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Nearly two centuries ago the new constitution of a new nation was read and proclaimed in the Town Halls of America. Legislative powers here and granted just be vested in my Congress of the United States. Consists of my Senate and House of Representatives. The House of Representatives shall be composed. These were the words that gave birth to one of the three branches of our government. This thing the legislative branch or the needs as O nation has grown what has become of this branch of the governmental tree branch of this what is the status of your Congress today. Your Congress today is produced and recorded by the Indiana University Radio and Television
Service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Here is your narrator. Gone are the Liberty Bell has lost its resonance and the many town hall bells ringing out the message of government have ceased to toll a new bell rings for America. Listen. This is the bell any tourist to our nation's capital can hear resound NGs where the card is of our Capitol building. This is the bell which summons your congressman to his voting chamber when he arrives there. Why does he vote the way he does. To him of what importance are you the voting constituency whom he represents of one importance or his party the special interest groups the Supreme Court the president and the administrative agencies of government. On today's program we consider the first of these six potential influences on his
legislative behavior. His constituency. To get a glimpse of the relationship between members of Congress and their constituents I talked with two leaders in the House and Senate. Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas and Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois. My first interview was with Senator Dirksen a man who has represented the people of his state in both houses of Congress for almost 25 years. Welcome to our program Senator as you know on this particular program we're interested in determining how you work with the people you represent your constituency to begin with what do you regard as the constituency most deserving of your consideration the voters within the state or the people of the nation
at large and I suppose when I was a member of the house I had a different view of it. Because there are represented six counties and I thought of that as my immediate constituency although I was not unaware of the fact that I was also a member of the Congress of the United States. Now in the Senate of course you represented my entire state and every person in every county whether they voted don't vote. That's correct. And along with it you think of yourself as a member of the United States Senate. So you have a larger constituency also which means the whole country. So perhaps one has to regard himself in a dual capacity when he thinks of his representation and who he represents. So you make some attempt to gauge the will of the constituency that is the entire nation. Yes and I might amplify just a little and say you have programs for instance that particularly affect your state. Let us say an agricultural program that has an impact of
on corn hogs soybeans which are the basic commodities in the All-Knowing. When I let's take a reciprocal trade agreement program. They would want your international feel but also you're thinking in terms of the well-being of the manufacturers in your state and others who might be affected thereby. So at the law it is one of those gray days it's not all black and all white. How do you gauge this constituency will you conduct public opinion polls or do you read the newspaper editorials faithfully especially from within your own state or do you have grassroots contact with individuals and groups or Frankly I have never been conducted an opinion poll. I notice that some of these are glorified opinion polls that have gotten out by members and I do not use the term glorified defensively I see. In fact they work on it to me in great detail. They get exactly the right kind of questions to make it wholly informative. But I have depended in the main I think on first of all the radio and TV work I do embracing a great many stations of
blankets the whole state over those I make a report to every week is called a senator reports. You'd be surprised at the mail that comes by people in violent disagreement with the views that you might express. People who concurred people who are negative. I seek always also never to follow a partisan line in those reports. They are directed at being a wholly objective insofar as one can do it. Uniformity have so that there is a predicate on which the people can fashion some kind of a judgement if their own information in that particular field is rather inadequate. Then of course you have the mail it usually comes. It's rather interesting how people follow the affairs in Washington that goes back to the days I suppose when I first came here in 1933 as a member of the House and this became the orbital center of the whole universe. Nations were beating a path to the door of Washington and the immensity
and dimensions of the programs were such that it for all practical purposes was the wearables center. So attention naturally was directed to Washington people who developed a greater familiarity with policies and programs. And so normally quite aside from any remote reports that I me to stimulate an interest in current matters back home they write and I would then of course they call you up and the number of visitors we have is legion. I remember the days when your means of communication from home here took probably 18 or 20 hours from the time you got to go from your home to Chicago got on a train and got here. You know today you can rush up to Chicago by plane in 15 minutes. If you're home you know that two hours you're in Washington. And so it's an easy John for our people and so whole delegations come out. I had four or five delegations this week ranging in average from 25 up to 100 and they come on matters of general and current interest and they express their views and
