Round Table Discussion

The United States, In Congress Assembled

What Burnham Saw

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States . . . ”  Thus run the first words of Article I, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution, clearly laying out the Framers’ understanding of the nature and the role of Congress.  Everything else enumerated in Article I—the various powers of Congress to raise an army and to make a declaration of war, to mint currency, to establish uniform regulations for naturalization and interstate commerce, and so on—are all, in the thinking of the Framers of the Constitution, legislative functions to be performed by the representatives of the several states, in Congress assembled.  This corporate nature of Congress is something that we often forget—and something which helps point the way toward a restoration of a government that is truly federal, rather than national.

John F. Kennedy’s court historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., popularized (though he did not invent) the phrase “the imperial presidency” in his book of the same name.  Yet a decade and a half before Schlesinger published his partisan attack, masquerading as political history, on Kennedy’s old foe Richard M. Nixon, a more serious student of the American political tradition, James Burnham, had already written everything that Schlesinger got right, and much more that Schlesinger got wrong.

Burnham’s 1959 book Congress and the...

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