BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Richard Baker, historian of the United States Senate, is it fair for me to read the questions off the Web site and see if you can answer them?
RICHARD BAKER, SENATE HISTORIAN: Well, yes, I think it’s fair.
LAMB: Here’s one of them. How were senators elected before 1913? That’s a tough one for you.
BAKER: Let’s see. They were elected by state legislatures. Except sometimes, there were problems with that process.
BAKER: Well, most state legislatures had a house and a senate. And the house would want one guy, and the senate would want another guy.
And then a third guy would say, hey. It looks like some uncertainty here. Maybe I’ll throw my hat into the ring. And so, you had some pretty terrific deadlocks.
In the case of Delaware, Delaware went for four years without representation in the Senate. In two of those years, both senators were not there, in the early 20th century. So, time for reform.
LAMB: I remember reading on your Web site that William Jennings Bryan was one of those that wanted to change it.
BAKER: There were a lot of House members who wanted to change it. And the House kept passing a constitutional amendment at the end of the 19th century.
And the Senate, well, you know, it’s kind of – you know, it takes a long while to get things done in the Senate. And there was some concern among Southern Senators, that if you allow the people to vote, that means that African Americans are going to start voting, and we need to be careful.
By the time that the Jim Crow laws were pretty well in effect and blacks were disenfranchised, then they kind of said, all right, why not. And so, in 1911, the Senate passed the constitutional amendment, the states ratified it, and two years later it went into effect.
LAMB: What difference did it make in the end?
BAKER: That’s a terrific question. And there are still people writing doctoral dissertations about whether it changed the Senate. Personally, I don’t think it did change the Senate, because it didn’t happen overnight.
There were states, particularly some of the progressive Western states, that as early as the mid 1870s had developed election systems that allowed the people to express their preference. And then, if the state legislators ignored that preference when the time came to select a senator, woe be unto them.
So, it gradually was phased in. And in fact, in the election of 1914, the first election that a direct election was on the books, no incumbent was defeated who chose to run again.
LAMB: Here’s another question from your historian’s list.
Who – this might be tough – who was the first and only senator elected by a write-in vote?
BAKER: Well, that would be Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who was elected in 1954 to the Senate. He agreed, as part of that deal, that – the candidate had died, and so he put himself up on a write-in vote and then said that he would run in the next regular election as a regular candidate. And he did, and he won.
LAMB: How big? Do you remember?
BAKER: By a large margin.
LAMB: Write-in. And no one else has tried that.
BAKER: No one else – well, it may have been tried, but not effectively. No one has come close that way.
LAMB: The question right after that is, which senator has served longer than any other?
BAKER: Well, that would be the same senator, Senator Strom Thurmond. More than 47 years until the time he left the Senate at the end of 2002, when he had just set another record, breaking the age of 100.
LAMB: How long does Senator Byrd have to go?
BAKER: Senator Byrd has until, I believe, June of 2006 before he will break Senator Thurmond’s record.
LAMB: Any doubt that he’ll do it?
BAKER: I don’t have any doubt about that, no.
LAMB: Who was the first female senator?
BAKER: The first female senator was Rebecca Felton of Georgia. She broke a number of records in addition to being the first female senator. She was also the oldest person ever to enter – the oldest woman – ever to enter the Senate. Oldest person, for that matter, at the age of 87.
She also set another record of serving only one day. Sort of a complicated situation where her – there was a vacancy. The governor appointed her to that seat, because the governor of Georgia had been opposed to the equal suffrage amendment. And it passed. And he wanted to run for the Senate.
And the women of Georgia were a bit irritated with him for his opposition, so he said, well, I’ll appoint a woman to the Senate. How about that? Isn’t that great?
And subsequently, he ran and lost for the full term. Walter George won. And so, Walter George actually was present in November of 1922, when Rebecca Felton was sworn in, served one day, made a very nice speech about.
It was just me here today. But someday you’re going to have a lot of women serving among you, and you will get conscientiousness and loyalty, and so forth. And then she bowed out.
LAMB: How many women are there today?
BAKER: There are 14 women today. There have been a total of 33 altogether, which is a paltry number considering how many senators there have been overall.
LAMB: This is your 30th anniversary as Historian of the Senate. What’s been your toughest job in 30 years?
BAKER: Oh, dear.
Probably, at the very beginning – you know, we were established in 1975. Nobody knew what a Senate Historical Office was supposed to do.
People came to us very early on and said – historians, in particular – we’d like access to records that are in the Senate’s basements or down at the National Archives. Would you please get them for us?
And then we’d find out that committees would say, well, oh, just a minute. You know, these – you want records from the 1850s. Why are you into those? Is it some sort of a fishing expedition? Maybe you’re trying to make the Committee on Finance look bad.
And so, it took us really about five or six years to kind of get our sea legs and to get the Senate, ultimately, to pass a resolution that took care of some of those issues.
LAMB: How were you picked?
BAKER: Probably – well, let’s see. I have to back up a little bit to say that I was picked in 1975. But in 1969, I was working for the Library of Congress at the predecessor of what is now called the Congressional Research Service.
And the word reached me one day that they needed somebody over in the Senate to kind of be the acting curator, because the curator was ill and was retiring. And they were just establishing that job. So, would I go over and do that.
And I did it for about six months and then went off to do something else.
LAMB: Let me ask you, then. In ’69, how old were you?
BAKER: In ’69 I was 29.
LAMB: And who was in charge of the Senate in ’60?
BAKER: The Democrats.
LAMB: Who was in charge of the Democratic Party then in the Senate?
BAKER: Mike Mansfield was the Senate majority leader. And bless Mike Mansfield. He had a master’s degree in history and had been in the Senate since 1953, and a real institutionalist, a real sense of what was important.
And I guess I could back up and tell the story about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lyndon Johnson, the president, came up from the White House to sign the Voting Rights Act one year after he had signed the Civil Rights Act down at the White House.
