Wisconsin was admitted as the 30th state in the Union.
Henry Dodge, born in Vincennes, Indiana but later of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, and Isaac P. Walker, born near present day Wheeling, West Virginia, but later of Milwaukee, were elected Wisconsin's first United States senators.
The oath of office prescribed by law was administered to Henry Dodge and he took his seat in the Senate. Dodge was the father of Senator Augustus Caesar Dodge of Iowa, who took office in December, and the father and son served together until Augustus’s resignation in 1855. They're the only parent and child to have served simultaneously in the Senate.
Isaac P. Walker took his seat in the Senate, after which Walker and Henry Dodge drew lots to determine their Senate class assignments. Walker drew Class 3 (to expire in 1849) while Dodge drew Class 1 (to expire in 1851).
Senator Henry Dodge became chairman of the Committee on Commerce (today's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), serving until 1857.
A bust of Ojibwa or Chippewa leader Be sheekee (“Buffalo”), carved by Francis Vincenti, was “[p]urchased by the United States government with funds appropriated for the extension of the United States Capitol.” Be sheeke was chief of the La Pointe band of Ojibwa, located on Lake Superior in Wisconsin, and traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1852 and 1855 to discuss and sign treaties with the United States government.
The Senate elected Matthew H. Carpenter as its president pro tempore, a position to which he was elected again on March 26, 1873, December 11, 1873, and December 23, 1874. Born in Moretown, Vermont, but later of Milwaukee, Carpenter was described by one reporter as “the best speaker in the Senate at the present time. He speaks to his audience, and not to the Press; hence he never reads a speech.” Carpenter was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1875 but served again in 1879 as Wisconsin’s Class 3 senator and died in office on February 24, 1881.
John L. Mitchell of Milwaukee became Wisconsin’s first native-born United States senator.
The Senate moved to accept a marble statue of French Jesuit missionary and explorer Jacques Marquette by Gaetano Trentanove for placement in Congress’s National Statuary Hall Collection. Because Marquette died long before Wisconsin’s admission to the Union and therefore never was a resident of the state, permission to commemorate him in Statuary Hall was established by a joint resolution of Congress in April 1893.
Senator John C. Spooner became chair of the Committee on Rules (today's Committee on Rules and Administration), serving until 1907. Spooner, born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, but later of Hudson and Madison, had previously served one term in the Senate (1885-1891) but was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection. Spooner returned to the Senate in 1897 and became one of the powerful “Senate Four”—along with Senators Orville H. Platt of New York, William B. Allison of Iowa, and Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island—who dominated the chamber’s deliberations.
After just three months in office, Robert M. La Follette of Madison gave his maiden Senate speech. La Follette spoke for eight hours over three days and his remarks in the Congressional Record covered 148 pages. As he began to speak, most of the senators present in the chamber pointedly rose from their desks and departed. La Follette’s wife, observing from the gallery, wrote, “There was no mistaking that this was a polite form of hazing.”
After an investigation into allegations of electoral misconduct involving bribery and corruption, the Senate voted that Isaac Stephenson retain his seat. Stephenson, born in Yorkton, Canada, but later of Marinette, was elected in 1907 at the age of 78 to fill the vacancy caused by resignation of Senator John C. Spooner and served until 1915.
In response to fierce criticism of his speech delivered the previous month, opposing American participation in World War I, Senator Robert M. La Follette delivered the most famous address of his 20-year Senate career—a classic defense of the right to free speech in times of war. La Follette’s earlier comments against the war had prompted a petition for his expulsion and a Senate investigation into his conduct. Early in 1919, as the end of hostilities calmed wartime emotions, the Senate dismissed all charges against La Follette and eventually even paid his legal expenses.
Senator Paul O. Husting was accidentally shot to death by his brother while duck hunting on Rush Lake, near Picketts, Wisconsin.
Senator Robert M. La Follette became chairman of the Republican Order of Business Committee (precursor to the Republican Steering Committee), serving in that position until 1923.
