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Over the course of history, the alignment of the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties with the "political right" and "political left" has changed. For example, the Republican Party from the Civil War to the Progressive Era could be labelled on the political left; yet today that party is on the political right.

Seating in the United States Senate and House chambers is also divided between the left side and the right side. Currently, Democrats sit in the seats to the presiding officer's right, and Republicans sit to the left. (In contrast, the ruling party of the U.K. House of Commons always sits to the right, and the opposition party always sits on the left; a change in the ruling party switches which party is on the right side of the chamber.)

Has the realignment of a party's political philosophy ever resulted in a reversal of their seating in either chamber of Congress? In other words, has any political party ever literally "switched sides" in Congress?

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Not since the parties started sitting together, it seems.

The Senate has PDFs of the seating arrangement from 1810-2003 (it's an interactive web tool after that). You can also click on the Democrat and Republican leader desks and see that they've been occupied by those parties since the 99th Congress (1985).

1921

One hundred years ago, the senate was arranged like this, with seats #9 and #10 being the traditional leader's seats (since 1920/25) on the presiding officer's left and right respectively, along the center aisle. In 1921, they were occupied by Robert La Follette (R-WI) and Oscar Underwood (D-AL).

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1860

Wikipedia lists Democrats and Republicans as the major parties of Congress starting in the 35th Congress of 1857, but at the time the Senate occupied the Old Senate chamber.

In 1860, the first use of the current senate chamber, it looked like this, with those center aisle seats #61 and #62 being occupied by George Pugh (D-OH) and John Crittenden, who wasn't an R or D. The next Senator I could locate, David Yulee (FL) sat in #64 and was also a Democrat, so it seems like they weren't sitting on the left/right by party yet.

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1970

I spot-checked 1970, which has Hugh Scott (R-PA) and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) in the left/right center aisle seats, respectively.

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  • For what it is worth, the seating arrangements in the U.S. Congress are themselves a carryover from the seating arrangements in the earliest French Parliament which established the political terminology of left v. right wing as a reference to ideology, that was driven the original ideological leanings of the parties in question despite the fact that they have traded places now.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 11, 2021 at 22:57

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