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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lindy Boggs, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0082. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The decline of the seniority system and the role of southern politicians in Congress

Boggs offers an assessment of the evolving role of a loosely-defined "southern delegation" in Congress from approximately 1950 to the mid-1970s. According to Boggs, the "seniority system" had kept many southern politicians in positions of power within Congress. During the time period under consideration, however, Boggs explains that many of these politicians were leaving Congress because of old age and because of changing voting patterns, which opened up congressional committees and chairman positions. Despite reforms to the seniority system, Boggs believes that southern politicians continued to play a pivotal role in congressional processes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lindy Boggs, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0082. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Can we talk a little bit about the southern delegation if there is such a thing, but a group of Congressmen and Senators from the eleven southern states, and their influence in Congress in the last 25 years. Some give us the hypothesis that it is on the increase, some say that the power is waning, some say that it has leveled off. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think the power has been there, and certainly the southern states had a direct influence on the actions of Congress. The seniority system, of course, placed many southerners. We said earlier that the people did continue to elect a person who was well qualified and who had the desire to remain in office and naturally they became ranking members or chairmen of the committees and directed decisions of the Congress. Everybody on those committees and everybody on other committees who has business with those committees naturally must deal with them in the nice sense of that word. But the resignation and death of a lot of older members of Congress, or the long term ones have changed the committee picture somewhat. As a matter of fact, I read recently where the head of the House had been in Congress less than six years. So that certainly is changing.
Is that reflected in their philosophy and influence?
Well, the House this year, as you well know, has operated under new caucus rules, where there is a great deal more openness of all the committee hearings, and meetings are open. Even lock up sessions in many committee meetings are open sessions. The Rules Committee has certainly become much more liberal in granting rules than the previous one was. The sub-committee chairmen have been opened to the chairmanships and opened up to younger members because now you can hold only one sub-committee chairmanship at a time. I think there were 23 sub-committees that were opened up. There is a provision in the caucus rules where members of a committee can object to actions of the chairman, and by a vote in the caucus, the chairman can be forced to a re-election, to an election by the caucus. So I think you find a great many changing feelings about seniority, about the power of a person who is a chairman or a sub-committee chairman. What we have to keep remembering is that the seniority system was itself a reform. But I think there is still the solid background of people who have been members of the House for a long number of years, and who have a history of the standing and they have the respect of the Congress. Those people, whether they are southerners or not, a great many of them are southerners because they have been kept in office a longer time, have sort of a natural affinity to form associations with people who feel the same way about legislation.So that they are able to cross the party lines one way or the other.