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This Week in Senate History

April 19, 1912

Titanic Disaster Investigation

The supposedly "unsinkable" luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. Within three hours, the ship had sunk with the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. Five days later, a special subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, chaired by William Alden Smith of Michigan, began hearings to investigate the causes of and responses to the disaster. Following two days of testimony in New York, the committee returned to Washington for an additional 16 days of hearings. In all, 82 witnesses testified—officers, crew and passengers—providing riveting eyewitness accounts of the tragedy.

April 21, 1789

John Adams by Eliphalet Frazer Andrews

John Adams assumed his duties as the nation's first vice president in the Senate chamber at New York City's Federal Hall. In a brief address to the Senate, Adams expressed concern about his lack of experience as a presiding officer. "Not wholly without experience in public assemblies," he commented, "I have been more accustomed to take a share in their debates, then to preside in their deliberations." Adams promised to preside with appropriate "consideration, delicacy, and decorum," but found it difficult to avoid debate. By the end of his second term, however, Adams had established the role of neutral presiding office that continues today.

April 22, 1861

Union Soldiers at Capitol

With the Senate out of session, the Senate chamber served as a hospital and resting place for young recruits of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment who came to Washington in answer to President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers to support the Union Army. Weary and bedraggled after being attacked by a Baltimore mob on their way to defend Washington, the Union soldiers "made camp" in the Senate Chamber. By day, they drilled and marched on Capitol grounds, then rested in the chamber each night. For two months, the chamber provided shelter for the soldiers, who, in turn, provided security for the Capitol.

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Featured Document: Historic Senate Furnishings

The U.S. Capitol and Senate office buildings house many exceptional historic furnishings as well as everyday objects that provide a glimpse into the Senate’s storied past. This Property Report of Sergeant at Arms shows an inventory of the furnishings and objects used in the daily operation of Senate offices in 1910.

Senate Seal

The Senate Seal, kept in the custody of the Secretary of the Senate, is affixed to impeachment documents and resolutions of consent to international treaties. It also appears on presentation copies of Senate resolutions recognizing appointments, commendations, and notable achievements. The current seal, the third design since 1789, depicts a scroll inscribed with E Pluribus Unum floating across a shield with 13 stars on top and 13 vertical stripes on the bottom. Olive and oak branches symbolizing peace and strength grace the sides of the shield, and a red liberty cap and crossed fasces represent freedom and authority. Blue beams of light emanate from the shield. Surrounding the seal is the legend, "United States Senate."


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