We may think the 114th Congress, now in session, or the 113th (2013-2014) are two of the worst Congresses in American history, based on their single-digit approval by the public. Indeed, they do compete for the label of Do-Nothing Congress. But Larry Schwartz of Alternet points out that at least five previous Congresses did more harm. He highlights five of the worst laws passed by Congress in American history.
- The 5th Congress (1797-98), at the behest of the unpopular Federalist president John Adams, passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed the government to arrest, imprison or deport any non-citizen who spoke out against the federal government. Fortunately, Adams and the Federalists lost the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party, and the Alien and Sedition Acts were allowed to expire.
- The 21st Congress (1829-30), at the behest of Native-American-hater President Andrew Jackson, passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It “dictated the removal of the tribes from their lands, state seizure of their property and their relocation to territory west of the Mississippi River.“What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms?” wrote President Jackson at the time. Thousands of Native Americans died when they were forced to leave their homeland.
- The 31st Congress (1849-50) passed the Fugitive Slave Act, encouraging bounty-hunters to search free states for runaway slaves, capture them and return them to their owners.
- The 66th Congress (1919-20) passed the Volstead Act, making Prohibition the law of the land. President Woodrow Wilson actually vetoed the legislation, but Congress over-rode the veto. “In the beginning, Prohibition seemed to work, as bars shut down, drunkenness abated and advocates crowed about improving morality,”Schwartz wrote. “However, sensing an opportunity, criminal elements soon began filling the vacuum and organized crime was born. Much as today’s “war on drugs” has spawned overcrowded prisons and unspeakable gang violence, the Volstead Act’s war on liquor spawned a proliferation of bootleggers, violence and legendary outlaws like Al Capone. The federal government was overwhelmed by the abundance of lawbreakers and the dearth of enforcement agents. In 1933, the Congress finally cried uncle and repealed Prohibition.”
- The 88th Congress (1963-64), after a few hours’ debate, passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, giving President Lyndon Johnson unquestioned authority to wage war unilaterally, without Congressional approval. This was done after an American battleship, spying illegally in North Vietnamese waters, was fired upon by the North Vietnamese (they missed).