congress225

Beginning today through February 4, President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress will be on display at the National Archives in the Rotunda Gallery to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the First Congress (1789-1791).

On January 8, 1790 President George Washington delivered his first annual message to Congress. This was the shortest annual message ever delivered to Congress. Since 1934, the President’s annual message has commonly been referred to as the State of the Union address.

Photograph of the Rotunda Gallery Exhibit on Display Beginning January 6, 2015

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See the journal page that records the election of George Washington of Virginia, now on display from April 1 to 16, 2014, in the National Archives Building.

This year marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress. On March 4, 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time. It was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history.

To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand new system of government, defining the rules and procedures of the House and Senate, and establishing the precedents that set constitutional government in motion.

One of the first duties of the new legislative body was to meet jointly and count the electoral ballots for President and Vice President of the United States. This page of the first Senate Journal shows the results of that election: George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected President, and John Adams of Massachusetts, who finished second in the balloting, was elected Vice President.

Image: Senate Journal of the First Congress, First Session, showing entry for April 6, 1789. National Archives, Records of the U.S. Senate

“Be it enactedThat a district of territory not exceeding ten miles square, to be located as hereafter directed on the river Potomack, at some place between the mouths of the Eastern branch and Connogochegue, be, and the same is hereby accepted  for the permanent Seat of the government of the United States.”

Act of July 16, 1790 (D.C. Residency Act), 1 STAT 130, which established the District of Columbia as the seat of government.

From the series:  Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789 - 2011

The permanent seat of the United States government was established in the location that would eventually become Washington, DC, with the Residency Act, signed by President George Washington on July 16, 1790.

See also A Bill to Determine the Permanent Seat of Congress and the Government of the United States (the Residence Act), 5/31/1790 (via congressarchives).

It's here! Happy 225th Birthday, U.S. Congress!

Happy Congress Week! ACSC is proud to celebrate the 225th birthday of the U.S. Congress. To learn more about how you can celebrate Congress Week, please visit our website (http://congressweek.org/).

And if you follow congresscenters on Twitter, feel free to tweet happy birthday greetings using the hashtag, #happybirthdaycongress @ congresscenters.  

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath as the first President of the United States. The oath was administered by Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, on a second floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. President Washington and the members of Congress then retired to the Senate Chamber, where Washington delivered the first inaugural address to a joint session of Congress.

Washington sent an important message by dressing in a plain brown suit that was American made instead of his military uniform. He deliberately chose to dress similar to the people who elected him, and refused to place himself above others.

Minutes of the Senate Describing George Washington’s Oath of Office Ceremony, 4/30/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On January 29, 1790, Mary Katherine Goddard sent the Senate a singular request: to be reinstated as postmistress of Baltimore. After running the post office for fourteen years, and paying post-riders with her own savings during the American Revolution, she was infuriated to lose her position. Especially when the stated reason was that “more traveling might be necessary” for the job “than a woman would undertake.” In her petition, Goddard accused the Postmaster General of dismissing her so he could give the lucrative title to his friend.

Although more than 230 Baltimore citizens, including Maryland’s governor, signed her petition, the Senate did not reinstate her. For the remainder of her life, Goddard supported herself by running a bookshop. She passed away in 1816. Her final act was to free her slave, Belinda Starling, and leave the young woman everything she owned.

Petition of Mary Katherine Goddard for Reinstatement as Postmaster of Baltimore, 1/29/1790, SEN 1A-G1, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On February 9, 1790, Benjamin Franklin, President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, sent Congress a petition that called for Congress to “devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People,” and to “promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race." 

The Senate debated Franklin’s petition along with two other antislavery petitions, but ultimately took no further action on them. The House referred the petitions to a select committee for further consideration. The committee reported on March 5, 1790, stating that the Constitution restrained Congress from prohibiting the importation of slaves until 1808 and interfering with the emancipation of slaves. The House then tabled the petitions, effectively ending the debate on the issue of slavery in the First Congress.

Letter from Benjamin Franklin transmitting a letter from James Pemberton and a petition from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery to Vice President John Adams, 2/1790, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 306388)

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On September 9, 1789, the Senate passed a resolution that included all of the Senate revisions to the House proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The resolution was made from this document, often referred to as the Senate Mark-up of the Bill of Rights. 

This document captures the process of the Senate’s debate over the the House passed amendments to the Constitution from August 25 until September 9. The printed text represents the work done in the House as it hammered out the proposed amendments from July to August. The handwritten annotations describe the work done in the Senate. The mark-up illustrates how the Senate sharpened the language of the amendments, eliminated some articles, and combined clauses to reduce the seventeen House amendments to twelve. 

On September 25, Congress passed 12 amendments that were sent to the states for approval. Ten of the amendments were ratified by the required three-fourths of the states and became part of the Constitution in 1791. These first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.

Senate Revisions to the House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, 9/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 3535588)

225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On August 3, 1789, President George Washington sent to the Senate a list of nominees to be port collectors. The name of each nominee appear next to each position with a note on the outcome of the Senate’s vote. “Aye” is written next to each name but Benjamin Fishbourn. Fishbourn was the first presidential nominee to be rejected by the Senate, and the event marked the beginning of the custom of senatorial courtesy—a tradition which continues today.

