By Ray Smock
I was the House Historian in 1987 when Nancy Pelosi first entered the House of Representatives. I witnessed her rise to leadership.
She said in her speech today that she went from "homemaker to House Speaker." This is true but it does not tell the full story of her long involvement in American politics, which was a family calling with her father serving in numerous political offices including Congress and later as Mayor of Baltimore. She was no ordinary freshman member in 1987. She hit the ground running. Nobody worked harder in the House than did Nancy Pelosi.
I have studied the speakership and leadership in the House and I had the honor of working for three Speakers: Thomas P. "Tip" O' Neill, Jr. of Massachusetts, Jim Wright of Texas, and Tom Foley of Washington State. Nancy Pelosi is the first woman to hold this job and she clearly ranks as one of the best and most effective speakers in American history.
Past speakers from both parties have sought to represent their party and also the nation. Some have been negative forces holding back the future and clinging to the past. This negative role was sometimes what the country seemed to want, as was the case at the turn of the 20th Century, when powerful speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois held up progressive legislation for years saying the country was doing fine and didn't need any new legislation.
Wielding power alone does not make a leader great. Power does mark and shape the institution and national affairs. Greatness in a speaker, I suggest, comes from a positive role, not a negative one. Greatness stems from a vision of a better future and the effort to improve the lives of the people. In this context Nancy Pelosi qualifies easily as a great speaker.
Today she cited the Preamble to the Constitution, still the best single definition of what government is for and should do. Government should establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. And when Speaker Pelosi got to the word "posterity" she clarified it. It is our nation's children. It is future generations. Children born today, she said, will live into the next century. What kind of nation and what kind of world do we want to leave to the children?
She will stay in Congress and represent her San Francisco district. I am sure she will continue to be force in the affairs of her party and the nation. But today she passed the torch of leadership to a new generation. It is so in her character of looking forward.
This totem was created for President Joe Biden “to raise awareness of Indigenous sacred sites at risk from oil, gas, mining, and infrastructure projects.” The totem was accepted on behalf of the President by the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland. The totem traveled more than 25,000 miles before reaching its final destination, stopping at eight endangered sacred sites: Snake River, Idaho; Bears Ears, Utah; Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; Black Hills, South Dakota, Missouri River, South Dakota, Standing Rock, North Dakota, White Earth, Minnesota and the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan.
You can watch the dedication ceremony at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RSmE38DmUs
The director of the NCTC, Steve Chase, in his opening remarks, began by acknowledging that the land on which the NCTC sits was once the home of many indigenous peoples including the Shawnee and the Delaware. Those who spoke stressed not only the need to protect sacred sites, but for all of us to be stewards of Earth. Human activity has created a planetary crisis of global warming which affects every person and every nation. As I write this, we are learning of the awful devastation from Hurricane Ian, and I thought back to my own experiences on Pine Island in Florida, one of the places hardest hit. That island too has a long history with indigenous peoples. Perhaps the highest ground on that island is the shell mounds built by the Calusa, the dominant people of South Florida for many centuries. I wonder if that place is still recognizable.
By Ray Smock
When I served as House Historian, I was eyewitness to the ceremonial events in the House Chamber. With the passing of Queen Elizabeth today, I offer this account of her only appearance before the U.S. Congress on May 16, 1991. The following are excerpts from the journal I kept during my years in the House.
Excerpts from the Journal of the House Historian, May 24, 1991
…The night before the Queen's appearance before the joint meeting of Congress on the 16th I was working late, and Vic Ratner of ABC called to ask a question. "Did we ever send the British a bill for burning the Capitol in the War of 1812?" He apologized for asking; it was clear he was stretching for a story angle. (Later Cokie Roberts told me she put Vic up to it.) I laughed and said to Vic "Why would we send them a bill, we thought we won that war."
