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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 5, 1790, President George Washington forwarded Congress copies of New York’s February 24 ratification of Articles One and Three through Twelve of the Bill of Rights.

New York was the 7th 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 New York’s Ratification of the Bill of Rights, 4/5/1790, 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 February 2, 1790 the Senate received a petition from printer Francis Bailey asking Congress to patent his innovative printing techniques for preventing counterfeiting. Bailey’s petition was referred to the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton who reported back to Congress on February 23 that Bailey should be issued “exclusive right” to use his invention.

On March 2 the Senate was sent H.R. 44, an act to give Francis Bailey the exclusive right to use his invention. This was the only patent petition received by the First Congress to result in a private bill. However, the Senate never voted on the bill because of the passage of the Patents Act on April 10, which provided the Patents Commission the ability to issue patents. Bailey’s patent application was placed through the Patents Commission. He was issued a patent for his invention on January 29, 1791.

H.R. 44, an Act to Vest in Francis Bailey, 3/2/1790, SEN1A-C1, 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 January 28, 1790, President George Washington forwarded copies of a letter from the Governor of Rhode Island and an act from the Rhode Island legislature calling for a ratifying convention. However, the convention adjourned without taking a ratification vote, and Congress considered legislation that would tax imports from Rhode Island as foreign goods.

On May 29, Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution. They included with their ratification a list of 18 human rights and 21 proposed amendments. Most of the 21 amendments were included in the Bill of Rights passed by Congress and sent to the states for adoption. On June 30, Rhode Island passed all 12 of the proposed amendments, though only amendments 3 through 12 would be adopted as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

Rhode Island Act Calling for a Constitutional Convention, 1/28/1790, SEN 1A-E2, Records of the U.S. Senate

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

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

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 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 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

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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 August 10, 1789, President George Washington forwarded to the Senate a statement by General Henry Knox. Knox laid out the organization of the military as established under the Articles of Confederation in 1787. He included details relating to the number of troops, their pay and rations, and where they were stationed. Knox noted at the end of his message that the articles of war needed to be amended to align with the Constitution, and that new troop oaths and officer commissions would also be required.

President George Washington’s Message on the Military Establishment with a Statement of Troops in Service from General Henry Knox, 8/10/1789, SENA1A-E4, 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 July 9, 1789 a report was issued to the House of Representatives on the financial responsibilities of the federal government. The report highlighted expenses of the federal government for 1789, arrangements for paying foreign and domestic debt, and for carry-over of payments from the Confederation Congress.

Report and Estimate of Supplies Requisite for the Service of the United States for the Present Year, 7/9/1789, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives

Beginning today through April 16, the First Senate Journal will be on display at the National Archives in the Rotunda Gallery to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the First Congress in 1789. The Journal is open to the entry from April 6, which shows the results of the electoral tally for President and Vice President of the United States: George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected President, and John Adams of Massachusetts, who finished second in the balloting, was elected Vice President. 

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.

This ‘letter of recommendation’ is from members of the Confederation Congress on behalf of James Mathers, who served as their doorkeeper and messenger in 1788. On April 7, 1789, the Senate elected James Mathers to be Senate Doorkeeper. Mathers served as Doorkeeper (and later Sergeant at Arms) until his death in 1811.

As Doorkeeper, Mathers maintained the Senate chamber, stoked the fire, cared for the Senate’s two horses, oversaw the transfer of records and furnishings to Philadelphia in 1790 and Washington, DC in 1800, and kept order once the galleries were permanently opened. In 1795, his job was expanded to Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper to enforce the law should anyone refuse to appear before the Senate in cases of trial and impeachment.

Recommendation From Members of the Confederation Congress to Appoint James Mathers Senate Doorkeeper, ¾/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 7788932)

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 4, 1789, the House received this petition from David Ramsay, author of History of the Revolution of South Carolina and History of the American Revolution. Ramsay asked Congress to pass a law to grant him the exclusive right of “vending and disposing” of the books within the United States. The committee to which this petition was referred reported favorably on it on April 20, 1789.

Congress received 7 petitions relating to copyright legislation during the First Congress. HR 43, the Copyright Act, passed on May 17, 1790.

This was the first private petition ever presented to Congress.

Petition of David Ramsay for a Copyright Law, 4/4/1789, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (NAID 7788931)

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.

The tradesmen and manufacturers in Baltimore began drafting this petition asking for duties on certain imported goods in February 1789, before Congress had even met for the first time. The petition is from approximately 750 citizens, and received in Congress on April 11, 1789.  The new revenue system passed by the First Congress included four acts that related to foreign trade: the Impost Act, HR 2; the Tonnage Act, HR 5; the Collection Act, HR 11; and the Coasting Act, HR 16.

Petition of the Tradesmen, Manufacturers, and Others of Baltimore, 4/11/1789, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (NAID 7788930)

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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 18, 1789, the Senate replied to the President’s April 30 inaugural address. Vice President John Adams personally delivered the reply and was sent back to the Senate with the President’s own reply (shown above). Washington stated he was ready to work with the Senate “in the arduous, but pleasing, task, of attempting to make the nation happy.”

Reply of the President to the Address of the Senate, 5/18/1789, 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.

Senator Richard Bassett of Delaware presented his credentials to the Senate on March 21, 1789. His fellow senator from Delaware, George Read (whom he shared credentials with), did not arrive in New York until April 13. The Senate needed two more senators to attain their first quorum after Senator Bassett took his seat.

Credentials of Senators Richard Bassett and George Read of Delaware, 3/6/1789, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 7727434)

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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 25, 1789, the Senate considered this House bill, “An Act for Establishing an Executive Department, To Be Denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs.” The House passed the bill on June 24, and sent it to the Senate for consideration. The act was passed and signed into law on July 27. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs was the first federal agency established under the U.S. Constitution, and it was renamed Department of State in September, 1789. 

HR 8, An Act for Establishing an Executive Department to be denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs, SEN 1A-C1, 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 25, 1790, President George Washington forwarded copies of a letter from the Governor of Maryland and an act from the Maryland legislature ratifying all twelve articles in the Bill of Rights.

Maryland was the 2nd 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.

Maryland’s Ratification of the Bill of Rights, 1/25/1790, SEN 1A-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 August 27, 1789 a second report was issued to the House of Representatives on the financial responsibilities of the federal government. The report highlighted expenses of the federal government for 1789, mainly the amount of interest on the public debt and for carry-over of payments from the Confederation Congress.

Second Report and Estimate of Supplies Requisite for the Service of the United States for the Present Year, 8/27/1789, HR1C-B1, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives