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Senate Stories


Welcome to Senate Stories, our Senate history blog. This blog features stories that reveal the depth and breadth of Senate history from the well-known and notorious to the unusual and whimsical. Presented to enlighten, amuse, and inform, Senate Stories explores the forces, events, and personalities that have shaped the modern Senate.

For more notable moments in Senate history, please visit our Historical Highlights collection.

President George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790 202401 31The Evolution of the Response to the State of the Union
January 31, 2024
Each year, before a joint session of Congress, the president fulfills his or her constitutional duty to "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." Today’s State of the Union Address follows well established protocols and rituals, but one aspect in particular—the opposition response—is a modern practice that has evolved to address a problem faced by Congress in its earliest years.

Each year, before a joint session of Congress, the president fulfills his or her constitutional duty to "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The ceremony that we know today as the State of the Union Address follows well established protocols and rituals, but it has evolved a great deal since 1790, when President George Washington delivered his first annual address to Congress. One aspect in particular—the opposition response—is a modern practice that has developed to address a problem faced by Congress in its earliest years.1 In January 1790, as members of both the House and Senate gathered to begin the second session of the First Congress, President Washington wrote to John Adams (who as vice president also served as president of the Senate) that he wished to address both houses in a joint session as soon as they reached a quorum. The two houses achieved quorums on January 7 and informed the president they were ready to receive his message. On January 8, the president arrived at Federal Hall at 11:00 a.m. and proceeded to the Senate Chamber, where, accompanied by a few of his personal aides, he delivered his address to senators, representatives, and cabinet members. In his brief speech, Washington congratulated Congress on the “present favorable prospects of our public affairs,” highlighted the progress of the young nation, and made policy suggestions, including calling for the establishment of a national militia and a uniform system of currency.2 After Washington departed Federal Hall and representatives returned to their chamber, the Senate appointed a committee “to prepare and report the draft of an Address to the President of the United States, in answer to his Speech delivered this day to both Houses of Congress, in the Senate Chamber.” In keeping with the traditional ceremonial exchange between British Parliament and the King, both the Senate and House had offered a formal response to the president’s first inaugural address in April 1789, and both chambers prepared to follow that same practice with Washington’s annual message. Not all senators agreed, however, as to how the Senate should respond to the president’s speech. According to Pennsylvania senator William Maclay, South Carolina senator Pierce Butler thought that “the Speech was committed rather too hastily” and “made some remarks on it.” When Vice President Adams called Butler to order for his criticism, Maclay wrote that Butler “resented the call, and some Altercation ensued.”3 A few days later, the committee presented a draft response to the Senate, which assured the president that the Senate would address each issue that he mentioned, point by point. Maclay, who was becoming a staunch opponent of the Washington administration, objected to the response. He called it “the most Servile Echo” he ever heard, and while the Senate did amend some sections of the original draft, Maclay complained that many clauses were passed without roll-call votes, leaving opponents to accept them “in silent disapprobation.” Meanwhile, the House of Representatives followed the same procedure, meeting to collaborate on a response, a process that proved both “time-consuming and contentious.” Once the House and Senate finally approved their drafts, each body then agreed to wait on the president en masse at his residence to present their responses in person. Following these formal presentations, the president then delivered his own responses.4 The ceremonial spectacle of these proceedings struck some members as obsequious and unnecessary, including Maclay, who worried that the response could be considered by the president’s administration as a tacit approval of its policies. “It was a Stale ministerial Trick in Britain, to get the Houses of parliament to chime in with the speech, and then consider them as pledged to support any Measure which could be grafted on the Speech.” A foreign observer who witnessed both the president’s speech and Congress’s responses noted that the exchange “looked completely like that practiced in England between the King and Parliament” except for the fact that “the next day not one voice was raised in the two Houses to attack any part whatever of the address.” The opposition remained silent.5 As partisan factions developed during Washington’s administration, the process of drafting and agreeing to a single institutional response became impractical. Washington interpreted the Constitution’s directive “from time to time” to mean once a year, and every president since Washington has followed this precedent. This meant that year after year, both the Senate and House spent days, and sometimes weeks, during Washington’s presidency tediously debating their respective responses paragraph by paragraph, arguing over word choice and overall tone. In addition, those in the Senate minority remained frustrated with Senate responses that supported administration policies and ignored dissenting views. In December 1795 Washington delivered his annual address at the first session of the Fourth Congress, six months after the Senate had convened in a special executive session to consider the controversial Jay Treaty. The Senate’s rancorous debate over the treaty had deepened the partisan divisions among senators, with the majority pro-administration Federalists supporting it and anti-administration Democratic Republicans voting in opposition. The Senate approved the treaty for ratification by the slimmest margin. In his speech, Washington referred to the treaty, declaring that the “summary of our affairs, with regard to the Foreign powers between whom and the United States controversies have subsisted . . . opens a wide field for consoling and gratifying reflections.”6 The treaty’s opponents felt neither consoled nor gratified. When the draft of the Senate’s response included similar praise for the treaty, the Democratic-Republicans objected. Virginia senator Stevens Thomson Mason argued that referring to the treaty in this way served only to rekindle animosities among senators. “The minority on that occasion were not now to be expected to recede from the opinions they held then, and they could not therefore join in the indirect self-approbation which the majority appeared to wish for.”7 Virginia senator Littleton Tazewell not only objected to the passage about the treaty, but he questioned the practice of a congressional response altogether, asking “what had given rise to the practice of returning an answer of any kind to the President’s communication to Congress in the form of an Address? There was nothing . . . in the Constitution, or in any of the fundamental rules of the Federal Government which required that ceremony from either branch of the Congress.” Tazewell’s observation was true, but many in Congress clung tight to the pageantry and ceremonial trappings of the executive-legislative exchange.8 Despite the protests of the Democratic-Republicans, attempts to remove the offending passages from the Senate’s response failed. The Senate then approved what was essentially the majority’s response to the annual address on a party-line vote of 14-8. While responses to Washington’s remaining annual addresses and those of John Adams do not appear to have been debated quite as intensely, the strong Federalist majorities in the Senate of that era meant that the minority voice remained unheard.9 When Congress moved from Philadelphia to the newly created capital city of Washington in the District of Columbia in 1800, the tradition of the executive-legislative exchange continued. President Adams presented his final annual address to Congress in person at the Capitol, and both the Senate and House presented responses to the president at his new residence. Unlike Philadelphia, however, where Congress Hall was a mere block from the president’s residence, in the District of Columbia the President’s House was more than a mile from the Capitol, making the trip less convenient. This was one of the reasons given by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 when he chose to send his message to Congress in writing. He further suggested that the Senate and House need not prepare their official replies:
The circumstances under which we find ourselves at this place rendering inconvenient the mode heretofore practiced, of making by personal address the first communications between the legislative and executive branches, I have adopted that by message, as used on all subsequent occasions through the session. In doing this I have had principal regard to the convenience of the legislature, to the economy of their time, to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers, on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence resulting to the public affairs.10
For the rest of the 19th century, and into the 20th, presidents followed Jefferson’s example, and Congress stopped officially replying to the president. The annual message to Congress became a lengthy report that laid out the activities and financial needs of the executive branch and included policy recommendations and a summary of foreign affairs. This was the case until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson announced that he would read his annual address to Congress in person. Wilson understood the power of public opinion in pressuring Congress to support his agenda, so he tailored his speech to appeal to a much wider audience—the American public. He kept the address short but visionary, hoping to persuade and move his audience through emotional rhetoric. According to press reports, Wilson’s in-person performance was a “triumph.” His successors continued the tradition of in-person delivery, and the State of the Union Address became a platform that elevated the priorities of the president and his party. Even more so than during the nation’s founding era, members of the opposing political party found themselves without a formal role to play in the annual event. The advent of television in the 1940s and ʼ50s and the shift of the speech delivery from daytime to prime time in 1965 further expanded the reach of the president’s message, prompting minority leadership in Congress to finally develop a coordinated response. In 1966 Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford recorded a 30-minute rebuttal which aired on major television networks a week after the president’s speech. The opposition response was born.11 Today, the opposition response is broadcast live immediately following the president’s speech. It has become an integral part of this annual ritual, anticipated and discussed almost as much as the address itself—thanks in part to social media platforms. No doubt the Democratic-Republicans of the early 19th century would have appreciated this innovation. What began in the Senate and House as congressional responses expressing the approbation of the president’s majority party has evolved into an opposition response by the other national party, reflecting the complexity of both party politics and executive-legislative relations and demonstrating the delicate balance of power between discordant forces in our system of government.
1. U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 3. 2. Senate Journal, 1st Cong., 2nd sess., January 8, 1790, 102–4. 3. Ibid., 104; Senate Journal, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 20, 22–23, 26–27; Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds., Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates, vol. 9 of Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789–March 3, 1791, eds. Linda Grant De Pauw et al. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 180. 4. Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, 181; “A ‘Troublesome and Greatly Derided Custom’ — Answering the Annual Message,” History, Art, & Archives, United States House of Representatives, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House,, accessed January 19, 2024. 5. Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, 181; Letter from Louis Guillaume Otto to Comte de Montmorin, January 12, 1790, in Charlene Bangs Bickford, Kenneth R. Bowling, Helen E. Veit, and William Charles diGiacomantonio, eds., Correspondence, Second Session: October 1789–14 March 1790, vol. 18 of Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789–March 3, 1791, eds. Linda Grant De Pauw et al. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 196–97. 6. Annals of Congress, 4th Cong., 1st sess., 11. 7. Ibid., 15–16. 8. Ibid., 21. 9. Ibid., 22–23. 10. Senate Journal, 7th Cong., 1st sess., December 8, 1801, 156. 11. James W. Ceaser, Glen E. Thurow, Jeffrey Tulis and Joseph M. Bessette, “The Rise of the Rhetorical Presidency,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 11, No. 2 (Spring, 1981): 158–71; “Wilson Triumphs with Message,” New York Times, December 3, 1913, 1.
Statue of Freedom Awaiting Installation, 1863 202312 11In Form and Spirit: Creating the Statue of Freedom
December 11, 2023
The massive bronze Statue of Freedom has been perched atop the great dome of the United States Capitol since its assembly was completed on December 2, 1863, amidst the pall of civil war. As the crowning feature of the building’s new cast-iron dome, it offered a glimmer of hope that the nation would endure. The continuation of the construction of the dome had served as a symbolic backdrop during the dark war years, but Freedom’s journey to the top of the dome had begun years before.

The massive bronze Statue of Freedom has been perched atop the great dome of the United States Capitol since its assembly was completed on December 2, 1863, amidst the pall of civil war. As the crowning feature of the building’s new cast-iron dome, it offered a glimmer of hope that the nation would endure. The continuation of the construction of the dome had served as a symbolic backdrop during the dark war years, but Freedom’s journey to the top of the dome had begun years before. The Capitol underwent a major transformation during the Civil War. On March 4, 1861, with war looming, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address in the shadow of the half-finished dome. The building was in the midst of a major expansion project that had begun 10 years earlier and included the construction of two large wings and a new, taller dome. At the onset of the war, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, the superintendent of the Capitol extension and dome construction, observed that the government had “no money to spend except in self defense” and issued the order to stop working. Despite this order, the iron foundry hired to construct the dome, Janes, Fowler and Kirtland, continued the project without pay. The foundry worried that the cast iron materials already procured would be damaged or destroyed if installation was delayed.1 Members of Congress, many of whom shared similar concerns, debated a resolution to restore funding in the spring of 1862. “Every consideration of economy, every consideration of protection to this building, every consideration of expediency requires that it should be completed, and that it should be done now,” Vermont senator Solomon Foot appealed to his fellow senators. “To let these works remain in their present condition is, in my judgment, to say the least of it, the most inexcusable, needless, and extravagant waste and destruction of property,” he argued. “We are strong enough yet, thank God, to put down this rebellion and to put up this our Capitol at the same time.” Congress restored construction funding in April 1862, and the foundry’s dome contract was renewed. Slowly and steadily, the massive dome became a reality during those difficult war years. The vision of this continuing endeavor provided inspiration during this perilous time. “If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on,” remarked President Abraham Lincoln. “War or no war, the work goes steadily on,” reported the Chicago Tribune.2 To crown the new dome, Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter, who designed the cast-iron structure, called for a large statue, which he originally conceived as an allegorical figure “holding a liberty cap”—a cloth cap worn by the formerly enslaved in Ancient Greece and Rome that later became a popular symbol of the American and French Revolutions. In 1855 Meigs asked American sculptor Thomas Crawford, who had produced other sculptural pieces for the Capitol project, to create a representation of Liberty for the dome’s statue. Working in his studio in Rome, Crawford instead proposed a figure representing “Freedom triumphant in War and Peace.” His first design, a female holding an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other, was made before he realized that the sculpture needed more height and a taller pedestal. His second sketch, which Crawford said represented “Armed Liberty,” was a female figure in classical dress wearing a liberty cap adorned with stars and holding a shield and wreath in one hand and a sword in the other.3 Upon receiving Crawford’s second design, Meigs rightly anticipated that his superior, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, a Southern enslaver (and future president of the Confederacy) who oversaw the Capitol construction project, would object to the inclusion of the liberty cap. “Mr. Crawford has made a light and beautiful figure of Liberty…. It has upon it the inevitable liberty cap, to which Mr. Davis will, I do not doubt, object,” Meigs recorded in his journal. Indeed, Davis did object. “History renders [the liberty cap] inappropriate to a people who were born free and would not be enslaved,” Davis argued, willfully ignoring the millions of enslaved people who toiled across the nation. “[S]hould not armed Liberty wear a helmet?” Davis offered. Crawford’s third and final design reflected Davis’s suggestion. Freedom was clad with a helmet, "the crest of which is composed of an eagle’s head and a bold arrangement of feathers, suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes," Crawford explained.4 Once the statue design was approved, Crawford prepared a plaster model in his studio, his last work before he fell ill and died in 1857. Divided into five separate pieces, the model was shipped to America. After a long and arduous journey in a ship plagued by leaks, all of the pieces finally arrived in Washington in March 1859. An Italian craftsman working in the Capitol reassembled the model, covering all the seams with fresh plaster, and it was temporarily displayed in the old House Chamber (now known as Statuary Hall). Clark Mills, the owner of a local iron foundry, was hired to cast the statue in bronze in 1860. When the time came to disassemble the plaster model for casting, the Italian craftsman demanded additional pay from Mills, claiming that he alone knew how to separate the model. Mills turned instead to one of his foundry workers, an enslaved African American artisan named Philip Reid, who skillfully devised a method of separating the plaster model so that the individual sections could be cast and the bronze statue assembled. Reid labored seven days a week on Freedom, the only worker in Mills’s foundry paid to attend to the statue on Sundays, according to government records. Reid's rate of pay was $1.25 per day; however, as an enslaved man, he was likely only permitted to keep his Sunday earnings. While Reid was one of many enslaved people who helped to build the Capitol, he is unique in that his name has been documented in official records. “Philip Reid’s story is one of the great ironies in the Capitol’s history,” architectural historian of the Capitol William C. Allen observed, “a workman helping to cast a noble allegorical representation of American freedom when he himself was not free.”5 More ironic yet was the fact that when the statue was finally placed atop the dome on December 2, 1863, Reid was a free man, liberated by the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862 . Reporting from Washington that December day, a correspondent for the New York Tribune recounted Reid’s central role in the creation of Freedom, and reflected, “Was there a prophecy in that moment when the slave became the artist, and with rare poetic justice, reconstructed the beautiful symbol of freedom for America?” The installation of the Statue of Freedom proved to be symbolic, signifying the enduring nation in a time of civil war. A solemn ceremony marked completion of the dome and the placement of Freedom. The “flag of the nation was hoisted to the apex of the dome,” wrote an observer, “a signal that the ‘crowning’ had been successfully completed.” A salute was ordered to commemorate the event, “as an expression…of respect for the material symbol of the principle upon which our government is based.” The 12 forts that guarded the capital city answered with cannon fire when artillery fired a 35-gun-salute—one gun for each state, including those of the Confederacy.6 “Freedom now stands on the Dome of the Capitol of the United States,” wrote the Commissioner of Public Buildings, Benjamin Brown French, in his journal; “May she stand there forever, not only in form, but in spirit.” It was an appropriate finale to a year that began with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “Let us indulge the hope that our posterity to the end of time may look upon it with the same admiration which we do today,” one observer wrote of Freedom that December day, “and an unbroken Union three years since would have viewed this glorious symbol of patriotism and achievement of art.” Indeed, the nation emerged from the Civil War damaged but intact, improved by the permanent emancipation of four million African Americans in December 1865. 7
1. William C. Allen, The Dome of the United States Capitol: An Architectural History (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992), 55. 2. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2nd sess., March 25, 1862, 1349; Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 147; “The Capitol Improvements,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1863, 1. 3. “Statue of Freedom,” Architect of the Capitol, accessed November 30, 2023,; "The Liberty Cap in the Art of the U.S. Capitol," Architect of the Capitol, accessed November 30, 2023,; William C. Allen, History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 246; Allen, Dome, 42. 4. Wendy Wolff, ed., Capitol Builder: The Shorthand Journal of Montgomery C. Meigs, 1853–1859, 1861 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001), 332; Allen, Dome, 42–43. 5. Allen, Dome, 42–43; John Philip Colletta, "Clark Mills and His Enslaved Assistant, Philip Reed: The Collaboration that Culminated in Freedom," Capitol Dome 57, (Spring/Summer 2020): 19; "History of Slave Laborers in the Construction of the United States Capitol," report prepared by William C. Allen, Architectural Historian, Office of the Architect of the Capitol, June 1, 2005, p. 16, included in the subject files of the Senate Historical Office. 6. “The Statue of Freedom,” correspondence of the New York Tribune, reported in the Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1863, 1; "The Statue on the Capitol Dome," National Intelligencer, December 3, 1863, 3; S. D. Wyeth, The Rotunda and Dome of the US. Capitol (Washington, D.C.: Gibson Brothers, 1869), 193. 7. Benjamin Brown French, Witness to the Young Republic, A Yankee’s Journal, 1828–1870 (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1989), 439; "The Statue on the Capitol Dome," National Intelligencer, December 3, 1863, 3.
World War I veterans demonstrate at the U.S. Capitol, 1932 202311 9The Senate and the Bonus Expeditionary Force of 1932
November 9, 2023
Just before Congress adjourned in the summer of 1932, thousands of desperate World War I veterans surrounded the U.S. Capitol. With the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, the House of Representatives had approved a bill to provide immediate cash payments to veterans. Servicemembers now waited anxiously as the Senate debated the same bill. At issue was the question, What did the nation owe its veterans?

