In the 90 years since The Christian Science Monitor first went to
press, American politics has moved from presidents who rode to their
inaugurations in a horse-drawn buggy to senators orbiting in space.
While the superstructure of American politics is the same, many
the details are profoundly altered. Consider: In 1908 the United
States Senate had only 92 members, because there were only 46
Senators were elected, not by voters, but by state legislatures. The
House had 386 representatives.
Women could vote in only 12 states, and no women served in
Congress. The voting age was 21, and there was no income tax. Most
Americans lived in rural areas, and the population was centered in
the Northeast: New York had 39 electoral votes and Pennsylvania had
34, while California had 10, Florida 5, and Texas 18. Blacks in the
North could vote, but most still lived in the segregated South,
specially crafted literacy laws kept them from the polls.
Voters met their candidates in person or read about them in
newspapers. No one had heard of radio, TV, or exit polls.
The changes since 1908 have been profound: Arizona and New Mexico
joined the union in 1912, followed by Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.
That brought the number of senators to 100.
Meanwhile, the process of electing senators was distorting both
the election and work of state legislators. So in 1913 the 17th
Amendment was adopted, providing for direct election of senators by
the voters of each state.
The House of Representatives also changed with dramatic effect.
Until 1929, as the population grew and states were added, the House
simply added new seats. In that year, Congress limited the number of
House seats to 435. This meant that eventually each House member
would represent far more people than in the past. And it also meant
that when a state gained seats as its population grew, they would
come at the expense of another state.
A changing population
That's significant, because the United States has seen a number of
important population shifts over the 20th century. For one thing,
the population has almost tripled from 92 million in the 1910 census
to 249 million in 1990. Ever mobile, Americans moved from the
countryside to urban areas, until, by 1920, most lived in cities.
After World War II, they decamped to the suburbs that now surround
every major urban center.
In addition, the population drifted south and west: California
passed New York as the most-populous state in the early 1960s; today
New York ranks third behind Texas. The geographic "center" of US
population moved from Bloomington, Ind., in 1910 to near Steelville,
Mo., 80 years later. As a result, while New York now has dropped to
33 electoral votes and Pennsylvania to 23, California now has 54,
Florida 25, and Texas 32.
The electorate has also grown more diverse. Women got the vote in
federal elections in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment.
While blacks migrated north to industrial jobs by the millions
beginning in World War I, the end of segregation and the passage of
civil-rights legislation in the 1950s and '60s guaranteed them
to the ballot box. The 26th Amendment in 1971 extended the vote in
federal elections to 18-year-olds.
The result was to slowly open politics and government to people
who had been excluded. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin (R) of Montana
became the first congresswoman. President Franklin Roosevelt named
the first woman Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, in
1933. President Ronald Reagan appointed the first woman Supreme
Court justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, in 1981. And in 1984, Democrat
Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to win a major-party
for vice president.
Robert Weaver became the first African-American Cabinet member in
1966, appointed secretary of Housing and Urban Development by
President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson also named the first black Supreme
Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, in 1967. …