Guest Post: Celebrating Congress Week at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM)

Poster_Small_330x242_(2016)This week’s blog comes to us from Zach Kastens, a graduate assistant at the Baylor Collections of Political materials. Welcome, Zach!

From April 1st—7th, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress celebrates Congress Week, commemorating the month in which Congress achieved its first quorums in 1789. This year, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (a founding member of the ACSC) highlights Congressman Chet Edwards’s defense of the First Amendment to memorialize the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Chet Edwards PortraitThomas Chester “Chet” Edwards served as the representative for Texas’s 11th and (after redistricting in 2005) 17th districts from 1991 to 2011. During his 20-year tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Edwards championed legislation on veterans’ issues, education, technology, and senior-citizens. As a moderate Democrat representing a demographically Republican district, Edwards developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent leader who valued his constituents’ concerns over partisan politics. His political talent and cross-party appeal earned him a spot on then-Senator Barack Obama’s Vice-Presidential shortlist in 2008.

Edwards HandshakeFor Chet, politics, service, and compassion were inextricable from one another. He often spoke of his duty to his district and his appreciation for men and women in uniform. Furthermore, Edwards strongly advocated for the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His willingness to listen to, consider, and learn from opposition was partially informed by his respect for the American Constitution and his own religious faith. As a Christian, Chet’s views on the separation of church and state carried considerable weight among his colleagues, so much so that he was considered by some to be the leading congressional voice on the issue.

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Click the image above to view the speech in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated June 12, 2001, Congressman Edwards responds to a quote from President George W. Bush decrying political opposition to Faith-Based Initiatives. This minute-long speech on the House floor held many political implications. As a Democrat representing a Republican district, Edwards toed a fine line when it came to criticizing the sitting Republican President. President Bush’s residence complicated matters; in 1999, before taking office, Bush purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch – a property approximately twenty-five miles from Waco, TX – thus becoming one of Edwards’s constituents.

Here, Edwards reiterates his personal respect for the President and “his right to offer his proposals,” but then gives a scathing critique of the President’s comments: “Challenging people’s religious faith because of public policy differences is not a way to bring Americans together. Rather, it is a prescription for religious divisiveness.” Edwards’s criticism echoes Thomas Jefferson’s remarks in 1802: “… I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore a man to his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Both Jefferson and Edwards advocate for the separation of government and religion, believing that an American’s belief in the latter should never be made to conflict with the former.

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Click on the image above to view the video in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated February 5, 2004, Congressman Edwards and Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) debate the merits of Charitable Choice provisions. These provisions are found several pieces of legislation, such as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, the American Community Renewal Act, the Fathers Count Act, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, and the Job Improvement Training Act.  Supporters of Charitable Choice provisions hoped to provide federal funds for religious social work programs to help administer addiction recovery and poverty relief without compromising the integrity of the religious organization’s mission.  Opponents, including Edwards, the Baptist Joint Committee, etc., argued that the provisions would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring for federally funded positions; they also feared that these provisions would allow the religious organizations, in effect, to use federal funds to proselytize to their clients.

Edwards argued that the language in the bill “subsidize[d] religious bigotry in America” due to the allocation of taxpayers’ money toward discriminatory hiring practices. He framed Charitable Choice provisions as the first step in the erosion of religious liberty, citing the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. For Edwards, religious liberty was not a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan one, too sacred to be sullied by politics. He characterized the denigration of religious freedom as “wrong,” finding such practices “morally offensive as a person of faith” and “deeply offensive to the First Amendment.” Perhaps the most severe condemnation of Charitable Choice legislation comes when he refers to the Founding Fathers’ famous battles over federal and states’ rights as Representative Boehner attempts to adjourn the discussion to a later date: “If this was an issue important enough for Madison and Jefferson to debate for 10 years in the Virginia legislature, … then certainly it’s worthy of our discussion here on the floor.”

Since its 1791 addition, proponents of faith-based governance have attacked the First Amendment’s role as the primary defense of American citizens. However, those who believe in the sanctity of religious liberty have been defended by legislators who shared the vision of America’s Founding Fathers – a vision of a country ruled not by fear, oppression, or dogma but by its own citizens. For Chet Edwards, religious liberty struck at the heart of this vision. He believed in an America where every citizen is free to practice (or not practice) any religion they desire without fear or financial, governmental, or social retribution.


