Has "congressman" ALWAYS meant "representative, not senator"? [And "congressmen" from 1777]

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Oct 20 21:01:25 UTC 2010

I turn to the only database I am privileged to use from home, Early
American Newspapers.  (All statements below to be qualified by "in
the absence of false negatives" and ""as best I can read" and "I
haven't verified page numbers or identified column
numbers".)  Searching for "congressman", which turns up at least some
plural "-men" instances (The earliest hit searching for "congressmen"
is 1791.)  I report in my order of encounter, thus a little
discursively.  See especially (1c) below.

1)   1777 Sep. 11, Massachusetts Spy [Worcester], p. 1 and
4.  Earliest hit in EAN.  This is Isaiah Thomas's paper; he was a
vocal patriot.

1a)  [Near bottom of page 4, col. 2]  "All the Congressmen and
Legislature to be paid out of the State Treasury.  No one man holding
a place in the Congress, Legislatures, [sic plural] or in any army,
to hold any of the following Executive offices: Judge of the
Superior, or any Inferior Court; or Court of Probate nor any
Sheriff,  nor any Congress-man, to hold any place in the Legislature,
nor in the army, nor any Governor, or Secretary or Treasurer; [sic]
hold any other place in the legislature ..."

Antedates OED 1780.  Perhaps other instances in this article; the
first of the two "Congressmen" above was not highlighted by EAN.

This is a statement about principles for Massachusetts (see next),
not the Federal government.  However, twice it distinguishes
"Congress" from "Legislature".  I'd have to read more to get a better
sense of the writer's distinction.  (Massachusetts did before the
Revolution as well as after have a bicameral legislature.)  On the
other hand, *here* it is perhaps not absolutely clear whether
"Congressmen" means only the lower house or also includes the upper
-- but see (1c) below.

1b)  [Page 1, at beginning of article.]  "As the General Court, have
some time since Resolved upon [lear?]ning a Constitution for this
State ...".  The term "General Court" in Massachusetts at this time
referred to both bodies together, which were separately called the
"House" or "House of Representatives" and the "(Governor's)
Council".  ["Learning" might be correct -- in the sense of "acquiring
knowledge of a subject."]

1c)  [Later on page 1.]  "... I would propose that the whole State be
divided into five districts, as near equal as may be, according to
the [XX]  u[X]-tion numbers and freehold.  That each of these
districts have a member chosen out of them for the Congress; and five
Counsellors, or senators for the upper house of the Legislature
..."  [My only guess for the unrecognized word, or two words, is
"valuation", which likely makes sense in correlation with
"freehold[ers]", since only men having a certain minimum "estate" could vote.]

(The Council had in the mid-18th century 28 members.  Five districts
by 5 each is close to that number.)

Note especially the use of "senator" here.

Here I would say that "Congress" means only the lower house to this
Massachusetts writer in 1777.

2)   1785 Jan. 1, Independent Journal [NY], p. 2.  Second earliest in EAN.

2a)   [Beginning of article.]  "Dec. 23, 1784.  Be it ordained by the
United States in Congress assembled ..."

(The following resolution establishes a commission for siting what
became, or was a predecessor to, the District of Columbia.)

For the meaning of :"Congress" here, I ask whether the Congress of
1784 was uni-cameral.  I suspect so.  (Wikipedia says of the First
Continental Congress that it had 56 delegates from 12 of the 13
colonies.  It does not mention a second chamber, nor does it say
anything about the membership of the Confederation Congress of 1781
to 1789.)  If so, there was no need yet in the Federal realm to
distinguish two types of representatives.

2b)   [In continuation of article.]  "... that in choosing a
situation for the buildings, due regard be had to the accommodation
of the States with lots for houses for the use of their Delegates

(I do not know whether the site was intended for future meetings of
the Continental Congress, or for "Delegates" after the adoption of
the articles of the Confederation.  But there should be ample
historical sources to answer this question.)

No distinction of two types of "delegates" here.

3)   297 total hits from EAN alleged for "congressman" before
1820.  I have only looked at the next, 1788 Feb. 13, Massachusetts
Centinel.   This is about the Massachusetts convention for adopting a
state constitution.  It appears to use "Congress" to refer to the
legislature as a whole, and "Congressman" possibly to refer only to
the lower house (but I would have to read much context to be sure
about the latter).

4)   Identifying the meaning of "senator" is beyond my self-imposed
research limit.  Between 1775 and 1780 there are 91 hits in EAN, but
one will have to winnow out historical uses, e.g. about Roman
senators.  Another problem is, perhaps, that in Massachusetts members
of the Council might have been referred to as "senators" by analogy
and to enhance their status.


At 10/20/2010 02:37 PM, Neal Whitman wrote:
>For election day, I'm writing a column about the usage of "congressman" to
>mean "representative", as opposed to "member of Congress, from either
>house". I haven't found the topic in the archives here, although I did find
>a 2002-2003 thread in alt.usage.english, and it got pretty heated.
>I'll summarize the main viewpoints that emerged in the AUE thread, with the
>intention being that if you subscribe to one of these views, you can know
>that your view is in the record. The question I'm trying to answer comes
>after the summary.
>1.  Since "Congress" refers to both the Senate and House of Representatives
>together, therefore "Congressman" DOES mean "member of either house of
>Congress", although it is usually used to refer just to a representative.
>In opposition, we have:
>2.  Even though "Congress" refers to both the Senate and House of
>Representatives together, you just have to learn the semantic limitation on
>"congressman" as one of the idiosyncratic things about the word, the same
>way that you learn that a humanitarian is not an anthropophage, even though
>vegetarians are herbivores.
>2A. Although "congressman" may have at one point included senators, it
>doesn't now. (Basically the Q-based narrowing of "congressman" that Larry
>mentioned in his paper introducing the term.)
>2B. No, "congressman" never did include senators.
>My question is whether claim 2B is true. The OED has 1780 for its earliest
>attestation (see below), before the Constitutional Convention, but I'd like
>to find some attestations between 1789 and the early 1800s to see how
>"congressman" is being used in the early years of the US. It doesn't appear
>in the Constitution or the Federalist Papers. Google Books and ProQuest have
>been of little help, so I was hoping some of the accomplished antedaters
>here might be able to help out.
>1780 The American Times iii. 28 Ye coxcomb Congressmen, declaimers keen.
>1806 FISHER AMES Wks. (1854) I. 349 And I consider too, how unreasonable it
>is to expect a Congressman can fill letter after letter with important
>matter. a1834 DOW Serm. III. 137 (Bartl.), Our congressmen, my dear hearers,
>what are they? Nothing but bloodsuckers upon the cheek of the United States.
>1888 BRYCE Amer. Commw. I. xiv. 197 note, The term 'Congressman' is commonly
>used to describe a member of the House of Representatives, though of course
>it ought to include senators also.
>Neal Whitman
>Email: nwhitman at ameritech.net
>Blog: http://literalminded.wordpress.com
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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