One of the best books ever written about the Senate took the form of a diary. Published in 1963, its title is A Senate Journal, 1943-1945. Here is what its author, United Press correspondent Allen Drury, had to say about a May 28, 1945, session in which the Senate rejected, for its own members, a politically explosive $2,500 congressional expense allowance. "The Senate decided today that Representatives are worth $2,500 more than Senators. It was an unhesitating decision, endorsed by an overwhelming vote. It . . . left the House out on a limb. Each house got something. The Senate got the glory and the House got the cash. It was quite a lively afternoon."
Assigned to cover the Senate in December 1943, Drury immediately began to keep a diary. He hoped its eventual publication would enlighten Americans about the Senate. "There is," he concluded, "a vast area of casual ignorance concerning this lively and appealing body." Drury later used his diary notes to compose his 1959 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Advise and Consent.
As a journalist, Drury had the good fortune to arrive in the Senate at a time of obvious and dramatic change—from the crisis of World War II to the challenges of the postwar era. He met and observed a handful of the old-time senators, "delightful characters, one or two of them still in tail-coats and possessed of flowing hair, all filled with a lively awareness of their own egos, all imbued with a massive sense of the dignity and power of being a Senator of the United States." As he later wrote to the Senate Historical Office, "I've always regretted I abandoned 'Senate Journal' after a year. I could have gone on cannibalizing myself for years to come, had I but had the foresight."
A Senate Journal is packed with brilliant character sketches. Here is Drury's April 1944 evaluation of Vice President Henry Wallace. "Wallace is a man foredoomed by fate. No matter what he does, it is always going to seem faintly ridiculous, and no matter how he acts, it is always going to seem faintly pathetic. He looks like a hayseed, talks like a prophet."
What historians would give for more diarists like Allen Drury!
Drury, Allen. A Senate Journal: 1943-1945. New York: DA Capo Press, 1963.
Drury, Allen. Advise and Consent. New York: Doubleday, 1959.