Just before Congress adjourned in the summer of 1932, thousands of desperate World War I veterans surrounded the U.S. Capitol. With the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, the House of Representatives had approved a bill to provide immediate cash payments to veterans. Servicemembers now waited anxiously as the Senate debated the same bill. At issue was the question, What did the nation owe its veterans? After World War I, a Senate investigation into soldiers’ wartime pay found that enlisted men had received “very much less than that received by the lowest class of labor at home.” Veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, lobbied Congress for additional compensation for those veterans. In 1922 the House and Senate approved a supplementary compensation bill, but President Warren G. Harding vetoed it. While he praised their service, Harding insisted that veterans would benefit more from a national tax cut than a one-time payment.1 The veterans persisted in their demands, however, and in 1924 Representative Hamilton Fish of New York, a decorated World War veteran, introduced an amended proposal to provide veterans with “adjusted service” certificates redeemable in 1945. The Adjusted Compensation Act, later known as the Bonus Act, would provide to veterans “a deferred interest-bearing certificate payable in 1945 or, upon the veteran’s death, to his beneficiaries.” Veterans who applied for certificates would be entitled in 1945 to receive additional compensation for their service, one dollar for every day served stateside and $1.25 per day for overseas service, plus the four percent interest accumulated over two decades. The Senate Finance Committee recommended the bill’s passage. “The purpose of the bill,” the committee wrote, “is to give to the soldier who offered his life with his services a compensation that will more nearly approach that of the laborer who remained at home, secure from danger, and whose compensation increased from 200 to 300 per cent.” Congress passed the legislation in May 1924. President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill, objecting to the cost of the proposal and its burden on taxpayers for the subsequent two decades. He noted that Congress had already provided financial support to disabled veterans and the dependents of those who died in the war. “We owe no bonus to able-bodied veterans of the World War.…The gratitude of the nation to these veterans can not be expressed in dollars and cents.” Congress promptly overrode his veto and millions of World War veterans applied for their certificates.2 Nearly five years later, President Herbert Hoover declared that the nation’s future was “bright with hope” in his inaugural address of March 1929, but not everyone shared his optimism. Persistent unemployment among World War veterans prompted further congressional action. Two veterans, Representative Wright Patman of Texas and Senator Smith Brookhart of Iowa, introduced bills to provide for immediate—rather than delayed—certificate payments. In October of that year a stock market crash, combined with tightened credit and a historic drought, plunged an already fragile economy into a crippling economic depression. Unemployment rates skyrocketed. The abrupt economic downturn increased calls for immediate financial relief for veterans. In the fall of 1931, a small group of veterans “rode the rails” from Oregon to the Capitol, where they petitioned lawmakers for prompt payment of their certificates. Congress did not respond at that time, but as the nation’s economic conditions worsened, the number of veterans demanding early payment multiplied. In cities from coast to coast, veterans began to organize. They named their burgeoning movement the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” or BEF for short, a reference to the American Expeditionary Forces that had fought in Europe during the war, and planned a march on Washington.3 In the spring of 1932, BEF chapters from across the country converged on Washington, where veterans presented to members of Congress petitions with more than two million signatures supporting immediate certificate payments. Despite the growing intensity of the veterans’ effort, congressional leaders balked at their proposal. Senate Minority Leader Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas announced his opposition: “I do not favor cash payments of adjusted service certificates.” With Congress focused on balancing budgets, editorials denounced the early payment proposal as fiscally irresponsible. “Two billion dollars cannot be picked from cherry trees by the Potomac,” opined the Chicago Tribune.4 Congress’s reluctance to address their demands did not deter veterans and their families from coming to Washington. Day after day, hundreds more arrived by foot, in cars, and by freight train. They built a sprawling shanty town on the Anacostia Flats and erected smaller encampments around the city. The BEF occupied deserted downtown buildings that were being demolished to make way for a new development known as the Federal Triangle. Soon the crowded camps, which lacked modern sanitation, posed public health problems. Dr. William Fowler, the District of Columbia’s health officer, declared the situation “frightful” and warned that “conditions are ideal for an outbreak of typhoid. The men bathe and wash their clothes in…the Potomac, and it is little more than an open sewer.” Despite the primitive living conditions, veterans vowed to remain in Washington. “We came here to stay until the bonus bill is passed,” declared one of the BEF leaders.5 Disregarding the Hoover administration’s opposition to an early payment scheme, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill to provide for immediate redemption of the face value of the certificates. Next, the bill went to the Senate, where it was referred to the Finance Committee. Reed Smoot of Utah, the committee chairman, opposed the proposal, and the committee recommended that the bill “not pass.” “There is no evidence that the veterans as a class are any more in need than other groups of our citizens,” the committee report concluded. The Senate agreed to debate the bill the following day.6 On June 17, 1932, veterans packed the Senate galleries, impatient for the debate to begin. Thousands more crowded onto the East Front Plaza of the Capitol, where they awaited periodic updates from the bill’s supporters. Ten hours of contentious floor debate followed. Opponents argued that immediate cash payment of the certificates—the cost of which far exceeded the government’s annual revenues—was fiscally irresponsible. Others insisted that the best way to support veterans—and all the nation’s unemployed—would be a national works program, rather than early payment of certificates. The bill’s supporters noted that Congress had provided financial support to a variety of special interests during the economic depression. Senator John Blaine of Wisconsin reminded senators that Congress had set aside loan programs “designed for the railroads and the banks and the insurance companies and for the House of Morgan,” while the veterans’ bill was “designed for the relief of human misery.” Senator Thomas Schall of Minnesota pleaded with his colleagues, “We owe the veterans. Why keep them waiting until 1945?” But as the debate wore on, it became clear that the bill had only tepid support in the Senate. John “Elmer” Thomas of Oklahoma, the bill’s Senate sponsor, acknowledged its likely defeat. “When will the Senate of the United States pay this sacred and patriotic debt?” Thomas inquired. “My fellow Senators, are you proud of the record that has been made?…Billions for big business, but not a sou for soldiers!” Shortly after nine o’clock that evening, the Senate defeated the bill by a lopsided margin of 62 to 18. Outside the Capitol, reporters relayed the news to disappointed veterans, who broke into a chorus of “America” and then peacefully dispersed.7 But the next morning, veterans returned to the Capitol, vowing to remain in Washington and continue lobbying Congress for immediate payment of their certificates. The Senate was unmoved by the ongoing demonstrations at the Capitol. Congress instead approved a bill to allow veterans to borrow against their certificates to cover food and transportation costs to return to their home states. Few took the loan option. Instead, veterans continued to stream into the capital city. As Congress prepared to adjourn, Vice President Charles Curtis grew so alarmed at the swelling crowd at the Capitol that he called in the Marines from the nearby barracks. They marched to the Crypt under the Capitol dome and awaited orders before Curtis abruptly revoked the order and sent them back to their barracks. Tensions between the BEF and elected officials, however, continued to mount.8 Congress adjourned on July 16, and four days later city officials issued an eviction notice to BEF leaders. The Hoover administration reasoned that, with Congress adjourned, the BEF no longer had a reason to remain in the city. A building contractor with salvage rights to the half-demolished buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue threatened to sue the government for financial losses because the BEF still occupied those buildings. More than 11,600 veterans had taken up residency in abandoned buildings and shanty towns, and hundreds of women and children occupied the camps, too. The eviction process began peacefully on July 28, but violence soon erupted. When Washington police attempted to evict the squatters, the veterans threw bricks and the police opened fire, killing two veterans. Fearing a riot, President Hoover called out the U.S. Army, under General Douglas MacArthur's command. MacArthur pledged to “break the back of the BEF.” Tanks rolled into the capital city and soldiers, with fixed bayonets, began rounding up veterans and bystanders alike. MacArthur’s soldiers not only emptied out the Pennsylvania Avenue buildings but crossed the Anacostia River and set fire to the largest BEF camp. The next day’s newspapers featured photographs of the army routing its own veterans.9 The demands of the Bonus Expeditionary Force in 1932, and the electoral consequences that followed its expulsion from Washington, taught some members of Congress a lesson they would not soon forget. Americans blamed Hoover and many of his congressional allies for mistreating the BEF and failing to end the Great Depression. In the November 1932 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt bested Hoover in a landslide, and 14 Senate incumbents lost reelection. Over the next two Congresses, those who favored immediate certificate payments gained new allies among freshmen members more sensitive to the plight of veterans. In 1936 bipartisan majorities in Congress finally approved the immediate payment of certificates. Eight years later, with the nation again at war, Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights as a more productive and humane way of recognizing and rewarding America’s returning World War II veterans.
1. Senate Committee on Finance, Veterans’ Adjusted Compensation Bill, 67th Cong. 1st sess., S. Rpt. 133, 2. 2. Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, The Bonus Army: An American Epic (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2020), 21–28; Stephen R. Ortiz, Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill: How Veteran Politics Shaped the New Deal Era (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 27–28; Senate Committee on Finance, Veterans’ Adjusted Compensation Bill, 67th Cong. 1st sess., S. Rpt. 133, 1; Calvin Coolidge, “Message to the House of Representatives Returning Without Approval a Bill Providing for Adjusted Compensation for War Veterans,” May 15, 1924, Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, accessed November 1, 2023, 3. “Inaugural Address of Herbert Hoover,” March 4, 1929, The Avalon Project, accessed November 1, 2023,; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 59. 4. “Robinson and Rainey Lead Fight on Bonus: United Attack Leads to Party Split,” New York Times, April 12, 1932, 1; “No on the Bonus!” Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1932, 12. 5. “Capital Asks States to Halt Bonus Trek; Epidemic is Feared,” New York Times, June 10, 1932, 1; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 100. 6. Senate Committee on Finance, Payment of Adjusted-Compensation Certificates, S. Rpt. 834, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., 6. 7. Congressional Record, June 17, 1932, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., 13240, 13247, 13271; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 130. 8. “Senate Votes Bonus Army Fares Home,” Hartford Courant, July 8, 1932, 20; “Curtis Revokes Order to Clear Capitol of Vets,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1932, 3. 9. Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 153–82.
Latrobe Cenotaphs in Congressional Cemetery 202310 10The First National Burial Ground: Congressional Cemetery
October 10, 2023
When Pierre L’Enfant produced his design for the new federal city in 1791, his plan did not include burial grounds. With the relocation of the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to the District of Columbia set to happen by 1800, DC’s commissioners anticipated the influx of population that would follow and set aside land in 1798 for two cemeteries on the outskirts of the city, one on the west side and the other on the east. When the site on the east side of the city proved to be unsuitable for burials, a group of parishioners of Christ Church on Capitol Hill established a new burial ground two miles from the Capitol, known by the 1830s as Congressional Cemetery.

When Pierre L’Enfant produced his design for the new federal city in 1791, his plan did not include burial grounds. With the relocation of the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to the District of Columbia set to happen by 1800, DC’s commissioners anticipated the influx of population that would follow and set aside land in 1798 for two cemeteries on the outskirts of the city, one on the west side and the other on the east. When the site on the east side of the city proved to be unsuitable for burials, a group of parishioners of Christ Church on Capitol Hill established a new burial ground along the Anacostia River, two miles from the Capitol. In time this cemetery came to be regarded as the first national burial ground, known by the 1830s as Congressional Cemetery.1 Just a few months after the Christ Church cemetery opened, Senator Uriah Tracy of Connecticut became the first member of Congress to be buried there. A Revolutionary War veteran and former president pro tempore of the Senate, Tracy died on July 19, 1807, and a few days later was interred in the cemetery “with the honors due to his station and character, as a statesman.” A member of the House of Representatives was buried there in 1808, and the following year Senator Francis Malbone of Rhode Island, who died on the steps of the Capitol after only three months in office, was interred there as well. Vice President George Clinton was interred there in 1812 and Vice President Elbridge Gerry followed in 1814, each escorted to his final resting place by a grand procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.2 The Washington Parish Burial Ground, as it was formally known at the time, was a public cemetery open to all, including African Americans (though in a segregated portion of the grounds). In addition to serving as the final resting place for some members of Congress, the cemetery also accommodated Senate officers, staff members, and even laborers who worked at the Capitol. William Swinton, a stonecutter who had worked on construction of the Capitol, was the first individual interred there in April 1807, just days after the cemetery was created. The Senate’s first doorkeeper and sergeant at arms, James Mathers, was laid to rest in the cemetery in 1811, as was the first secretary of the Senate, Samuel Otis, in 1814. Numerous members of the Tims family, who worked as doorkeepers, messengers, and pages in the early Senate, also found their final resting place in the cemetery. During the early years of the 19th century, embalming practices did not allow for long-distance transportation of the deceased, making local burial a necessity. Consequently, when a member of Congress died during a congressional session, he was typically buried in a local cemetery. Between 1800 and 1830, practically every member of Congress who died in office was buried at this site. Facing this reality, in 1817 Christ Church donated 100 burial sites for the interment of representatives and senators. In 1820 it opened those sites to the families of members of Congress as well as the heads of cabinet departments. A few years later, the church provided 300 additional burial sites for members of Congress and government officials. Around this time, the site became popularly known as Congressional Cemetery.3 To give distinction to the gravesites of lawmakers, Congress in 1815 commissioned Capitol architect Benjamin Latrobe to design a stately monument to honor each of the deceased members. Latrobe’s design featured a large cube topped with a small, conical dome made from the same sandstone used to construct the Capitol. An engraved marble plaque identified the deceased. Latrobe believed the monuments would be more durable than the typical marble headstones in use at the time. As years went by, improvements in embalming practices and in transportation—particularly with the construction of railroads—made it possible to return the deceased to home-state cemeteries. It became more common for members to be temporarily interred at the cemetery, then later transported for a home-state burial, leaving the space beneath the monument empty. For decades to come, Congress continued to add a monument to the cemetery whenever a member died in office, regardless of whether or not mortal remains ever rested there. By the 1870s, the cemetery held more than 150 of the Latrobe-designed monuments, arranged in long rows, although only about half actually covered a body. They became known as “cenotaphs,” which means “empty tomb.”4 Unfortunately, the stone markers weathered poorly over time and became increasingly unpopular with Washingtonians, including some members of Congress. One representative complained that the cenotaphs resembled a huge “dry-goods box with an old-fashioned bee-hive on top . . . , the most complete consummation of hideousness that it has ever been my misfortune to observe in a cemetery.” Above all, prayed another, “I hope to be delivered from dying—[at least] while Congress is in session.” When a bill was introduced in 1876 to require production of a granite monument matching the existing cenotaphs for future representatives and senators interred at the cemetery, Representative (and later Senator) George Hoar succeeded in striking the requirement from the bill. “It is certainly adding new terror to death,” Hoar stated, to require deceased members to lie beneath a cenotaph. This marked the end of new cenotaphs in Congressional Cemetery for nearly a century. A number of members of Congress were interred there in the years following, but those graves were marked with small headstones. One last cenotaph was placed in 1972 to mark the passing of House Majority Leader Hale Boggs who perished in a plane crash that year, his body never recovered.5 Though Congress did not have a formal relationship with Christ Church or ownership of the cemetery, it played an important financial role in the burial ground’s care and maintenance. Following the first congressional burials in the early 19th century, Christ Church officials hoped the donation of burial plots to Congress would strengthen ties with lawmakers and lead to financial support for the cemetery as a quasi-public institution. In 1824 Congress appropriated $2,000 to Christ Church to build a wall around the cemetery. Congress contributed more funds in the 1830s to build a house for the cemetery caretaker, plant trees, and “otherwise improve the interment of members of Congress and other officers of the General Government.” Between 1832 and 1834, Congress also appropriated $2,800 to build a vault to hold bodies awaiting burial, a service provided to representatives and senators free of charge. (Former First Lady Dolley Madison was interred there for three years while funds were raised to allow her to be moved for burial at her husband’s Montpelier estate in Virginia.) By 1846 Congress had appropriated $10,000 for upkeep and repairs. That year, when Congress provided funds for the cemetery and the road that led to from the Capitol, it used the name “Congressional Burial Ground,” solidifying its special relationship to the cemetery.6 With the establishment of Arlington Cemetery after the Civil War, Congressional Cemetery yielded its active role as the chief national burial ground. By that time, the cemetery had been the site for grand funeral services for deceased presidents William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and John Quincy Adams, and the final resting place of U.S. Attorney General William Wirt and U.S. Secretary of State John Forsythe. During the late 19th century, notable individuals from Senate and House history continued to be interred there, including former sergeant at arms Dunning McNair; Isaac Bassett, one of the first Senate pages and later a longtime doorkeeper of the Senate; Joseph Gales and William Seaton, early newspapermen who recorded congressional debates; and Anne Royall, one of the first women journalists to cover Congress. The cemetery also continued to serve private citizens well into the 20th century, eventually providing the resting place for 60,000 individuals, including pioneering photographer Matthew Brady, famed military composer and conductor John Philip Sousa, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a Washington native. By the mid-20th century, Congress had long ceased providing appropriations for the cemetery, and Christ Church’s congregation lacked the resources to maintain it. Despite efforts by groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution to generate public and congressional support for the historic site, it gradually fell into disrepair. In 1976 a nonprofit organization, the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery (APHCC), assumed management of the site. After decades of neglect, however, the APHCC struggled to keep up with the overgrown grass and weeds, repair broken monuments and crumbling private vaults, and protect the grounds from vandalism. That year Congress passed legislation authorizing the architect of the Capitol to assist in the maintenance of the cemetery and appropriated funds for that purpose. Congress did not provide additional funds in the years following, however, and by 1997 Congressional Cemetery had fallen on such hard times that the National Trust for Historic Preservation added it to its list of most endangered historic sites. Neighborhood volunteers—especially dog owners who frequented the grounds with their pets and formed the K9Corps at Historic Congressional Cemetery—worked with the APHCC to raise money and devoted hundreds of hours to bringing the cemetery back to life. In 1997 volunteers from all five branches of the military gathered at the site to mow the grass and repair headstones, an event that continues to be an annual tradition. As the cemetery’s 200th anniversary approached, Congress once again provided monetary support, passing legislation in 1999 and 2002 to establish an endowment for its ongoing restoration and maintenance. The cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.7 Through the efforts of local volunteers and with funds appropriated by Congress, Congressional Cemetery, the first national burial ground, has been restored as both a meaningful community space and a monument to the elected officials who died while serving their nation in Washington, DC. Eighty-four representatives, fourteen senators, and five individuals who served in both houses of Congress are interred at Congressional Cemetery alongside the cenotaphs that memorialize the passing of dozens more.
1. Abby Arthur Johnson and Ronald Johnson, In the Shadow of the United States Capitol: Congressional Cemetery and the Memory of the Nation (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2012), 9–14. 2. Johnson and Johnson, In the Shadow of the United States Capitol, 23–24, 53–54. 3. Johnson and Johnson, In the Shadow of the United States Capitol, 35; Rebecca Boggs Roberts and Sandra K. Schmidt, Historic Congressional Cemetery (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012), 7. 4. Roberts and Schmidt, Historic Congressional Cemetery, 25–27. 5. Congressional Record, 44th Cong., 1st sess., May 15, 1876, 3092–93; Kim A. O’Connell, “A Monumental Task,” Preservation (July/August 2009): 18–19; History of the Congressional Cemetery, S. Doc. 72, 59th Cong., 2nd sess., December 6, 1906, 35. 6. Johnson and Johnson, In the Shadow of the United States Capitol, 33, 36–37; History of the Congressional Cemetery, 11–15. 7. Johnson and Johnson, In the Shadow of the United States Capitol, 223–64; “Ruin of Tombs,” Milwaukee Sentinel, August 31, 1890, 9; House of Representatives, Committee on Interior Affairs, “Relating to the Preservation of the Historical Congressional Cemetery,” H. Rpt. 667, 97th Cong., 2nd sess., July 27, 1982; Betsy Crosby, “To Hell and Back: The Resurrection of Congressional Cemetery,” Preservation (January/February 2012): 28–33; “The Cemetery Lost Its Aura,” Washington Star, September 19, 1971, 1; “New Panel Eyes Cemetery Bill,” Washington Post, July 28, 1976, A15; “A Gentle Reminder of Congressional History, 20 Blocks from Capitol Hill,” Roll Call, September 18, 1988, 31; “Congressional Cemetery Could Get Funding,” Roll Call, July 26, 2001, 46.
Rufus King (F-NY) 202309 15Constitution 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.
Categories: Constitution

Of the 55 delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, 19 of those constitutional framers 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, bringing knowledge, continuity, and stability to the new government. A member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Constitutional Convention, King subsequently moved to New York and became one of the first two senators to represent that state in 1789. He went on to serve 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. As historians have explained, the individuals chosen to attend the federal convention that resulted in the creation of a “partly federal and partly national” constitutional system “were not mere ‘theoretical’ politicians who were engaging in government for the first time.” They “were experienced veterans, many of whom had already been able to see the variants of democracy play out within their own states,” while others “knew firsthand the frustrations of governing” under the Articles of Confederation that preceded the constitutional government. This was certainly true of Rufus King.1 Just 32 years old when he attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787, King was already considered, as described by fellow delegate William Pierce of Georgia, a “man much distinguished for his eloquence and great parliamentary talents,” who “ranked among the Luminaries of the present Age.” Trained as a lawyer, he entered Massachusetts politics with service in the state’s general assembly before becoming a delegate to the Continental Congress. Taking leave of his post to attend the Philadelphia convention, King was present at every session and took notes—a valuable resource for historians. Considered “among the most capable orators” at the convention, his contributions were significant. He served on several major committees, including the important Committee on Postponed Matters and Committee of Style, which were charged with finalizing the document as the convention was ending. As historian Richard Welch concluded, King was “surely one of the most prominent members of the Convention at large.”2 After the ratification of the Constitution, when the First Congress convened in 1789, the 34-year-old King became the youngest senator of the time. King “came to the Senate with a record of solid achievement,” historian Roy Swanstrom explained, and he “was consistently among the most active Senators in committee work.” During his first Senate term, King played a key role in the creation and approval of the Jay Treaty, co-authoring with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Chief Justice of the United States John Jay a series of published essays in defense of the controversial treaty with Great Britain. He also proved influential in establishing the First Bank of the United States and was elected one of the first 25 directors of the bank in 1791.3 In 1796 President George Washington appointed King to be minister to Great Britain, a position he held until 1803. Upon his return to the United States, King spent a decade out of public office before again being elected to the Senate in 1813. By this time, King was the “only senator who had sat in the body while Washington was President,” and was one of only two framers still serving in the Senate—along with New Hampshire’s Nicolas Gilman. When Gilman died in 1814, King became the last framer of the Constitution still serving in the Senate.4 Specializing in matters of finance and foreign relations, as well as maritime law, commerce, and public lands, King’s expertise was widely respected by his contemporaries. His skillful oratory often impressed his congressional colleagues, including a young, newly elected New Hampshire representative named Daniel Webster, who hailed King’s speaking ability as “unequalled.” When the Senate established its standing committee system in 1816, King was assigned to two of the most important panels—Foreign Relations and Finance. “In the years to come he would apply his knowledge and experience” to that committee work, noted a biographer, and “in debates and roll calls on the Senate floor, he was a watchdog, sniffling out signs of wastefulness and partisan aims.”5 By the time the Senate tackled the difficult issue of the Missouri crisis in 1819 and 1820, King was a respected elder statesman. His status was tested, however, when the question of expanding slavery in new western states threatened to disrupt the delicate balance between slave states and free states, especially in the Senate, where states were given equal representation. King insisted that Congress had a right to exclude slavery from new states. This position alienated colleagues of slaveholding states but bolstered support in the northern states. King’s speeches rallied opposition to the proposed compromise that sought to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state while prohibiting slavery in the territories north of the 36º 30' parallel. King had consistently opposed the expansion of slavery throughout his career. While serving in the Continental Congress in the 1780s, he had introduced a resolution providing that there should be neither "slavery nor involuntary servitude" in the Northwest Territory, language that was ultimately incorporated into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. During the Constitutional Convention, foreseeing the growing divide between slave and free states, he had expressed doubts about the three-fifths compromise that determined the method by which enslaved Americans were to be counted for purposes of taxation and representation. Although King had accepted the three-fifths compromise as a necessary concession to slaveholding states in order to gain adoption of the Constitution, by 1803, when the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory raised new possibilities for the expansion of slavery, he believed that the three-fifths provision was one of the “greatest blemishes” on the Constitution.6 In 1819, as senators debated the issue of expanding slavery into Missouri and other western states, King stood in opposition, drawing on his participation in the constitutional debate over the three-fifths compromise to frame his argument. “The equality of rights, which includes an equality of burdens, is a vital principle in our theory of government,” he explained, “and its jealous preservation is the best security of public and individual freedom.” He maintained that “the departure from this principle in the disproportionate power and influence, allowed to the slave holding states” through the three-fifths compromise, “was a necessary sacrifice to the establishment of the constitution,” but such a compromise was no longer acceptable. “The effect of this concession has been obvious in the preponderance which it has given to the slave holding states over the other states.” He continued:
Nevertheless it is an ancient settlement, and faith and honour stand pledged not to disturb it. But the extension of this disproportionate power to the new states would be unjust and odious. The states whose power would be abridged, and whose burdens would be increased by the measure, cannot be expected to consent to it; and we may hope that the other states are too magnanimous to insist on it.7
King’s Senate speeches were printed and distributed as a pamphlet, fueling the already heated debate over slavery’s possible westward expansion. Given King’s status as a veteran statesman, the publication received much attention. According to historian Robert Ernst, “The speeches became a center of acrimonious controversy.” The pamphlet “has largely contributed to kindle the flame now raging throughout the Union on that question, and which threatens its dissolution,” John Quincy Adams (then serving as Secretary of State) wrote in his diary. “A whirlwind of anti-Missouri feeling swept over the North,” noted historian Homer Hockett. “Mass meetings were held and resolutions passed in open opposition to the extension of slavery into the new states,” commented historian Joseph L. Arbena, who wrote that “King appeared to be the source of much of this agitation.” His speeches and “ideas formed the bases for many of the essays, memorials, and speeches presented in support of his stand.” Observing King’s influence over the Missouri debate, Boston journalist and author William Tudor wrote to King in February 1820: “I have been convinced that it is chiefly owing to you that the nation has been awakened to examine its consequences.” Describing King’s fervor in the Missouri debate, Adams concluded, “King has made a desperate plunge into it, and has thrown his last stake upon the card.”8 While King’s speeches strengthened the opposition to the Missouri Compromise, they also stirred suspicions about the veteran senator’s motives. Critics, particularly those in favor of the compromise, accused King of using the crisis for his own political gain and to realign the parties around the issue and establish himself as a leader of a new party. Adams rejected such notions, arguing, “There is not a man in the Union of purer integrity than Rufus King.” Historians have tended to agree with Adams. “Although he would have welcomed a new political alignment of northern Republicans and the few remaining Federalists,” wrote Ernst, “there is no credible evidence that he plotted to bring this about, nor was he motivated by personal ambition for power.” Nevertheless, the suspicions cast upon King’s motives aided in diminishing the effectiveness of his influence upon the debate, contributing to the ultimate failure of his position.9 Despite the controversies of the Missouri crisis, King remained a respected and trusted public figure. In 1821 the Senate elected him as chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee—despite the fact that he was in the minority party, one of only four remaining Federalists in the Senate. Even those who had been disappointed by King’s position in the Missouri debate continued to hold him in high esteem. One admirer, Virginia representative John Randolph, remarked, “Ah, sir! only for that unfortunate vote on the Missouri Question, he would be our man for the Presidency. He is, Sir, a genuine English gentleman of the old school, just the right man for these degenerate times; but, alas! it cannot be.”10 King was both an ardent Federalist and an esteemed national leader whose link with the past, and particularly to his role as constitutional framer, garnered an admiration that eclipsed partisanship. “A venerable Senator, he was a sort of ‘Mr. Federalist,’" Ernst observed. Even as the Federalist influence declined, Ernst continued, “Rufus King's reputation as an elder statesman brightened.” His service in the Senate, which continued until 1825, extended well beyond any of the other 19 delegates to the Constitutional Convention who later became senators. A Massachusetts colleague, Harrison G. Otis, assessed the importance of King’s continuing service. “You prevent a great deal of mischief and keep in check the framers of crude projects and cunning devices,” Otis stated to King in 1823, adding, “whoever writes your epitaph…may be able to say that you continued many years at your post, the last of the Romans.” Rufus King, elder statesman, was the Senate’s last framer.11
1. John R. Vile, The Men Who Made the Constitution: Lives of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2013), xx; David O. Stewart, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 25. 2. “Notes of Major William Pierce on the Federal Convention of 1787,” The American Historical Review 3, no. 2 (January 1898): 325; National Park Service, Signers of the Constitution: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Constitution (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976), 180–81; Richard E. Welch, Jr., “Rufus King of Newburyport: The Formative Years (1767–1788),” Essex Institute Historical Collections 96, no. 4 (October 1960): 267. 3. Roy Swanstrom, The United States Senate 1787–1801: A Dissertation on the First Fourteen Years of the Upper Legislative Body, reprinted as S. Doc. 99-19, 99th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1985), 45, 271–72. 4. Robert Ernst, Rufus King: American Federalist (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 322. 5. Ernst, Rufus King, 327, 353. 6. Welch, Jr., “Rufus King of Newburyport,” 248; Joseph L. Arbena, “Politics or Principle? Rufus King and the Opposition to Slavery, 1785–1825,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 101, no. 1 (January 1965): 64–65; Robert Ernst, “Rufus King, Slavery, and the Missouri Crisis,” The New York Historical Society Quarterly 46, no. 4 (October 1962): 364. 7. Rufus King, The Substance of Two Speeches, Delivered in the Senate of the United States, on the Subject of the Missouri Bill, (Philadelphia: Clark & Raser, printers, 1819), 6–7, Library of Congress collection, accessed on August 29, 2023, 8. Ernst, “Rufus King, Slavery, and the Missouri Crisis,” 367; Charles F. Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1875), vol. 4, 517, 526; Homer C. Hockett, "Rufus King and the Missouri Compromise,'' Missouri Historical Review 2 (April 1908): 216; Arbena, “Politics or Principle?” 72; Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King: Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents and His Speeches (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900), vol. 6, 272. 9. Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, vol. 5, 13; Ernst, “Rufus King, Slavery, and the Missouri Crisis,” 382. 10. Ernst, Rufus King, 384–85; William Cabell Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773–1833: A Biography Based Largely on New Material (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922), 612. 11. Ernst, “Rufus King, Slavery, and the Missouri Crisis,” 373–74; Ernst, Rufus King, 407–9.
"Congressional Weather Forecast: Long Hot Summer," by Jim Berryman, 1935 202308 11Give 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.

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. From 1789 until the 1930s, Congress convened for its first regular session in December and typically adjourned in spring or midsummer. After months away from Washington, members of Congress would return for a short second session in December that adjourned on March 3. Occasionally, extraordinary sessions or the demands of war kept Congress in session longer, but generally senators agreed with Vice President John Nance Garner, who reportedly proclaimed, “No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June.”1 By the late 1950s, however, the schedule had changed and workloads had grown. Adoption of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 moved the start of each session of Congress to January. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 included a provision that “except in time of war or during a national emergency,” Congress was to adjourn by the last day in July, but this rarely happened in practice. The dramatic growth of the federal government since the Great Depression brought greater oversight responsibilities and increasingly complex appropriations work to lawmakers, all on top of their need to address national problems like civil rights and the challenge of governing the world’s largest economy. From 1949 to 1951, the earliest Congress adjourned was October 19. In 1956 Congress adjourned on July 27—marking the last time the Senate adjourned before the first of August.2 Senators began to feel the effects of these longer and busier legislative sessions. Short tempers and testy exchanges accompanied work in the hot Washington summers. In 1959 Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine warned of the Senate’s increasing workload. “The pressures under which Congress works every year at this time of year . . . create disorder,” she complained, as well as “confused thinking, harmful emotions, destructive tempers, unsound and unwise legislation, and ill health with the very specter of death hanging over Members of Congress.” (If that sounds dramatic, keep in mind that in the 1950s, senators died in office at a rate of about two per year.) Smith proposed an annual break from August to mid-November, but the Senate ignored her words of caution.3 In 1960, when the growing workload resulted in another long session that lasted into September, support for a summer recess grew. In 1961 freshman senator Gale McGee proposed an annual break to last from June to October, gaining the support of 32 co-sponsors. McGee argued that the long sessions prohibited many senators from returning to their home states, which had a deleterious effect on their family lives. “We are faced in the Senate with the fact that the work in the Senate is never finished,” he stated, adding it was time “to work out a habit of living that will enable us to rise to these challenges with a minimum disruption of normal family living.” During the 1950s, an influx of younger senators meant that more senators came to Washington with spouses and children in tow. In 1961 there were at least 141 school-age children of senators in and around the DC area. McGee was 46 years old with four children of his own, and almost half of his resolution’s co-sponsors were aged 50 and under.4 Among McGee’s most ardent supporters were many wives of senators and representatives. Bethine Church, wife of Idaho senator Frank Church and the chair of a committee created by the Democratic Congressional Wives Forum and the Republican Congressional Wives Club to study the issue, presented to the Senate Rules Committee a petition of support signed by more than 170 congressional spouses. In testimony to the committee, Church explained that Senate wives typically brought their children back to their home states after school let out for the summer. “It is important,” she stated, “to keep children close to the State which their father represents.” With the Senate in session during the summer, senators stayed in Washington while the family was absent. Once the session ended in the fall, senators traveled back home to meet with constituents (or, in election years, to campaign) just as their children returned to school in Washington. “The average Congressman with school-age children,” Church concluded, “is separated from his family almost half of the year.”5 A summer recess was also popular among senators from the West and Midwest for whom travel back home was costly and difficult to make in the midst of a session. Over two-thirds of McGee’s co-sponsors represented states away from the East Coast. Senator Jack Miller of Iowa stated, “I don’t know a better place in my State for me to obtain true grassroots thinking on problems of people of my State than at the county fairs,” and long sessions meant that he could not attend any of them.6 Unfortunately for McGee, a change to the congressional calendar required the cooperation of the House of Representatives. The Constitution states that neither the House nor the Senate can adjourn for longer than three days without the consent of the other. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, a 79-year-old bachelor without children, vehemently opposed a scheduled summer recess, declaring, “It’s the greatest nonsense I ever heard.” In light of this opposition from Rayburn and other older, long-serving members, no action was taken on McGee’s resolution.7 In 1962 the Senate met from January to October with no recess. Just before adjournment that year, McGee renewed his call for a summer recess and got the attention of Senate leadership. In early 1963, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana expressed support for a summer recess and appointed an informal committee of Democratic senators, led by Senator Mike Monroney of Oklahoma, to suggest ways of speeding up Senate business and changes to the Senate calendar. In March Monroney’s group recommended that the Senate take a short break that session at the end of August. By May, however, Mansfield was already backtracking, saying that a recess would not be possible that year. An anonymous senator, likely McGee, speculated that Mansfield would not commit to an August break since that could be seen as a concession that the session would continue into the fall. That year, the Senate adjourned in December without having taken a break longer than a three-day weekend.8 By 1965 both the House and Senate were prepared to thoroughly examine their way of doing business, and McGee suddenly found himself with a more receptive audience. The Joint Committee on the Reorganization of Congress held more than a dozen hearings that year to explore ways to improve Congress’s efficiency and effectiveness. While McGee still highlighted the benefits of a recess for families, he began to emphasize that a summer break was essential to a broader modernization of the Senate. At a Joint Committee hearing in May, he asserted that “our annual race with the calendar and our perennial guessing game as to when we shall adjourn for the session are symbols of inefficiency and relics of the past.” He argued that mentally and physically tired senators rushed to adjourn at the end of long sessions, leading to good bills being tossed by the wayside while other bills passed without proper debate and scrutiny. McGee argued that a series of scheduled breaks, including a month off in August, would make it “easier, more orderly, and more predictable to pace ourselves during the arduous full legislative year.” The Joint Committee agreed. In its 1966 report, the committee recommended that the House and Senate adopt reforms with the goal of adjourning by July 31, but if the session had to be extended, neither house would meet during the month of August.9 Congress would not adopt the full array of the Joint Committee’s recommendations for a number of years, but in the meantime the Senate was ready to try out a summer recess. In 1968 the Senate took a month-long break in August to allow members to attend the party nominating conventions. If the Senate could break for the conventions in election years, some asked, why not in other years? The following year the Senate recessed from August 13 to September 3. Young reformers gleefully left town, while older senators grumbled. “There’s too much work piling up,” snarled one. “Now we’ll be here till Christmas!” Come September, reviews of the experimental recess were mixed. It certainly was “no vacation,” insisted George Aiken of Vermont, who discovered that his Senate work followed him home. But even critics acknowledged that the break provided useful opportunities for family gatherings and connection with constituents.10 Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 in October of that year, which mandated that in odd-numbered years both the House and Senate adjourn for a summer recess in August. On August 6, 1971, the Senate began its first official summer recess. While the statute did not mandate a break in even-numbered years—senators chose to maintain flexibility during campaign seasons—the Senate took shorter breaks in August of election years and, beginning in the 1990s, began taking longer August breaks every year.11 On rare occasions, the Senate has chosen to shorten its break or even to forgo the August recess entirely. For example, in 1994 during a heated debate over healthcare legislation, Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine delayed the Senate’s recess until August 25. The Senate interrupted its summer recess in 2005 to pass an emergency relief bill in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Senate cancelled the August recess in 2018 to consider appropriations bills. Such cases remain the exception. By practice and by law, the Senate’s August recess has become a cherished tradition.12
1. Garner’s line was first attributed to him by Senator Willis Robertson in 1956. Congressional Record, 84th Cong., 2nd sess., July 12, 1956, 12419. 2. Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, Public Law 79–601, 79th Cong., 2nd sess., August 2, 1946, 60 Stat. 831. For a complete list of congressional session dates, see “Dates of Sessions of the Congress,” United States Senate, accessed July 14, 2003, 3. Congressional Record, 86th Cong., 1st sess., September 10, 1959, 18679, 18880. 4. S. Con. Res. 16, 87th Cong., 1st sess; Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Adjournment of Congress: Hearing on S. Con. Res. 6 and S. Con. Res. 16, 87th Cong., 1st sess., August 2, 1961, 10. 5. Adjournment of Congress, 7, 9–13.. 6. Adjournment of Congress, 16. 7. “Rayburn Opposes Summer Recess for Congress,” Hartford Courant, May 10, 1961, 24A; “Yes Dear, Father Tried…but Mr. Rayburn Said No,” Boston Globe, August 3, 1961, 14. 8. “Senate Eyes New Set-Up for Meetings,” Baltimore Sun, January 10, 1963, 1; “Mansfield Proposes Easier Senate Pace, Six Recesses,” Wall Street Journal, January 11, 1963, 5; “Senate Unit Proposes Legislative Speed Up,” Washington Post, March 31, 1963, A2; “Mansfield Does Not Believe Summer Recess is Possible,” Washington Post, May 12, 1963, B2; “To Move Congress Out of its Ruts,” New York Times, April 7, 1963, SM39. 9. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Subcommittee on Standing Rules of the Senate, Reorganization of Congress: Hearing on S. Con. Res. 2 and S. 1208, 89th Cong., 1st sess., February 24, 1965; Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, Organization of Congress: Hearings Pursuant to S. Con. Res. 2, Part 2, 89th Cong., 1st sess., May 20, 1965, 332–38; Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, Organization of Congress: Final Report of the Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress, 89th Cong., 2nd sess., S. Rpt. 1414, July 28, 1966, 55–56. 10. “Recess for Congress,” Baltimore Sun, July 22, 1968, A8; Congressional Record, 91st Cong., 1st sess., August 13, 1969, 23660; “Vacation Breather Refreshes Capitol Hill—But Work Piles Up,” Christian Science Monitor, September 13, 1969, 7. For dates of recesses, see the “Sessions of Congress,” Congressional Directory, 117th Cong. 2nd sess., October 2022, 540–58. 11. Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, Public Law 91-510, 91st Cong., 2nd sess., October 26, 1970, 84 Stat. 1193; Congressional Record, 91st Cong., 2nd sess., October 5, 1970, 34945; “Senate Churns Out Bills, Recesses,” Boston Globe, August 7, 1971, 5; “Regular Recesses Help Congress Do More Work,” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1975, 1. 12. H. Con. Res. 179, 101st Cong., 1st sess., 1989; “The Longest Debate,” Washington Post, August 19, 1994, G1; “Health Reform Vote May Hang on Senate Recess,” Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1994, A1; Susan Davis, “Mitch McConnell Cancels Senate’s August Recess,” June 5, 2018, accessed July, 10, 2023,
Flag, Apollo 11 (Cat. No. 87.00001.001) 202307 18Out 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.
Categories: Art and Artifacts

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 led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 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. Perhaps the most famous U.S. flag associated with the space program is the one astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin planted on the Moon on July 21, 1969. Approximately 650 million viewers worldwide tuned into live television to watch Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s first steps on the lunar surface. So momentous was this event that, in 1972, the U.S. Senate Commission on Art, under the leadership of Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, directed the creation of a mural commemorating the mission for the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol. Artist Allyn Cox completed the mural America’s First Moon Landing, July 21, 1969, in his studio, and the work was approved and installed in the Brumidi Corridors in April 1975.1 The three vignettes that comprise Cox’s mural—the Apollo 11 launch from Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, at the bottom; the flag planting on the Moon on July 21, 1969, at the center; and the view of “Earthrise” at the top—intertwine themes of technological and scientific progress with national cooperation and commitment and signal their global implications. The Apollo 11 moon landing was the realization of President John F. Kennedy’s vision, stated in an address to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” Kennedy appealed to national pride when requesting that Congress fund the effort, adding, “But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon—we make this judgment affirmatively—it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.” Prominently portrayed at the center of Cox’s mural, the U.S. flag signals the importance of U.S. government support and investment in making the endeavor a success.2 In addition to the U.S. flag famously planted on the lunar surface by Armstrong and Aldrin and pictured in the center of Cox’s mural, the Apollo 11 astronauts brought with them two flags that had previously flown over the U.S. Capitol. The one now in the U.S. Senate Collection flew over the Senate wing, traveled to space with Apollo 11, and was presented to Vice President Spiro Agnew by astronaut Michael Collins at a joint meeting of Congress on September 16, 1969. Armstrong presented the other flag, which had flown over the House of Representatives wing of the Capitol, to Speaker John McCormack. At the joint meeting, Armstrong credited Congress with making the Apollo 11 mission possible, declaring, “It was here in these Halls that our venture really began. Here the Space Act of 1958 was framed, the chartering document of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And here in the years that followed the key decisions that permitted the successive steps of Mercury and Gemini and Apollo were permitted.”3 The flag presented by Collins to Vice President Agnew is a seemingly ordinary, cotton flag measuring five feet high and eight feet wide and manufactured by the Dettra Flag Company, but its involvement in the Apollo 11 spaceflight makes it extraordinary. Vice President Agnew acknowledged its importance when he accepted the flag, promising, “I can assure you that this memento … will be kept and appreciated with the dignity that it deserves.” The flag was turned over to the secretary of the Senate, who then delivered it to the curator of art and antiquities of the Senate for safekeeping. To satisfy the curious public, the flag was exhibited at the Capitol until the summer of 1970. After it came off view, the Senate Upholstery Shop sewed a cloth label onto the flag that identifies the object and its historic significance.4 Nearly three decades after the Apollo 11 astronauts gifted to the U.S. Senate a flag that had flown to the Moon, another artifact of space history was presented to the Senate: a hardbound 1993 printing of Thomas Jefferson’s A Manual of Parliamentary Practice. Senator John Glenn of Ohio, a former NASA astronaut, brought the book on the space shuttle Discovery for his final voyage to space. Prior to joining the Senate, Glenn had made history as the first American to orbit Earth, circling three times during a nearly five-hour flight aboard the Friendship 7 space capsule on February 20, 1962. He set another record in 1998, when, at age 77, he became the world’s oldest person to fly in space, joining mission STS-95 as a payload specialist and subject for basic research to study how weightlessness affects the body of older persons.5 Each crew member on the STS-95 mission was permitted to sponsor items to travel into space as part of the Official Flight Kit (OFK), a container measuring approximately two cubic feet that is “reserved for carrying official mementos of NASA and other organizations aboard Space Shuttle flights.” NASA requires mementos to be “of little commercial value” and small enough to fit in the shuttle’s OFK. After consultation with staff in the Office of Senate Curator, the Senate Historical Office, and the Senate Library, Senator Glenn selected this Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the STS-95 OFK. In sponsoring an OFK item for the U.S. Senate, Glenn recognized Congress’s history of support for the space shuttle program.6 The Manual of Parliamentary Practice was a practical choice because of its relatively small size and weight, but it is also a meaningful text in Senate history. While serving as vice president (1797–1801) and therefore as the presiding officer of the Senate, Jefferson compiled the manual to serve as a guide for legislative procedures. The cover of this 1993 printing features a profile portrait of Jefferson embossed in gold. In the months leading up to his vice-presidential inauguration in 1797, Jefferson reported feeling “entirely rusty in the Parliamentary rules of procedure” and set out to create a reference manual to support his rulings and to guide future presiding officers. After its publication in 1801, Jefferson deposited the book with the Senate, where it influenced the legislative body’s approach to order and decorum. The Manual also was integrated into the rules used by the House of Representatives.7 Following Glenn’s request to include the Manual as an OFK item, it arrived at the space center at least 45 days prior to the flight for processing. The book was listed on the cargo manifest, packaged and sealed in this light pink plastic sheath, weighed, and stowed aboard the Discovery space shuttle orbiter. A small yellow sticker on the back of the plastic packaging denotes the Manual’s number on the STS-95 OFK, #106. After the flight, the Manual was returned to Glenn. The accompanying certificate of authenticity, issued from NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, provides the official statistics of the spaceflight, reporting that STS-95 (and its OFK items, including the Manual) reached a maximum altitude of 355 miles, a maximum speed of 17,950 miles per hour, and traveled 3.6 million miles over the course of eight days, 21 hours, and 45 minutes between October 29 and November 7, 1998. On December 3, 1998, at an event at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Senator Glenn presented the Manual to Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota and Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. The artifact was later accessioned into the U.S. Senate Collection.8 Toward the end of his term in the Senate, Glenn reflected on his dual careers as an astronaut and a legislator: “Both fields take a lot of dedication to accomplish anything. That would be a big similarity, dedication to country and dedication to what you’re doing. But that’s about where the similarities end.” Though the similarities of working in the two “fields” might be few, it is clear that their histories are intertwined. The U.S. Senate Collection includes artworks and artifacts that make visible some of these historical intersections and the role the Senate has played in supporting and celebrating space research. For more on these objects and others, please visit the Space and Aeronautics thematic collection on the Senate website. 9
1. “Apollo 11 Mission Overview,” NASA, last updated January 5, 2022,; William Kloss and Diane K. Skvarla, “America’s First Moon Landing,” in United States Senate Catalogue of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002), 16. 2. Congressional Record, 87th Cong., 1st sess., May 25, 1961, 8881. 3. Congressional Record, 91st Cong., 1st sess., September 16, 1969, 25610. 4. Congressional Record, 91st Cong., 1st sess., September 16, 1969, 25611, 25577; Letter from Richard Baker (then Senate curator) to Francis R. Valeo (secretary of the Senate), December 10, 1969, in the files of the Office of Senate Curator. According to an unsigned, handwritten note on Office of the Secretary stationary, dated September 25, 1970, and located in Office of Senate Curator files, the label was applied to the flag that month. 5. “Profile of John Glenn,” NASA, accessed June 23, 2023, 6. 14 C.F.R. 90 § 1214.601 (1998); Memorandum from Diane K. Skvarla (Senate curator) to Sebastian O’Kelly (staff member serving Sen. Glenn as chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs), June 26, 1998, in the files of the Office of Senate Curator. This support began with the approval of $78.5 million dollars for shuttle research and development in fiscal year 1971. See: Migdon R. Segal, “The Space Shuttle: A Historical Overview,” Congressional Research Service, 73-123 SP, July 5, 1973, 13. 7. Wilbur Samuel Howell, ed., Jefferson’s Parliamentary Writings: “Parliamentary Pocket-Book” and A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2nd series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 9; Gaye Wilson, “Manual of Parliamentary Practice,” Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, accessed June 5, 2023,; Senate Historical Office, “Idea of the Senate | The Senate's Rules,” accessed June 5, 2023, 8. 14 CFR 90 § 1214.605 (1998); “STS-95,” Space Shuttle Mission Archives, NASA, accessed June 23, 2023,; Ed Henry, “Heard on the Hill. Glenn’s Goodbye,” Roll Call, December 7, 1998. 9. Ed Henry, “Glenn Counts Down to Launch with Complete Support from Wife and Colleagues, Senator Set to Repeat History,” Roll Call, October 5, 1998.
J. William “Bill” Fulbright (D-AR) with President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968 202306 12Chairman 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.