And they had a special signing ceremony in the President’s Room. And the desk that they used was an old Supreme Court chamber desk that Johnson had – when the Supreme Court met in the Capitol prior to 1935 – Johnson had had that desk in his majority leader’s office, when he was Senate majority leader in the 1950s.
And so, he signed the Voting Rights Act on this Supreme Court desk. And then he thought – and then he said to Majority Leader Mansfield, you know, this desk is very important to me. I’d like to take it back to the White House with me.
And Mansfield – what could he do? And so, he said yes. Or Johnson took it, whether Mansfield said yes or not.
And at that point, in 1965, Mike Mansfield said, you know, we don’t know what we have in terms of our history, whether it’s the furnishings, the art work or the more intangible history. We need a curator to help sort of keep these records.
And so, he asked leaders of the House if they’d be interested in setting up a Capitol Curator’s Office. And there was no interest on the House side.
So in 1968, he set up a Senate Commission on Art, and appointed a curator. And the person had health problems and only stayed on the job for a very short time. And that’s when I got the call from the Library of Congress to come over and just be the acting curator.
So, come 1975, Mike Mansfield was still the majority leader, and Francis Valeo was still the Secretary of the Senate, the chief administrator of the Senate.
And I heard from James Ketchum, who had been the White House Curator, and at that time was the Senate Curator – my successor in that job – that they were looking for a historian. And so, I applied.
A number of other people applied. I’m sure it was my prior experience in the Curator’s Office that helped a little bit. I have a master’s degree in library science, and had one in history, and later went on to get a doctorate.
But they said, well, maybe you’re the guy. You’re too young to really be an established academic who likes tenure and likes sabbaticals. And so, get this young guy in here.
LAMB: Where do you first get interested, that you can remember, in history?
BAKER: Oh, probably in the backseat of my parents’ car.
We lived in a bedroom community of Boston, Massachusetts. And we used to go out on weekend drives through Lexington and Concord and into Boston, to Paul Revere’s home.
And you just couldn’t avoid, if you had the slightest bit of interest or predisposition, to become fascinated with the history of the American Revolution and those early years.
My hometown of Melrose had a number of pre-Revolutionary era homes still standing. And so, in grade school we’d take trips to those homes. So, I was kind of hooked at that point.
LAMB: What about your parents? What did they do for a living?
BAKER: Well, my father worked at the United Shoe Machinery Corporation in a clerical position. And my mother had been a secretary in that same organization. That’s – and then she, of course, when I was born in 1940, she had to leave her job. Couldn’t be pregnant and work as a woman in those days.
And so that was their background. Neither one went to college, but they surely instilled in me a love of history, and tried to do everything they could to push me forward.
LAMB: Richard Norton Smith years ago said on this program that at age nine he started dragging his parents and family to the gravesites of presidents.
BAKER: I can believe it, knowing Richard Norton Smith.
LAMB: But were you – were they dragging you to the historical sites? Or did you then end up dragging them?
BAKER: They dragged me. And I think by the time it was time for me to drag them, I sort of was off and had gone off to college, and was dragging other people around.
LAMB: Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
BAKER: At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
LAMB: Studied what?
BAKER: Well, I started as a business major, but you had to take two years of liberal arts. And then when I started getting into those business courses in my junior year, I realized, that’s not what I want for an education. I want history.
So I ended up going an extra semester in order to make up the history requirements. But I loved it. They had a good history department, and it was just a great beginning.
LAMB: You got a lot of education. You have two master’s. One, what, the University of – is it Michigan or Michigan State?
BAKER: Michigan State.
LAMB: And what was that in?
BAKER: That was – I went to Michigan State after I got out of the Army, to take a master of arts in teaching program. It was a new kind of a master’s. And then I subsequently switched to just a regular master’s in history.
And then when I graduated from there, I moved back East to teach in a small, Catholic seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, Holy Apostles Seminary for the delayed vocations. You had to be at least 20 years old. It got you an undergraduate degree, if you wanted to go on into the priesthood.
So, my wife was the only woman on campus, and I was the only non-Catholic on campus. But that was great fun.
LAMB: Where did you get your other master’s?
BAKER: Then I went to – after two years of teaching there at about $4,500 a year, I realized that was probably not, you know, a great career move. And so I went to – I decided what I really wanted to be was a university librarian of a large university.
And so, I went to Columbia University, which had at the time a terrific library school. And went there and happened to be there in 1968 during all the campus unrest.
And I never – I was too old to be a student leader, and I also had to catch the last train out from Grand Central to New Rochelle to go home to my wife and family. So, I wasn’t much of a campus radical.
And then when I graduated from Columbia, I came to Washington.
LAMB: And when did you get your Ph.D.? And what was that in?
BAKER: I got my Ph.D. in 1982, after I’d been in the job of Senate Historian for about seven years. And that was in history.
LAMB: Any particular history?
BAKER: It was in American political history. And, you know, there were those who said, oh, you’ve got the job. You don’t really need a Ph.D. You’ve got two master’s degrees.
People expect you to have a Ph.D. in this job, at least some people do. And so, evenings and weekends I slugged it out at the University of Maryland, and focused on American political history.
And I had the good fortune, when I was shopping around for a doctoral dissertation, of learning that the papers of New Mexico Senator Clinton P. Anderson had just opened at the Library of Congress at the time of his death.
I don’t think he ever intended those papers to stay in Washington. I think he was going to have them transferred back to New Mexico.
And probably, there might have been some sanitizing of that collection if he had lived long enough and his health had been good enough. As it was, I found a pristine collection. You know, it was just 1,100 boxes filled with memos.
He had a terrific temper. And often his secretary would say, all right, I’ll type up – you know, dictate what you want and get it off your chest. I’ll type it up. But then the next day, she would either talk him out of sending the letter. But those letters survived, and so, it gave me some insight into Anderson.