also seek if possible to get my views on it and whether I can carry in their notion. When you say these numbers a legion do you feel that the people who come on their own initiative like this far outweigh the ones that have come possibly in response to your going to them on radio on television or through your newsletter. It's hard to distinguish between the two groups like Karl but I must say for our people that they have an alert and lively interest in everything that goes on and so many of them come on their very own. I want to give you want to illustration that if we have the right circles we had a witness before a subcommittee of judiciary yesterday the Internal Security Subcommittee the active matter before the committee was the general bill to limit the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The first witness was an attorney from a little town of Sweetwater Tennessee. I knew the town and I knew some people in it and he knew those people also so it gave us a rather common bond in a community of interest to begin with. But here's a
man who was on identified with any organization. He wasn't speaking for the membership of any group. He came as an individual lawyer as his only experience to talk about a matter which he as a lawyer was vitally interested in. There you have an example and I think a fair example of the people who come on their own because they're interested in the challenges and in the problems that are on our doorstep whether they come on their own or whether they come in response to information that you have given them. Can you separate the spontaneous ones from the canned ones in a sense can you. Have you learned through all these years of experience to be able to discriminate between the ones that are acting like this gentleman in the subcommittee meeting as opposed to those who are. Someone can then there be all yes it's very interesting and perhaps your listeners may be interested in a very whimsical experience I had in the days when I was in the house. There are a master telegram went out from Washington
to local organizations out home urging that a given bill be defeated. One difficulty was that in the master telegram one word was misspelled. And all the hundreds of telegrams that came to me all had that word misspelled. So there you see it you'll get a peculiar estimate of inspired many of that had come to you. But on the other hand most of our mail I think in large part is uninspired Mayo. It is on the individual view body expressed by individuals whether they're farmers small businessman big businessman working folks or who they are doesn't make any difference. And they receive abundant attention because when people bother to sit down with their stubby pens or a fountain pen they don't flow too freely and suck down their thoughts on paper for a few pages which may be a very considerable effort all I can say is that I salute Tommy and we give good attention to the viewpoints which they in a sense then your ability to salute
them has come with experience. Oh yeah Dana Definitely so. So that in a way it's safe to say perhaps that your method or methods of measuring the will of the constituency has changed with time. Yeah prove time you fail. I think you develop a certain deafness of touch over the years and can separate thread which seems a little on the inspired side as against that which really comes from my heart. Do you think the voters are wise to this. Oh I that they approach a new member differently from the way they would perhaps approach and experience. Oh how I rather saw in the VI's I've had opportunity to compare notes with other members of the Senate and even with House members and very particularly my own congressional delegation from Illinois. I think the experience is quite distinct and that there has been a very substantial modification from our earlier days when these techniques were quite transparent. Well we spent a few minutes here talking quite a bit about how the
will of the constituency is hacked and how you have gained experience and so on are you ready for the $64000 mess and leave well out of once you find out. And to the best of your judgment once you find out what the actual will of the constituency is how much weight do you place on this when faced with making decisions of the legislative. I plan to have weight that I want to give you an answer that I give to my people back home. I give careful attention to their viewpoint. But if my independent judgment from where I sit and on the basis of the information and the facts that I have been able to bring together. With respect to a given proposal I'll use that in my judgment they are wrong and I am right. I still must follow my conviction because I think that is one of the things that a representative of the people must not surrender. You see that then imposes on him an additional duty that duty is to go back and explain to him
and prove to them that they are wrong and that he is right. Now I think if he took any other attitude in that he would be rather derelict in his duty and I go back to the days when Pitt was in the House of Commons. He made our high may have been better. He made that so abundantly clear I thought when he said in your representative capacity your conscience is involved and once you have fashioned a conviction on the basis of all the argument at all the fact which has been to do it then it becomes your responsibility to exercise that judgment because that's the greatest responsibility and the greatest duty that you have to your constituents. And if you didn't do it. And if you only followed the multitude so to speak then of course I don't believe one would be whether you have the title of a real representative. Then your definition of representation in a census implies far more than being a kind of tabulator or statistician who counts up these
various feelings and desires of his constituency and then acts in a rather automaton manner. Well I give you a current example of a group that was here yesterday. They came in the interests of certain farm legislation. I said take as much time as you want and you do the talking. Designate want a more spokesman and you tell me your views on this matter and where they got all of who they said Are you for our program I said emphatically No they didn't like it. There was a good deal of argument. I said I can't make it any more emphatic than to talk louder and reaffirm and reassert when I say that the answer is no because I think you're wrong and I think all the facts at my command and all the researches that I've done in this field it adds up to a conviction that you are wrong and I simply can't embrace your view. Yes well you see it's that simple yes because I could very well say well how many of your people and your organization how many feel that way.
