|Constitution Day 2023: The Senate’s Last Framer—Rufus King
September 15, 2023
Of the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, 19 later served in the U.S. Senate, including New York senator Rufus King. Like other consequential individuals whose participation in America’s founding crossed over into the new federal republic, King’s experience as a framer later informed his efforts to implement the Constitution as a member of Congress. King served in the Senate longer than any other delegate to the Philadelphia convention—the Senate’s last framer—and became a respected and often outspoken elder statesman.
|Give Us a (Summer) Break: Origins of the August Recess
August 11, 2023
The arrival of August means that the Senate is out of session and in the midst of its annual summer recess. Senators’ now-traditional time away from Washington, DC, during the “dog days” of summer can be traced back to the mid-20th century when workloads were growing, legislating was becoming a full-time, yearlong job, and the need to modernize Congress to meet the demands of the 20th century was becoming more evident. In the 1960s, Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming relentlessly worked to convince his colleagues that to modernize the Senate and meet those demands, they would have to take a summer break.
|Out of this World: Historic Space Artifacts in the U.S. Senate Collection
July 18, 2023
The U.S. Senate Collection includes thousands of fascinating and historic artifacts, but two in particular could be considered “out of this world!” These items—a 1969 United States flag and a 1993 printing of Thomas Jefferson’s A Manual of Parliamentary Practice—have flown to space on historic missions and are now under the care of the Office of Senate Curator. Together, these objects evidence the Senate’s support for space exploration and research and serve as tangible reminders of the first crewed lunar landing and NASA’s space shuttle program.
|Chairman J. William Fulbright and the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution
June 12, 2023
In early August 1964, two reported attacks on American navy ships in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to ask Congress to approve a joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Southeast Asia without a congressional declaration of war. Senator J. William “Bill” Fulbright of Arkansas ensured swift passage of what came to be known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a role that he would later come to regret.
|Senators Balk at Dial Telephones
May 4, 2023
Adjusting to new technology is never easy. With today’s proliferation of smart phones, smart watches, and virtual reality devices, it might be hard to appreciate that a hundred years ago the rotary dial telephone was cutting-edge technology. And some senators did not like it!
|Treasures from the Senate Archives: Legislative-Executive Relations
April 4, 2023
Each year, during the first week of April, the Senate commemorates “Congress Week.” Tied to the date when the Senate established a quorum for the first time—April 6, 1789—Congress Week is an annual reminder of the importance of saving and preserving the records of Congress, including the selection of historic records featured in this month’s “Senate Stories,” which highlight the complex relationship between the Senate and the president.
|Enriching Senate Traditions: The First Women Guest Chaplains
March 8, 2023
The chaplain of the U.S. Senate opens daily sessions with a prayer and provides spiritual counseling and guidance to the Senate community. An elected officer of the Senate, the chaplain is nonpartisan, nonpolitical, and nonsectarian. The practice of inviting guest chaplains to deliver the Senate’s opening prayer dates to at least 1857, and for more than 100 years, guest chaplains had all been men. That changed in July 1971, when Reverend Dr. Wilmina M. Rowland of Philadelphia became the first woman to participate in this century-long tradition.
|The Power of a Single Voice: Carol Moseley Braun Persuades the Senate to Reject a Confederate Symbol
February 2, 2023
On July 22, 1993, senators were considering amendments to a national service bill when suddenly, the Senate Chamber doors flew open and Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun rushed to her desk and sought recognition. North Carolina senator Jesse Helms had proposed an amendment to renew a patent to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for an insignia that featured the first national flag of the Confederate States of America. Senator Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, intended to stop that amendment.
January 17, 2023
Beneath the ground between the Capitol and the three Senate office buildings runs a unique transportation system. Two subway lines shuttle senators and staff between their offices and the Senate wing of the Capitol. The subway system has undergone numerous changes since the Senate’s first office building opened in 1909, and while it has served its main purpose of allowing lawmakers to travel quickly to the Senate Chamber for votes, it has also become a popular Senate attraction.
|A Capital Plan: James McMillan, the Senate Park Commission, and the Rediscovery of the National Mall
December 12, 2022
Leading up to the centennial commemoration of Washington, D.C., in 1900, competing plans to redesign and improve the capital city, particularly the public space now known as the National Mall, were being formed. Decades of haphazard development had produced a city that hardly resembled the original plan designed by Pierre L'Enfant in 1791. Among those dedicated to improving the design was Senator James McMillan. As chairman of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, McMillan used his position to promote a far-sighted plan to beautify Washington.