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh do have a regal and polished bearing from a lifetime of role playing. I was surprised by how short (and wide) she is and how tall he is. The Duke sat in a chair on the Speaker's dais to the left and behind the Queen. Behind him in his usual prominent spot was the Clerk of the House Donn Anderson, who simply loves all this pomp and circumstance. I could tell that he was thoroughly enjoying this setting. My only exposure to the Queen was during the joint meeting. I was in the chamber in my usual spot [standing near the portrait of George Washington] and watched the proceedings. The chamber was packed, but not overly crowded the way it was for Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa. The Doorkeeper was a little more nervous than usual because he wanted to get their introduction just right. Even the wily old veteran Molloy seemed taken by the opportunity to introduce the Queen, for the first appearance of a British monarch before the U.S. Congress. It was a historic moment, if only a symbolic one.
The press gallery was particularly animated during the joint meeting, especially when the Queen first entered the chamber and again when she exited following her address. The press sits in the gallery directly above and behind the Speaker. Most of the time there are only a few members of the press seated there for the regular business of the House. During special occasions, however, they fill the seats. Those in the press gallery never show any particular emotion other than mild boredom or amused detachment. They don't stand or applaud when the president or the guest speaker enters the chamber.
While all the other galleries rise and engage in applause, as do the Members and staff on the floor. The press, as a show of their aloofness, and to demonstrate the fact that they are busy working and writing, pretend they are not a part of the proceedings. In Don Ritchie's excellent new book Press Gallery he quotes journalist Louis Ludlow of Indiana, a member of the press gallery for more than a quarter century before running for Congress himself: "In the Press Gallery we sit at the top of the world and the kingdoms of earth are at our feet." That captures the attitude that prevails in the press gallery.
In reality, however, they are no more detached from what goes on the floor of the House than I am, but both our professions demand the appearance of detachment and impartiality. For the Queen's visit the press leaned forward and strained to see every nuance of her arrival and departure. They reacted just like any other citizen who wanted to glimpse a celebrity. They lost their cool, if only for a moment. As the Queen approached the Speaker's dais and the press had to look almost straight down, I thought half of them were going to tumble out of the gallery and fall on the Speaker, [Tom Foley] the Vice President, [Dan Quayle] and the Queen. Wouldn't that have made a good story and a great picture for the cover of the news magazines.
There was nothing special about the Queen's address. It was, in fact, very bland, and she read it without much spirit or emotion. I guess queens and popes don't have to be entertaining. They are speaking to the ages. The Queen, of course, is really delivering a message from the British government. She delivers what the Prime Minister wants her to. It was a short speech, politely interrupted by respectful applause on several occasions. Her only display of playfulness and spirit came at the very beginning before she launched into her formal remarks. As she stood at the podium she said, "I do hope you can see me today." This brought down the House and she received a standing ovation and much laughter. The day before when she was received by the President [George Bush] someone screwed up and did not make arrangements for the podium to match her height. It was set for the President who is well over six feet tall. When the Queen came forward to speak all anyone could see was a bank of microphones and her purple hat. She was dubbed the "talking hat" or the "talking mushroom." The Queen’s opening line before Congress was perfect, a real icebreaker. But then her speech was so uninspiring that the ice began to form again almost immediately.
The Byrd Center has received two remarkable documents written by Stan Cavendish that he wrote in 2010, not long after the passing of Senator Byrd in June that year. These are pieces of literature that express marvelously the insights that inspire historians, biographers, political scientists, and anyone wishing to understand the role a senator plays in the life of state and national politics. They suggest to me that we should turn more often to literary forms rather than statistics and policy positions if we want to gain deeper understanding of our elected leaders.
Senators Byrd and Randolph came from quite different backgrounds but they campaigned together in 1958 and arrived in the Senate within months of one another. Randolph was elected to fill an unexpired term of two years, so he was sworn in on Nov. 5, 1958. Byrd, running for a full six-year term, was sworn in on Jan. 3, 1959. Thus Randolph was the senior senator from West Virginia until he retired on Jan. 3, 1985. Byrd would go on to set the record for the longest serving senator in American history, serving until his death on June 28, 2010.
On behalf of the Byrd Center, I want to thank Stan Cavendish for sharing these wonderful insights with us and with the public. A biographical sketch of Mr. Cavendish follows the two pieces.
