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Institutional Development

Facts & Milestones

When did the Senate first meet?  Who were the first senators?  Who was the first senator to be elected president?  Who was the first woman senator?  Who gave the longest speech on the Senate floor?  "Facts & Milestones" answers these and other questions.

 
Origins and Development

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the framers deliberated at length over the creation of the U.S. Senate and the role it would play in the new federal government.  It was then up to the first Senate in 1789 to organize, establish its rules, and set precedents that would govern its actions in years to come. Over the next two hundred years, the Senate expanded and evolved into a complex legislative body, working to fulfill the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse nation.

 
The Senate and the United States Constitution

For nearly five months, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention debated the provisions in the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, several of the Senate-related clauses were especially controversial.  Had they been decided in another way, the Senate, as we know it, would have been a different institution.

 
Constitutional Qualifications for Senator

The Constitution sets three qualifications for service in the U.S. Senate: age (at least thirty years of age); U.S. citizenship (at least nine years); and residency in the state a senator represents at time of election.  The details of these qualifications were hammered out by the Constitution's framers during the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

 
Oath of Office

The oath of office that one-third of the Senate recites every two-years is a product of the 1860s, drafted by Civil War-era members intent on ensnaring traitors. The oath-taking, however, dates back to the First Congress in 1789. The Constitution does not provide an oath of office for members of Congress, but specifies only that they "shall be bound by Oath of Affirmation to support this constitution." The first oath served the Senate for nearly three-quarters of a century. The current oath, in use since 1884, is a milder version of the oath adopted in 1862.

 
Direct Election of Senators

Voters have elected their senators in the privacy of the voting booth since 1914. Prior to that time, state legislatures chose their senators. Beginning in the 1850s, this process began to break down as political infighting and corruption often left Senate seats vacant for long periods of time. Reform efforts finally succeeded in 1913 with the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, which provided for direct popular election of senators.

 
Senate Committees

The Senate's standing committee system began in 1816. Prior to that time, the Senate relied on temporary select committees. Three types of committees have evolved through the years: standing, select and special, and joint. Committees are responsible for both legislation and investigations. Members receive committee assignments through their party conferences.

 
Senate Seal

The current Senate seal, based on the Great Seal of the United States, dates back to 1885 and represents the third design since 1789.  The Senate's original seal was either lost or unserviceable by 1830, prompting the Senate to commission a second design.  When the United States revised its seal in the 1870s, in honor of the nation's centennial of independence, the Senate was inspired to commission a third design of its own seal. The 1885 seal is still in use today.

 
Senate Flag

The Senate created its official flag in March 1988, four years after it was proposed by Senator Daniel Inouye.  In April 1985, the Committee on Rules and Administration invited eight flag manufacturers to submit designs and cost estimates for a flag.  A year and a half later, the committee chose the design proposed by the Army's Institute of Heraldry.  Use and sale of the flag is restricted to Senate offices only.

 
The Senate Chamber 1859-2009
The Senate has occupied its current Chamber in the United States Capitol since January 4, 1859. This room has witnessed some of the most significant events in American history. On January 4, 2009, the Senate celebrates the 150th anniversary of its move into this historic chamber.
 
Idea of the Senate
The Idea of the Senate features thoughtful analysis of the Senate’s rules and procedures, its history and traditions, and its personnel and prerogatives. Covering more than two centuries of political thought, each entry in this collection provides a quotation from the original source placed into historical context.
 
 
 
  

Related Links
Events:
  The Senate Convenes in Emergency Quarters
  The Senate's New Chamber
  Senator Resigns to Protest Loyalty Oath
  Senate Creates Permanent Committees
  Senate Banking Committee Established
  Senate Eliminates 42 Committees