In early August 1964, two reportedly unprovoked attacks on American navy ships in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf near North Vietnam became key events in the evolution of congressional war powers. For nearly a decade, American policymakers had viewed South Vietnam as a critical Cold War ally. Republican and Democratic administrations had provided the independent South Vietnamese government with financial assistance and military advisors to combat ongoing threats from its communist neighbor, North Vietnam. In the summer of 1964, the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam included approximately 12,000 military advisors, as well as a naval presence in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf. On August 2, an American destroyer, the USS Maddox, came under fire by North Vietnamese boats while supporting a South Vietnamese covert operation in the Gulf. Two days later, the commander of the Maddox reported “being under continuous torpedo attack” while on patrol with a second destroyer, the USS C. Turner Joy.1 After the second reported attack, President Lyndon B. Johnson summoned congressional leaders, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William “Bill” Fulbright of Arkansas, to the White House for a briefing. Citing the second unprovoked attack, President Johnson informed lawmakers that he would be launching retaliatory strikes against North Vietnamese targets, a unilateral action that he believed he could take in his constitutional capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces. Like President Dwight D. Eisenhower before him, Johnson wished to secure congressional approval—in advance—for any future military actions he may wish to take to protect national interests in the region. Consequently, Johnson asked lawmakers to approve the Southeast Asia Resolution to “promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia,” by authorizing the commander in chief “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the … United States and to prevent further aggression.” Fulbright and his colleagues voiced their support for the air strikes and the resolution. Hours later, Johnson publicly announced that he had ordered attacks on North Vietnam while affirming that his administration did not seek a wider war.2 The next morning, Johnson personally asked Fulbright to shepherd the administration’s joint Southeast Asia Resolution, which came to be known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, swiftly through the Senate. The administration had modeled it after two 1950s resolutions that had provided President Dwight D. Eisenhower with congressional authorization to use military force if necessary to defend allies from Communist aggressors in Formosa (today Taiwan) and the Middle East. “The Constitution assumes that our two branches of government should get along together,” Eisenhower later recalled of the effort to obtain congressional authorization for the use of military force. He preferred that any military response be an expression of the will of the legislative and executive branches. Under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, however, only Congress has the authority to declare war. During debates about the Eisenhower resolutions, Fulbright had expressed misgivings that Congress was relinquishing its constitutional war powers to the executive branch. Nevertheless, Fulbright did support the Formosa Resolution in 1955. (He was not present to cast a vote for the Middle East Resolution in 1957.) While President Eisenhower did not take the nation to war under those congressional authorizations, Congress had set a precedent in granting an administration such broad authority.3 Despite his earlier reservations, in 1964 Senator Fulbright readily agreed to shepherd the Tonkin Gulf Resolution through the Senate. Fulbright viewed President Johnson as a long-time friend and political ally. In 1959, while serving as Senate majority leader, Johnson had helped maneuver Fulbright into the coveted position of chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Leader Johnson fondly referred to Fulbright as “my secretary of state.” In 1960 Fulbright had supported Johnson’s candidacy in the Democratic presidential primary. Johnson won the vice-presidential nomination instead and in 1961 assumed the critical role of congressional liaison for President John F. Kennedy’s administration. In that capacity, Johnson’s warm relationship with Fulbright continued.4 As the Senate’s undisputed foreign policy expert, Fulbright understood that President Johnson had inherited a complex situation in Vietnam after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The domestic politics of responding to the North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. ships weighed on Fulbright’s mind as well. The resolution came “in the beginning of the contest between Johnson and [Barry] Goldwater” in the 1964 presidential election, Fulbright later recalled. “I was just overpersuaded … in my feelings that I ought to support the president.” Fulbright accepted the responsibility of delivering for the president a strong bipartisan political victory just months before the election.5 Shortly after Johnson announced the retaliatory strikes and his intention to seek congressional authorization for future military action, Americans rallied around the commander in chief. “Southeast Asia is our first line of defense; when an enemy attacks us there, he is in principle, attacking us on our native land,” declared Senator Frank Lausche of Ohio. Polls showed that the Johnson administration had the overwhelming support of the American public—with 85 percent supporting its response. A desire for peace must “not be misconstrued as weakness,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Los Angeles Times blamed “Communists” for “escalat[ing] the hostilities—an escalation we must meet.” Johnson’s political rival endorsed his actions, too. “We cannot allow the American flag to be shot at anywhere on earth if we are to retain our respect and prestige,” Barry Goldwater announced. Retaliatory strikes, Goldwater maintained, are the “only thing [the president] can do under the circumstances.”6 President Johnson sent the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to the Senate on the morning of August 5. Fulbright met with Senate leadership and administration officials to plot a strategy for its swift passage, emphasizing the need for quick action and repeating the official administration position that “hostilities on a larger scale are not envisaged.” Staff who recalled “soul-searching” Senate debates over Eisenhower’s Middle East Resolution in 1957—a debate that lasted for 13 days—were incredulous at Fulbright’s determination to rush the resolution through the Senate, but the Arkansas senator proved persuasive. As one historian later assessed, “The administration had skillfully cultivated a crisis atmosphere that seemed to leave little room for debate.”7 On August 6, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman convened a joint executive session with the Armed Services Committee. During that session, which lasted a little more than an hour-and-a-half, senators posed few substantive questions of the witnesses representing the administration, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. “As much as I would like to be consulted with on this kind of thing,” Senator Russell Long of Louisiana told the president’s advisors, “the less time you spend on consulting and the quicker you shoot back the better off you are.” Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was the exception, challenging the administration’s claim that the attacks had been unprovoked. Tipped off by a Pentagon officer, Morse inquired if North Vietnam might have interpreted recent joint United States-South Vietnam covert operations as provocations. Secretary of Defense McNamara said no. The committee voted 14-1—Morse provided the dissenting vote—to send the resolution to the full Senate for its consideration.8 A few hours after the committee vote, Fulbright stood at his desk in the Senate Chamber and urged “the prompt and overwhelming endorsement of the resolution now before the Senate.” He had secured a unanimous consent agreement to limit the debate over the resolution to three hours, beginning that afternoon and continuing into the following morning. A final vote was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on August 7. Despite the grave implications of the resolution, the debate was sparsely attended. A few senators expressed skepticism about the wisdom of granting the president such broad authority. Did the resolution authorize the president to “use such force as could lead into war” without a congressional declaration, John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky wondered? Yes, Fulbright conceded, the resolution did give the president such authority. “We all hope and believe that the President will not use this discretion arbitrarily or irresponsibly,” Fulbright explained. “We know that he is accustomed to consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with congressional leaders. But he does not have to do that.” The chairman reassured his colleagues, however, that the Johnson administration had denied any intent to widen the war, stating: “The policy of our Government not to expand the war still holds.”9 Chief opponent Wayne Morse was present for nearly all of the debate. He pleaded with his colleagues not to approve the resolution. “I shall not support … a predated declaration of war,” he insisted. But Fulbright’s foreign policy expertise and his close relationship with the president helped to assuage doubts about the wisdom of granting any president such sweeping authority. “When it came to foreign policy,” noted Senator Maurine Neuberger, Morse’s junior colleague from Oregon, “I did whatever Bill Fulbright said I should do.” At the conclusion of the debate, the Senate approved the resolution 88-2. Ernest Gruening of Alaska joined Morse in dissent. The House had already unanimously approved the joint resolution, and the president signed it into law on August 10, 1964.10 Fulbright had helped to deliver a major political and policy victory for his friend, President Johnson. In November, Johnson defeated Goldwater in an electoral landslide. In early 1965, under the provisions of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Johnson vastly expanded the war in Vietnam. He approved a bombing campaign in North Vietnam and ordered the first U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam. This betrayal of his stated intent stung some of the president’s friends in Congress, especially Fulbright. More than 150,000 U.S. combat troops entered South Vietnam by the end of 1965, and that number swelled to more than 530,000 by 1968. Wayne Morse had predicted that his Senate colleagues would come to regret their support for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It wasn’t long before Fulbright did. Beginning in 1966, Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee held a series of high-profile educational hearings about the war. Broadcast live on national television, these hearings revealed the White House’s intentional deceptions about the war’s progress and widened what came to be known as the administration’s “credibility gap.”11 The hearings deepened Fulbright’s resolve to educate the public (and his colleagues) about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. An ongoing committee investigation revealed that the administration’s justification for retaliatory action in 1964 and even the sequence of events that precipitated the request for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution were based on obfuscations and lies. The administration had drafted the resolution months before the reported attacks of August 1964, the hearings revealed, having it ready to present to Congress when the timing was right. Despite the fact the administration had insisted that the second unprovoked attack required forceful retaliation, there was doubt at the time that the attack had occurred. On the afternoon of August 4, for example, the commander of the USS Maddox—just hours after his initial report of the attack—cabled his superiors, “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful … Suggest complete evaluation before any further action.” The administration failed to share these doubts with members of Congress.12 In 1968, as the number of American casualties in Vietnam grew, Senator Fulbright expressed regret for his role in passing the resolution. “I feel a very deep moral responsibility to the Senate and the country for having misled them,” he lamented. Fulbright devoted the remainder of his Senate career to reclaiming Congress’s constitutional war-making powers and ending the war in Vietnam.13 In 1971 Congress rescinded the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, though it continued to fund the war until the U.S. military withdrew from Vietnam in March 1973. Later that year, Congress approved the War Powers Act over President Richard M. Nixon’s veto. The law represented Congress’s desire to define the circumstances under which presidents may unilaterally commit U.S. armed forces. Congress had granted the executive branch discretionary war-making power with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and some had learned a powerful lesson in that experience. “If we could rely on the good faith of the Executive,” Fulbright explained during a Senate debate of the war powers bill in July 1973, “we would not need the bill. However, since we cannot do so, so we do need a bill.” The War Powers Act requires the executive branch to consult with and report to Congress any commitment of armed forces.14 Despite his achievements, Fulbright lost his bid for reelection in a 1974 primary. The War Powers Act continues to serve mainly as a framework to promote legislative and executive branch cooperation on war powers issues. Its efficacy, however, depends upon Congress’s willingness to enforce the law. Since the 1950s, Congress has authorized presidential administrations to use military force by congressional resolutions rather than by declarations of war.
1. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Senate Committee on Armed Forces, Southeast Asia Resolution, Joint Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Armed Services, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 8. 2. Randall Bennett Woods, Fulbright: A Biography (London: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 349–50; Joint Resolution to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia, Public Law 88-408, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 7, 1965, 59 Stat. 1031; President Lyndon B. Johnson, “August 4, 1964: Report on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” Presidential Speeches, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency, Miller Center at the University of Virginia, transcript and recording accessed June 2, 2023,; Louis Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President, 4th ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 278–79. 3. Woods, Fulbright, 221; Congressional Record, 84th Cong., 1st sess., January 28, 1955, 994; Congressional Record, 85th Cong., 1st sess., March 5, 1957, 3129; Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts, 278, 281. 4. Woods, Fulbright, 215, 353. 5. Woods, Fulbright, 348; Frederik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 205. 6. Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 5, 1964, 18084; “A Nation United,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1964, reprinted in the Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 18400; Woods, Fulbright, 354; “Times Editorials: U.S. Answer to Aggression,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1964, A4; Charles Mohr, “Goldwater Backs Vietnam Action by Johnson,” New York Times, August 5, 1964, 4. 7. "Pat M. Holt, Chief of Staff, Foreign Relations Committee," Oral History Interviews, September 9, to December 12, 1980, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 178; Logevall, Choosing War, 205; Woods, Fulbright, 347, 353. 8. Committees on Foreign Relations and Armed Services, Southeast Asia Resolution, 14, 18. 9. Ezra Y. Siff, Why the Senate Slept: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Beginning of America’s Vietnam War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 27; Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 18399, 18402, 18409-10. 10. Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 5, 1964, 18139; Mason Drukman, Wayne Morse: A Political Biography (Portland: The Oregon Historical Society Press, 1997), 413. 11. Drukman, Wayne Morse, 413; Joseph A. Fry, Debating Vietnam: Fulbright, Stennis and Their Senate Hearings (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006). 12. Woods, Fulbright, 350–51; Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), Vol. XX, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., 1968 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010), 281–86. 13. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), Vol. XX, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., 1968 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010), 305-306. 14. Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts, 281–87; Logevall, Choosing War, 202–5, 213; Woods, Fulbright: 340–59, 415–67; Congressional Record, 93rd Cong., 1st sess., July 20, 1973, 25088.
George Norris (R-NE) 202305 4Senators 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!

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! A telephone was first installed in the U.S. Capitol in 1880, four years after its demonstration by inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Situated in a room near the House Chamber, the telephone was placed under the supervision of the House doorkeeper. On the Senate side of the Capitol, telephones for the offices of the Secretary of the Senate, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and the Senate Post Office followed in the 1880s. In 1897 the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, which provided phone service to the District of Columbia, installed a switchboard with capacity for 100 lines in the Senate Reception Room with 25 to 30 active lines in service. When users of one of these original phones picked up the receiver, they were connected to a switchboard operator who would patch the call through to an office in the Capitol or to an outside line to reach someone off of Capitol Hill.1 The Senate and House switchboards were replaced in 1901 by a single switchboard that served the entire Capitol. Three operators directed calls on the new switchboard, which was installed in the Capitol’s first floor. As the telephone grew in popularity, Congress installed larger switchboards and hired more operators to connect calls, placing them under the supervision of operator Harriott G. Daley. By 1926, with every office in the Capitol as well as the House and Senate office buildings equipped with a phone, the Capitol switchboard, by then located in the House office building, served almost 1,700 lines, the equivalent of a switchboard serving a small city. Daley supervised 18 operators—almost exclusively women—who handled between 300 and 400 calls per hour.2 In 1930 a new advancement in telephone technology arrived at the Capitol: the dial telephone. Rather than placing a call with an operator, members of Congress would now use the rotary dial to place the call directly, triggering an automatic switchboard to connect to the receiving party. Although the first rotary dial phones and automatic switchboards dated back to the 1890s, they suffered from a number of technical and financial drawbacks and were not widely adopted. More importantly, executives of the Bell Telephone Company—which held a virtual monopoly over the nation’s telephone system—believed that dial phones and automatic switching could not compete with switchboard operators in providing personalized service and individual attention to customers. Companies in the Bell System—controlled after 1900 by American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T)—did not adopt dial phones until 1919, when the company sought cost savings by replacing operators with automatic switchboards. Even then, phone companies prudently introduced the new system gradually, recognizing, as one executive wrote, that “subscribers are prejudiced in favor of the system they have used for forty years, and will not, I am afraid, in their present frame of mind accept the dial.” AT&T thus embarked on a campaign to educate the public on how to use the new phones and the benefits of automatic switching.3 One phone user who did not “accept the dial” was Senator Carter Glass of Virginia. When the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, by then a subsidiary of AT&T, installed dial telephones on the Senate side of the Capitol in May 1930, the 72-year-old veteran lawmaker introduced a resolution:
Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.
Glass was not alone in his objections to the dial phone. He received correspondence from individuals around the country lauding his resolution and complaining about the decline of personal service that accompanied automatic switching. President Herbert Hoover had banned dial phones from the White House when he took office in 1929, and North Carolina representative Charles L. Abernathy introduced a similar resolution in the House of Representatives.4 Glass’s resolution received broad support in the Senate. Arizona's Henry Ashurst objected to dial telephones and praised Glass for his restrained language in introducing his resolution. The Congressional Record would not be mailable, he said, "if it contained in print what Senators think of the dial telephone system.” (Apparently, Glass’s language was still a little too salty for the Record. A newspaper reported that he exclaimed, “I want those abominable dial telephones taken out,” but that statement did not make it into the Record.) When Joe Robinson of Arkansas pointed out that the dial telephones were “a great conservation measure” in that they would allow for reduction in the number of telephone employees, Glass shot back, “I object to that phase of it, and I object to being transformed into one of the employees of the telephone company without compensation.” When Washington senator Clarence Dill asked why the resolution did not also ban the dial system from the entire District of Columbia, Glass said he hoped the phone company would take the hint and do so. The resolution passed without objection.5 The dial telephone, of course, had its defenders, particularly the national telephone companies working under the umbrella of AT&T. The New York Telephone Company, which began switching to dial phones in 1922, put out a statement a few days after Glass introduced his resolution noting they had received very few complaints about the new phones and that the company could not maintain efficient service for its growing number of customers without the dial phone and automatic switching. The company pointed out that the phones were particularly helpful for immigrants who weren’t fluent in English, as they had a difficult time communicating with operators. “The dial represents the highest type of telephone in existence,” the company concluded.6 Despite Glass and his many allies, some members of the Senate embraced the new technology. Senator George Norris of Nebraska declared, “I like the dials.” He believed that passing the ban meant the Senate was “standing in the road of human progress.” One day before the scheduled removal of all dial phones, Maryland senator Millard Tydings offered a resolution to give senators a choice as to which phone was installed in their offices. Glass objected. He thought it onerous for senators to have to contact the phone company to convey their preference. Beginning the next day, the phone company removed 789 dial phones from the Senate.7 A week later, senators reached a compromise. Senator Claude Swanson of Virginia introduced a resolution to instruct the phone company to install phones that could be operated either by operator or by dial. In acquiescing to the deal, Glass insisted that he had not objected to senators having access to dial telephones, but rather that the changeover appeared to be “purely for the benefit of the telephone company.” Senator Dill, who had complained that the dial phone “could not be more awkward,” added that in opposing the phones he was not against “progress,” as some had charged. “So long as I am not pestered with the dial and may have the manual telephone, while those who want to be pestered with it . . . may have it, all right.”8 The final compromise meant that the Senate’s manual switchboards and operators would remain in place. Harriott Daley managed them until her retirement in 1945. Phone and switching technology continued to advance greatly in the Senate of the 20th and 21st centuries, but today, Capitol operators still play an important role in Senate telecommunications.
1. H. B. Stabler, “Memorandum Regarding Telephone Service for the U.S. Capitol,” undated, included in the files of the Senate Historical Office. 2. Annual Report of the Architect of the Capitol, 69th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 554, December 6, 1926, 15–16. 3. Kenneth Lipartito, “When Women Were Switches: Technology, Work, and Gender in the Telephone Industry, 1890–1920,” American Historical Review 99, no. 4 (October 1994), 1075–1111; Venus Green, “Goodbye Central: Automation and the Decline of Personal Service in the Bell System, 1878–1921,” Technology and Culture 36, no. 4 (October 1995), 912–94; B. E. Sunny to H. B. Thayer, AT&T Vice President, March 18, 1919, AT&T Archives, quoted in Green, “Goodbye Central,” 944. 4. S. Res. 274, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., May 22, 1920; H. Res. 223, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., May 22, 1930. 5. “Senate Orders Its Dial Phones Off Premises,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 23, 1930, 4; Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., May 22, 1930, 9341. 6. “Company Insists New York Likes Dial Phones,” New York Times, May 24, 1930, 3. 7. Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., June 19, 1930, 11,161; “Dial Phone Has Senate Friends, But Ban Stands,” Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1920, 3; “Senate’s Dial Phone War Simmering Down Quietly,” Washington Post, June 20, 1930, 1; “Choose Your Telephones,” Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1930, 6; S. Res. 278, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., June 20, 1930. 8. Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., June 25, 1930, 11,649; S. Res. 300, 71st Cong., 2nd sess., June 24, 1930; “Dial Phone Dispute Ends in Compromise,” Boston Globe, June 26, 1930, 11.
Page from the Senate Journal Showing the Expungement of a Resolution to Censure President Andrew Jackson, 1834 202304 4Treasures 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.

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. Among the foundational principles of the U.S. Constitution is the separation of powers. In establishing three distinct branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—the Constitution divides authority to create the law, implement and enforce the law, and interpret the law. At the same time, many powers exercised by one branch may be shared with another. This system of checks and balances invites both compromise and conflict among the branches, especially between the legislative and executive, and prevents the consolidation of power in any single branch. For example, the Senate’s “advice and consent” is required for executive functions such as nominations and treaties. Conversely, the president has the power to veto legislation; however, Congress may overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority of those present and voting in both houses.1 The constitutional structure that provides for checks and balances is expansive and complex by design, generating an interdependence between the Senate and the executive branch that, combined with transient political interests, has historically demonstrated moments of high conflict as well as examples of great cooperation. This collection of historic documents from the Senate’s archives highlights the collaborations and the struggles that have defined the relationship between the Senate and the president. Each document, while capturing a specific moment in time with unique political conditions at play, also provides a broader view of the constitutional system of government in action, specifically the foundational principle of separation of powers and the complex system of checks and balances.