They could say 10000 20000 30000 whatever it might be it still wouldn't make any difference how many there were. Because a whole multitude can follow the wrong heart in my judgment yes and then I simply have to assert my judgment in what my conviction is because that is a responsibility of the highest. And I was going to say of the most sacred order. Would you conclude then that the very fact of your reelection after reelection this is what the public perhaps means by representative government too. Well it might be self-serving if I said yes to that. All I can say is that people are literate and people are understanding today and I have not yet seen that how and where you have the chance to spell out in some detail the argument with respect to a given matter. But right you'll get a reasonable kind of comments on it. But this has been very interesting and very kind of you I know you're involved in a very busy
day today and I thank you very much Senator Dirksen of the Illinois for appearing on the series or Congress today. You're very kind and I'm delighted to be your guest today. Thank you thank you so much. The world. The world. After talking with Senator Dirksen I walked the length of the Capitol Building southward to the speaker's rooms on the House side of the Capitol. Oh I was led to the speaker's inner office and the door was closed behind me. Occasionally I could hear the faint sounds of typewriters and telephones in his outer office. One of the busiest suites in Washington. Mr. Speaker how long have you been a member of the House of Representatives. On March the 4th I wound up 45 years my a long time and I imagine during that period of time it held rather important positions other than Speaker of the House is that
correct while from the start of on 237 I was chairman of the Committee on Interstate foreign commerce where I reported the raid on the Holding Company Act Securities Act 33 the stock exchange Regulation Act 34 Federal Communications Act rural electrification and Utility Holding Company Act which is six pretty sizable measures and they are still on the statute books and nobody has tried to repeal any of them since they were enacted. That's true that in 37 I was elected majority leader of the House of Representatives. See. Maintain that position until September the 16th 1940 speaker bank had passed away and on the 16th of September either select on. It I say about this time I have it serves as speaker. 14 in the 30 years which would be six years longer than anybody has ever served in the history of the city. Well as you know Speaker Rayburn the purpose of this particular program is to
determine something about the working relationship between the congressman and the constituency represents I imagine during these four decades plus you have represented many hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of constituents from your own district in Texas is that correct. Yes. Then men who were middle aged when I came here are already gone. People 45 years old were born 44 years old or born since I came here. So it's changed and. I would think that I have represented many hundreds of thousands of people during that time. What do you consider the constituency that is most deserving of your representation of voters within your district or state at large or the nation as a whole. Well a member comes here. He comes by grace of the constituency in his district. Therefore in order to serve then he should devote himself energetically to whatever
problem. Affect that local area and many times they affect that local area and don't affect another part of the country. That's his first duty of course is to look after the people who sent him here. But. The larger saying is to. The congressman at large you might say because 90 percent of the questions that come up here for solution are questions of nation import and affect the welfare and happiness and comfort of all people. Therefore he shouldn't timestep just one district he should try to vote that would do the greatest good to the greatest number throughout the length and breadth of the United States. You say should devote his principal energies to working out the problems of his particular district. I would say the principle I'd say is first his first duty to do that. Do you have any particular method or methods that you consider rather effective after all these years of experience in determining what those problems are
or yes. Because I I never. Probably my conversations are adjourns I go home and I live alone or in the country on a broad highway everybody knows I'm there and everybody come see me. I get a great deal more information about their problems from them than they do from me because they are intimately associated with their problems and we sit down. And talk it out. And usually when we get up we are in agreement on what would be the best for them. And. What I'm doing for them. Whether or not it affects the rest of the country detrimental if it does affect the rest cutted detrimentally I'd try to talk about it. But generally you feel that they hold more information and more accurate information perhaps on these problems than that you can bring to them. That is correct and then we when they bring me their problems and argue them out then we sit down and try to like a cheery try to come to a decision on what is the best thing to do and if they have an impossible proposition I know
I'll tell them frankly that is something that can be done. Like many times mothers and fathers come to me and they want to get their son transferred somewhere in the army. I tell them frankly that I'd like to make and I could make them feel good but tell them I'd work on it. But in about two or three weeks I'd have to tell them it couldn't be done. I tell them in the first instance and given the reasons why it can't be done because I said if the army doesn't know more about where your son should be then I don't. Know. They don't know much about the money. And they usually say Well I we know you'd have Christmas Sam if you could. So you've given us a good reason and we said Well Mr. Speaker do you use any other methods rather regularly besides this personal visitation to your home do you conduct public opinion polls I do not I've never taken a poll in my district I think it's an unfortunate thing to do. I'd rather argue with people after I built than before. If you send out a poll the a district you're likely having to by 60 to 40 after they have told you the 40
percent what they think and when you vote with the 60 percent you challenge their judgement. I'd rather go home and explain what I have done. Then to. Try to take the whole thing. I've never taken a poll in my district yet. I take it from the letters I get from the personal contact I have with them. Where each one of us we're looking each other in the face and we're getting down to cases and we come to see. I feel that you perhaps initiate or perhaps even unwittingly a certain amount of constituency response to the things you do up here. That is to say perhaps they're not even aware of problems until they read in the newspaper what you have done in the Congress and then come to you with their will that Swisher's. That's correct. And I always try to have a good reason for the way I. Act the way I vote. And I represent the farming community presently. They're highly intelligent people well educated and they're pretty prosperous and they're
pretty happy folks right now. Of course farm prices are not satisfactory and the farmer doesn't have the buying power. That I think he should have and therefore are one of millions of people on the farm don't have a buying power. A lot of factors are going to close and a lot of people are going to be thrown out of work because you feel that the speaker of the house that you enjoy a greater degree of rather automatic publicity that enables your constituency to know what you're doing and to react what you're doing and say an ordinary member of Congress would enjoy. I would think. True I think that people in the district that I represent read everything about me they see in the papers. So you don't have to employ a large public relations stunt ever I had just letters I've never had a public relations staff and I've never sent out a newsletter if you feel that a congressman's allegiance or bond to the his constituency changes to a tighter bond or a looser bond aniseed quire has more experience in Congress.