Ray Smock, Interim Director
(Reflection on the service of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd)
A hill boy, plain as a mile of dirt road, I can see you there, in the solitary hills,
an orphan always looking to belong. But not in this place, surely not in this
museum of democracy. You arrived from backwoods where pints of whiskey
were more highly valued than points of law; it was democracy of a different strain.
You might win over the people with a fine Labor Day speech and a fiddling tune,
a square dance call and a prayer for the working man, because you were one of them, with their hard lives, hard needs, hard ideas. But here, you were out of place
like muddy boots in marble halls.
Yet you became a master of the house where you never belonged – of use, of service, remembering the numbing detail of ledgers, budgets, rules, as though the Thanatopsis recitation was at stake. Forgetting nothing, in particular the haughty tones of your betters, you took a lunch at your desk, soda crackers and dark yellow cheese, while secretaries pushed at you letters to sign, notes with directions to the folks back home – how to find help with the roads, with the Social Security, with the County, when they, like you, had been ignored. While the men with push and pull went to dine at white tables with the company men who hung around the well, you read the books, the history, the law until you could recite them in your dreams.
Mansfield and Ervin and Kennedy drove the ship, but you were the quiet rudder. You practiced oratory, sometimes with logic and passion like the preacher sweating and swirling through Daniel and Nicodemus, and sometimes with heavy history, self-important, granddad stories – to a room of yawning clerks. But when the bleak days came, and sharp words were needed, suddenly you stood like Billy Sunday, delivered the Constitution to the brotherhood, shamed them, looked them down, gave them Orwell and Daniel Webster and Ecclesiastes, to the last one, words inspired not by Latin, not Cicero and Caesar this time, but by McGuffey, the mountains and home – stand up straight, work before supper, truth and duty before everything!
It is remarkable, not that you arrived in this unlikely place or arrived in an imperfect state, but that you were there for a particular moment when you were needed, a universe away from the butcher shop and the hills, and yet so near – harbinger, a dark bird with a sharp and angry call, the rain crow once again howling down the rain.
(Reflection on the service of U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph, with fictional voice of Sen. Robert Byrd)
The Common Man
How could this be a noble thing, I thought with misgivings when I arrived, to spend
your day in argument? To carry no lunch pail, but to wear a woolen suit, suspenders, a tight collar. To have another man at your elbow, shuffling your papers for you,
pointing you to a next appointment, quietly and with too much deference. Hands grow soft – how could this be a noble thing?
Unless, like you, you were born to wear ruffles at your wrist, and a nanny tied a bow
for you just so. And they named you for a famous man without concern for what you might feel need to live up to, because he was a family’s friend who chucked you
under your chin, they told you, when you were a gurgling baby. Then, maybe, what else might be expected?
Then, maybe, because you are accustomed to hear the rhythm of speech of men
who talk in practiced ways at a calm pitch, never causing alarm, you can rise
among them and quietly use those words that stir the pots of financial lore and pick the bones of war and commerce, can speak of laws and policy that could move armies, cities, mountains.
But how did you know, then – without rough days at school among common men –
what the people might require? How roads might change the destiny of those who live among the mountains, how schooling for modern times might let impoverished children awaken to a hopeful day? Perhaps it was something you read, or heard from others’ talk, because you could not have had it in your experience, never put your hands upon it, you born of ruffles and well-laid dinners, where a granny wiped the grease from your pink cheeks, and you never felt
the bite of cruel hunger.
Because we are such simple creatures of habit and memory, how did you imagine
the choking dust that comes of mining rock deep under the hills, the dust that
enters a man’s lungs and never leaves, that smothers his very soul? Then you rose
and spoke about what must be done to protect this working man, this stranger,
this somehow brother. How was there sorrow in your words when you told of
the black men buried quietly away in a single grave, with no memorial to their labor,
their sacrifice, their lives but cornstalks brown and waving,
with no apology, no justice?
In this college of well-read men, most born like you in privilege, you held up the lamp of the working man and cast a light on what drives all human aspiration –
hunger, work, responsibility, knowledge, justice. The man and woman by the wayside of the road were your concern, you said. But how did you know them? When were you ever there, except passing by in the parade?