George Washington's First Inaugural Address, 1789 When George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789, he delivered this address to a joint session of Congress, assembled in the Senate Chamber in New York City’s Federal Hall. While this first occasion was not the public event we have come to expect, Washington's speech nevertheless established the enduring tradition of presidential inaugural addresses. Early presidential messages, including inaugural addresses and annual messages (now known as State of the Union addresses), are included in Senate records at the National Archives. Although noting his constitutional directive as president "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," Washington refrained from detailing his policy preferences regarding legislation. Rather, on the occasion of his inaugural, he stated his confidence in the abilities of the legislators, insisting, "It will be…far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them."

Message from President Thomas Jefferson to Congress Regarding the Louisiana Purchase, 1804 Treaty powers are among those shared by the president and the Senate. The Constitution provides 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" (Article II, section 2). In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson's administration negotiated a treaty with France by which the United States purchased the vast Louisiana Territory. Questions arose concerning the constitutionality of the purchase, but Jefferson and his supporters successfully justified the legality of the acquisition. On October 20, 1803, the Senate approved the treaty for ratification by a vote of 24 to 7. The territory, which encompassed more than 800,000 square miles of land, now makes up 15 states stretching from Louisiana to Montana. In this congratulatory message to Congress dated January 16, 1804, President Jefferson reported on the formal transfer of the land to the United States and referenced the December 20, 1803, proclamation announcing to the residents of the territory the transfer of national authority.

Page from the Senate Journal Showing the Expungement of a Resolution to Censure President Andrew Jackson, 1834 The March 28, 1834, censure of President Andrew Jackson represents a notably contentious episode in the executive-legislative relationship. For two years, Democratic president Andrew Jackson had clashed with Senator Henry Clay and his allies over the congressionally chartered Bank of the United States. The dispute came to a head when President Jackson, who had opposed the creation of the Bank, ordered the removal of federal deposits from the Bank to be distributed to several state banks. When his first Treasury secretary refused to do so, Jackson fired him during a Senate recess and appointed a new Treasury secretary, who carried out his orders. Senator Clay and his allies, who supported the Bank, believed that President Jackson did not have the constitutional authority to take such action, and they found the explanation given for moving the federal deposits “unsatisfactory and insufficient.” Clay introduced the resolution to censure the president, charging that Jackson had “assumed the exercise of a power over the Treasury of the United States not granted him by the Constitution and laws.” After extensive debate, the censure resolution passed. Jackson responded by submitting to the Senate a 100-page message arguing that the Senate did not have the authority to censure the president. The Senate again rebuffed the president by refusing to print the lengthy message in its Journal.2 Over the next three years, Missouri Democrat and Jackson ally Thomas Hart Benton campaigned to expunge the censure resolution from the Senate Journal. In January 1837, after Democrats regained the majority in the Senate, Senator Benton succeeded. On January 16, the secretary of the Senate carried the 1834 Journal into the Senate Chamber, drew careful lines around the text of the censure resolution, and wrote, “Expunged by order of the Senate."

President Abraham Lincoln's Nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army, 1864 Like treaty powers, the Constitution requires that the Senate serve as a check on the president's nomination authority. The president nominates federal judges, members of the cabinet, and military officials, among others, whose nominations are confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. This remarkable document dated February 29, 1864, representing a critical moment in the Civil War, is President Abraham Lincoln's nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be lieutenant general of the U.S. Army, at the time the United States’ highest military rank. Previously, only two men had achieved that rank—George Washington and Winfield Scott—and Scott’s had been a brevet promotion. To facilitate Grant’s nomination and ensure his superior status among military officers, Congress passed a bill to revive the grade of lieutenant general and authorize the president "to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a lieutenant-general, to be selected among those officers in the military service of the United States . . . most distinguished for courage, skill, and ability." The Senate confirmed Lincoln's nomination of Grant on March 2, 1864.

Letter from President Woodrow Wilson to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, 1919 A unique event in legislative-executive relations occurred on August 19, 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson offered testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the Treaty of Versailles, then under consideration by the committee. The meeting, convened in the East Room of the White House, stood “in contradiction of the precedents of more than a century,” the Atlanta Constitution reported, noting the rarity of a president offering testimony before a congressional committee.3 The Treaty of Versailles ended military actions against Germany in World War I and created the League of Nations, an international organization designed to prevent another world war. President Wilson had led the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and had been a principal architect of the treaty. For months, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Henry Cabot Lodge had encouraged the president to seek the advice of the Senate while negotiating the treaty’s terms, but Wilson chose to negotiate on his own. Personally invested in the treaty’s adoption, the president hand-delivered it to the Senate on July 10, 1919, and urged its approval for ratification in an unusual speech before the full Senate. Under Senate rules, the treaty went to the Foreign Relations Committee for consideration, which held public hearings from July 31 to September 12, 1919. Among the most vocal critics of the proposed treaty was Lodge, who was also the Senate majority leader. Lodge opposed several elements of the treaty, particularly those related to U.S. participation in the League of Nations. On behalf of the Foreign Relations Committee, Lodge asked Wilson to meet with the committee to answer senators’ questions. With this letter, President Wilson agreed to Lodge's request and proposed the August 19 date at the White House. Ultimately, Lodge’s committee insisted on a number of “reservations” to the treaty, but Wilson and Senate proponents of the treaty were unwilling to compromise on terms. Consequently, on November 19, 1919, for the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty.

Attempted Override of President Richard Nixon's Veto of S. 518, 1973 Under the Constitution, the president is permitted to veto legislative acts, but Congress has the authority to override presidential vetoes by two-thirds majorities of both houses. This document provides a comprehensive example of these constitutional checks and balances in action. In 1973 Congress passed S.518, which sought to abolish the offices of the director and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and reestablish those positions with a new requirement that they be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The bill’s proponents argued that because these positions had evolved to wield significant power, they ought to be subject to Senate confirmation. President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill on May 18, claiming it to be unconstitutional. “This step would be a grave violation of the fundamental doctrine of separation of powers,” Nixon stated. While the Senate achieved the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto, the House did not, and Nixon’s veto was sustained. Congressional efforts to override Nixon’s veto were recorded by the secretary of the Senate and clerk of the House of Representatives on the reverse side of the bill.
The system of checks and balances set forth by the Constitution is a complex one, creating a legislative-executive relationship that is sometimes adversarial and at other times cooperative, but always interdependent. Illustrating the Senate's broad-ranging responsibilities and the integral role the Senate has played in this constitutional system, these treasured documents from the Senate’s archives help us to gain a better understanding of the conflicts and compromises that have historically defined the relationship between the Senate and the president.
1. Matthew E. Glassman, "Separation of Powers: An Overview," Congressional Research Service, R44334, updated January 8, 2016, 2. 2. Senate Journal, 25th Cong., 2nd sess., March 28, 1834, 197. 3. “Wilson Meets Senators in Wordy Duel,” Atlanta Constitution, August 20, 1919, 1.
Guest Senate Chaplain Wilmina Rowland, July 8, 1971 202303 8Enriching 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 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. All Senate chaplains have been men of Christian denomination, although guest chaplains, some of whom have been women, have represented many of the world's major religious faiths. The practice of inviting guest chaplains to deliver the Senate’s opening prayer dates to at least 1857. That year, with many senators complaining that the position had become too politicized, the Senate chose not to elect a chaplain. Instead, senators invited guests from the Washington, D.C., area to serve as chaplain on a temporary basis. In 1859 the practice of electing a permanent chaplain resumed and has continued uninterrupted since that time, but the practice of inviting a guest chaplain to occasionally open a daily session also continued. While it is possible, and perhaps likely, that the Senate selected guest chaplains prior to 1857, surviving records from the period are insufficient to make that determination. By the mid-20th century, guest chaplains were frequently offering the Senate’s opening prayer. Clergy visiting the nation’s capital often communicated their desire to serve as a guest chaplain to their home state senators who would nominate them for the role. In the 1950s, this practice became so popular among senators that Chaplain Frederick Brown Harris, who served nearly 25 years as Senate chaplain, complained to Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas that guest chaplains had replaced him 17 times over the course of just a few weeks. Leader Johnson assured Harris that he would ask senators “to restrict the number of visiting preachers,” but the frequency of the guests persisted.1 During the 1960s, Harris suffered from a series of medical issues and was less engaged in his official duties. Consequently, Harris’s unplanned absences prompted new problems for the Senate majority leader, now Mike Mansfield of Montana, whose staff was forced to arrange for last-minute guest chaplains. Infrequently, they called on senators to offer the prayer. Further irritating the majority leader, Harris unwittingly hosted guest chaplains who used the “forum to present their own particular litanies” and political viewpoints, thereby violating the Office of the Chaplain’s tradition of nonpartisan, nonpolitical service.2 Such issues prompted Senate leaders to reevaluate policies related to the appointment of guest chaplains. When Reverend Harris passed away in early 1969, Majority Leader Mansfield and Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois created an informal, bipartisan committee on the “State of the Senate Chaplain.” Upon concluding their study, the leaders informed Harris’s successor, Chaplain Edward L. R. Elson, of a policy change: “It would be our judgement that under ordinary circumstances a regular practice of inviting two guest chaplains per month is now in order.” Also, “In instances when you are ill or unavoidably absent, we would expect you to ask a brother clergyman to fill in temporarily in your stead.” The new policy was intended to standardize and bring order to the guest chaplain practice.3 For more than 100 years, guest chaplains had been men, but that changed in July 1971, when Reverend Dr. Wilmina M. Rowland of Philadelphia became the first woman to participate in this century-long tradition. A 1942 graduate of the Union Theological Seminary, Rowland became a minister in 1957, after the Presbyterian Church allowed for the ordination of women. She was an author and associate minister in Cincinnati, Ohio, before joining the United Presbyterian Board of Christian Education in Philadelphia, where she directed its educational loans and scholarships program. When Chaplain Elson invited her to lead the Senate’s opening prayer, Rowland recognized the historical significance of his offer. “It’s an honor to pray with and for such an august body,” she explained to the press. “I’m not unmindful of the women’s lib[eration] angle to my performance. But the prayer, like any other I have offered, is still to God. I’ve kept that in mind while I’ve been working on it.”4 Generally, the opening of the Senate’s daily session is sparsely attended. Six senators were present in the Chamber on July 8, 1971, for this historic event, including the Senate’s only woman senator, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. Senate President pro tempore Allen Ellender of Louisiana called the Senate to order at noon, then introduced Dr. Rowland as “the very first lady ever to lead the Senate in prayer.” Rowland began:
O God, who daily bears the burden of our life, we pray for humility as well as forgiveness. As our nation plays its part in the life of the world, help us to know that all wisdom does not reside in us, and that other nations have the right to differ with us as to what is best for them.
Rowland later reflected on the event: “I’m pleased not for myself but for the fact the Senate has reached the point where they feel it is normal to invite a woman to do this.”5 But it wasn’t normal yet, and three years would pass before another woman delivered the Senate’s opening prayer. On July 17, 1974, Sister Joan Doyle, president of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa, became the second woman and the first Roman Catholic nun to offer the opening prayer in the Chamber. Her sponsor, Iowa senator Dick Clark, introduced her. At the conclusion of Doyle’s prayer, Minority Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania praised her “gentler touch” for preparing senators to enter “into the brutal conflicts of the day.” Senator Margaret Chase Smith had retired in 1973, and Senator Clark reflected on the lack of women senators in the Chamber that day. “I hope it won’t be three more years before another woman is here, not only for the opening prayer, but as a member of the Senate.” It took more than five years, in fact, for the next woman senator to take a seat in the Chamber. On January 25, 1978, Muriel Humphrey was appointed to fill the seat left vacant when her husband, Senator Hubert Humphrey, passed away.6 Since 1974 other women have followed in the footsteps of Reverend Rowland and Sister Doyle, although the number of female guest chaplains remains small. In 2008 the Reverend Dr. Patricia Bryant Harris made history as the first African American woman to give the Senate’s opening prayer. “It had a lot of meaning to me personally, to be a part of that history,” Reverend Harris said in an interview. “That is now history as part of the Congressional Record.”7 The chaplain has been an integral part of the Senate community since the election of the first chaplain, Samuel Provoost, on April 25, 1789. Today, chaplains and guest chaplains, now men and women, deliver the opening prayer each day that the Senate is in session. As Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana remarked in 2012, "It is good that we take a moment before each legislative day begins in the Senate to still ourselves and ask for God's grace and guidance on the work that we have been called to do."8
1. Congressional Record, 91st Cong., 2nd sess., August 20, 1970, 29611. 2. “Chaplain Absent, Senator Gives Prayer,” Hartford Courant, September 20, 1963, 25B; “Senator Takes Chaplain’s Place,” Washington Post, Times Herald, September 2, 1964; Memorandum from Richard Baker to Mike Davidson, September 19, 1985, in the files of the Senate Historical Office. 3. Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen to Dr. Edward L. R. Elson, Chaplain, April 29, 1969, in the files of the Senate Historical Office. 4. “Barrier to Fall: Woman Will Lead the Senate in Prayer,” Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.), July 4, 1971, A-10; “A Woman, Praying for the Senate,” Washington Post, July 9, 1971, B2. 5. Congressional Record, 92nd Cong., 1st sess., July 8, 1971, 23997; “Barrier to Fall: Woman Will Lead the Senate in Prayer.” 6. “Nun Gives Prayer in Senate,” Catholic Standard, July 25, 1974. 7. Nicole Gaudiano, “Del. Pastor makes history in U.S. Senate,” News Journal (Wilmington, DE), July 11, 2008, B1. 8. “At Sen. Landrieu’s Invitation, Louisiana Chaplain Offers Opening Prayer for U.S. Senate,” Targeted News Service, Feb. 28, 2012.
Carol Moseley Braun, 1993-1999 202302 2The 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.

July 22, 1993, began as an ordinary day as senators considered amendments to the National and Community Service Act of 1990. That routine business was suddenly interrupted, however, when the Senate Chamber doors flew open and Illinois senator Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, rushed to her desk and sought recognition from the presiding officer. Under consideration was an amendment introduced by North Carolina senator Jesse Helms to renew a patent to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) for an insignia that featured the first national flag of the Confederate States of America.1 The UDC first obtained a congressional patent for its insignia in 1898. A small number of such patents had been granted to a group of organizations considered to be civic or patriotic, such as the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and the American Legion. The patents expired after 14 years, unless renewed, and the UDC’s patent had been routinely renewed throughout the 20th century. The latest renewal effort had been considered in the Judiciary Committee and passed by the Senate in 1992, but it was left unfinished when the House of Representatives adjourned at the end of the session. In the spring of 1993, South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond again raised the patent issue in committee, expecting easy approval, but the composition of the committee had changed. In the wake of the 1992 election, labeled the “Year of the Woman” by the press, two women now sat on the Judiciary Committee, including Illinois freshman Carol Moseley Braun.2 On May 6, 1993, the patent renewal came before the committee for a vote. Moseley Braun looked at it and said, “I am not going to vote for that.” Challenging Thurmond and his allies, Mosely Braun stated that she did not oppose the existence of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, nor did she object to their ability to use the flag. If the UDC sought a congressional imprimatur for that insignia, however, Moseley Braun insisted that “those of us whose ancestors fought on a different side of the conflict or were held as human chattel under the flag of the Confederacy have no choice but to honor our ancestors by asking whether such action is appropriate.” Moseley Braun proved to be persuasive, and the committee voted 12 to 3 against renewal. She thought the debate had ended, but when Senator Helms appeared in the Chamber on July 22 to seek approval of an amendment that would renew the UDC patent, the battle began again.3 “Mr. President,” Helms began, “the pending amendment … has to do with an action taken by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 6…. This action was, I am sure, an unintended rebuke unfairly aimed at about 24,000 ladies who belong to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, most of them elderly, all of them gentle souls.” Briefly summarizing the many charitable efforts of the UDC, Helms noted that since 1898, “Congress has granted patent protection for the identifying insignia and badges of various patriotic organizations,” including the UDC. Renewing the patent, he insisted, was not an effort “to refight battles long since lost, but to preserve the memory of courageous men who fought and died for the cause they believed in.”4 Sitting in a committee hearing, Moseley Braun was surprised to hear of Helms’s efforts on behalf of the UDC. She rushed to the mostly empty Chamber—only three senators had been present when Helms introduced his amendment—and began an impromptu speech. Stating that Helms was attempting to undo the work of the Judiciary Committee, Moseley Braun again laid out her objections. “To give a design patent,” a rare honor “that even our own flag does not enjoy, to a symbol of the Confederacy,” she argued, “seems to me just to create the kind of divisions in our society that are counterproductive…. Symbols are important. They speak volumes.” Helms, Thurmond, and their allies dismissed her objections, noting the important work done by the UDC, especially the organization’s aid to veterans of all wars, but Moseley Braun refused to back down. “It seems to me the time has long passed when we could put behind us the debates and arguments that have raged since the Civil War, that we get beyond the separateness and we get beyond the divisions.” Thinking she had put forth a convincing argument, Moseley Braun introduced a motion to table the Helms amendment, which would effectively block its passage.5 As a vote was called on her motion to table the amendment, senators strolled into the Chamber for what they thought was a routine vote on an inconsequential issue. One senator later admitted that he “didn’t have the slightest idea what this was about.” As the roll call continued, it became clear that most senators were voting along party lines. With her party in the majority, Democrat Moseley Braun should have been well placed for success, but nearly all southern senators, regardless of party affiliation, supported Helms. The final tally was 48 to 52 against, and Moseley Braun’s motion to table the amendment went down to defeat. Stunned, Moseley Braun again sought recognition. As she gained the floor a second time, her voice betrayed a sense of urgency. “I have to tell you this vote is about race,” she declared. “It is about racial symbols … and the single most painful episode in American History.” Earlier, she had “just kind of held forth and quietly thought [she] could defeat the motion,” Moseley Braun recalled in an oral history interview. When the motion was defeated, however, her reaction was, “Whoa! Wait a minute. This cannot be!” Insisting on holding the floor and yielding only for questions, Moseley Braun warned her colleagues, “If I have to stand here until this room freezes over, I am not going to see this amendment put on this legislation.”6 Realizing that many of her colleagues had cast their vote with little knowledge of the actual content of the amendment, Moseley Braun explained why she believed this vote was important. To those who thought the amendment was “no big deal,” she explained that this was “a very big deal indeed.” Approval of this Confederate symbol would send a signal “that the peculiar institution [of slavery] has not been put to bed for once and for all.” As Moseley Braun continued her unplanned filibuster, senators began to listen. Several commented that they hadn’t understood the full meaning of the amendment and regretted their vote. Nebraska senator James Exon summed it up: “The Senate has made a mistake.” But the motion to table had failed. What could be done?7 What followed was a dramatic turn of events. Over the course of a three-hour debate, senators began calling for reconsideration of Moseley Braun’s motion. The pivotal moment came when Alabama senator Howell Heflin took the floor. “I rise with a conflict that is deeply rooted in many aspects of controversy,” he began. “I come from a family background that is deeply rooted in the Confederacy.” Heflin spoke of his deep respect for his ancestors and for the charitable work of the Daughters of the Confederacy, but he acknowledged the changing times. “The whole matter boils down to what Senator Moseley Braun contends,” he concluded, “that it is an issue of symbolism. We must get racism behind us, and we must move forward. Therefore, I will support a reconsideration of this motion.” With Heflin leading the way, others followed.8 Introduced by Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, a motion to reconsider gave senators a second chance to vote. When the roll call ended, 76 senators supported Moseley Braun. She had convinced 28 senators, including 10 from formerly Confederate states, to change their vote. With that motion passed, Moseley Braun’s motion to table the amendment again came before the Senate, passing by a vote of 75 to 25. Helms’s amendment was tabled and did not appear in the bill. Moseley Braun thanked her colleagues “for having the heart, having the intellect, having the mind and the will to turn around what, in [her] mind, would have been a tragic mistake.”9 Rare are the moments in Senate history when a single senator has changed the course of a vote. In this case, the presence of an African American woman, who was the only Black member of the Senate, altered the debate. That fact was readily acknowledged. “If ever there was proof of the value of diversity,” commented California senator Barbara Boxer, “we have it here today.” Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum agreed. “I saw one person, who was able to make a difference, stand up and fight for what she believes in” and “she showed us today how one person can change the position of this body.” 10
1. “On Race, a Freshman Takes the Helm,” Boston Globe, July 25, 1993, 69. 2. “Confederate Flag Raises Senate Flap,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 1933, 1A; “A Symbolic Victory for Moseley-Braun,” Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1933, D3; “Confederate Symbol Causes Controversy,” New York Times, May 10, 1993, D2; “Daughter of Slavery Hushes Senate,” New York Times, July 23, 1993, B6. The insignia was last renewed on November 11, 1977, by Public Law 95-168 (95th Cong.). 3. Congressional Record, 103rd Cong., 1st sess., July 22, 1993, 16682; “Moseley-Braun opposes Confederate Group on Insignia,” Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1933, D7; “Daughters of Confederacy’s Insignia Divides Senate Judiciary Committee,” Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1933, A12; “Braun Leads Fight Against Confederate Logo,” Chicago Defender, May 11, 1933, 8. 4. Congressional Record, 16676. The Record reflects Helms’s slight revisions to his statement. 5. Congressional Record, 16678, 16681. 6. “Daughter of Slavery Hushes Senate”; “Freshman Turns Senate Scarlet,” Washington Post, July 27, 1993, A2; "Carol Moseley Braun: U.S. Senator, 1993–1999," Oral History Interviews, January 27 to June 16, 1999, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 18; Congressional Record, 16681, 16683. 7. Congressional Record, 16683, 16684. 8. “Daughter of Slavery Hushes Senate”; Congressional Record, 16687–88. 9. Congressional Record, 16693–94. 10. “Daughter of Slavery Hushes Senate”; “Moseley-Braun Molds Senate’s Outlook on Racism,” Austin American Statesman, July 24, 1993, A17; Congressional Record, 16691.
Senate Monorail 202301 17Senate Subway
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.