Senator Robert M. La Follette was denied the chairmanship of the Interstate Commerce Committee (today's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation) by the Republican caucus, which instead elected the ranking Democrat, Senator Ellison D. Smith of South Carolina. La Follette’s role in the Progressive Party was cited as the reason.
The Senate Republican caucus demoted Senator Robert M. La Follette from the chairmanship of the Committee on Manufactures, a committee he had chaired since 1919, to the next to the last place on that committee because of his support for the Progressive Party, a thorn in the side of the Republican Party. On March 9, 1925, the Senate voted 65 to 11 to accept the caucus decision.
Robert Marion La Follette Jr. of Madison, was elected to fill the vacancy caused by death of his father, Senator Robert M. La Follette, in June. La Follette Jr. had served as his father’s private secretary for seven years and was sworn in at the age of 30 years, 10 months. Together, the father and son held Wisconsin’s Class 1 Senate seat for 42 years (1905-1947).
The Republican Committee on Committees decided that Robert Marion La Follette Jr. could retain his committee assignments despite leaving the GOP to form the Wisconsin Progressive Party in 1934.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations began subcommittee hearings, chaired by Maryland senator Millard Tydings, to investigate charges by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of alleged disloyalty by State Department employees. After investigating the charges, the committee rejected them as “a fraud and a hoax perpetrated on the Senate of the United States and the American people.”
Senator William Benton of Connecticut introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into the actions of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy during the 1950 Maryland senatorial general election "to determine whether or not it should initiate action with a view toward the expulsion" of McCarthy. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration, which passed it on to the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections. The subcommittee made a report following the November 1952 elections but offered no specific recommendations and the Senate took no action in regard to the resolution.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy became chairman of the Committee on Government Operations (today's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs), serving until 1955.
Former senator Robert Marion La Follette Jr. died from a self-inflicted gunshot at his home in Washington, D.C.
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, began closed-door hearings into allegations of Communist influence within the Voice of America. In the months that followed, the subcommittee held public and closed-door hearings on similar allegations about the State Department, the overseas library program of the International Information Agency, the Government Printing Office, and finally, the United States Army. This led to Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954, resulting from McCarthy's accusations of lax security at a top-secret army facility, and the army's charge that the senator had sought preferential treatment for a recently drafted subcommittee aide.
At a public session of the Army-McCarthy hearings, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charged that one of the army’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. As an amazed television audience looked on, the army’s lead counsel, Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy's career: "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
The Senate voted 67 to 22 to condemn the conduct of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for being "contrary to senatorial traditions" and for tending "to bring the Senate into honor and disrepute . . . and to impair its dignity." Senator Ralph E. Flanders of Vermont had introduced the resolution on July 31, 1954.
William Proxmire, born in Lake Forest, Illinois, but later of Madison, was elected to fill the Senate vacancy caused by the death of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Senator Proxmire was the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 25 years.
A portrait of Senator Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925) by Robert Chester La Follette, the son of the senator’s first cousin, William L. La Follette, was unveiled in the Senate Reception Room (S213). The work was one of five commissioned to commemorate former outstanding senators. The portraits were placed in oval medallions on the walls originally planned for likenesses of “illustrious men” but left vacant when Constantino Brumidi painted the room in the mid-19th century.
The George Washington Memorial Window by Wisconsin artist Maria Herndl was placed in the Senators' Dining Room (S109). The 6-by-3-foot stained glass window was purchased by the United States government in 1910.
Senator Robert W. Kasten, Jr., of Milwaukee received the Golden Gavel Award for presiding over the Senate for at least 100 hours in a single session. Kasten received a second Golden Gavel in October 1986.
Senator William Proxmire was not a candidate for reelection in 1988 and at the end of his fifth full term in office became Wisconsin’s longest-serving United States senator with 31 years, 4 months, and 6 days.
Former senator Gaylord A. Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given by the president of the United States to honor individuals who have made great contributions to either the United States or the world. To date, 24 senators have received the award.
Tammy Baldwin of Madison became the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in the United States Senate.