Well when a man is first elected they're taking a chance they don't know if. They've chosen him from a group. Now now we have of course except in one district. We rarely ever have opposition from the opposition party but they choose the best from they thanks in the list for the nomination and then they look at it very thoroughly and very critically until he establishes himself as a man of character ability and energy and that word energy. Now still a lot because you take a man and I don't know how much better he's got a few more work is not much cover. Well thank you very much Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas for talking with us on this very important subject to America. When I returned to the campus of Indiana University I asked Professor Alan Deonna selfless of the department of government to listen to the tape recorded interviews. Or brief some
ation of this topic. The congressman and his constituency. I wanted the views of a specialist in the field. After listening to the interviews with these two distinguished gentlemen Alan Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas and Senator Edward M. Dirksen from Illinois. What would you say by way of some nation. I would make one point which I feel to be very significant and that is that the Birkin tradition is not dead. Edmund Burke told his constituents what his responsibilities to them were in terms of representation. And both the senator from Illinois and Speaker Rayburn indicate that they are not automatons they are not some type of a robot which is sent out from a constituency to represent something known as the majority will. And yet they seem to have a method or methods of at least keeping very
close bond very close touch with their constituencies. Yes no in both cases we know that they have the knowledge that isn't available to their constituents they felt very strongly about this. They also feel a responsibility to vote their own conscience and this doesn't mean that they are going contrary to a majority will the opinion of the majority of people back home but rather they feel very strongly that they are representing the best interests of their constituency as well as the best interests of the nation as a whole. And one note of note from the come one comment made by Speaker Rayburn that he felt that. About 90 percent of the questions which do come before the representatives are questions which affect the national interest as well as a constituency interest when their methods seem to include this obligation to go back to the constituency and perhaps explain in each case the national national or nationwide interest involved perhaps the constituency of a particular district or particular state. Wouldn't first appreciate.
Now here we can note a difference Speaker Rayburn being from a safe constituency where there is a one party system goes back home and sits on the front porch it's on a major highway and he does make contact with the people in that way they know he's home and he they come to him. Senator Dirksen being from a two party state is a slightly different type of approach in that he has through his Senate report Senator reports a weekly radio and television program and evidently this initiated quite a response back home because he does hear from the people through letters and other forms of communication. I notice that neither one of them seemed to had much truck with the public opinion poll although they didn't give us a great detailed explanation of why they were opposed to it they seem to imply a certain efficacy of the poll. Both rejected the idea of questionnaires and evidently the younger congressmen those who were and maybe their first or second term and who certainly want to be returned to
Washington for additional terms employed the questionnaire method feeling that this is one way for them to measure the majority opinion back home to get on the right side of the greatest number of people and therefore they're going to be returned to Washington in the next election. Perhaps the difference between euthanasia and so far as method is concerned. But perhaps we should leave the impression that these men considered experience reason enough for turning their backs on the constituency they felt a very deep responsibility in terms of representing the people of the best interests of the people. Yes well thank you very much Alan for your very interesting some ation. Your Congress today was produced and recorded by the Indiana University Radio and Television Service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center
Your Congress today
Congressman's constituency
Producing Organization
Indiana University
WFIU (Radio station : Bloomington, Ind.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Sen. Everett Dirksen discuss opinion polls and the wisdom of following the wishes of the majority.
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This series explores the relationships between the Congress and the Supreme Court and the Presidency.
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Politics and Government
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Guest: Dirksen, Everett McKinley
Guest: Rayburn, Sam, 1882-1961
Host: O'Connor, Daniel
Producing Organization: Indiana University
Producing Organization: WFIU (Radio station : Bloomington, Ind.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-10-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:31
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Chicago: “Your Congress today; Congressman's constituency,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
MLA: “Your Congress today; Congressman's constituency.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <>.
APA: Your Congress today; Congressman's constituency. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from