The Senate met for the first time in its new quarters on the second floor of Philadelphia's Congress Hall. From March of 1789 until December of 1790, the Senate had convened in New York City, in a building known as Federal Hall. For the next decade, the U.S. Congress completed its legislative duties in Philadelphia. Finally, during the summer of 1800, the federal government packed its boxes and moved to its permanent home in the newly created District of Columbia. On November 17, 1800, the Senate convened its first meeting in the still-unfinished United States Capitol.
December 7, 1829
The Senate appointed its first page, 9-year-old Grafton Hanson (grandson of Sergeant at Arms Mountjoy Bayly), beginning a Senate tradition that continues today. For many years, Senate pages were young boys, typically 9 or 10 years old, who lived in Washington, D.C. Employment as a Senate page offered the children a chance to earn a small income to help support their families. In the 20th century, the Senate developed its page program into a professional school designed to educate high school students while giving them the unique opportunity to work in the legislative environment. The first female pages entered the program in 1971.
December 9, 1858
The Senate Democratic Caucus took the extraordinary step of removing Senator Stephen Douglas as chairman of the influential Committee on Territories. This action grew out of the Illinois senator's disagreements with President James Buchanan over the organization of the Kansas territory. After his reelection in 1858, following his much publicized debates with Abraham Lincoln, Douglas was seen as a threat to the Buchanan administration. Consequently, Buchanan's allies in the Senate successfully separated Douglas from his Senate power base, the Committee on Territories. Despite this loss of a powerful position, Douglas remained an influential senator, playing a key role in the adoption of the Compromise of 1850.
December 10, 1816
In order to establish greater institutional efficiency, the Senate created its first "standing" or permanent legislative committees. From 1789 to 1816 the Senate relied on three-to-five member temporary or select committees that were created to deal with a specific legislative issue. Once the legislative matter was completed, the committee went out of business. By 1816, however, legislative responsibilities had grown more numerous and complex, prompting the Senate to create "standing" committees that continued to operate on a permanent basis. Among those first 11 standing committees three are still in existence todaythe Committees on Finance, Foreign Relations, and Judiciary.
December 11, 1833
In 1833 the question of re-chartering the Bank of the United States sharply divided the Senate. Pro-bank forces, led by Henry Clay, held a majority over the allies of President Andrew Jackson, who steadfastly opposed the re-charter. On December 11, 1833, by a vote of 23 to 18, Clay's forces adopted a resolution directing the president to turn over a bank document that he had read to his cabinet. Jackson refused, claiming the Senate lacked the Constitutional authority "to require of me an account of any communication...made to the heads of departments acting as a cabinet council." Frustrated, the Senate responded to this claim of executive privilege by censuring the president.
December 13, 1836
Asbury Dickins Senate Historical Office
Asbury Dickins began a 25 year career as the fourth secretary of the Senate. Dickins' tenure coincided neatly with the Senate's so-called Golden Age, a period that brought to the chamber a group of talented legislators and powerful orators. Within the secretary's office, the growth in the Senate's membership and national stature brought additional staff and more detailed job descriptions. As secretary, Dickins professionalized the secretary's office, regularized hours of business, and presided over a burgeoning staff. Upon his retirement in 1861, the Senate rewarded the "faithful servant of the Senate" with an additional year's salary of $3,000.
Origins & Development
The framers of the United States Constitution deliberated at length over the Senate's role in the new federal government. Since that time, the Senate has evolved into a complex legislative body, while remaining true to its constitutional origins. This section provides historical essays describing the Senate's institutional developments including establishing direct election of senators, its constitutional powers such as the sole power to try impeachments, and many other unique elements that define the modern Senate.
The Constitution gives the Senate the power to approve for ratification, by a two-thirds vote, treaties negotiated by the president and the executive branch. The Senate has rejected relatively few of the hundreds of treaties it has considered since 1789, although many have died in committee or been withdrawn by the president. Prior to approval, the Senate may amend or adopt changes to a treaty. In some cases, the president enters into executive agreements with foreign nations, often for regulation of trade, and such agreements are not subject to Senate approval.