And so, that was my doctoral dissertation. And then I turned that into a book.
LAMB: How many senators have centers at a college, university or anywhere, that you can go and get their papers?
BAKER: Well, there’s a growing trend. Prior to about the early 1980s, the pattern was that state universities would collect the papers of their members of Congress. And so there would be clusters, particularly in the Midwestern and Western states.
In the Northeast it was terrible. It was just sort of all over the lot. Some senators would burn their papers, and the same is true of Southern senators.
Others would decide to send them to a little community college near their summer vacation resort, because they were going to work on their memoirs, which they never did.
And so, but by the early 1980s, there was a sense of, well, look it. We have presidential libraries that help focus scholars on the context of a presidential administration. Why not have senatorial libraries, or congressional libraries, within the context of a university?
The University of Georgia, for instance, has the Richard Russell Library – a terrific collection. Very, very rich, not only with Richard Russell’s papers, who had served in the Senate from 1933 till 1971, but also other Georgia members.
The Margaret Chase Smith home up in Skowhegan, Maine, has a wonderful collection of her papers. And it welcomes scholars in. There’s a reading room. And I could go on down the list, if you’d like.
LAMB: What about senators who still are in the United States Senate?
BAKER: Well, there’s certainly been a pattern of that. You know, we – some senators are concerned that they don’t want the word to get out that they’re planning to archive their papers, because it sort of suggests that they may be making an announcement they’re not going to run again.
And what we say to them when we have the opportunity is, don’t believe a word of it. You know, what you really are doing is making – it’s very expensive to process the papers of members of Congress, and particularly now with electronic records.
It takes time. And the best way to do it is to phase it in over time. So, don’t do what happened to the poor University of Washington in the early 1980s when Henry Jackson, who had been in the Senate for 30 years, died unexpectedly. And Warren Magnuson lost his re-election campaign.
Sixty years of rich papers dumped on the University of Washington. They didn’t know what hit them. So, slowly …
LAMB: What’d they do?
BAKER: Well, it took them about eight or nine, 10 years to get them processed. It was very expensive. And …
LAMB: Who paid for it?
BAKER: The state, pretty much. There may have been a little bit of federal funds in there.
But as far as current senators, Senator Robert Byrd, who has served in Congress since 1953, has recently opened a Robert C. Byrd Center at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which is only a very convenient, 90-minute drive from Washington, D.C.
And his papers aren’t open to research yet. But slowly, but surely, he’s building them up and he gives every indication of running again for another term.
And what we have seen with incumbent senators is that they will open up the research center, let people get in there and work with the congressional records and press clippings, and so forth, going back 20 or 30 years.
LAMB: Here’s Robert Byrd from 1989, one of the early Booknotes on something I’ll bet you worked on. Let’s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: I want my colleagues today, and senators of tomorrow, and the media of today and tomorrow, and the American people through them, to better understand this unique institution, the United States Senate, and the role that it has played over these two centuries in fulfilling its responsibilities under the Constitution.
We need to develop an institutional memory. So many of us who are there now don’t have that institutional memory. And therefore, we are unable to accurately interpret today’s events and to foresee what may happen in the future.
To do these things, we need to look backward into the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: I’ve got two. But, I mean, we actually had him on Booknotes at the time. And I’ve got two volumes. Here’s one of them here. They’re two big ones.
How much of this did you do?
BAKER: And you’re holding it in one hand.
LAMB: Hardly, yes.
BAKER: You weighed it in at about 7.5 pounds, because it has a lot of coated stock paper and so forth.
We worked very closely with Senator Byrd on that project. It began not as a book project at all. But in March of 1980, he just kind of extemporaneously got up, and his granddaughter and her fifth grade class were in the gallery.
And he began talking about – you know, these people had traveled a long way to be there. He wanted them to remember a little bit about how the Senate operated. And then a week later, another granddaughter and her class was there.
And so, then he kind of got into the mode of delivering every Friday afternoon, if nothing else was going on in the Senate, as much for his own edification, he’d go out and he’d do the research, and he’d bring us into it. And we’d help him, we’d provide a fair amount of support.
And this picked up momentum. And the train ran on for about eight or nine years. And by the time he was through in 1989, he’d produced more than 100 separate floor speeches, all of which he’d read on the floor.
LAMB: Now, these are big. I mean, this is – I’ll pick both of them up here, so you can see them.
BAKER: There you go. You have 15 pounds now.
LAMB: And they’re really heavy.
How much does this cost? And can you still buy them?
BAKER: You still can. And I believe they sell for about $55 a volume.
And I should say that he started these as floor speeches in the mid ‘80s. He began to get comments from other members and from the press and members of the public – wouldn’t it be nice to put all these together as a book?
And at that point, the 200th anniversary of the Senate was just around the corner, three or four years away. And so the idea of doing one book – the one that you’re holding there, which is a chronological history of the Senate.
But he also was doing speeches on the various topics within the Senate. The history of the Secretary of the Senate’s office, the history of the Senate Chaplain. And so, that naturally evolved into a second volume, which is organized by topic.
LAMB: And this was – ’89 was the last year of this.
BAKER: Volume one was published just before ’89, I think at the very end of ’88. And then in 1991, volume two, the topical volume came out. And then there were two more.
There was a volume of great speeches, 46 major speeches of senators over, ever since the 1830s. And then volume four is a book of facts and figures.
LAMB: And are those all available?
BAKER: They are.
LAMB: And you – did you – how big is the Senate Historian’s office? How many people?
BAKER: We have nine. And nine – of those nine, seven have graduate degrees in American history.
We started off with five. We didn’t have an archivist at the time. We learned very quickly we needed an archivist.
Then we were doing a number of book publications. We realized we needed a historical editor. And so, the office is now up to nine.