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. During the late 19th century, senators occupied offices in the Capitol, in the nearby Maltby Building (also known as the Senate Annex), and in other rented space on Capitol Hill. When Congress approved a proposal to construct a new building to provide all members with office space, the plans included subterranean tunnels and a rail system to deliver senators to the Capitol. Concerned about construction costs and potential public criticism that a rail line would be seen as a luxury, the commission in charge of the project scrapped the proposed subway.1 The 760-foot tunnel from the newly constructed Senate office building (named for Georgia senator Richard Russell in 1972) to the Capitol had been completed, however, and senators had grown fond of the prospect of some kind of transportation to and from the Capitol. When the building opened in 1909, Capitol Superintendent Elliott Woods arranged for two custom-built lemon-yellow electric battery-powered Studebaker cars to run in the underground tunnel. Each car could hold eight people plus an operator positioned in the center of the car on a reversible seat, avoiding the need for the car to turn around. While the cars could travel up to 12 miles per hour, they moved much more slowly in order to navigate the narrow, winding tunnel. Woods saw the cars as a temporary solution and consulted with Senate Rules Committee chairman Murray Crane of Massachusetts about other options. One possibility was to install a moving sidewalk. Woods also revisited plans for a rail system but warned that it would be quite noisy rumbling through the basement. In the end, the Senate opted to stick with the electric cars, which senators affectionately named “Tommy” and “Peg.”2 Senators found the Studebakers charming and useful, but they soon wanted a vehicle that could move more senators at faster speeds. In search of more efficient travel through the tunnel, engineers finally implemented the rail system, replacing the cars in 1912 with an electric monorail system consisting of a single car suspended from an overhead rail that provided the electricity. The rail car traveled one-way on a track that formed a loop in the basement of the office building rotunda. The monorail car was replaced with a new one in 1915, and an additional car was added in 1920. The new cars held 18 people each and moved at a top speed of eight miles per hour. The monorail line, referred to by senators as the “Toonerville Trolley” after the train station at the center of the then popular Toonerville Folks comic strip, operated for over 50 years.3 “The world’s shortest subway” became a popular attraction for visitors to the Capitol. President William Howard Taft decided in 1911 to make a detour from his usual walking route around the city to take a ride through the tunnel on one of the Studebakers (briefly causing a panic because he did not inform the White House that he was venturing underground and was thought to be missing.) In March 1914, the Boston Daily Globe reported that newlyweds George and Henrietta made their way to the subway tunnel for a joyride, taking six round trips, all while wearing their wedding attire.4 Despite its popularity, at least one senator was not pleased with the new system. In 1913 Senator William Stone of Missouri complained about the noise of the new cars and introduced a resolution to ditch the monorail and bring back the Studebakers. Senator John Bricker no doubt was glad the railway was there in 1947, however, when a disgruntled former Capitol police officer fired two gunshots at him. He was able to escape quickly by jumping into the car and telling the operator, “Let’s get out of here!”5 The construction of a second Senate office building in the late 1950s (named for Illinois senator Everett Dirksen in 1972) led to major changes to the subway system. In addition to a tunnel between the newest building and the Capitol, another tunnel was constructed to maintain the connection between the Capitol and the Russell Building. (The original tunnel was converted to space for the Senate recording studio.) In each tunnel, two lanes of track ran parallel to each other. Four new rail cars were purchased, each able to carry up to 18 passengers at a top speed of 20 miles per hour. At the opening of the new session in January 1960, Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, who chaired the commission that oversaw the construction of the Dirksen Building, cut the ribbon and officially opened the new line to passengers. Senate Chaplain Frederick Brown Harris offered a blessing for what he called the “swift chariots of Democracy.” Chavez and Architect of the Capitol J. George Stewart climbed into one car for the maiden ride, while Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia boarded the second car with some journalists, and the two cars raced through the tunnel in what a Washington Post writer dubbed “the Capitol Hill version of Ben Hur,” referring to that film’s famous chariot race.6 But once again, not all senators were happy with efforts to modernize the subway system. Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright stated that he preferred the old “Toonerville Trolley” system, which he found “soothing to jangled nerves.” He called the new system “vulgar,” “noisy,” “disgusting” and “a stupid engineering job completely lacking in thought.” In a proposed Senate resolution, he blamed the new ride for the “irritable, testy, acrimonious atmosphere prevailing in the Senate” that session. If that weren’t bad enough, he charged that the new cars added to senators’ expenses for “frequent repairs to their wives’ coiffeurs” because the open-air cars traveled too fast. Apparently, Fulbright was right that the new cars did have a rather noisy and bumpy ride, and this was alleviated in December 1961 when the Capitol engineers replaced the steel wheels with rubber ones. With these complaints addressed, the system worked reasonably well for more than 20 years.7 The opening of a third Senate office building in 1982 (named for Michigan senator Phillip Hart) placed new strains on the system and led to a major overhaul. Initially, the existing line that served the Dirksen Building was simply extended to reach the Hart Building, but the 50 senators with offices in the Hart Building were served by only one rail car, often leading to excessive wait times. In 1987 Architect of the Capitol George White proposed construction of a new, state-of-the-art automated magnet-powered subway line to serve the Dirksen and Hart Buildings. The new system, modeled after a railway installed at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, was estimated to cost $10 million but promised to be less expensive to maintain than the existing line. Some senators initially balked at the price tag, but grumblings about long waits and missed votes—senators had just 15 minutes to cast their votes—led to more support. When eight senators missed a vote on February 2, 1988, due to congestion on the subway line, Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama took to the Chamber floor to complain that “from an engineering, mathematical, mileage, [and] measurement basis,” the Hart car could not make enough trips in 15 minutes to ensure all senators made votes in time. Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia vowed to take the issue up with the Architect of the Capitol, and soon the Senate approved construction of the new system.8 The new automated line began operating in 1994, with enclosed cars running along a “pinched loop.” (The Russell Building line remained intact.) The new system—with three-car trains that could whisk 25 people at speeds of 14 miles per hour—cut wait times down to a minute and reduced the time to travel the 1,600 feet from the Hart Building to the Capitol to less than two minutes. This modern line also had the added benefit of being wheelchair accessible. Today, no visit to the Senate is complete without a ride on the Senate subway.9
1. “No Cars for Congress,” Washington Post, August 18, 1908, 12. 2. “Capitol Auto Line Tested,” New York Times, March 8, 1909, 2; “Senate Autos Now in Use,” Washington Post, March 9, 1909, 2; “The Capital Subway Buses,” The Power Wagon, July 1909, 5-6; Elliott Woods to W. Murray Crane, June 3, 1909, “Senate Subway,” files of the Architect of the Capitol. 3. “Senate Subway Line,” Washington Post, March 17, 1912, F2. 4. “President Lost, Alarms Capital,” Washington Times, January 14, 1911, 5; “World’s Shortest Subway,” Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 1948, 9; “Honeymoon Joy Riding,” Boston Daily Globe, March 15, 1914, 10; “The Shortest Railroad,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1916, 16. 5. S. Res. 41, 63rd Cong., 1st sess., April 12, 1913; “Gunman Fires 2 Shots at Bricker,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 13, 1947, 1; “Bullets of an Assassin Miss Bricker in Capitol Tunnel,” New York Times, July 13, 1947, 1. 6. “Senators Dedicate Subway with Race,” Washington Post, Times Herald, January 6, 1960, A11; “Modern Subway Ends Toonervillian Era at the Capitol,” Washington Post, Times Herald, May 1, 1961, A2. 7. “Fulbright Mourns Passing of Old Subway Trolleys,” Washington Evening Star, May 30, 1961, 1; “Noise of Capitol’s New Subway Cars Provokes Senatorial Echo and Anger,” Washington Post, Times Herald, July 10, 1961, A1; “Senate Bumps Ironed Out,” Washington Evening Star, Dec 16, 1961, 1. 8. “Architect Wants Driverless Senate Subway,” Roll Call, June 1, 1987, 13; Congressional Record, 100th Cong., 2nd sess., February 2, 1988, 631–32; “Senate Subway Improvement on Track,” Washington Post, August 22, 1989, A11; “Construction of $18 Million Senate Subway Begins,” Roll Call, June 3, 1993, 3. 9. “After Years in Pipeline, Hill Subway Nears,” Washington Post, January 25, 1994, A17.
McMillan Commission Plan, 1901 202212 12A 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.

Leading up to the centennial commemoration of Washington, D.C., in 1900, architects, engineers, and other interested parties had begun to develop several competing plans to redesign and improve the capital city, particularly the public space now known as the National Mall. Decades of haphazard development had produced a city that hardly resembled the original plan designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant in 1791. Among those dedicated to improving the design at the dawn of the 20th century was Michigan 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 the nation’s capital. A transportation industry magnate, philanthropist, and leader of the Republican Party machine in Michigan, McMillan came to the Senate in 1889 and quickly established himself as a hard-working and influential senator. He developed strong relationships with his Senate colleagues, founding the “School of Philosophy Club,” a gathering of powerful Republican senators who met at his home to fine tune their legislative agenda. Named chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia in 1891, McMillan immersed himself in work to improve the city’s infrastructure, including the streetcar, railway, and water systems. A longtime patron of the arts and promoter of cultural civic improvements, McMillan also became heavily invested in efforts to develop and beautify the Mall, the city’s central feature, which had greatly expanded with recent efforts to fill in and reclaim the tidal flats of the Potomac River near the Washington Monument.1 Washington, D.C., was unique in that a plan for the nation’s capital city had been designed at its inception. The 1790 Residence Act established a federal district along the Potomac River to include the city as the permanent seat of government. It authorized President George Washington to appoint three commissioners to survey and define the boundaries of the district and to provide for public buildings to accommodate the government by 1800. In 1791, under the auspices of this law, Washington charged L'Enfant, a military engineer who had served on Washington's staff during the Revolutionary War, with creating a plan for the city. L'Enfant proposed a grid system of residential streets with broad diagonal avenues radiating from the principal governmental buildings—the “President’s House” and “Congress House.” The centerpiece of L'Enfant's plan was a Mall, where he envisioned a dedicated public space for learning and recreation—a “place of general resort,” a tree-lined “grand avenue,” surrounded by “play houses, room[s] of assembly, academies and all sort of places as may be attractive to the learned and afford diversion to the idle.” L’Enfant “conceived the capital as the seat of a ‘vast empire,’” one scholar wrote, and the Mall was “the physical and symbolic heart” of his plan.2 During the century that followed, much of L’Enfant’s design for the Mall never materialized. The young republic was not equipped financially or organizationally to fulfill such a plan. L'Enfant's grand and cohesive vision was gradually lost to decentralized and private land development. “Over time, as the view from the west front of the Capitol affirmed,” noted one historian, “the Mall had devolved into a hodgepodge of misplaced buildings, odd structures, and meandering garden paths, all constructed without regard for [L’Enfant’s] intentions.” As another historian wrote, “By 1900 … the Mall had become a chain of individual public parks, each associated with a different Victorian building, most of them built of red brick.” Among the developments that violated L’Enfant’s original design was the terminal of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad at Sixth Street west of the Capitol. The terminal was constructed in 1870 and its tracks cut directly across the Mall, proving to be both an eyesore and a safety concern.3 As the 19th century drew to a close, several groups consisting of local and state authorities as well as members of Congress emerged to discuss plans for a centennial celebration of the capital city. In a February 1900 meeting of the various groups, participants created a special committee of five to review suggestions and make final recommendations and chose Senator McMillan to serve as chairman. McMillan and the committee subsequently proposed a celebration in December 1900 that would include commemorative exercises in both houses of Congress along with a parade and a reception. The committee also recommended a plan to revive L’Enfant’s original vision by converting the entire Mall into a grand boulevard named Centennial Avenue. “Upon looking at the maps which the committee had before it,” McMillan noted, “it was seen that the original plan of Washington, as prepared by Major L’Enfant, provided for just such an avenue, public buildings to be erected on either side of the same.”4 Other organizations and agencies invested in the development of the District criticized the committee’s plan for not being fully developed. Throughout the centennial year, architects and planners from various organizations continued to produce competing designs. The debate culminated in the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held in Washington in December of 1900 to coincide with the centennial celebration. Architects attending the convention presented several additional plans, hoping to draw attention to the subject of beautifying Washington. “It is intended by these papers to call the attention of Congress forcibly to the need of some harmonious scheme to be followed in the future development of Washington,” AIA secretary and noted Capitol historian Glenn Brown wrote. “We propose to have the reading and discussion open to the public and invite all Congressmen and officials to attend."5 Within days, McMillan and other members of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia met with AIA members to craft a joint congressional resolution authorizing the president to appoint a commission “to study and report on the location and grouping of public buildings and the development of the park system in the District of Columbia.” When the House of Representatives showed little interest in the joint resolution, McMillan instead secured passage of a Senate resolution in March 1901. This resolution authorized the Committee on the District of Columbia to form a commission of experts “to consider the subject and report to the Senate plans for the development and improvement of the entire park system of the District of Columbia.” Although McMillan’s resolution focused generally on the city’s park system, his true purpose soon became apparent. “It was obvious from his actions in the following weeks,” noted one historian, “that what he had in mind was nothing less than a comprehensive development plan for all of central Washington in addition to certain studies of Rock Creek and Potomac Parks.”6 The District of Columbia Committee consulted the AIA to determine who should be on the new Senate Park Commission, which became known as the McMillan Commission due to the senator’s prominent role in its creation. The organization recommended architect Daniel Burnham, who had successfully transformed Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, as well as landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who had presented at the AIA convention and urged a return to the “greatness” of L’Enfant’s original plan. McMillan’s longtime aide Charles Moore played an influential role as the commission’s secretary and helped to draft much of the final report. Members of the commission agreed to focus on restoring L’Enfant’s vision for the Mall, and, as expressed by Burnham, “make the very finest plans their minds could conceive.” They set to work surveying the existing landscape of Washington and studying the plethora of proposals for its beautification. In the summer they embarked on a lengthy tour of European cities, “intended as a systematic exploration of the sources of inspiration that had guided L'Enfant’s original plan and an examination of current European treatment of civic architecture and its relationship to open spaces.”7 One of the principal challenges facing the commission was the domineering presence of the railway terminal. As a businessman with lifelong ties to the railroad industry, McMillan assumed a perpetual presence of a railway terminal on the Mall, but members of the commission disagreed. “Mr. Burnham…informed me…that little could be done toward beautifying the Mall as long as the railroad tracks were allowed to cross it," McMillan told a reporter. "The problem then was to get rid of the station." This presented quite a challenge, but the McMillan Commission ultimately succeeded in securing an agreement with the Pennsylvania Railway Company and its subsidiary, the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, to relocate the terminal. Provided “the Government would meet the company in a spirit which would enable him to justify the move to the stockholders,” the railway company president agreed to consolidate its rail lines to the proposed Union Station terminal north of the Capitol. The station’s design became a core component of the commission’s plan. "This great station forms the grand gateway to the capital, through which every one who comes to or goes from Washington must pass,” the commissioners wrote in their report, calling it “the vestibule" of the capital. “The three great architectural features of a capital city being the halls of legislation, the executive buildings, and the vestibule," the commissioners added, “the style of this building should be equally as dignified as that of the public buildings themselves." The hallmark contribution of the elegantly designed Union Station would become one of the enduring legacies of the Senate Park Commission.8 The commission unveiled its plan to an excited crowd at the Corcoran Gallery in January 1902, complete with two scale models—one showing the city’s central core at present, and one displaying the commission’s ambitious plan. The exhibit also featured maps and artists’ sketches of proposed improvements to the city. In its report, the commission emphasized its fundamental allegiance to L’Enfant’s design. "During the century that has elapsed since the foundation of the city the great space known as the Mall…has been diverted from its original purpose and cut into fragments, each portion receiving a separate and individual informal treatment, thus invading what was a single composition," the commissioners wrote. "The original plan…has met universal approval. The departures from that plan are to be regretted and, wherever possible, remedied."9 The scaled models showed the National Mall as an extensive park that stretched from the Capitol to the Potomac River. Stately museums faced each other across a wide lawn. A new monument to Abraham Lincoln anchored the western end, connected by a long reflecting pool to the Washington monument. A decorative memorial bridge spanned the river to Arlington, Virginia. It was a bold and ambitious plan to create a common, national space. Beyond the Mall, the commission developed expansive plans that included a neighborhood park system, scenic parkways, reclamation of the tidal flats in Anacostia, and several public buildings. As their report indicated, the commissioners understood the ambitious nature of the plan and knew that what they conceived would be a guide for the city's development for generations to come. "The task is indeed a stupendous one; it is much greater than any one generation can hope to accomplish," they wrote, noting that their objective was "to prepare … such a plan as shall enable future development to proceed along the lines originally planned—namely, the treatment of the city as a work of civic art."10 James McMillan’s sudden death in August 1902 prevented him from seeing the fruits of his labor. The legacy of the McMillan Commission endured, however, and while its proposed plan has not always been strictly followed, many of its recommendations have become a reality. The plan has served as a guide for the development of Washington, as well as providing a model for city planners across the country. In 1910 Congress established a permanent federal commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, "to ensure that the McMillan Plan for the National Mall was completed with the highest degree of civic art." In 1926 Congress established the National Capital Planning Commission, still in existence, "to ensure the continuation of good planning for the city in the tradition of L'Enfant and McMillan." The McMillan Commission’s report and models “were at once a blueprint for the future of the capital and an early twentieth-century primer for enlightened urban planning,” concluded one historian. McMillan's efforts ultimately succeeded in producing a design that would remain true to L’Enfant’s 1791 vision, while simultaneously reshaping the heart of the city into a modern showplace.11
1. Geoffrey G. Drutchas, “Gray Eminence in a Gilded Age: The Forgotten Career of Senator James McMillan of Michigan,” Michigan Historical Review 28, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 94; Geoffrey G. Drutchas, "The Man with a Capital Design," Michigan History 86 (March/April 2002): 33–34; Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 76. 2. John W. Reps, Monumental Washington: The Planning and Development of the Capital Center (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), 17; Jon A. Peterson, "The Senate Park Commission Plan for Washington, D.C.: A New Vision for the Capital and the Nation," in Designing the Nation's Capital: The 1901 Plan for Washington, D.C., ed. Sue Kohler and Pamela Scott (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2006), 2. 3. Tom Lewis, Washington: A History of Our National City (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 247–48; Peterson, "The Senate Park Commission Plan for Washington, D.C.,” 3. 4. Reps, Monumental Washington, 72–74; William V. Cox, comp., Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Seat of Government in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901), 37. 5. Tony P. Wrenn, "The American Institute of Architects Convention of 1900: Its Influence on the Senate Park Commission Plan," in Kohler and Scott, Designing the Nation's Capital, 57. 6. Reps, Monumental Washington, 92–93. 7. Peterson, "The Senate Park Commission Plan for Washington, D.C.,” 6, 14; Wrenn, "The American Institute of Architects Convention of 1900," 62; Drutchas, “Gray Eminence in a Gilded Age," 99–100; Lewis, Washington, 252; Reps, Monumental Washington, 95. 8. “Union Station Plans,” Washington Post, November 12, 1901, 2; Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia, S. Rep. 166, 57th Cong., 1st sess., 1902, 29–30. 9. Drutchas, “Gray Eminence in a Gilded Age,” 100; “The New Washington: Plans for Beautifying City Ready for Inspection,” Washington Post, January 15, 1902, 5; Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, The Improvement of the Park System, 10, 23. 10. “Plan of New Capital,” Washington Post, January 16, 1902, 11; Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, The Improvement of the Park System, 12, 19. 11. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, National Mall, S. Hrg. 109-45, April 12, 2005, 4; Lewis, Washington, 255.
Cartoon Depicting the Seating of the First Woman Senator, Rebecca Felton (D-GA), 1922 202211 21Rebecca 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.
Categories: Senate Firsts | Women