I think of these things you might have learned – the man who gave five talents to
his servant, who then went to the marketplace and traded and made five more
for his master. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. So I can understand why, in the college of well-fed men who discuss commerce and law, you might have raised the cause of the working man. But unless there was some deep bond, a resonance outside the range of hearing, I simply don’t know how you understood, when you heard it, the cry of men who bore the brunt of hungry children, no jobs, no hope, and who asked for a new deal.
Hugh S. (Stan) Cavendish Biography
Stan Cavendish is a West Virginia native, retired telecommunications industry executive and volunteer leader in programs centered on education, cultural affairs and the environment. He is currently vice chair of the Cedar Lakes Foundation, treasurer of the WV Humanities Council and a master naturalist volunteer, primarily in Canaan Valley, where he and wife Carolyn maintain a second home.
Cavendish was raised in Ripley and Beckley, WV; obtained a B.A. degree in English from West Virginia University; worked as a teacher and then weekly newspaper editor, before beginning work at C&P Telephone Company in 1976. He completed a 30+-year telephone career with a five-year term as president of Verizon West Virginia.
While in positions focused on education and economic development, he led a successful effort (World School) to bring high-speed internet to all the public schools in the state and another (Office of the Future) to bring more than 20,000 teleservices jobs to West Virginia. He also directed Verizon’s support of the Humanities Council’s WV Encyclopedia project and eWV, the on-line version of the encyclopedia.
At Verizon, Cavendish oversaw millions of dollars in focused charitable contributions, including many in support of public education, teacher training and higher education programs, and others in furtherance of enhanced 911 capability statewide.
He is past chairman of the State Workforce Investment board and the WVU College of Education Visiting Committee; served on the State Community College Board, WV Roundtable, and Discover the Real WV Foundation, among others. He was honored as an outstanding Almnus of the WVU College of Arts and Sciences. Stan and his wife Carolyn, a well-known watercolorist, live principally in Charleston. They have two children and a granddaughter.
The staff of the Byrd Center and its Board of Directors note with sadness the recent passing of Lex Miller, a generous donor to the Center and an active participant, with his wife Pam, in the programs and activities of the Center. We send our heartfelt condolences to Pam and the entire Miller family and to their many friends.
Lex was a model citizen, fully engaged in the life of the Shepherdstown community and the broad cultural and social aspects of this university town. His quiet manner could not hide the strong intellect, wisdom, and dedication to public service that he brought to his volunteer work with many organizations. The Millers moved to Shepherdstown in 2004, just two years after the Byrd Center opened its doors, and we were so fortunate to have Lex and Pam among our friends and supporters.
Ray Smock, Interim Director
By Richard Jones
Byrd Center Student Intern
Click the maximize button (lower right corner) to view this digital timeline full-screen.
By Richard Jones, Byrd Center Student Intern
Read Part I here >>
Senator Robert C. Byrd made his issues of the campaign financing system in the United States and its reform part of his agenda for the 100th Congress. In 1988, Byrd and Oklahoma Senator David Boren introduced campaign financing reform legislation. The bill set voluntary spending limits for Senate candidates in general elections in all states. The bill was met with opposition from the Senate Republican Party who led a filibuster against the legislation, arguing that the proposal favored Democrats and would restrict American citizens from participating in elections, with Senator Mitch McConnell arguing that Congress would never agree on the extent of these limitations to campaign contributions. Despite a Democratic majority in the Senate, the move for a cloture vote to end the filibuster failed seven times, though Byrd threatened to keep the Senate in continuous session until the legislation was resolved. Republican senators subsequently scattered and Byrd moved to have the Senate sergeant-at-arms gather the absentee senators to participate in a record eighth cloture vote which also failed . Byrd withdrew the bill after this but made clear his intention to call up the legislation in the future.