LAMB: If you walked around the – and where are you housed?
BAKER: Currently, we’re in the Hart Senate Office Building.
LAMB: If you walked around the office and talked to each of those nine people, and seven of them with degrees, what kind of things would they be working on today?
BAKER: Well, you’d walk in and talk to – probably meet the historical editor. And she has just finished the Senate portion of the “Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress,” a 2,200-page book that’s going to be published by the Government Printing Office very soon. It was first published in the 1850s.
LAMB: What’s in it?
BAKER: It is – it has a series of biographical sketches of every person who has ever served in Congress – 11,752 people who have served …
LAMB: In both the House and the Senate?
BAKER: House and Senate combined.
LAMB: Eleven thousand …
BAKER: Seven hundred and fifty-two.
LAMB: And how many of those only served in the Senate? Or not only served, but how many senators have there been over the years?
BAKER: There have been 1,884.
LAMB: How many are still living?
BAKER: Former senators, there are 138.
LAMB: And you just happen to have that right off the top of your head.
BAKER: Well, yes, you gave me a hint on that one.
LAMB: Yes, I wanted to – and what – how do you keep track of the former senators who are still alive?
BAKER: Well, you know, some don’t want to be kept track of. We try to maintain a mailing list. And we have mailing addresses for most of them.
Some only want us to give out those addresses to other senators, current senators. And there are some who just say, that’s it. Particularly senators who were appointed, who served for a short period of time, or served one term and were defeated.
There’s sometimes a bit of bitterness that kind of carries over, you know. That was a part of my life I want to forget about. I don’t want professors calling me up to ask me what it was like in the Senate in the 1960s, or whatever.
LAMB: Can you think of somebody that you’ve been in contact with in the last year who’s a former senator that we haven’t heard of for years, and can tell us what he or she is doing right now?
BAKER: Well, Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota stopped by the office the other day, because he’s teaching a course on Congress, and specifically on the Senate.
He said, I never even knew you people existed when I was in the Senate, because I was too busy. And now I think you’re a great resource, and I, you know, need some help with suggested topics for my course.
LAMB: This will give me an opportunity – and I just thought about it – to apologize to Alan Dixon. On a show we did on Abraham Lincoln, somebody called up. And I mentioned that I didn’t think he was alive.
And I got a very nice letter from him saying, sorry, still here.
And to you, Senator Dixon, who lives – I think he’s in Southern Illinois, and he’s in a law firm, I think, in St. Louis – but anyway, my apologies.
What about people like Russell Long? Are they still with us?
BAKER: No. Russell Long passed away several years ago.
LAMB: And what purpose is this big volume that this person in your office is working on with all the 2,200 pages in it?
BAKER: Well, you know, we’re right at the cusp of asking the question, now that we have all of this online – all of this information is available on the Senate Web site – do we need a book?
And my feeling is – and I think the feeling, more importantly, of the Senate leadership who supported was – yes, we do. What about those little small libraries, you know, who just want to be able to pull this book down and flip through the pages?
So, a book that started in the 1850s, this is the 16th edition – I don’t want to be the person to say, awe, we don’t need to do that anymore.
So, it’s portable. It has legs. And you don’t need a computer or electricity to get into it.
LAMB: Go around the – keep going around the office. What else are they doing?
BAKER: Then we go and – our – and then we go to our assistant historian – the Historical Editor, whose name is Beth Hahn.
The Assistant Historian is Betty Koed, a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She’s got a number of projects going.
But the one that I particularly like is an administrative history of the Senate, the nuts and bolts. How did the Senate work? You can’t look this stuff up in the Congressional Record. It’s a great detective game, of sort of getting in and beginning to coax out the information. It takes a very long time.
And she’s got a number of other projects. She is probably the single most – the person singly most responsible for enriching the Senate Web site, in terms of its history content.
LAMB: You mean like some of these questions I’ve been asking you?
BAKER: That’s right. Exactly.
LAMB: This is from your Web site. Who was the only Senator preceded by both of his parents?
BAKER: Russell Long.
LAMB: And his mother was a senator?
BAKER: Russell Long’s mother was a senator.
LAMB: At what point?
BAKER: When Huey Long was assassinated, shortly after his assassination she was appointed to the Senate.
LAMB: Who was the only Senator to die in a duel while in office?
BAKER: David Broderick of California. Went out to California, and on a beach near San Francisco was killed in a duel.
LAMB: What year was that, do you know?
LAMB: What was the purpose of the duel?
BAKER: Well, it was California politics, is the quick answer to that question. And a dispute with the chief justice of the California supreme court, David Terry.
LAMB: Here’s one. Who was the only senator to serve from three states?
BAKER: James Shields. And this was in the 1840s, ‘50s, when the country was expanding and new states were being created. But he served from Wisconsin and Minnesota and then Missouri.
LAMB: How could you – I mean, could – when was the last time we had somebody that’d do that? Not three states, but serve from two different states?
BAKER: The only other time was when West Virginia split off of Virginia. And so, one of the Virginia senators became a West Virginia senator.
LAMB: This has been talked about a lot recently. How many senators have become president?
BAKER: Fifteen. But only two directly from the Senate, and that’s the hook. You know, is there an impediment to running for the presidency when you’ve got a senatorial record that’s fresh?
LAMB: So, if 15 have become president, what did they do in the interim so that they didn’t go directly?
BAKER: Well, they became vice president, in the case of Lyndon Johnson, and then got the job of president because of the death of the incumbent president.
But it was – there is that curse. Only two – Warren Harding in the election of 1920, and, of course, John F. Kennedy.
LAMB: In your opinion, has there been a good book written about the United States Senate?
BAKER: Well, aside from Senator Byrd’s four volume work, which is an encyclopedia. It really is comprehensive.