|Rebecca Felton and One Hundred Years of Women Senators
November 21, 2022
On November 21, 1922, Rebecca Felton of Georgia took the oath of office, becoming the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Though her legacy has been tarnished by her racism, the significance of this milestone—now 100 years old—remains. Felton’s historic appointment opened the door for other women senators to follow. One hundred years later, 59 women have been elected or appointed to the Senate, and many more women have supported Senate operations as elected officers and staff.
|A World War II Combat Tour for Senators
October 6, 2022
On July 25, 1943, shortly after Allied forces invaded Sicily and Allied bombers targeted Rome, five United States senators set out on a unique and controversial journey: to inspect American military installations engaged across the globe in the Second World War. They boarded a converted bomber named the “Guess Where II” at Washington National Airport to begin a 65-day tour of U.S. military installations around the world.
|Constitution Day 2022: Treatymaking Power and George Washington's Visit to the Senate
September 17, 2022
The Constitution states that the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." This defines how consent is given but does not explain how the Senate offers its advice. Many framers envisioned the Senate as an executive council that would discuss a treaty with the president as it was being negotiated. When President George Washington visited the Senate for that purpose in 1789, however, it became clear that the framers’ view might not prevail.
|Senate Resists Radio Coverage of Proceedings
August 1, 2022
“It will profoundly change the Senate.” “It will benefit media-savvy members, forcing the retirement of those uncomfortable with new technology.” Such concerns were commonly heard in the 1980s, as the Senate debated bringing television cameras into its Chamber. They also echoed complaints heard 60 years earlier, when the new medium was radio and the question was, “Should Congress go on the air?”
|Origins of Senatorial Courtesy
July 5, 2022
On August 5, 1789, the Senate rejected for the first time a presidential nominee. At the urging of Georgia senator James Gunn, the Senate failed to confirm Benjamin Fishbourn, President George Washington’s nominee to serve as federal naval officer for the Port of Savannah. The Senate’s rejection of Fishbourn has been regarded as the first assertion of “senatorial courtesy.”
|Picturing the Senate: The Works of Eleanor Mill and Lily Spandorf
June 1, 2022
In 2018 14 drawings by artist Eleanor Mill, featuring mostly senators and vice presidents, joined an important group of illustrations by the artist Lily Spandorf, expanding the Senate’s holdings of works by women artists. Bolstering the Senate’s extensive collection of works on paper, these illustrations demonstrate how these two women used their artistic talents to memorialize their perspectives on the Senate. Together, these collections showcase key events, buildings, and individuals that helped shape the Senate in the second half of the 20th century.
|Churchill’s Historic Speech to Congress
May 2, 2022
British prime minister Winston Churchill delivered a historic wartime address in the Senate Chamber before an informal meeting of Congress on December 26, 1941. In the days following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, Congress had approved declarations of war and formally allied the U.S. with the British to defeat the Axis powers of Japan, Germany, and Italy. In Washington, D.C., to coordinate military strategy with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill accepted an invitation to speak before Congress.
|Treasures from the Senate Archives
April 4, 2022
Each year, during the first week of April, the Senate commemorates “Congress Week.” Tied to the date when the Senate established a quorum for the first time—April 6, 1789—Congress Week is an annual reminder of the importance of saving and preserving the records of Congress, including the historic records of Senate committees highlighted in this month's “Senate Stories.”
|Making Room for Women in the Senate
March 1, 2022
Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who served four terms in the Senate from 1949 to 1973, spent more than half of her Senate tenure as the sole woman senator. Only the seventh woman to serve in the Senate and the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Smith often confronted uncharted territory for women in the Senate. One such instance involved a special perk for senators—private "senators only" restroom facilities in the Capitol.
|Celebrating Black History Month
February 2, 2022
To celebrate Black History Month, the Senate Historical Office presents stories, profiles, and interviews available on Senate.gov that recognize the many contributions of African Americans to the U.S. Senate and the integral role they have played in Senate history.
|Three Brothers Compete for One Senate Seat
January 3, 2022
The 1871 election of a U.S. senator from Delaware remains unique in Senate history. That year, Senator Willard Saulsbury, Sr., of Delaware sought reelection to a seat he had occupied since 1859. With two Senate terms behind him, Saulsbury was quite confident that he could gain a majority vote in the Delaware state legislature to win reelection, but two surprising competitors challenged him for the seat—his brothers.
|Beer by Christmas
December 3, 2021
The Christmas season often brings a sense of joyous anticipation as people celebrate the holiday, enjoy family gatherings, and eagerly await the opening of gifts. Would that special “something” be under the tree? In 1932 that “something” on many people’s wish list was beer.
