Posts Tagged ‘Speaker of the House’


Headstone for Tip O’Neil

On my visit to Historic Congressional Cemetery during this bike ride, I happened upon a headstone for someone I knew of and remember, but didn’t know was honored at the cemetery – Tip O’Neill.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the cemetery got its name when in 1830 the United States Congress appropriated money for improvements, built cenotaphs to honor representatives who had died in office, and purchased several hundred burial sites to be used for members of Congress.  Although the cemetery itself is privately owned, the U.S. government owns 806 burial plots.  This includes many members of Congress who died while Congress was in session.  And I now know that Tip O’Neill is honored there among them.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. was born, raised, and lived out almost all of his life as a resident of North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was also in North Cambridge where he got his start in politics. He first became active in politics at the age of 15, when he campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then, as a senior at Boston College, O’Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. It was his first race, and his first and only electoral defeat. But the campaign taught him a valuable lesson that would later become his best-known quote: “All politics is local.” O’Neill’s first electoral victory came shortly after he graduated from college, when he was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From there he would go on to become the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that position until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district, and was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill became a very outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives. He would be reelected 16 more times, and served for 34 years. In 1977, O’Neill was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served as Speaker until his retirement a decade later, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the one of the longest-serving Speakers in U.S. history.

One of the first things that comes to my mind when remembering Tip O’Neill, particularly during the time near the end of his career, was that it was a time when politics and governing was not the animosity-filled, adversarial process that it is today. Republicans and Democrats could have differing opinions and significantly different political philosophies, but at the end of the day they were congenial, and even friendly with each other. And no two people exemplified this type of relationship better than Tip O’Neill and the President at that time, Ronald Reagan. Despite O’Neill being described by his official biographer, John Aloysius Farrell, as an “absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat,” O’Neill was able to have a friendly relationship with a President who rehabilitated conservatism, led the modern conservative movement, and turned the nation to the right. O’Neill and Reagan vehemently disagreed on almost everything, yet were known to occasionally have a beer together at the end of the day, or get together along with their spouses for dinner.

As I stood at the headstone and thought of those bygone days, I couldn’t help but lament the decline in the civility of the current political process in this country.  I find it impossible to imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with Melania Trump and former President Bill Clinton, ever choosing to get together socially today.  I miss the days when politicians and people could disagree with each other, yet still respect the other person and their opinion.  And I think Tip O’Neill would feel the same way.

UPDATE:  I later learned that the maker in Congressional Cemetery is actually a cenotaph, not a headstone.  A cenotaph is a monument built to honor a person or people whose remains are interred elsewhere or whose remains cannot be recovered.  Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

The Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas Tree

On this bike ride I stopped by to see the Capitol Christmas Tree, also known as “The People’s Tree,” which is located on the West Lawn on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building (MAP).  The tree was officially unveiled and lit by Speaker of the House John Boehner during a ceremony earlier this month.

The regular practice of displaying a Christmas tree on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building is relatively recent. Correspondence from 1919 in the records of the Architect of the Capitol indicates that a Christmas tree was purchased that year. However, it was not until 1964 that a definite procedure was initiated and a tree-lighting ceremony established, and the Capitol Christmas Tree became an annual holiday tradition.

In 1964, Speaker of the House John William McCormack suggested to J. George Stewart, the Architect of the Capitol, that a Christmas tree be placed on the Capitol Grounds. That year a live 24-foot Douglas fir was purchased for $700 from Buddies Nursery in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and planted on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Then each year through 1967 the tree was decorated and a tree-lighting ceremony was held. Unfortunately, a combination of factors, including a severe wind storm in the spring of 1967 and root damage, caused the tree to die in 1968. It was removed that same year.

The Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture, has provided the trees since 1969. The annual tradition has become an honor for one national forest, which then works with partners throughout the state where the tree will be harvested.

This year, the Forest Service partnered with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Choose Outdoors, Inc., to harvest this year’s tree from the Chippewa National Forest in Cass Lake, Minnesota. It travelled over 3,700 miles on its way to D.C., passing through and stopping to visit 30 different communities across the country before arriving at the Capitol Building just before Thanksgiving. It is a White Spruce, and at 88 feet it tied for being the second-tallest tree ever used at the Capitol (behind 1989’s tree which was a foot taller, and tied with last year’s tree). It is also taller than either the National Christmas Tree in front of The White House, or the famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Capitol Christmas Tree is decorated with thousands of LED lights, as well as thousands of ornaments, handcrafted by children and others from numerous Minnesota communities as a gift from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

The Capitol Christmas Tree should not to be confused with The National Christmas Tree, which is near the White House and lighted every year by the president and first lady. The Speaker of the House officially lights the The People’s Tree, which remains lit from dusk until 11 p.m. each evening through January 1, 2015.