But, no. There is no single volume, comprehensive history of the Senate. There is a two volume work that was written in 1938, that sort of inspired Senator Byrd’s project.
There are sort of books that take small pieces of it. Eric Redman, in the 1970s, who worked for Warren Magnuson, wrote a book called “The Dance of Legislation.” And I’m sure he’s been made a very wealthy man, because that book continues to sell.
Bernard Asbell, a reporter, in the mid 1970s wrote a book called “The Senate Nobody Knows.” But it was pretty much a biography of Senator Edmund Muskie.
It is a tough, tough job to try to take this 217-year-old institution with its 1,800 and some odd members, and boil it all down without simplifying it.
And I’m trying to work on that kind of a book within the – I want to do a book, or I want to help somebody do a book, that’s 250 pages, that a brand-new senator right after the orientation program can take on the plane back home and read it and understand it, and at least have a starting point to come to grips with this very complex institution.
LAMB: Where would you put Robert Caro’s “Master of the Senate”?
BAKER: Oh, I’d put it – I guess, if I had to answer your question, I guess I would say that Caro’s book is the best existing book on the Senate, because of those first 170 or so pages where he goes back to the earlier days, to the mid 19th century and sets the stage to then bring on Lyndon Johnson.
And he does it in a masterful way, for sure. It’s a very long book, however. It’s over 1,000 pages.
And to do a book that is accessible to a general audience that has an interest in American political history is a real challenge.
I personally believe that no book should be – on American politics – should be more than 400 pages. There’s just too much else to do.
LAMB: Where would you put Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent”?
BAKER: Well, I’d put it as a classic, for sure. It’s a fantastic work of fiction.
LAMB: When was it written?
BAKER: It was written in the 1950s.
LAMB: What impact did it have?
BAKER: Well, of course, it came out as a film in 1962. And it created a whole image of what it meant to be a United States senator. There’s no question.
LAMB: What kind of …
BAKER: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” as a film – those are the two major works of motion pictures.
LAMB: So, if you just saw “Advise and Consent,” and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” what would you conclude about the United States Senate?
BAKER: Well, first of all, you’d conclude that all senators spend all their time sitting at their desks in the chamber, and that the way to get things done in the chamber is to stand up and give a speech and, you know, harass your colleagues, and they’d all come around to your way of thinking.
Of course, today, people come into the Senate chamber and they see that there’s one or two senators there, maybe one, speaking to a bored-looking presiding officer – and missing the point that the real work is still done in the committees and in the exchanges that take place off-campus or around the building.
LAMB: When people watch C-SPAN2, they see almost a third of the time the Senate’s in, in a quorum call. I mean, that’s the – I don’t know if they’ve done a study on that recently, but for a while that was the case.
What are they doing during the quorum call?
BAKER: Well, in many cases, they’re working something out in the majority leader’s office. And the majority leader and the minority leader, or their representatives, are hashing out a matter, usually related to scheduling, you know.
Or, do we have all the votes? Or, we promised senator so-and-so the opportunity to come in and make a speech before we vote.
And so, a lot of that is just kind of making sure everybody’s on board. It’s one of the – if we listen to majority leaders in the past – one of the great frustrations.
Lyndon Johnson was classic when he was the majority leader. Ah, they’re a bunch of little old women, you know. They just – you can never keep them happy. And they want you to schedule the votes at their convenience, when they come back from making their fundraiser and fundraising speech.
And so, you know, Howard Baker used to joke that being the majority leader was like herding cats. You just can’t get them all to go in the same direction at the same time.
So, it’s a – that’s a lot of what’s happening off stage.
LAMB: In 30 years, which senators have been the most interested in history beside the obvious, Bob Byrd?
BAKER: Well, I would say – my sort of thesis is that the leaders, by definition, are the most interested. They have to be.
Whether they were going into the leadership position, they realize very quickly that they need to take a crash course, because they’re trying to guide this big, complex institution. And they need the details, the facts and the figures.
So, just every – I’d say every person who’s been a majority leader.
One example is Senator Tom Daschle, who in 1997 asked me if I would be willing to come into the Democratic Caucus luncheons and just kind of give a little history anecdote, to kind of – before they started the business meeting.
And so I’ve been doing that since 1997. And it’s one of the most enjoyable things I do in the course of the week.
LAMB: You do it every week.
BAKER: When Senator Daschle was the leader, I did it every week. Now, with Senator Reid, he has other activities going on, so I do it every other week, which is fine. It continues, nonetheless.
LAMB: Are the Republicans interested in history?
BAKER: Well, of course. And Senator Trent Lott a few years ago, in 1998, set up a leaders’ lecture program where he brought back former leaders starting with Mike Mansfield, who was 95 years old at the time in 1998.
And all of a sudden in the old Senate chamber, surrounded by the ghosts of Clay and Webster and Calhoun, Mansfield gave this speech, and the years dropped away. All of a sudden, instead of being 95, he was in his 50s. And a vigorous speech on what leadership meant to him.
And then all of the subsequent eight speakers in this series that went on for three or four years read the speeches of the previous speaker and kind of integrated their remarks into those. And then that’s now available on the Senate Web site. But Senator Lott pushed that one very well.
LAMB: In 1990, Bob Dole appeared on Booknotes and had this to say about a little book that he had written, or that you helped him write.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, (R) KANSAS: What we did starting in 1987, in January, I think, a series of about 312 different little one-minute speeches I made on the Senate floor in 1987 and 1988. And that, in essence, is the “Almanac.”
And we picked out – again, with the help of Dick Baker and his staff – you know, points we thought might be of interest. Some members I served with, some I had never known before.
People like Carl Hayden, who had the longest tenure in the Senate, 42 years. Mrs. Felton, who served one day in the Senate from Georgia.
So it’s just filled with that kind of information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: One of the things in the book – and, again, here’s the book. It’s called “Historical Almanac of the United States Senate.” Is this available?
