The Senate censured Senator Benjamin Tappan (D-OH) for leaking to the New York Evening Post documents associated with a treaty to annex the Republic of Texas. The materials were protected by the confidentiality of a Senate executive session. The Senate considered expelling Tappan, but the 70-year-old first-term member admitted to mailing his copy of the treaty materials to the newspaper. His timely confession produced the lesser penalty of censure. The Senate then adopted a rule subjecting to expulsion any member "convicted of disclosing for publication...matter directed by the Senate to be held in confidence."
May 11, 1911
Factional divisions within the Senate Republican majority produced an extraordinary stalemate, beginning on this date, over the usually routine task of electing a Senate president pro tempore to preside in the absence of the vice president. A three-month deadlock resulted from Senate procedures requiring that such an election be decided by majority rather than plurality vote and prohibiting the body from conducting other business until the election was completed. Eventually, the exhausted members of both parties compromised with a plan to allow one Democrat and four Republicans to take turns presiding for the remainder of the congressional session.
May 13, 1789
The Constitution required that senators be divided into classes "so that one-third may be chosen every second Year." On May 13, 1789, the Senate implemented this requirement. The 20 serving senators arranged themselves into three balanced classes, with no class containing two members from the same state. A senator representing each class drew from a box one of three papers numbered 1, 2, and 3. The class of the senator who drew #1 would serve until 1791, #2 until 1793, and #3 until 1795. Senators arriving from newly admitted states would draw lots for assignment in a manner that would keep the classes balanced.
May 14, 1971
First Female Pages: Paulette Desell and Ellen McConnell
Although the Senate had employed pages as messengers since 1829, until his history-making day all had been male. Taking their places at the head of what would become a long succession of female pages were Paulette Desell, sponsored by Senator Jacob Javtis (R-NY), and Ellen McConnell, sponsored by Senator Charles Percy (R-IL). Three more female pages, Julie Price, Mari Iwashita, and Barbara Wheeler, served the Senate later that year. "It is simply a question of fundamental human fairness," Javits explained. "A question of whether half the population shall be deprived of an opportunity without a substantial reason."
May 16, 1868
For the first time in its history, the Senate voted to acquit or convict a sitting president who had been impeached by the House of Representatives. By a 35-to-19 margin, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority, the Senate failed to convict and therefore remove from office President Andrew Johnson. A second roll-call vote on May 26 produced an identical outcome, and Johnson served out his term as U.S. president. One hundred and thirty-one years later, on February 12, 1999, the Senate voted to acquit another impeached president, William J. Clinton.
Watergate's Legislative Legacy
The Watergate committee published a final report on June 27, 1974. Congress passed a number of the committee’s legislative recommendations including revisions to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The changes imposed limitations on expenses and contributions, required regular reporting by election committees, and established a means for public financing of presidential nominating conventions and primary elections. In 1978 Congress approved the Ethics in Government Act requiring financial disclosure by executive and judicial branch officials, establishing the Office of Government Ethics as an oversight agency and allowing for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Watergate Committee Issues Subpoenas
When a former aide to President Richard Nixon revealed the existence of a White House taping system to the Senate Watergate Committee, the committee requested access to the tapes. The president refused, prompting the committee to vote unanimously on July 23, 1973, to subpoena recordings and related documents. When the president refused to comply with the subpoena, he created a constitutional crisis that ended with a landmark Supreme Court decision, United States v. Nixon (1974), requiring the president to relinquish the tapes and documents.