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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.

H.R. 40, a Bill to Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization and Enable Aliens to Hold Lands under Certain Conditions, was introduced in the Senate on March 4, 1790. The bill provided that “any Alien being a free white person” who had resided within the United States for two years could file a petition for naturalization in any common law court located in a state in which they had resided for at least one year. After “making proof to the satisfaction of such Court that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law to support the Constitution of the United States,” such person would become a citizen. It also provided citizenship for children of U.S. citizens who were born abroad.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was signed into law on March 26, 1790.

A Bill to Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization, and Enable Aliens to Hold Lands under Certain Conditions, 3/4/1790, SEN1A-C1, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 7452136)

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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

Act for 1789 Federal Government Appropriations, 9/29/1789.

General Records of the United States Government

Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to raise revenue to “pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” The first appropriations act passed by the new Congress was signed into law on September 29, 1789, and set a budget of $639,000 to cover the Federal Government’s expenses for that year.

via DocsTeach

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.  

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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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.

The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every ten years to determine the representation of each state in the U.S. House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first Congressional districts varied dramatically. To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census.

On March 1, 1790, the President signed the Enumeration Act into law. The act required that the marshals of each district, in charge of taking the census, determine the number of free white men, women, heads of families, all other free persons, and slaves. It also mandated that the census-takers distinguish free white males over the age of sixteen, in order to assess the industrial and military strength of the country. The results of the 1790 census determined the allocation of seats in the Third Congress

An Act Providing for the Actual Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, 2/9/1790, SEN1A-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 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)

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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

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.

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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

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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

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

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, 3/4/1789, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives

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)

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 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

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