BAKER: Yes, it is.
LAMB: What’s this cost?
BAKER: I believe that’s about – in the $30 range.
LAMB: One of my favorite things in this book was the description of how the Senate opened its doors up to the public. What’s that story?
BAKER: When the Senate first met in 1789, nobody expected that it would be public. The Continental Congress met in private, behind closed doors. The Constitutional Convention also was a secret body.
And what was new was that the House of Representatives, the people’s body, was going to open up its proceedings.
Well, it didn’t take too long for the critics to begin to say, what on earth is going on in that lurking hole behind the closed doors? You know, and particularly the state legislatures that were electing the senators said, we don’t know what you’re doing.
We’re giving you instructions. We want you to vote a certain on a certain issue. All we can do is see the published journal that indicates how you voted. But we don’t know what you said, and what-not.
What finally got them to open the doors – keep in mind, they were meeting in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1800. And in 1794, the Pennsylvania legislature, which was also at the time, the state capital was in Philadelphia, right next door to where the Congress was meeting.
They elected Albert Gallatin, a Republican – a Jeffersonian Republican – to be one of the Pennsylvania senators. The Federalist majority of the Senate wanted nothing to do with Albert Gallatin.
And so they came along and said, well, he’s not eligible to serve as a senator. He’s not – he’s a Swiss. He hasn’t been a U.S. senator for the required nine years.
But we can’t do this behind closed doors without making it look like a Star Chamber proceeding. So they opened the doors just for one time, to have the vote to basically not accept Albert Gallatin’s credentials. And then they closed the doors back up again.
But it’s the camel’s nose under the tent. And they realized that they would need to open the doors as soon as they could build a gallery.
So, over the next year they constructed a gallery in Congress Hall in Philadelphia, and opened the proceedings in December of 1795. But not all the proceedings, just the legislative proceedings.
What about nominations and treaties? No. This is executive business. We’ve got to hold this close, because we’re dealing with personalities. That remained closed, by and large, until 1929.
LAMB: There’s a picture in this book that Bob Dole did, or you did, back in 1990, of Senator McCarthy. And the reason I show it is that, you know, you rarely see criticism of the Senate Historian’s Office.
But recently in human events – I assume you’ve seen this – M. Stanton Evans took on your associate historian, Don Ritchie. And the headline is, “Senate historian clams up when queried on McCarthy.”
And M. Stanton Evans didn’t like the fact that – and there were two senators involved in this, Senator Carl Levin and Senator Susan Collins, releasing some 4,000 pages of hearings back in the McCarthy years.
Are you surprised that it’s still a hot issue today?
BAKER: No. No, I’m not. And it’s one of our best recent projects.
We were watching the calendar on that one. As soon as the 1953-54 hearings became 50 years old, under Senate rules they can be opened up.
And so, we’ve developed a major project to publish them in five volumes. And the first time they’ve seen the light of day since they were created.
LAMB: Well, the criticism that M. Stanton Evans has of Don Ritchie, who contributed his own introduction to the hearings – Mr. Ritchie – and in slightly more subtle terms than those from Levin and Collins.
“However, when I finally got Ritchie on the phone, he wasn’t much more helpful, giving me lots of generalities, but little by way of hard specifics.”
“As to McCarthy’s brow-beating tactics, said Ritchie, they were apparent throughout the hearings, particularly those pertaining to Fort Monmouth.”
And this goes into a lot of detail here.
But are – is Don Ritchie being too sensitive on all this? I mean, is he being too opinionated on all this?
BAKER: I don’t think so. I’ve known and worked with Don since 1976 when he came to the office. And he’s also not one to clam up. He has a deep knowledge of American political history, and he shares my excitement in getting these documents out.
He drafted an introduction based on about four years of working on this project. And I went over the introduction, looked at it very carefully. And I thought it was a fair introduction.
And it’s the only – I must say, we’ve gotten volumes – we’ve gotten piles of mail, e-mail, on that project. And maybe one or two critics. And everybody else has said that it’s wonderful.
You’ve opened the record. Let us read the record. We’ll judge for ourselves. At least you’ve allowed us to read the record.
LAMB: Go back to your office. We’ve talked about two of your people. We just mentioned Don Ritchie, who also has a book out on the press.
What are other people in the office doing?
BAKER: Well, as we proceed down the hall, we’d stop off in the office of the Senate Archivist, Karen Paul, who’s been the Senate Archivist since that position was created in 1982, formerly archivist of the University of Virginia.
She literally has written the book on how, if you’re a member of a Senate staff or a committee staff, how you process and save your papers. And so, she’s a leader in that field.
Then we go a little bit farther down and meet our historical research writer, Mary Baumann, a graduate of the University of Maryland with a master’s. And she is the person, basically, who answers the e-mail questions. So she’s been one of the busiest people in the office recently.
And then around the corner is the Photo Historian, Heather Moore, also a master’s degree in both history and library science. The Photo Historian, she presides over a collection of about 40,000 photographs.
We have a likeness of just about everyone who’s ever served in the Senate except for 54 out of those 1,884.
And so on the Senate Web site, we have a little contest. You know, see if you can find the missing photos. And we have the names of those senators.
LAMB: A bunch of your photos are on the Web site. Here’s one, the autogyro plane. What’s that?
BAKER: That was a – this was 1932. Hiram Bingham of Connecticut liked to play golf. And inventors – an inventor of this little helicopter type plane came to him and said, this would be a great way to get you to the golf course.
And so, he was picked up, to great press fanfare, on the plaza on the east front of the Capitol, and whisked off to the golf course.
LAMB: There’s a photo on there about a fire at the Capitol in 1930. Do you remember that one?
BAKER: You know, there …
LAMB: I’ve got it here. I can show it to you.
BAKER: Thank you. Oh, dear.
