By a two vote margin (34-32), Rhode Island became the last of the original 13 colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
Joseph Stanton Jr., a native of Charlestown, and Theodore Foster, originally of Brookfield, Massachusetts, but later of Providence, were elected by the general assembly as the state's first United States senators.
Joseph Stanton Jr., and Theodore Foster produced their credentials for office and took their oaths at Federal Hall in New York City. Afterwards Stanton and Foster drew lots to determine their Senate class assignments. Stanton drew the Class 2 seat (with a four year term to expire in 1793) while Foster drew the Class 1 seat (with a two year term to expire in 1791). The statute regulating the taking of an oath, mandated by Article VI of the Constitution, was enacted on June 1, 1789.
The Senate elected William Bradford as its president pro tempore. Bradford, originally of Plympton, Massachusetts, but later of Bristol, Rhode Island, had been a physician but abandoned his practice to study law before entering into politics.
Senator William Hunter of Newport became chairman of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (today's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), serving until 1817.
The Senate resolved the contested election between Senator Asher Robbins, originally of Wethersfield but later of Newport, and former representative Elisha Reynolds Potter of Little Rest (now Kingston). The incumbent, Robbins, retained his seat.
A funeral service for Senator Nathan Fellows Dixon of Westerly was held in the Senate Chamber. Dixon was the grandfather of Senator Nathan Fellows Dixon, also of Westerly, who served in the Senate from 1889 to 1895.
Ten years after the expiration of his term as Rhode Island's Class 2 senator, James Fowler Simmons, who was born near Little Compton but moved to Providence, was seated as the state's Class 1 senator.
Henry Bowen Anthony, born in Coventry but later of Providence, began his 25 years of Senate service. During his tenure Anthony chaired the Joint Committee on Printing for a total of 21 years, 5 months, and 28 days, the sixth-longest tenure for a Senate committee chairman.
Senator Henry B. Anthony became Republican Conference chairman, serving in that position until 1884. As chair, Anthony acted much like the later majority leaders, giving committee assignments to members of his party, calling up bills for debate, and often speaking for his party on the issues of the day.
The Senate moved to accept a marble statue of Revolutionary War major general Nathanael Greene of Warwick, sculpted by Henry Kirke Brown, for placement in Congress's National Statuary Hall Collection. The statute was the first placed in the collection.
The Senate moved to accept a marble statue by Frank Simmons of Roger Williams, co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, for placement in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.
A painting depicting the Battle of Lake Erie by William Henry Powell was unveiled in the east stairway of the Capitol’s Senate wing. The painting features United States Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who was born and raised in Rhode Island. Perry earned the title "Hero of Lake Erie" for leading American forces in a decisive naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on January 6, 1814.
Senator William Sprague was denied the chairmanship of the Committee on Appropriations after Republican Party leaders decided that his personal affairs had affected his mental stability. His wife, Kate Chase Sprague, daughter of Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, was having an affair with Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York and Sprague's textile mills were in a state of bankruptcy. The party's distrust of Sprague was sealed by his harangues on the Senate floor about the corrupting evils of wealth. Born in Cranston but later of Providence, Sprague was the nephew of former senator William Sprague (1842-1844).
Senator and Civil War major general Ambrose Everett Burnside, originally of Liberty, Indiana, but a resident of Providence, became chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor (today's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions), serving until 1879.
The Senate adopted what came to be known as the "Anthony Rule," allowing senators to speak no more than five minutes on certain measures before voting. Named for its sponsor, Senator Henry B. Anthony, this was the Senate's first effort to add a cloture provision to its rules. On March 19, 1884, it was formally adopted as Rule VIII of the Senate.
Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, born in Foster but later of Providence, began his near 30 years of Senate service when he was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Ambrose E. Burnside in September. Aldrich was described by his secretary, and later Senate sergeant at arms (1919-1933), David S. Barry as "the suave and steel spined boss of the United States Senate." Aldrich also was grandfather to Vice President Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller and great-grandfather to West Virginia senator John D. Rockefeller IV.
Senator Nelson W. Aldrich became chairman of the Committee on Finance, serving until his retirement from the Senate in 1911. During these years, Aldrich was one of the "Senate Four" who dominated the chamber's deliberations. Aldrich served as a sort of floor leader before that position had been established.
Senator George Peabody Wetmore, born to American parents in England but a resident of Providence, authorized William C. McCauslen, who had already depicted Vice Presidents William R. King and John Tyler, to execute the bust of Andrew Johnson for the Senate's Vice Presidential Bust Collection.
Senator Jesse H. Metcalf of Providence became chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor (today's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions), serving until 1933.
Theodore Francis Green of Providence defeated incumbent senator Jesse H. Metcalf of Providence and began his 24 years of Senate service. Green was the grandnephew of Samuel Greene Arnold of Providence, and the great grandson of James Burrill, Jr., both former senators.
John Orlando Pastore of Providence took his oath of office, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of Edward L. Leahy of Bristol. Leahy had been appointed in 1949 by then-governor Pastore to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of James H. McGrath. Pastore was the first Italian American elected to the Senate and served for just over 26 years.
Senator Theodore F. Green became chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations at the age of 89 and served until his retirement in 1961. Greene was 93 when he retired--the oldest man to have served in Congress until 1996, when he was surpassed by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
Born in New York City, Claiborne Pell of Newport began 37 years of Senate service during which he cast over 13,000 votes. When Pell left the Senate in 1997, he was Rhode Island's longest serving senator.
Rhode Island native Robert G. Dunphy became Senate sergeant at arms and served until June 30, 1972.
Senator Claiborne Pell sponsored the law establishing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Senate passed an education bill that included "Basic Educational Opportunity Grants," which were later renamed Pell Grants. Senator Claiborne Pell was largely responsible for their creation. Pell Grants provide financial aid funds to U.S. college students.