By Richard Jones, Byrd Center Student Intern
By Ray Smock
The reason I am coming out of retirement to be the Center’s Interim Director is because the current director, Jay Wyatt has taken an excellent position at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC. This is a great opportunity for him. I am pleased for Jay to be able to work in the part of the National Archives that oversees all the committee records of Congress going back to 1789. The volume of those records rivals those in all the Presidential Libraries.
There is another reason I am coming back. I love the work. In November 2009, Brian Lamb came to the Byrd Center and conducted an interview with me for C-SPAN’s “Q&A” program. We talked about the Byrd Center and its mission, about Senator Byrd, who had just become the longest serving person in the history of the U. S. Congress, and Brian worked in a book interview about my biography of Booker T. Washington, published that year.
At the end of the interview Brian asked me how long I would keep doing the work. Without hesitation I said, “I will do this as long as I can because I love what I am doing.”
I stayed at the Byrd Center another nine years after that interview, retiring at age 77 in 2018. I left the Center in the capable hands of Jay Wyatt and Jody Brumage. I remained a member of the board of directors of the Congressional Education Foundation that oversees the work of the Center.
I recruited Jay in 2013 to come to the Byrd Center as Director of Programs and Research, with the probability in mind that he would be my successor, and that was the happy result in 2018. Jay’s contributions to the work of the Center have been immense, including the launch of a major touring exhibit on the career of Senator Byrd that went to twenty-two sites in West Virginia, and was featured twice in the U.S. Capitol. He served two terms as president of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress; a national organization founded here at the Byrd Center in 2005. Jay and Jody both laid the major groundwork for the Center’s expansion into teacher training institutes and civics programs for West Virginia students.
The Center’s archive, including the extensive papers of Senator Byrd, are in the capable hands of Jody Brumage, who began his career here almost ten years ago, when he became a Shepherd University student intern. He has often said that his experience working in a major research collection was one of the best experiences he had at Shepherd, and that lead to his career in archival management.
Under Jody’s direction dozens of Shepherd students have experienced hands-on learning in our collections. His behind-the-scenes tours of our archive are popular because of his enthusiasm and knowledge of our collections. While working at the Byrd Center he completed a master’s degree from San Jose State University in Archives and Records Management. He has proven to be a talented and versatile part of our staff. With my return, Jody will assume even more responsibility as Director of Education and Outreach.
I am coming back to the Byrd Center to provide continuity while we plan for the future. We have much work to do. The Byrd Center needs to achieve a sound financial footing if it is to survive. The Center is a non-profit educational institution on Shepherd University’s campus. We receive no funds from the State of West Virginia, and the staff members of the Byrd Center are not paid as university employees.
We were able to build and operate the Center in the past from funds from several large federal grants, going back to the creation of the Center in 2002, when grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided funds for program development. In recent years, the Center has relied on smaller grants for some of its programs, and from a growing cadre of local donors who have become indispensable to the Center’s survival.
It is a joy to see how the local community in and around Shepherd University has stepped up to keep the Center going. Several years ago we established a “Friends of the Byrd Center” group, under the leadership of Lisa Welch. More recently, Marianne Alexander has launched an effort to raise $200,000, of which more than $100,000 has been realized in just a few months. An anonymous donor provided a $60,000 matching grant that has encouraged larger donations. Both Lisa and Marianne, along with Sue Kemnitzer, serve on the Center’s board of directors.
We are working diligently to seek grants from the federal government, from private foundations, and from supportive entities like the West Virginia Humanities Council, which has helped us with grants to conduct our teaching training institute.
It would be a tragedy if the Byrd Center closed its doors and folded its tent, especially at such a crucial time in U.S. history when the nation is in a major struggle to save American democracy.
Like millions of Americans, I am still in shock over what happened at the U.S. Capitol just weeks ago. A mob of American citizens engaged in an insurrection against the greatest symbol of democracy in the world. They violently invaded the Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power in our presidential election. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Even in the depths of the Civil War, no Americans attacked the Capitol. Yet just weeks ago Confederate flags were carried into the heart of our democracy, some used as weapons to assault members of the Capitol Police. Some of those in the riotous mob were former members of the U.S. military, who had sworn an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Something is terribly wrong when that oath gets turned up-side-down. The rioters shouted “This is 1776” as if they were patriots just like George Washington.