This reminds me of a similar photo, except one that I took in 1983, right after a bomb exploded late one evening in the corridor outside the Senate chamber.
And to walk up to the Capitol and see, as we see in this photo, scorched marks from a fire, the results of the fire department being there.
But this one in 1930, I don’t know about. There have been a number of other bombings and explosions that have been particularly noteworthy, however.
LAMB: The Library of Congress inside the Capitol? How long was it there?
BAKER: Inside the Capitol, right from the very beginning. Right when they moved to Washington.
Within a very short time they established a small reading room for the Library of Congress. Then, as the Capitol expanded in the middle of the 19th century, they outfitted this room, which was on the west front, three stories high.
And in the 1870s, the Library – the Copyright Act kicked into effect. And as a result, the Library was being deluged with books being sent to be registered under copyright. They needed a new building.
Congress was very happy to give the funding when all was said and done, because that kept the Library of Congress out of the Capitol. They then filled in those three stories and turned it into office space.
LAMB: Here’s a page in the Senate from years ago. Do they still operate the same way, the pages? And how many of them are there, do you know?
BAKER: There are 30 Senate pages. They’re aged – they’re high school juniors, aged 16.
And they come and spend a semester. And then in the summertime there are more of them who, I believe, come for two terms during the summertime.
LAMB: There was a scandal a few years ago about a House member being involved with a Senate page. What changed after that?
BAKER: Well, they certainly regulated the living arrangements. Pages, until fairly recently, were left to their own to find an apartment or to live with a family member or a relative, or whatever. Now there are page dormitories, and they’re very strictly regulated.
LAMB: If you see that 1939 photo on the Web site of the United States Senate, it does not look like today’s Senate. Why?
BAKER: Well, first of all, the ceiling in 1939 was coming very close to dropping in to the chamber. It was made of cast iron. It was badly corroded.
And so, a year later they began work on putting in a new ceiling. But then World War II intervened.
So all during World War II the chamber was filled with steel beams just holding up the ceiling.
After the war and when funding was available in 1949, the workmen stripped the Senate chamber to its brick walls, took out the ceiling and created the Senate chamber that exists today.
This is sort of a – the earlier one was sort of a grand, Victorian style chamber. The one today is more of a classical style.
The Senate chamber, according to the people who really know about these things, is in – and the House chamber, as well – is in need of updating, in terms of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, emergency escape systems.
And I suspect before too long, after the Capitol Visitors Center construction is completed, we’ll see movement in that direction.
LAMB: Capitol Visitors Center – you’re listed as the curator for an exhibit in that center. When will it be open to the public?
BAKER: I watched the architect of the Capitol trying to answer that question to a House subcommittee recently. And he said, maybe at the end of 2006, possibly early 2007.
So, I …
LAMB: What are you going to be able to see in the way of history?
BAKER: Well, you’re going to be able to see a gallery at the lowest level. It’s a three-story-deep building. You go down to the lowest level. There’s a great hall with a statue of freedom model from the original – the one that’s the model of the statue that’s on top of the dome.
You’ll go down into a gallery that’s over 200 feet long. It’s actually even bigger than that.
And you’ll be able to walk along a large exhibit case that on one side will break the history of Congress into six chronological periods – House and Senate – and then the Capitol building.
So, it’s the history of Congress and it’s the history of the Capitol building.
You could walk around the other side of that great display area and you will find a lot of historical documents organized around six national aspirations, like freedom and unity and common defense.
So that people will have a chance for the first time ever to be able to come to the Congress and see the founding documents, right there, without having to make a special appointment at the National Archives, or go over to the Library of Congress.
And then there’ll be a lot of interactive videos. And there will be what they call a virtual Senate theater and a virtual House theater, where you can go in and some of your questions will be anticipated. And there will be videos that will try to explain what’s going on here.
LAMB: When you hear people say that the Senate is not as civil as it used to be …
BAKER: Well, you know, there’s a little historical amnesia there.
The Senate prides itself, and has always prided itself, on decorum. You can never address another member directly. You always speak through the presiding officer.
So, but what we think of are the breaches of comity, the times when things, when emotions got the better of them.
Certainly, some of the canings in the 19th century.
LAMB: How many canings were there?
BAKER: Well, there was one that famous in 1856, when a South Carolina House member, Preston Brooks, caned Senator Charles Sumner, because he didn’t like the rather demagogic speech that Charles Sumner had made several days earlier. And that was certainly a dramatic moment.
But there were – there used to be something called a squirrel gun, and it looked like a cane. And you could walk along with it. But then you could raise it up and fire it. And some of those were brought into the chamber.
Pistols were found in members’ desk drawers. There were shoving matches. I think maybe it got a little more difficult over in the House chamber.
But certainly during the years leading up to the Civil War, a great deal of tension. In fact, the caning of Charles Sumner in 1856, in my book, is sort of the beginning of the end.
This is when civil people are no longer able to listen to each other and speak to each other. All of a sudden it’s posturing and it’s people polarizing and going off in their own directions. And it was sort of a downhill march to the Civil War after that.
LAMB: So, compare today with, say, when you first started in the Senate, back in ’75. Or you were actually over there in ’69.
What’s the difference in the atmosphere?
BAKER: Well, the real difference is how closely the parties are divided.
When I first came to the Senate, the Democrats had a pretty sizable margin, particularly in the 1960s, when they had 65, 68 members against the Republicans.
The Democrats, however, were divided amongst themselves at that point, Northern Liberals and Southern Democrats – or Southern Conservatives.
Today, this even division provokes – and the country – you know, this didn’t – this isn’t generated within the Senate. It’s generated around the country, and the Senate is sort of a reflection of the polarization that’s taking place around the country.
LAMB: A lot of people like to blame television.
BAKER: Because it’s made the place more familiar. People are playing to television.
