Our beloved Congress has a 10% approval rating and a 95% reelection rate. Everybody thinks Congress is fucked up but their Congressman is okey dokey. It doesn’t make any sense at all, of course. And funny business at the state level with gerrymandering districts to a ridiculous level makes a bad situation impossible. But that wasn’t always the case.
Two thirds of the 14th Congress (1815-1817) was either defeated for reelection or decided not to run. TWO FUCKING THIRDS.
How the hell did that happen?
The 14th Congress was considered remarkably productive. They passed a protective tariff that was very popular, they authorized the Second Bank of the United States which was fairly controversial at the time, but since President Madison had come over to Alexander Hamilton’s belief that we needed such a thing, after having been against it for decades, most of his party went along.
Where they went unforgivably off the track, for the public of the day, was when they voted themselves a pay raise. They had been receiving $6 a day and they voted for themselves a salary of $1500 a year. It wasn’t unreasonable. 28 civil servants earned more. The president got $25,000 a year, but had to run the White House with that money. From Daniel Howe’s Pulitzer Prize winning “What Hath God Wrought – The Transformation of America, 1815-1848”:
Given the nationalist agenda, it made perfect sense to strengthen the national legislature by making service in it more attractive to talent. The electorate, however, would have none of it: Their wrath fell on Federalist and Republican (Democrats) alike. All told, of the 81 members who voted for the bill, only 15 won reelection. Even some who voted against it were punished with defeat, on the grounds that they should not have accepted the money.
The biggest problem the 14th Congress had was that they voted the increases in pay for themselves, not just for their successors. The public in Nov. 1816 found that an unpardonable sin.
Imagine what they would have thought of NAFTA.