The Evolution of Party Leadership

Jeffery A. Jenkins

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199559947
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

The Evolution of Party Leadership

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Party leadership has always been a focus of studies on leadership in Congress. From 1922 to 1991, party leadership has been the subject of many congressional studies. Today, party leadership is at the heart of many congressional theories of behavior and organization, and the degree to which party leaders exercise influence has been the most studied question in Congress for the last two decades. While party leadership has been one of the most studied areas in Congress, much of the studies from 1922 to 1991 were largely time bound and focused on the existing party leadership within a particular congressional era. This article discusses the evolution of party leadership by examining studies of different eras. It describes how meaningful leadership emerged in the early nineteenth century, how it grew slowly for a time before rising dramatically late in the century, peaking during the “strong party” from 1890 to 1910, and how it declined before resurging again in the late 1970s. It also discusses how party leadership has evolved in Congress and the Senate. The article also indicates the significant substantive gaps that exist in the literature and future directions of party leadership scholarship.

Keywords: party leadership; leadership; Congress; evolution; nineteenth century; strong party; 1890 to 1910; late 1970s; Senate

Article.  13959 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Political Institutions

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