Learn more about the political career of Chet Edwards by visiting the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards Papers collection, and for more information about the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, please visit their website.

Political Maneuvering: Updates and Changes to the Digital Collections, Fall 2015

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Screengrab of portion of the new BCPM homepage, available at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/bcpm

We’re taking the opportunity of this week’s blog post to highlight some changes to one of our partner institutions and – as it directly relates to us – their digital collections.

Announcing the Baylor Collections of Political Materials
Digital Collections!

Our friends at the W.R. Poage Legislative Library recently announced a return to their longstanding practice of referring to their unit as the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM), housed in the W.R. Poage Legislative Library. Debbie Davendonis-Todd, the Bob Bullock Archivist at the BCPM, sent along this history on the use of the BCPM name:

In 1979, the W. R. Poage Legislative Library Center was established to honor the public service of former Representative and Baylor alumnus W. R. “Bob” Poage. The Center has been home to a number of departments including a unit of the Baylor Libraries focusing on legislative materials. On April 18, 1991 an official name was unveiled: Baylor Collections of Political Materials or BCPM.”

Returning to a previous moniker and launching a shiny new website meant we had a chance to do a little reorganizing of the BCPM digital collections, with some collections relocating into new, thematically-focused curated collections and others receiving updated branding to reflect the Poage/BCPM name change.

The BCPM Digital Collections
These collections, created from materials housed in the BCPM, have been updated to reflect their holding institution’s name change; they can all be accessed from the BCPM institutional page in our Digital Collections site, or via the links below.

Two New Curated Collections

The JFK Assassination Analysis Collection
This collection contains materials related to the ongoing analysis surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Its contents span the spectrum of thought on Kennedy’s murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The JFKAAC is comprised of the following collections:

Political Campaign and Propaganda Materials
This collection contains materials related to political campaigning, propaganda and the pursuit of political office, as well as ephemera related to political campaigns. The PCPM is comprised of the following collections:


 

We hope you’ll take a moment to peruse the new BCPM site, and to take a look at the materials in the collections highlighted in this post. We’ll be adding new content from the BCPM in the coming weeks and months, and as new batches are ready for public consumption we’ll be highlighting them in this space. In the meantime, please follow the BCPM’s blog, “like” their Facebook page and check out their Tumblr site.

A Visit From Rep. Chet Edwards

Former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards in his office at Poage Legislative Library

Baylor University recently announced that former U.S. Congressman Chet Edwards was appointed the W.R. Poage Distinguished Chair for Public Service, an honor that was accompanied with the news that his congressional papers would be housed in the Poage Legislative Library on campus.

A few weeks prior to the announcement, Congressman Edwards toured the Riley Digitization Center and learned more about our capabilities to digitize large archival holdings. Edwards was very interested in how we are able to turn hundreds of feet of paper records into searchable, remotely accessible digital objects. As his records will also contain materials on audio/visual formats like DVD, VHS tapes, and Umatic tapes (like Beta), Edwards was also impressed with the Riley Center’s video and audio migration technology.


Above, Assistant VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan shows Rep. Edwards a 16” radio transcription disc while Darryl Stuhr, Manager of Digitization Projects, looks on at left. The disc was placed on a turntable in the radio studio and cut live as the broadcast was under way. An interesting thing to note on discs of this size is the second hole in the center; the extra weight of such a large disc could cause it to wobble during recording, so the second hole in the center fit over a second spindle for added stability.

Prior to his visit, Rep. Edwards had mentioned the impact a speech by George W. Truett had on his development as a legislator. That speech, “Baptists and Religious Liberty,” was delivered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920 while Truett was in Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Edwards spoke fondly of his appreciation for the speech, and we were excited to be able to pull up a digital copy available in our Institute of Church-State Studies Vertical File Collection. Below, Curator of Digital Collections Eric Ames shows Rep. Edwards the digital copy of that speech, reprinted in the October 1981 issue of the “Baptist Standard.”

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We are excited to work with Rep. Edwards as he develops his congressional papers for use by students, scholars, and interested parties around the world. They will serve as a unique and invaluable asset to those seeking a deeper understanding of American politics, geopolitical relations and his beliefs on the subject of leadership.

(1) Photos of Edwards’ tour by Allyson Riley