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. Appointed to fill a vacant seat on October 3, 1922, Felton formally took the oath of office in the Senate Chamber on November 21 and served only 24 hours while the Senate was in session. For Felton, that historic day marked the culmination of a lifetime of political activism as a feminist, journalist, and suffragist. Like many of her contemporaries, however, Felton was also a white supremacist whose views on race both reflected and reinforced racial inequality for generations. Her complicated legacy sheds light on both the progressive and the reactionary politics that she influenced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born Rebecca Latimer in 1835, she was the daughter of a wealthy Georgia planter. She married Dr. William Felton in 1853, moving to his home near Cartersville. Although the state of Georgia prohibited women from owning property at that time, as the mistress of her husband’s plantation, Felton managed a household that included 50 enslaved people. In 1860, as Civil War approached, the Feltons initially opposed the secession of Southern states from the Union, but like other white Southerners of their social class, they supported the Confederacy during the war to protect their “ownership of African slaves.” Felton later explained, “All I owned was invested in slaves.” She joined the local Ladies Aid Society to support the Confederate army. A physician and a preacher, William Felton tended Confederate soldiers at a nearby military camp, frequently leaving Rebecca alone to defend their property. Physical assault by marauding soldiers was a common wartime experience for rural women like Felton, and their trauma informed Felton’s political advocacy as she later fought for financial security and protection from sexual violence for all women.1 When the war concluded, the Feltons were emotionally depressed and financially destitute. They lost their farm and livelihood during the war and suffered the loss of two young children to wartime diseases. They founded a school, but politics soon came calling. After a report of the brutal sexual assault of a Black girl in a chain gang, Rebecca petitioned the Georgia state legislature to enhance protections for all female labor convicts—Black and white—and she would fight for prison reform for the remainder of her life. William pursued electoral politics, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Georgia state legislature. Felton participated in all aspects of her husband’s career, serving as his campaign manager and speechwriter, atypical roles for a woman in the 19th century. Political opponents criticized their unusual partnership. “We sincerely trust that the example set by Mrs. Felton will not be followed by southern ladies,” complained the Thomasville Times. “Let the dirty work in politics be confined to men.” By serving as her husband’s partner, and at times as his political surrogate, Felton helped to redefine the “traditional” role of southern white women.2 In the 1880s, Rebecca Felton broadened her activism, joining the temperance movement and emerging as a prominent and dynamic public speaker for the rights of poor, rural white women. A prolific and engaging writer, she co-founded a small newspaper in 1885 and later wrote a semi-weekly column for the Atlanta Journal. By the 1890s, Felton had emerged as a prominent public figure whose rousing speeches drew large crowds and whose columns and letters to the editor were widely distributed and debated nationwide. Felton used her influence to push for progressive policy reforms on behalf of white women and children, including universal public education, prison reform, better employment opportunities for women, and female suffrage.3 Felton’s views on race, however, were far from progressive, and throughout her life she held and perpetuated racist attitudes about African Americans. Decades after the Civil War, she continued to promote the myth of the happy enslaved person. She dehumanized Black men, calling them “debased, lustful brutes.” In her memoirs, published in 1919, Felton acknowledged that white supremacy served as an organizing principle for white southerners during and after the war. “The dread of negro insurrection and social equality with negroes at the ballot box held the Southern whites together in war or peace.” By the 1890s, many former Confederate states had adopted new constitutions to restrict African Americans’ civil rights, particularly voting rights. Prominent political figures, including Felton, inflamed racial tensions by promoting unfounded allegations of Black men assaulting white women. Such allegations fueled the heinous practice of lynching.4 In a widely reported speech in 1897, Felton criticized white men for their indifference to women’s rights and their failure to protect white women from assault, promoting her vision of equality for farm women. In the final moments of the speech, however, she pivoted to reactionary race politics: “As long as your politicians take the colored man into their embrace on election day…so long will lynching prevail.…If it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts,” she said, “then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.” Although the purpose of her speech had been to promote the empowerment of white rural women, in the weeks and months that followed, it was Felton’s virulent support for lynching that was widely reported and used as justification for this barbaric practice.5 Shortly after her husband’s death in 1909, Felton joined the suffrage movement and canvassed the state to promote voting rights for women. Racism played a prominent role here as well, with many leading white suffragists insisting that extending voting rights to white women would help to dilute the voting power of Black men. When Felton testified before the all-male Georgia state legislature in 1914, for example, she asked: “Why can’t [women] help you make the laws the same as they help you run your homes and churches? I do not want to see a negro man walk to the polls and vote … while I myself [cannot].” In 1920 Felton and fellow suffragists celebrated the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which extended voting rights to many, though not all, women. Her suffrage work enhanced her popularity among newly enfranchised women voters in Georgia and beyond.6 In September 1922, when Georgia senator Thomas Watson died in office, he left a vacancy to be filled by gubernatorial appointment until the upcoming special election. Georgia governor (and former senator) Thomas Hardwick planned to appoint a “place-holder” and then run for that seat himself. Because he had opposed the Nineteenth Amendment, Hardwick feared newly enfranchised women would deny him the coveted Senate seat. On October 3, 1922, hoping to quell their opposition, Hardwick chose 87-year old Rebecca Latimer Felton of Cartersville for the historic appointment. Hardwick ceremonially presented Felton with her appointment at Bartow County Courthouse on October 6. Women packed the courthouse, eager to show their support for the first woman senator. Because the Senate had adjourned sine die until December, and her replacement would be elected on November 7, Hardwick’s action was viewed as a symbolic attempt to gain women’s votes. Though Felton would receive a Senate salary and the administrative support of a secretary, as one newspaper reported, it was “only remotely possible” that she would appear on the Senate floor.7 Not content with a remote possibility, Felton’s allies launched an effort to have her seated in the Senate. Helen Longstreet, the widow of Georgia’s Confederate general James Longstreet, petitioned President Warren G. Harding in person on October 5, requesting that he call a special session before the November election so that Felton could be sworn in. Others followed Longstreet’s lead. “I voice the desire of multitudes of women voters,” explained one prominent suffragist in a letter to Harding, “who will shortly be approaching the polls.” Harding ignored the political pressure for a time, resisting calls for a special session. Meanwhile, on October 17, Governor Hardwick lost the Democratic primary to Judge Walter George, who won the general election on November 7. Felton now had an elected successor, but that didn’t halt the pressure to provide her the opportunity to take a Senate seat. Felton lobbied Harding to call Congress back for a special session as many of her supporters petitioned the president for action. On November 9, the president relented, announcing a special session to begin November 20 to consider several Republican legislative priorities. Attention again turned to Felton. Would she be seated?8 Less than a week before the special session was scheduled to convene, Georgia secretary of state S. G. McLendon, Felton’s political ally, declared that Walter George’s election likely would not be certified before the special session began. The ballots of 14 Georgia counties remained to be counted, he explained, and the state canvassing board had yet to be called to certify those results. According to state law, only the governor had the authority to convene the canvassing board, and Governor Hardwick was vacationing in New York. To resolve the situation, Hardwick returned to Georgia and convened the board, which promptly certified the election results. When the Senate convened on November 20, Senator-elect Walter George would be certified and ready to present his credentials. To many, Felton’s chances of taking the oath of office in an open session seemed to be dwindling.9 Undeterred, Felton personally asked George to delay presenting his credentials to the Senate. “I have no objections to interpose,” George astutely proclaimed at a press conference after their meeting. “The Senate is the exclusive judge of the eligibility of its members.… I will be glad to see the distinction come to [Felton], if the Senate can and will find a way to make this legally possible.” After George’s public announcement, Felton’s goal seemed within reach. She packed her bags and boarded a train to Washington, D.C. Both she and George would be present when the Senate convened for the special session. The Senate would decide her fate.10 On Monday, November 20, Felton arrived at the Senate early, her credentials tucked under her arm. Escorted into the Chamber by former Georgia senator Hoke Smith, she took a seat at an empty desk. Senators surrounded her, extending her a warm welcome. When the Senate convened at noon, it approved a resolution recognizing the death of her predecessor Thomas Watson and then—as was Senate custom—adjourned for the day. The question of Felton taking the oath would have to wait another 24 hours. Felton again arrived early on November 21 and received a raucous ovation from visitors in the galleries as she took a seat at Watson’s vacant desk. After recessing for a joint session, the Senate reconvened, accepted the credentials of two new members, and then turned to deciding Felton’s case. Thomas Walsh of Montana addressed the chair. First describing the law that seemed to prevent Felton from being seated, Walsh then provided precedents in her favor. “I did not like to have it appear, if the lady is sworn in—as I have no doubt she is entitled to be sworn in—that the Senate … extend[ed] so grave a right to her as a favor, or as a mere matter of courtesy, or being moved by a spirit of gallantry,” he said, “but rather that the Senate, being fully advised about it, decided that she was entitled to take the oath.” Without objection, the clerk proceeded to read the certificate as presented by Felton, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge administered the oath of office shortly after noon.11 As a duly sworn senator, Felton answered one roll call and delivered a single speech. "When the women of the country come in and sit with you,” she told her Senate colleagues, “ will get ability, you will get integrity..., you will get exalted patriotism, and you will get unstinted usefulness." She served for 24 hours before relinquishing the seat to Senator-elect Walter George. A gallery full of women erupted into cheers and applause as Senator Felton bade farewell.12 Following her appointment, Felton had predicted that women’s era had dawned, but women’s time in the Senate had begun to dawn even before Felton’s historic appointment. The Senate had already benefitted from a small but talented group of pioneering female staff, including Leona Wells, who joined the Senate's clerical staff in 1901 and became one of the first women to serve as lead clerk on a committee. By the early 1920s, women held half of the Senate’s committee staff positions. Today, women hold many of the most important and influential posts in the Senate, including secretary of the Senate and sergeant at arms.13 As Felton predicted, however, her historic appointment did pave the way for other trailblazing women senators. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate in 1932 and subsequently the first to chair a committee. In 1938 Senator Gladys Pyle of South Dakota became the first Republican woman to serve in the Senate. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine took the oath of office in 1949, becoming the first woman to serve in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, having prevailed in the general election of 1992, was the first African American woman senator. In 1995 Barbara Mikulski of Maryland set a milestone by becoming the first woman elected to Democratic Party leadership, and in 2000 Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas achieved that goal for the Republican Party. Other milestones followed. In 2013 Mazie Hirono of Hawaii became the first Asian and Pacific Islander woman to take the oath, while Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly gay senator. The first Latina, Catherine Cortez Masto, joined the Senate in 2017. When Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office in 2021, she became the first woman to serve as president of the Senate and the first Asian American and African American to hold that position. On November 5, 2022, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California became the longest serving woman senator, with more than 30 years of Senate service. To date, 59 women have followed the trail blazed by Felton in 1922, with 24 serving in the 117th Congress. While historians continue to reckon with the troubling aspects of Felton’s life and career, her legacy as the first woman senator remains a significant milestone—now 100 years old—in the history of the Senate.
1. Rebecca Latimer Felton, Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth (Atlanta, GA: Index Printing Co., 1919), 80, 86; Crystal N. Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 7–36. 2. John E. Talmadge, Rebecca Latimer Felton: Nine Stormy Decades (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1960), 79; Feimster, Southern Horrors, 34–35. 3. Talmadge, Rebecca Latimer Felton, 125; LeeAnn Whites, “Rebecca Latimer Felton and the Wife’s Farm: The Class and Racial Politics of Gender Reform,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 76, No. 2 (Summer 1992): 372. 4. Felton, Country Life in Georgia, 87; Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 197, 213; Rebecca Felton to the Editor, Boston Transcript, “Mrs. Felton Not for Lynching,” Atlanta Constitution, August 20, 1897, 4. 5. “Woman Advocates Lynching: Sensational Speech by the Wife of ex-Congressman Felton,” Washington Post, August 14, 1897, 6; Felton, Country Life in Georgia, 87; Feimster, Southern Horrors, 126–28, 133–35. 6. Feimster, Southern Horrors, 200–201. 7. “Commission Given Mrs. W.H. Felton by the Governor,” Atlanta Constitution, October 7, 1922, 3; Talmadge, Rebecca Latimer Felton, 140–42; “Mrs. W.H. Felton Named Senator; Hardwick in Race,” Atlanta Constitution, October 4, 1922, 1. 8. “Ask Special Session to Seat Senator Felton,” Baltimore Sun, October 13, 1922, 1. 9. Talmadge, Rebecca Latimer Felton, 143; “George’s Commission Held Up,” Baltimore Sun, November 16, 1922, 1; “George has time to be Qualified for Senate Seat,” Atlanta Constitution, November 18, 1922; 1. 10. “Judge W. F. George and Mrs. Felton to Confer Today,” Atlanta Constitution, November 17, 1922, 1. 11. “Senate to Decide Today on Seating Woman Senator,” Atlanta Constitution, November 21, 1922, 1; Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 3rd sess., November 21, 1922, 14. 12. Congressional Record, November 22, 1922, 23; “Mrs. Felton to Tax Senate Gallantry,” Baltimore Sun, November 19, 1922, 9. 13. “Women of the Senate,” United States Senate, accessed November 7, 2022,
Senators on Combat Tour, 1943 202210 6A 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.

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 (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) to begin a 65-day tour of U.S. military installations around the world. Each senator wore a dog tag and carried one knife, one steel helmet, extra cigarettes, emergency food rations, manuals on jungle survival, and two military uniforms. The senators were to wear the military uniforms while flying over enemy territory and visiting U.S. field operations in the hope that, if captured, they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war.1 The idea for this inspection tour originated among members of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, also known as the Truman Committee. The Military Affairs Committee had been examining every aspect of war mobilization, from soldier recruitment to weapons and supply contracts. The Truman Committee, chaired by Missouri senator Harry Truman, had spent two years exposing waste and corruption in the awarding of defense contracts, including in the construction of military facilities around the United States. Both committees wished to expand their investigations to include inspections of facilities overseas and initially quarreled over which panel would take on the task. The Truman Committee received approval for a tour from General George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1943. Albert “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky, who chaired a Military Affairs subcommittee also planning overseas inspections, protested and stated that he already had “an understanding” with the War Department about a tour of military bases. Chandler took his case to General Marshall and petulantly told reporters that “maybe the Army ought to take up its legislation with the Truman Committee.”2 The army did not want the “embarrassment” of choosing between the two committees, so the White House tasked Majority Leader Alben Barkley and Republican Leader Charles McNary with reaching a compromise. In July Barkley, who initially opposed the idea of any senators traveling abroad and taking up the time of military commanders, announced the creation of a small, bipartisan ad hoc committee of five senators to take the trip, chaired by Georgia Democrat Richard Russell and composed of two members from the Truman Committee and two from Military Affairs—Ralph O. Brewster of Maine, Happy Chandler of Kentucky, James Mead of New York, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts.3 The committee's goals were to observe the condition and morale of American troops, the quality and effectiveness of war materiel under combat conditions, and the operations of distributing military and civilian supplies to the Allied front lines. The investigatory committee believed, as Russell later explained, that what they learned on the trip would be helpful “in dealing with questions arising from our relations with the other Allied powers, and in preparing for the many trying and complex issues whose solution must have final approval by the Senate after the war is over.” In particular, the committee was concerned about securing access rights at the war’s conclusion to military installations that the U.S. had helped to establish overseas.4 As laudable as this mission seemed, departing members received a good deal of criticism both from colleagues and constituents. At a time of stringent gasoline rationing, a constituent wrote Russell that it would be wiser to allocate his aircraft's fuel to the needs of “your Georgia people.” Senator Bennett Clark of Missouri suggested that military commanders would not “let them see enough to stick in their eye.” The senators were determined to prove Clark wrong.5 The senators' first stop was England, where they bunked with the Eighth Air Force, dined with the king and queen, and interviewed Prime Minister Winston Churchill. They moved on to North Africa, spending a week in various cities along the Mediterranean Sea. From there they toured installations in the Persian Gulf, where U.S. supplies were being shipped to support the Soviet Union. They continued on to India, China, Australia, and Hawaii before returning home on September 28. The flight from the British colony of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) to the west coast of Australia, 3,200 miles over water, was the first time anyone had flown nonstop over the vast Indian Ocean in a land-based plane. Along the way the senators met with commanders and high-ranking civilian officials as well as enlisted men and wounded soldiers. In total the trip took 65 days and logged 40,000 miles.6 Upon their return, Russell had planned to brief the Senate at a secret session set for October 7. Before that briefing, however, Military Affairs Committee member Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., upstaged Russell by giving his own account in public session, a move that angered the chairman. Russell shared the committee’s report with his colleagues as planned and the next day had summary findings inserted into the Congressional Record for public consumption. The report framed the key issues of postwar reconstruction and policy, including recommendations for continued U.S. access to overseas military bases, the prospects of continued foreign aid after the fighting stopped, and a proposal for merging American military branches into a single department after the war.7 The report set a firm precedent for future overseas travel by senators, with additional trips taking place in 1945. Senator James M. Tunnell led a subcommittee of the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, known as the Mead Committee after the departure of Harry Truman, on another visit to military installations in North Africa and the Middle East in early 1945. In May 1945, after Germany had surrendered, Russell guided a group of eight senators from the Military Affairs and Naval Affairs committees on a trip to France and Germany, where some of the hardest fighting of the war had taken place.8 While some observers had doubted the utility of the 1943 tour, the detailed report of Russell’s committee persuaded them that the senators had completed a useful task, setting the stage for future congressional delegations (CODELs). New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, who admitted that he had his reservations about the trip, afterwards praised the group for its careful examinations and declared the trip “an excellent illustration of what can be done by Congress by the use of the effective and responsible committee system.”9
1. George C. Fite, Richard B. Russell, Jr., Senator from Georgia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 189. 2. “2 Senate Committees Wrangle Over Who Rates Africa Tour,” Washington Post, April 9, 1943, 1; Fite, Richard B. Russell, 188–89. 3. “Avoids Ruling on Junkets,” Baltimore Sun, April 18, 1943, 15; “Five Senators to Tour World in Army Plane,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1943, 5; “War Will Continue Until 1945, Warn Senators Back from Tour,” Washington Post, September 30, 1943, 1. 4. Katherine Scott, “A Safety Valve: The Truman Committee’s Oversight during World War II,” in Colton C. Campbell and David P. Auerswald, eds., Congress and Civil Military Relations (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2015), 36–52; Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 28, 1943, 8860; “Senators Seek Post-War Base Showdown Now,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 04, 1943, 8. 5. “Senators to Visit Our Forces Abroad,” New York Times, July 1, 1943, 8. 6. Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 28, 1943, 8860; “Senators Reach Hawaii,” New York Times, September 23, 1943, 6; Fite, Richard B. Russell, 191. 7. Fite, Richard B. Russell, 193; Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 8, 1943, 8189–90. 8. Fite, Richard B. Russell, 195–96. 9. “War Tour By Senators Promises Wide Benefits,” New York Times, October 3, 1943, E3.
Federal Hall in New York City, ca. 1798 202209 17Constitution 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.
Categories: Constitution | Presidents | Treaties