|The Ev and Charlie Show
November 15, 2021
In January of 1961, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower relinquished the Oval Office to incoming president John F. Kennedy, Republicans wondered how they could maintain their influence while serving in the minority during a Democratic administration. The Republican Party “must have a voice while it’s out of power,” Eisenhower stated, and he suggested that such a voice must come from the “collective judgment of the congressional leaders.” Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen heeded that advice and established a weekly press conference that became known as “The Ev and Charlie Show.”
|Hollywood on the Hill: The Filming of "Advise and Consent"
October 5, 2021
In the fall of 1961, two worlds collided when a Hollywood film crew arrived at the U.S. Capitol to film Advise and Consent, a movie based on Washington correspondent Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a bitter Senate confirmation battle. Director Otto Preminger brought to the Hill an all-star cast, a crew of more than 150 people, and a lot of commotion.
|Constitution Day 2021: Mixed Government, Bicameralism, and the Creation of the U.S. Senate
September 17, 2021
Drawing on ideas from ancient philosophers and Enlightenment thinkers, as well as recent experiences in crafting new state governments, the framers of the Constitution believed a bicameral legislature was crucial to creating and maintaining a stable republic. In particular, many of the framers argued that the key to a government that served the public good and protected the liberty of free citizens lay in the creation of a senate, which James Madison characterized as “the great anchor of the government.”
|Cooling Off the Senate
August 2, 2021
Washington, DC, has evolved over the last two centuries from a collection of wetlands, farms, and sparsely developed tracts of land into a world-class city with a diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods, numerous religious centers, and terrific restaurants, museums, theaters, and music venues—a fitting host for our nation’s government. There is one complaint lodged against Washington, DC, however, that has not changed since it was designated as the U.S. capital more than 200 years ago: the summer heat. How to handle Washington’s often stifling heat and humidity has been a perennial challenge for the U.S. Senate.
|Reasserting Checks and Balances: The National Emergencies Act of 1976
July 1, 2021
In 1973 the Senate assigned a herculean task to a small temporary committee. The Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency (renamed the Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers in 1974), co-chaired by Democrat Frank Church of Idaho and Republican Charles Mathias of Maryland, would investigate outdated emergency powers granted to presidents by Congress in the previous half century. The inquiry’s surprising findings convinced Congress to pass the National Emergencies Act of 1976.
|Shaving and Saving: The Story of Bishop Sims
June 1, 2021
As a child, having been born into slavery in 1843, John Sims was forced to train the bloodhounds his master used to track runaway slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, the teenaged Sims escaped bondage and fled north. When he died 73 years later, Sims was a beloved and well-known figure on Capitol Hill, a friend and confidant of some of the most powerful men in Washington. He is largely forgotten today, because John Sims wasn’t a powerful senator or a high-profile member of Capitol Hill staff—he was the Senate’s barber.
|Senate Progressives vs. the Federal Courts
May 3, 2021
In the early 20th century, a group of progressive senators from midwestern and western states arrived in Washington committed to expanding the role of the federal government to address the economic and social challenges of industrialization. To accomplish these goals, they had to tackle another challenge—the power of the federal judiciary.
|Saving Senate Records
April 1, 2021
Today, records of Senate committees and administrative offices are routinely preserved at the Center for Legislative Archives, a division of the National Archives. This wasn’t always the case. For more than a century, precious documents were stashed in basement rooms and attic spaces. In 1927 a file clerk named Harold Hufford discovered a forgotten cache of records in the basement. Cautiously opening a door, he disturbed mice and roaches to find a document signed by Vice President John C. Calhoun. “I knew that the nation’s documents shouldn’t be treated like that,” Hufford remarked, and the modern era of Senate archiving was born.
|Breaching a Masculine Precinct: Women Pioneers on Senate Staff
March 1, 2021
By the time the Senate welcomed the first female senator in 1922, women were already playing a groundbreaking role on Senate staff. Women began working on Senate staff, typically in custodial positions, as early as the 1850s, but by the dawn of the 20th century they were assuming increasingly important roles in senators’ offices and committees. These pioneering women challenged gender stereotypes, overcame societal and institutional obstacles, and opened doors for others to follow. Each and every one of them had a hand in shaping the history of the Senate and the nation.
|Andrew Slade: First African American Senate Page
February 8, 2021
In April 1965, Senator Jacob Javits of New York appointed Lawrence Bradford, Jr., to be a Senate page. In celebrating the appointment, Javits and journalists identified Bradford as the first African American to serve in the Senate’s historic page program. Bradford’s appointment was a milestone, but there’s one problem with this celebration—while Bradford was certainly a trailblazer in his time, he was not, in fact, the first African American page. That distinction belongs to Andrew Foote Slade, a young man who served as a page between 1869 and 1881.
