
- Robert M. LaFollete of Wisconsin, a progressive Republican, one of only six people to vote against a resolution of War against Germany in 1917. His son, Robert Jr would follow in his footsteps.
- The first woman to serve in Congress. . . . Jeannette Rankin of Montana, was also one of the "no" votes in 1917. She was the ONLY "no" vote in 1941 (WWII).
- Fiorello LaGuardia, a progressive (sometimes socialist) politician who could denounce exploiters in six languages.
- New Deal pioneers George Norris and Robert Wagner (he was born in Germany), and Sam Rayburn of Texas, and his eager young protege, Lyndon Johnson
- Harry S Truman of Missouri.
- John F. Kennedy
Some amazing and noteworthy personalities have walked those hallowed halls.
I wish Senator Al Franken much luck and clarity and wisdon in the coming years.