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Who Should Govern Congress? Access to Power and the Salary Grab of 1873


We examine the politics of the “Salary Grab” of 1873, legislation that increased congressional salaries retroactively by 50 percent. A group of New England and Midwestern elites opposed the Salary Grab, along with congressional franking and patronage-based civil service appointments, as part of a reform effort to reshape “who should govern Congress.” Our analyses of congressional voting confirm the existence of this nonparty elite coalition. Although these elites lost many legislative battles in the short run, their efforts kept reform on the legislative agenda throughout the late nineteenth century and ultimately set the stage for the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century.

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