|When a New Congress Begins
December 30, 2020
On January 3, 2021, the U.S. Senate will convene to open the 117th Congress. The Senate typically operates according to long-standing rules, traditions, and precedents, and the first day of a new Congress is no exception. On this day, the Senate follows a well-established routine—parts of which date back to the first Congress in 1789. The Constitution mandates that Congress convene once each year at noon on January 3, unless the preceding Congress designates a different day. In odd-numbered years, following congressional elections, a “new” Congress begins.
|Christmas Gift Giving in the Senate
December 14, 2020
The Senate is an institution steeped in tradition. While some traditions prove to be long lasting, others come and go. Such is the case with one tradition of gift giving in the Senate around the Christmas holiday.
|David Rice Atchison: (Not) President for a Day
November 13, 2020
A plaque affixed to a statue in Plattsburg, Missouri, reads, "David Rice Atchison, 1807–1886, President of United States One Day." The day of Atchison’s presumed presidency was March 4, 1849. Who was David Rice Atchison and on what basis could he claim to have been the president of the United States, even if for only one day?
October 16, 2020
The stories that historians craft are only as good as the sources available. Historians of the Senate draw on a variety of records created by Congress, such as the Senate Journal, debates in the Congressional Record, and transcripts of committee hearings. The National Archives is filled with memos and reports. Senators establish archives of their personal papers in home-state repositories. There are also vast collections of newspaper articles, what many have called the “first draft of history.” Perhaps the greatest insight into the past comes from more personal musings—diaries kept by individuals.
|Celebrating Constitution Day
September 17, 2020
In 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia introduced legislation designating September 17 of each year as Constitution Day and requiring public schools and government offices to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution. The Senate’s annual Constitution Day event, sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate and presented by the Senate Historical Office, has become a favorite Capitol Hill tradition.
|Women of the Senate
August 18, 2020
On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee state legislature approved the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by a nail-biting margin of one vote, making Tennessee the necessary 36th state and securing the amendment’s ratification. Two years later, on November 21, 1922, Rebecca Felton of Georgia became the first woman to take the Senate oath of office. To commemorate the Woman Suffrage Centennial, and to acknowledge the service of the first woman senator, we present our new online exhibit Women of the Senate.
|The Senate Oral History Project
July 29, 2020
Learn about the U.S. Senate through the stories of those who helped to shape it. Since the 1970s, Senate historians have conducted oral history interviews with senators, officers, and staff. These interviews preserve the individual experiences of a diverse group of personalities who witnessed events firsthand and offer unique perspectives on national events, politics, and policy, as well as the evolution of the Senate. Each interview provides a unique perspective on Senate history, offering a deeper and more nuanced understanding of congressional action and life on Capitol Hill.
|A Generation of World War II Veterans
June 5, 2020
Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the Second World War, more than 100 later served as U.S. senators. While the heroic actions of some of them are well known—John F. Kennedy leading the crew of PT-109, for example—what about the others who went on to serve as senators? Here are a few of their stories.
|Charles Sumner: After the Caning
May 4, 2020
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is best remembered for his role in a dramatic incident in Senate history. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked the senator at his desk in the Senate Chamber. The “Caning of Sumner” is a famous event, but of course the story did not end there. To understand the importance of Sumner’s enduring legacy as statesman and legislator, particularly in the realm of civil rights, we must explore what happened after the caning.
|Discovering the Role of the Senate in Women’s Fight for the Vote
April 2, 2020
Congress Week—celebrated each April to commemorate the week in 1789 when the House of Representatives and the Senate first achieved a quorum—was established to promote the study of Congress and to encourage a wider appreciation of the vital role of the legislative branch in our representative democracy. This year, in recognition of the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, we celebrate Congress Week by exploring how Senate historians used congressional collections to develop the online feature, “The Senate and Women’s Fight for the Vote.”
|Two Women Take the Oath
March 9, 2020
A long-standing feature of the Senate’s traditional biennial oath-taking ceremony is the escorting of newly elected or reelected senators to the well of the Chamber. In January of 2019, at the beginning of the 116th Congress, a record-breaking 14 women senators took the oath of office. Eight of those women were escorted by another female senator. As the number of women in Congress grows, these symbolically important moments are becoming more commonplace, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in 1961, the sight of two women taking the oath together caused quite a stir!
|Hiram Revels: First African American Senator
February 25, 2020
One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 25, 1870, visitors in the packed Senate galleries burst into applause as Senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the Chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the United States Congress.