This tradition holds that the Senate may reject a nominee who is not supported by the nominee’s home state senators. It encourages the President to engage the Senate in the “advice” part of the nomination process, as well as the “consent” part.

Nomination of Port Collectors, including the nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn, 8/3/1789, SEN1B-A1, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

At the start of the First Congress, the question of where the permanent capital would be located was highly contested. Although the Constitution mandated a seat of the Federal Government, it had not specified an exact location. Congress, over the course of its first year, had considered more than a dozen potential locations.

On May 31, 1790 a bill to determine the permanent seat of Congress and the Government of the United States (the Residence Act) was introduced in the Senate. Instead of proposing a location, a blank space was left on the bill to be filled in with the proposed location when one was agreed upon.

Read more at Prologue: Pieces of History.

A Bill to Determine the Permanent Seat of Congress and the Government of the United States (the Residence Act), 5/31/1790, SEN1A-B1, Records of the U.S. Senate

225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

As recorded in the first House Journal, only eleven representatives were present on March 4, 1789, the first day of the First Congress under the Constitution. Neither the House nor the Senate had enough members present to attain a quorum, so they adjourned from day to day until they could proceed with official business.

House Journal of the First Congress, First Session, ¾/1789, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives

Congress Creates the Bill of Rights

Congress Creates the Bill of Rights explores how Congress proposed amendments to the Constitution in 1789 with an eBook, a mobile app for tablets, and online resources for teachers and students.

The eBook is available for download on our website and available in iTunes and the iBookstore for your iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The app is available for download on your iPad in the App Store. The online resources for teachers are available on our website.

Today kicks off our commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the First Congress. Over the next two years (and in addition to our regular content), we’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution.

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate met for the first time in New York City on March 4, 1789 in Federal Hall. As representatives and senators arrived at the start of the First Congress under the Constitution, members presented their credentials, also known as certificates of election, to their respective chamber to show they were the person duly elected to represent their home state. Above are the credentials of Senator William Few of Georgia, one of eight senators to arrive at the start of the First Congress.

Credentials of Senator William Few from Georgia, 2/5/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 7727164)

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On January 8, 1790 President George Washington delivered his first annual message to Congress. This was the shortest annual message ever delivered to Congress. Since 1934, the President’s annual message has commonly been referred to as the State of the Union address.

President George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress, 1/8/1790, SEN 1A-E1, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On June 23, 1790, Representative Elbridge Gerry issued a report to the House of Representatives, listing the books that he thought were necessary to have for reference by Congress and the executive departments. The report proposed that Congress should appropriate one thousand dollars to assemble a library, and five hundred dollars each subsequent year, until Congress obtained an “adequate” book collection. The library would spare members of Congress from “trespassing too much on the indulgence of their friends” by frequently borrowing these necessary texts. The report was tabled.

In 1800, Congress established the Library of Congress as part of a bill transferring the national capital from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. The Library of Congress was originally housed in the new Capitol building.

Report on a Catalogue of Books Necessary for the use of Congress, 6/23/1790, SEN1A-B1, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On February 9, 1790, the Senate received notice from President George Washington that he had made appointments during their recess from September 1789 to January 1790. 

When Congress is in session, the President’s nominees must receive the “advice and consent” of the Senate before they are appointed to public office. But Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution also states:

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

The Founders intended for these recess appointments to ensure that the work of government could continue even when an office holder resigned or died when the Senate was not in session. These appointments allowed the President to place someone in office temporarily until the Senate had the chance to weigh in.

President George Washington’s Message to the Senate Regarding Recess Appointments, 2/9/1790, SEN 1B-A2, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On May 13, 1790, the Senate introduced a bill to prevent bringing goods, wares, and merchandise, from the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, into the United States, and to authorize a demand of money from the said State. If passed, the bill would treat Rhode Island as a foreign state since their March convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution adjourned without taking a ratification vote. The Senate passed the bill on May 18. The bill was then sent to the House for consideration. However, the House was informed on June 1 that consideration of the bill was no longer necessary because Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution on May 29.

Act to Prevent Bringing Goods, Wares, and Merchandise, from the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, into the United States, and to authorize a demand of money from the said State, 5/13/1790, SEN1A-B1, Records of the U.S. Senate

225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On July 6, 1789, the Senate introduced this bill, an Act to Establish an Executive Department to be Denominated the Department of War. The War Department bill was the third bill introduced to establish an executive department. The Foreign Affairs bill was introduced in June, and the Treasury Department bill was introduced just before the War Department bill on July 6. 

The Department of War was signed into law on August 7, 1789.

An Act to Establish an Executive Department to be Denominated the Department of War, SEN 1A-1C, 7/6/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On April 3, 1790, President George Washington forwarded Congress a copy of a letter from South Carolina’s Governor and a copy of the legislature’s January 19 ratification of the Bill of Rights.

South Carolina was the 4th state to ratify amendments to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights officially became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791 when three-fourths of the states ratified articles three through twelve.

Letter from President George Washington Transmitting Copies of South Carolina’s Ratification of the Bill of Rights, 4/3/1790, SEN1A-E2, Records of the U.S. Senate

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225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.

On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. President George Washington transmitted copies of North Carolina’s ratification at the start of the 2nd Session of the 1st Congress in January 1790.

Letter from President George Washington Transmitting Copies of North Carolina’s Ratification of the U.S. Constitution, 1/11/1790, Records of the U.S. Senate