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education should be a part of a national network of institutions that promote a better understanding of Congress and the Constitution. We need all schools and all universities to take up with new urgency the need for public education about the purposes of government and the meaning of democracy. The federal government and all state governments must re-evaluate the importance of history and civics education.
“Knowledge is Power,” Frances Bacon said at the end of the 16th Century. That idea was burned into the minds of the Founders of this nation who saw the importance of knowledge about government to be of vital necessity to a free people who sought to governed themselves.
One of my favorite quotations of James Madison, who did so much to make our Constitution a reality, is:
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both."
My friends, we are in the midst of both a national farce and a national tragedy of monumental proportions. Ignorance is governing knowledge. Ignorance has been spread like wildfire by lies and misinformation through social media and polarized news. Ignorance has been spread from our own White House.
For the last half century there has been a steady erosion of confidence government at all levels. This undermines civil discourse and respect for constitutional government. Voters too often send people to state legislatures and to the U.S. Congress who are elected because they proclaim government is an evil that is standing in the way of their freedoms, when the opposite is the case.
Senator Byrd saw this erosion. He saw the hardening political lines that prohibited compromise. He saw how ignorance of history led to distortions about the narrative of America. Before he passed Senator Byrd had appropriated more than a half billion dollars in teacher training in history. This was a national program. Senator Byrd feared, as Madison and Jefferson feared, that a people ignorant of their own history and their own government was the greatest threat to the success of our experiment in representative government.
Without public knowledge of government, it could succumb to demagogues and tyrants. In 2010, when Senator Byrd passed, his Teaching American History program died with him. That idea no longer has a champion in the United States Congress. Education at all levels has suffered from the neglect of history and civics and we are paying a dear price for it.
With the help of all the Friends of the Byrd Center, I pledge to work to keep this vital part of the Shepherd University campus and this active community of citizens going strong as long as I can, until my successor is found. And it will be hard to find a strong successor unless we can demonstrate that our financial house is in order for the foreseeable future.
My heartfelt thanks to the faculty and staff of Shepherd University and to the many Friends of the Byrd Center, and to our Board of Directors, for all your support and encouragement as I return, for a time, to the task I love.
Byrd Center Director Dr. Jay Wyatt to take position at National Archives and Records Administration. Dr. Ray Smock, Byrd Center Director Emeritus, to return as Interim Director.
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education announced today that Dr. Jay Wyatt will resign as Director effective February 1, 2021. Wyatt will join the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration's Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, D.C.
Wyatt joined the Byrd Center staff as Director of Programs and Research in 2013 and led the development of numerous popular public program series, exhibits, and educational initiatives. In 2018, he was named Director following the retirement of the Byrd Center’s Inaugural Director, Dr. Ray Smock.
Joe Stewart the Chairman of the Byrd Center’s governing board said “while we are sorry to lose the outstanding service of Jay Wyatt at the Byrd Center, the Board is thrilled with the national recognition of his unique talents. We extend our heartiest congratulations to Jay.”
The Byrd Center’s board of directors unanimously passed a resolution of distinguished service at its meeting on January 27, citing Dr. Wyatt’s many contributions to civic education and public outreach through the Center’s programs and research. The board earlier promoted Mr. Jody Brumage, the Center’s Archivist and Office Manager to the position of Director of Education and Outreach in recognition of his leadership role in the Center’s educational programs.
Dr. Ray Smock, the Byrd Center’s Director Emeritus, will return as Interim Director. Smock served as the Center’s director from 2002 until his retirement in 2018. Smock was the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983-95. Chairman Stewart extended special appreciation to Smock for “generously agreeing to resume the directorship of the Byrd Center.”
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education is a private, nonpartisan, and nonprofit educational organization located on the campus of Shepherd University. Its mission is to advance representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens.
Welcome to the Byrd Center Blog! We share content here including research from our archival collections, articles from our director, and information on upcoming events.
The Byrd Center advances representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens.
© 2021 Robert C. Byrd Center for
Congressional History and Education