LAMB: They say they’re playing to television. And with all the aisles set up with the, you know, the graphics on them and all that stuff.
BAKER: You know, there are two sides to that coin. It – the other side is that it allows people to understand a little bit more about how Congress works, at least what goes on on the floor and in the committee room.
And, boy, is that ever good. I mean, I see that as a revolution from 1975 or the late ‘60s.
People really can begin to know what’s going on. They’re in better touch with their members, because they have e-mail and faxes. This Capitol Visitors Center will allow people to come here and not only be, hopefully be entertained, but also be a bit more educated and maybe inspired.
I mean, I will never forget my first visit to Capitol Hill in 1956. It – I said, you know, I want to come back to this place. You know, this is – there’s something going on here. I just can’t spend enough time learning – you know, it would take a long time to learn about this, and I want to know more.
LAMB: What were the circumstances of your very first visit?
BAKER: Well, it was a high school class trip. And our family really scraped and saved in order to be able to afford to send me here.
And I got to meet our two senators from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy and Leverett Saltonstall. I ended up working in college on the campaign of one of those two senators, and got to learn a little bit more about …
LAMB: Which one?
BAKER: Leverett Saltonstall.
LAMB: And have you ever been a partisan?
BAKER: No. Not really.
LAMB: How do you avoid being a partisan?
BAKER: It’s – I like to think of myself as an institutionalist. You know, what I really – what really turns me on is looking at this Senate over its 200-plus-year history and seeing the rhythms and the patterns.
If I sort of became a partisan in an open kind of way, I’d lose that. I’d lose that hope of objectivity. To what end? It’s better to kind of stand back and look at the larger rhythms.
LAMB: You know, we’ve had a lot of talk lately about the judges.
And I have not seen any reference to it, but remember Clement Haynesworth and Harold Carswell?
What were the circumstances then? And wasn’t that just as, you know …
BAKER: It was. And Abe Fortas, who was nominated even before that.
And the “Washington Post” did an article not too long ago saying, well, you know, you can call it a filibuster or you can’t call it a filibuster, but the people at the time sure thought it was a filibuster.
And this runs into the big question, what is a filibuster? You know, people call our office all the time, do you have a list of filibusters? No, of course not. We wouldn’t, you know.
A filibuster is a very loose definition. It could be the “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” get up there and hold the floor for a very long period of time. Or it could be the threat of delaying things. That could be a filibuster also.
And so, no, we don’t have a list of filibusters.
LAMB: Another book that – I don’t think it came in hardback – it’s this one. Did it come in hardback?
BAKER: There were a few copies, yes.
LAMB: This is a huge book about vice presidents of the United States from 1789 to 1993. How did this happen? And what’s in it?
BAKER: That – it’s a series of biographical essays, chapter-length biographical essays initiated by Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon in 1991.
And he called me up one day and he said, you know, we need to – I’m really interested in doing this project. We don’t know enough about our vice presidents. I think perhaps in 1968 at one point there was some talk that he might be the candidate for vice president.
But Senator Hatfield was extremely well read in American history. He has a very rich library, loves to go to bookstores and buy first editions and what-not.
And so, he said, let’s see if we can start drafting some chapters. Tell people what they need to know about these people who are otherwise long forgotten.
And so, we worked together. We often – we would do the first draft. But then he would take the draft and red-pencil it and come down to my office and close the door, and we’d have like a university seminar for the next hour as to how to improve this chapter.
LAMB: What would you advise someone that’s watching this and saying, I want to know as much as I can find out about the United States Senate, and they don’t live here?
BAKER: You know, I couldn’t have said this up until about three or four years ago, but the Senate Web site is, I’d say, spectacular. And that’s because of the work of a lot of people who have put it together.
It’s a very interactive, very user-friendly facility.
LAMB: What kind of things can you find out?
BAKER: Well, you can first of all biographically. You can find out a brief biographical sketch of everyone who’s ever served in the Senate – or the House. You can find out what books have been written about them.
We used to send interns over to the Library of Congress in the mid ‘70s with three-by-five cards to copy down the titles of books. We now have all of that available on the Web site, where the papers of these senators are located.
And then we have topical sections. If there’s something in the news we’ll put a special feature up that allows people to find out the background of that.
Women senators – we have biographies of all the women senators.
LAMB: Is it being used?
BAKER: It certainly is. I’ve sort of given up counting the number of hits and visits that we’ve had, but tens of thousands each week.
LAMB: Do you answer questions from the public?
BAKER: We do. We encourage them, we really do.
LAMB: And who answers them?
BAKER: Well, I mentioned Mary Baumann, who sits up in the back of our office. She answers the e-mail questions. Don Ritchie specializes in press questions.
And we try to have one person answer most of the press questions so that we have a coherent and consistent response.
LAMB: Richard Baker, you have done this for 30 years. How much longer?
BAKER: Well, certainly, I would like to wait until the Capitol Visitors Center opens before I consider leaving.
Every day is different. It’s – I am so lucky to have this job. It’s one of the best jobs for any historian of American political history that I know of in the country.
It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to it, but I suppose there’s a time to let somebody else take over.
LAMB: What would you want to do if you do leave it?
BAKER: Well, I would like to sit down and write a book that a lot of people will read related to American political history. And a subject that I haven’t quite shaped yet.
But I think that’s my – that would be an enormous, great sense of satisfaction to do that.
LAMB: I know you’ve been asked this before. Is there a senator that represents for you the ideal?
BAKER: No. There really isn’t. There are composites.
We had the opportunity to help the Senate decide on two outstanding senators who have served in recent years. And they ultimately selected Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Robert Wagner of New York as pioneering legislators.
I mean, I liked Clinton Anderson a lot. That’s one of the reasons why I chose him.
But they’re as rich and diverse as the nation. And every day you learn something more.
LAMB: Thank you, Richard Baker.
BAKER: Thank you, Brian, very much.