Constitutional Foundations of Treatymaking When the framers of the Constitution considered the question of treatymaking at the Federal Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787, they originally proposed giving the Senate the sole power to make treaties. As the debate ensued, however, objections arose to depositing the full scope of this complex diplomatic power within the legislative branch. Ultimately, the framers decided that treatymaking would be a concurrent power, shared by the executive and the legislative branches. Article II, section 2 of 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." In this shared responsibility, the Senate would check presidential power, give the president the benefit of its advice and counsel, and safeguard the sovereignty of the states by providing each state with an equal vote in the treatymaking process. The president would represent the national interest in treatymaking and allow for unity and efficiency. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist, No. 75, the treatymaking power “seems…to form a distinct department, and to belong properly neither to the legislative nor to the executive. The qualities elsewhere detailed, as indispensable in the management of foreign negotiations, point out the executive as the most fit agent in those transactions; while the vast importance of the trust, and the operation of treaties as laws, plead strongly for the participation of the whole or a part of the legislative body in the office of making them.”1 While the Constitution defines the manner in which consent is given by stipulating that two-thirds of senators present must agree to a treaty, it does not explain how the Senate should offer its advice. “This bare grant tells us…merely that they were the joint possessors of this great power,” one scholar noted. The Constitution’s “elasticity in details…left to successive Senates and to successive presidents the problem and the privilege of determining under the stress of actual government the precise manner in which they were to make the treaties of the nation.”2 The Senate as Executive Council Many of the framers of the Constitution expected that the Senate would meet with the president in the manner of an executive council to confer about the details of a treaty as it was being negotiated. When the Senate began to consider treaties in 1789, however, it soon became clear that the framers’ view might not prevail. A formative event took place on Saturday, August 22, 1789, at New York City’s Federal Hall when President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox visited senators in their Chamber “to advise with them on the terms of the Treaty to be negotiated with the Southern Indians.”3 Senators of the First Congress and President Washington were well aware that every action they took established precedents, and they often showed great thoughtfulness and foresight in their proceedings. Such was the case with the question of handling communications between senators and the president regarding the Senate’s advice and consent powers. Specifically, should that communication be in writing or in person? It was actually the first Senate rejection of a presidential nomination (also requiring the Senate's advice and consent) that precipitated a careful discussion about the form of communication with the president. On August 5, 1789, the day the nominee was rejected, a motion had been made that the Senate’s “advice and consent to the appointment of officers should be given in the presence of the President.” The Senate then appointed a committee of three to confer with President Washington “on the mode of communication proper to be pursued between him and the Senate, in the formation of treaties, and making appointments to offices.”4 The committee met with the president twice, on August 8 and August 10. “In all matters respecting Treaties,” Washington asserted in the first meeting, “oral communications seem indispensably necessary—because in these a variety of matters are contained, all of which not only require consideration, but some of them may undergo much discussion—to do which by written communications would be tedious without being satisfactory.” Given the necessity of an in-person meeting, Washington then posed several questions as to where such meetings should take place and what protocol should be followed. “If in the Senate Chamber,” for example, “how are the President and Vice President to be arranged?”5 Washington made additional assertions in the second meeting on August 10. In exercising its powers of advice and consent, Washington noted, the Senate “is evidently a Council only to the President”; therefore, “not only the time but the place and manner of consultation should be with the President.” He made an important distinction between the consideration of nominations and treaties, however, stating that treaties were “perhaps as much of a legislative nature” as executive, and so there would be occasions when the president should visit the Senate Chamber in person to make his propositions regarding the terms of a treaty. “The inclination or ideas of different Presidents may be different,” Washington predicted, suggesting the Senate needed to be flexible in the process by which it provides its advice and consent.6 In its report, the Senate committee agreed with the president. Like Washington, the committee also predicted “that the opinions both of the President and the Senate as to the proper manner may be changed by experience.” The committee’s resolution, adopted by the Senate on August 21, 1789, provided for the president to meet with the Senate in its Chamber. On the same day this resolution was adopted, Tobias Lear, President Washington’s secretary, delivered a message stating the president would meet with senators the following day “to advise with them on the terms of the Treaty to be negotiated with the Southern Indians.”7 President Washington Visits the Senate When President Washington and Secretary Knox arrived in the Senate Chamber on Saturday, August 22, they presented the Senate with a series of questions related to upcoming treaty negotiations. The official record of this proceeding, included in the Senate Executive Journal, offers little insight into what happened in the Chamber that day, merely summarizing the issues and listing seven questions regarding instructions to the commissioners who would negotiate the treaty. According to the Executive Journal, the first question was postponed and the second was answered in the negative. Secretary of the Senate Samuel Otis recorded in his journal that a motion was made to refer the remaining questions to a committee, but Washington thought it improper, and the motion was rejected. The Executive Journal indicated that the Senate ultimately postponed consideration of the remaining questions until the following Monday.8 The only other contemporary account of Washington’s visit to the Chamber that day comes from the diary of William Maclay, a Pennsylvania senator who was a frequent critic of the president. Maclay stated that the meeting was awkward and tense. He noted that the reading of the president’s treaty propositions was drowned out by the noise of Manhattan traffic, making it difficult for senators to grasp the details. “Carriages were driving past and such a Noise, I could tell it was something about Indians, but was not master of one Sentence of it,” he complained. When the president’s first question, regarding relations with the Cherokees, was put before the Senate, “There was a dead pause,” Maclay noted. “Mr. Morris whispered (to) me, we will see who will venture to break silence first.” Maclay continued, “I rose reluctantly indeed…, it appeared to me, that if I did not, no other one would. And we should have these advices and consents ravish’d in a degree from Us.” Maclay called for the reading of related treaties and other documents, arguing that the Senate had a duty to be fully informed on the subject. Casting his eye on Washington, the Pennsylvania senator noted the president “wore an aspect of Stern displeasure.” As the discussion continued, Maclay concluded that “there appeared an evident reluctance to proceed.” He suggested to Pennsylvania’s Robert Morris that the issues be referred to a committee. “My reasons,” he wrote, “were that I saw no chance of a fair investigation of subjects while the President of the U.S. sat there with his Secretary of War, to support his Opinions and over awe the timid and neutral part of the Senate.” When Morris moved to have the matter referred to a committee of five, some senators “grumbled some objections,” with South Carolina’s Pierce Butler arguing that the Senate was sitting as a council and that “no council ever committed anything.” Maclay then gave a speech in support of a committee. (“I thought I did the subject justice,” he added in his diary.) As he sat down, Maclay recorded, Washington “started up in a violent fret,” exclaiming, “‘This defeats every purpose of my coming here!’” According to Maclay, Washington “soon cooled, however, by degrees,” and while he objected to the referral to committee, he indicated that he would accept a postponement until Monday. After the motion for a committee was withdrawn and the Senate agreed to postpone, Maclay wrote, the president withdrew “with a discontented Air” and a “sullen dignity.” Maclay, a vocal opponent of the growth of centralized government power, interpreted the encounter as a contest over the Senate’s equal power in treatymaking. “I cannot now be mistaken,” he wrote in his diary, “the President wishes to tread on the Necks of the Senate…he wishes Us to see with the Eyes and hear with the ears of his Secretary only…And to bear down our deliberations with his personal Authority and Presence.” If the Senate did not take its own counsel and study before offering its advice, Maclay worried, it would contribute little to the treatymaking process and surrender its vital constitutional role. “Form only will be left for Us,” he lamented. “This will not do with Americans.” Maclay was disappointed that a committee was not appointed to consider the issues at hand, but the agreement to postpone offered the Senate the opportunity to study and debate the issues before providing its decision. Washington returned to the Senate Chamber on Monday and, according to Maclay, “wore a different aspect from what he did Saturday. He was placid and Serene and manifested a Spirit of Accommodation.” The president watched as the Senate proceeded with its “tedious debate” of the remaining questions.9 Washington never again returned to the Senate in person to ask its advice and consent. From then on, he would communicate with the Senate only in writing. Despite the concerns that Maclay confided to his diary, there is little evidence to suggest that Washington intended to intimidate the Senate with his presence or to pressure senators into adopting a particular set of negotiating goals or instructions. Nevertheless, the unwieldy process of Senate deliberation, and perhaps senators’ insistence on studying the issues independently, seems to have discouraged the president from returning to the Chamber. He chose afterwards not to meet with the Senate as an “executive council” as had been envisioned. In the years that followed, Washington’s administration kept the Senate abreast of information related to the formation of treaties, but the president did not consult the full Senate in detail on treaty negotiations, although he did at times consult key groups of senators. When Washington pursued the most contested treaty of his administration, the Jay Treaty with Britain, he worked with a select group of supportive senators to determine the goals of the agreement and secure its approval in the Senate.10 It would be up to future presidents and senators to continue to shape the practice by which the Senate fulfills its constitutional duty of advice and consent. Some presidents have sought advice from the Senate on particular treaties, and a number of presidents have named individual senators to negotiating teams to help build support among their colleagues for the administration’s proposals. For the most part, however, senators have been left to assert their influence in the treatymaking process after a president submits a treaty for their approval. Presidents continue to conduct treaty business with the Senate in writing, although Woodrow Wilson broke with precedent in 1919. He presented the Treaty of Versailles—the peace agreement following World War I that he had personally helped to negotiate—to senators in the Chamber and urged its approval. While the Senate has approved the vast majority of treaties submitted, it has also required amendments and reservations to win that approval and has rejected or failed to act on treaties that did not garner enough support. The Constitution established the framework of a new federal government, but it was not long before elected officials were confronted with difficult choices about how to exercise the powers it designated, especially when, as in treatymaking, those powers were shared between branches. The August 22 encounter between President George Washington and the Senate during the First Congress became an early milestone in the evolution of those shared powers. As the Senate’s committee report noted, the manner in which the Senate and the executive would put the Constitution’s treatymaking powers into operation would inevitably "be changed by experience."11
1. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaties and Other International Agreements: The Role of the United States Senate; A Study Prepared for the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 106th Cong., 2nd sess., January 2001, S. Prt. 106-71, 2, 28; Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 75, [26 March 1788],” Founders Online, accessed August 31, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 4, January 1787–May 1788, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 628–33.] 2. Ralston Hayden, The Senate and Treaties, 1789–1817: The Development of the Treaty-Making Functions of the United States Senate During Their Formative Period (New York: Macmillan, 1920), 2. 3. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Treaties and Other International Agreements, 2, 27; Message of President George Washington Requesting that the Senate Meet to Advise Him on the Terms of the Treaty to Be Negotiated with the Southern Indians, August 21, 1789, Anson McCook Collection of Presidential Signatures, 1789–1975, Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. 4. Senate Executive Journal, 1st Cong., 1st sess., August 5–6, 1789, 16. 5. George Washington to Senate, August 8, 1789, George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754–1799: Letterbook 25, April 6, 1789–March 4, 1791, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, accessed August 31, 2022, 6. George Washington to Senate, August 10, 1789, George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754–1799: Letterbook 25, April 6, 1789–March 4, 1791, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, accessed August 31, 2022, 7. Report of the Committee Appointed to Confer with the President on the Mode of Communication Proper to be Pursued Between Him and the Senate in the Formation of Treaties and Making Appointments to Offices, August 20, 1789, (SEN 1A-D1) Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Senate Executive Journal, 1st Cong., 1st sess., August 21, 1789, 19; Message of President George Washington Requesting that the Senate Meet to Advise Him on the Terms of the Treaty to Be Negotiated with the Southern Indians, August 21, 1789. 8. Senate Executive Journal, 1st Cong., 1st sess., August 22, 1789, 19–23; Secretary of the Senate Journal on President George Washington's Visit to the Senate Regarding the Treaty with the Southern Indians, August 22, 1789, Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. 9. Edgar S. Maclay, ed., Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789–1791 (New York: D.A. Appleton and Company, 1890), 128–33, accessed August 31, 2022, 10. Hayden, The Senate and Treaties, 103–6. 11. Report of the Committee Appointed to Confer with the President, August 20, 1789.
Arthur H. Vandenberg (R-MI), 1948 202208 1Senate 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?”
Categories: Technology

“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?” World War I produced significant advances in radio technology, and by 1920 radio pioneers were exploring its entertainment and public service potential. In 1924 Senator Robert B. Howell of Nebraska, a former chairman of a national radio commission, became the first to formally propose that the Senate broadcast its proceedings. A few years later, North Dakota’s Gerald Nye called for a 50,000-watt “superpower station” on Capitol Hill to produce an audible Congressional Record. When research indicated that a whopping $3.3 million would be needed to implement such a plan, the proposal died, but it wasn’t just sticker-shock that killed the idea. As the Senate considered radio coverage, many wondered if senators would have an audience. Some debates “arouse as much public interest as a championship prize fight,” commented a skeptic in 1927, but no one “wants to listen to the monotonous dronings that make up the typical legislative day.” Others argued that the Senate just wasn’t ready to take such a bold step into the modern world. “The chief drawback here is the attitude of the Senate itself,” explained a New York Times reporter in 1929. “Most of its members are . . . constitutionally opposed to the idea of broadcasting its proceedings.”1 The idea surfaced again in 1944, following the successful radio broadcasts of the Democratic and Republican Party conventions. On August 15, Florida senator Claude Pepper introduced a joint resolution calling for radio coverage of congressional debate. If the people of the country “could by the marvel of the radio . . . be witnesses of the deliberations of their Representatives and Senators in Congress,” Pepper said, “I believe it would be in furtherance of the democratic process.” Two weeks later, Representative John Coffee of Washington introduced a nearly identical bill in the House of Representatives. In Pepper's efforts to advance his joint resolution, he challenged his colleagues to consider the optics of not moving forward with the times. "If we don't broadcast the proceeding some time and keep step with the advance of radio," he argued, "the people are going to begin asking whether we are afraid to let them hear what we are saying. It's their business we are transacting." Nevertheless, Pepper's and Coffee's efforts also failed. "The idea of putting Congress on the air might appeal to many a U.S. citizen," Time magazine declared, "but to most Congressmen the idea is nightmarish."2 Finally, in 1945, Congress hit the airwaves with Congress on the Air, a weekly program broadcast at 8:00 p.m. on Sundays. Competing against the popular Fred Allen Show and the mystery series Crime Doctor, the half-hour program featured members of Congress discussing major issues of the day, such as the October 9 debate between New Mexico senator Carl Hatch and Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin on the proliferation of atomic weapons. A modest success, this program fell far short of gavel-to-gavel coverage of Senate action but did lead to other suggestions. “Congress in Action,” for example, was a proposal to air Senate floor debates every Wednesday. Such programming could be very popular, argued proponents, allowing constituents to listen to congressional sessions the way they did baseball games, Frank Sinatra’s voice, or Jack Benny’s jokes. But radio-shy members wondered, who would decide the topic of debate, and how would they avoid just putting on a show for the listening public?3 Although the proponents of radio failed in their attempts to broadcast floor proceedings, they had more success with committee action. Radio microphones became a familiar sight in congressional hearings by the 1940s as resistance to radio coverage diminished, but the change in attitude came too late. By then, a new phenomenon had captured the American imagination, and discussions of radio broadcasts from Capitol Hill soon fell victim to the excitement over television. "A new synthesis of legislative process and mass media is in the making and seems only to wait upon the appropriate catalyst," political scientist Ralph M. Goldman predicted in 1950, "for the elements to be combined are many and the inertia to be overcome is great." Indeed, change did eventually make its way into the Senate Chamber. “Today we catch up with the 20th century,” Majority Leader Robert Dole told the C-SPAN audience on June 2, 1986, as Senate television coverage began. “No longer will the great debates in this Chamber be lost forever.” No doubt, that’s exactly what Nebraska’s Robert B. Howell had in mind—way back in 1924.4
1. “Broadcasting Congress,” Washington Post, December 17, 1927, 6; “Senate Moves to Give Radio Debate Reports,” Washington Post, May 3, 1924, 2; “U.S. Broadcasting is Held Too Costly,” Washington Post, May 12, 1929, A5; “Station Proposed for Federal Use,” New York Times, May 12, 1929, XX21. 2. Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 2nd sess., August 15, 1944, 6931; “Urges Congress Radio,” New York Times, August 16, 1944, 22; "Radio: Congress on the Air?" Time, October 9, 1944, 75. 3. “Speakers Back Bomb Secrecy,” Washington Post, October 9, 1945, 8; “Congress on the Air,” Washington Post, December 25, 1945, 4. 4. Ralph M. Goldman, "Congress on the Air," Public Opinion Quarterly 14, no. 4 (Winter 1950–1951): 744.
Nomination of Benjamin Fishbourn and Others, 1789 202207 5Origins 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.”

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,” the practice whereby senators defer to the wishes of a colleague who objects to an individual nominated to serve in his or her state. Senatorial courtesy also has been interpreted to mean that a president should consult with senators of his or her party when nominating individuals to serve in positions in their home states. Such a practice was not envisioned by the framers. In fact, in The Federalist, No. 66, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “There will, of course, be no exertion of choice [in executive appointments] on the part of Senators. They can only ratify or reject the choice of the President.”1 Like other office seekers, Fishbourn had written to Washington in hopes of securing a federal appointment in the new government. Fishbourn had served in the Georgia legislature and had been appointed earlier that year as state naval officer of Savannah by the state’s governor. He hoped to fill the same role for the federal government. Washington had informed Fishbourn that he would assume the presidency “free from engagements of every kind and nature whatsoever,” and would make appointments only with “justice” and “the public good” in mind. Fishbourn benefitted, however, from the support of General Anthony Wayne, under whom he had served as aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War. Wayne had a close bond with Washington and had recommended Fishbourn for a position in the government. As a result, Fishbourn’s name was added to President Washington’s long list of nominees to serve as customs collectors, naval officers, and land surveyors throughout the country that was presented to the Senate on August 3, 1789. The Senate confirmed most of the nominees on the list the next day. Two other nominees from Georgia were confirmed on August 5, but the Senate, at the urging of Senator Gunn, rejected Fishbourn.2 Why did Senator Gunn object to Fishbourn? The drama surrounding the nomination can be traced back to a duel challenge and personal rivalries. Affairs of honor, in which men in the public eye were willing to exchange gunfire and risk death in defense of their reputations, were an important element of politics in the early American republic. In 1785 James Gunn, while serving as an army captain, feuded with Major General Nathanael Greene over a rather arcane military policy. At some point during the Revolutionary War, James Gunn’s horse was killed in battle. He was able to select a government-procured horse to use during the remainder of the war, as was custom. The problem arose when Gunn traded the horse, which was considered to be quite valuable, for two other horses and an enslaved individual. General Greene objected to the transaction, not for the atrocity that an enslaved person was considered property equivalent to a horse, but because Gunn had dispensed with government property as if it was his personal property. Greene called for a military court of inquiry to investigate. The court ruled that Gunn was justified in trading the horse, but Greene was not satisfied. He ordered Gunn to return the horse and referred the matter to the Continental Congress. Congress adopted resolutions supporting Greene’s actions and ordered Gunn to replace the horse with “another equally good.”3 After the war, both Gunn and Greene settled in Georgia. Gunn, still smarting from what he saw as Greene’s attack on his character, challenged Greene to a duel. Greene refused the challenge, claiming that a commanding officer could not be accountable to a subordinate for his actions while in command. Gunn reportedly declared that “he would attack [Greene] wherever he met him” and began to carry pistols in the event of an encounter. The confrontation never occurred, and Greene received support from Washington himself, who assured him that his “honor and reputation will stand” for refusing to accept Gunn’s challenge.4 What does all of this have to do with Fishbourn and senatorial courtesy? Fishbourn had publicly sided with Greene during the dispute, and Gunn never forgot that. When asked by another senator to explain his reasons for objecting to Fishbourn, Gunn responded simply with “personal invective and abuse.” This was enough to sway other senators to vote down the nomination.5 Angry about the rejection of his nominee, Washington wrote in a message to the Senate, “Permit me to submit to your consideration whether on occasions where the propriety of Nominations appear questionable to you, it would not be expedient to communicate that circumstance to me, and thereby avail yourselves of the information which led me to make them, and which I would with pleasure lay before you.” Washington, according to one source, even went to the Chamber to ask the Senate’s reasons for the rejection, to which Gunn informed him that the Senate owed him no explanation.6 Fishbourn was stung by the rejection. His supporters attempted to undo the damage to his reputation. Anthony Wayne wrote to Washington to assure him that the “unmerited and wanton attack upon [Fishbourn's] Character by Mr. Gunn” was groundless and that he would never have recommended Fishbourn for the position if the charges were true. Wayne published a defense of Fishbourn signed by notable men from Savannah.7 A month later, Fishbourn sent a letter to Washington in hopes of repairing his reputation after such a public embarrassment. He asked the president to write him indicating that he held no prejudices against him based on “representations having been made against me in the Senate.” As he left Georgia and public life, he hoped “I may have it to say I have the sanction as well as the good wishes of his Excellency the President of the United States.” Fishbourn was probably disappointed to receive a reply only from an aide to Washington, stating “I am directed by him to inform you that when he nominated you for Naval Officer of the Port of Savannah he was ignorant of any charge existing against you—and, not having, since that time, had any other exibit (sic) of the facts which were alledged (sic) in the Senate . . . he does not consider himself competent to give any opinion on the subject.”8 Senator James Gunn’s objection to Fishbourn for what he saw as an affront to his public honor—even if Fishbourn was but a minor player in the affair—established an enduring precedent in the Senate. Despite periodic efforts by presidents to push back on senators’ attempts to control executive appointments, the custom of senatorial courtesy became firmly established by the late 19th century. In 1906, two years prior to his run for president, William Howard Taft observed that presidents were “naturally quite dependent on . . . advice and recommendation” of senators, such that “the appointing power is in effect in their hands subject only to a veto by the President.” When considering a nomination in executive session—held behind closed doors until 1929—senators merely had to rise and announce that a nominee was “personally obnoxious” or “personally objectionable” to them, without any further explanation. They could depend on the deference of Senate colleagues in rejecting the nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee formalized a version of senatorial courtesy through use of the “blue slip,” a blue sheet of paper on which a senator could register support for or opposition to a judicial nominee to serve in his or her state. In 1960 William Proxmire of Wisconsin called senatorial courtesy “the ultimate senatorial weapon,” a “nuclear warhead intercontinental ballistic missile of Senate nomination action.” While there have been changes to the rules and customs governing Senate advice and consent over the past half century—for example, senators no longer announce on the floor that a nominee is “personally obnoxious” to them—individual senators continue to exert a great deal of power over the nomination and confirmation process.9
1. Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991), 31; Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 66, quoted in George H. Haynes, The Senate of the United States: Its History and Practice (Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1938), 2:736. 2. Mitchel A. Sollenberger, “Georgia’s Influence on the U. S. Senate: A Reassessment of the Rejection of Benjamin Fishbourn and the Origin of Senatorial Courtesy,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 93, no. 2 (2009): 182–90; “From George Washington to Benjamin Fishbourn, 23 December 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 1, 24 September 1788 – 31 March 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 198–200.]; “To George Washington from Anthony Wayne, 10 May 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 2, 1 April 1789 – 15 June 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 261–64.] 3. Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the Early Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); George R. Lamplugh, “The Importance of Being Truculent: James Gunn, the Chatham Militia, and Georgia Politics, 1782–1789,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 80, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 228–29; Sollenberger, “Georgia’s Influence,” 185–87. 4. Sollenberger, “Georgia’s Influence,” 187; Lamplugh, “Importance of Being Truculent,” 232. 5. Fergus M. Bordewich, The First Federal Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016), 132; Lamplugh, “Importance of Being Truculent,” 240–43. 6. “From George Washington to Benjamin Fishbourn, 23 December 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 1, 198–200.] Washington’s visit to the Senate was recounted years later by the son of Washington aide Tobias Lear. Notably, William Maclay was absent on that day, but he committed to his diary the comments of a fellow senator about Washington’s intemperate response to the rejection, though it is not clear if that occurred in person in the Senate chamber. Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds., Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates, vol. 9 of Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789–March 3, 1791, eds. Linda Grant De Pauw et al. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 121. 7. “To George Washington from Anthony Wayne, 30 August 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 3, 15 June 1789–5 September 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989), 569–70.] 8. “To George Washington from Benjamin Fishbourn, 25 September 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 81–83; fn1.] This was quite a change in tone from December 1788, when Washington wrote in a letter to Fishbourn: “For you may rest assured, Sir, that, while I feel a sincere pleasure in hearing of the prosperity of my army acquaintances in general, the satisfaction is of a nature still more interesting, when the success has attended an officer with whose services I was more particularly acquainted.”; “From George Washington to Benjamin Fishbourn, 23 December 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed June 22, 2022, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 1, 198–200.] 9. William Howard Taft, Four Aspects of Civic Duty (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1906), 98–99, quoted in Haynes, Senate of the United States, 1:736; Congressional Record, 86th Cong., 2nd Sess., April 19, 1960, 8159; Michael J. Gerhardt, The Federal Appointments Process (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 143–53.
Image: [Robert] Dole  (Cat. no. 11.00129.096) 202206 1Picturing 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.
Categories: Art and Artifacts | Women

I love the humor you can get out of politics.1 So stated Eleanor Mill about her work as a political cartoonist and caricaturist. Fourteen of her drawings, all featuring the Senate, were donated to the Senate in 2018. The gift, which also included 84 works on paper by the artist Aurelius Battaglia, came from the artists’ daughter, Nicola Battaglia, in memory of her parents. Mill’s drawings represent the most recent addition of works by a contemporary woman artist to the Senate Collection. The drawings join an important group of 70 illustrations by the artist Lily Spandorf, expanding the Senate’s holdings of works by women artists. Together, these collections reflect a range of artistic techniques and showcase key events, buildings, and individuals that helped shape the Senate in the second half of the 20th century. Eleanor Mill (1927–2008) was born in Michigan. Her father was an executive at General Motors, and the family relocated with such frequency that by the time she graduated from high school, she had attended 21 schools in 18 states. Eleanor trained at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and married Aurelius Battaglia in 1948, although they would later separate. She enjoyed early success illustrating children’s books. It was not until the middle of her career that Mill found her true calling: political cartooning. The artist reflected on this transformation in an interview she gave to the Hartford Courant in 1988: “I spent a lot of my life doing what other people told me to do, or what other people told me I was good at. I had to get older to realize I could do what I wanted. I love what I’m doing now.” In a second interview in 1992, she discussed how her art served as a form of advocacy: “I’ve always been political, I just never thought I could do anything about it in my work until I got old.” She was well aware how few women artists were creating political art and recalled how an art director at Life magazine once told her agent that “it would be a lot easier for [Mill] if [her] name were Edward.”2 Mill’s principal focus was people, often without dialogue or background, and her use of pen-and-ink was well suited to newspapers. Mill found that televised news could be one source of inspiration: “I also use my VCR to record people so I can draw them. I don’t like to rely too much on photographs. It’s better to see [people] in movement; you get more personality.”3 Mill self-syndicated her drawings through the Mill News Art Syndicate, and her work appeared, sometimes as illustrations for op-eds, in more than 40 national newspapers. Mill sought to connect readers with topical contemporary issues ranging from politics to homelessness. While she hoped that her drawings focusing on social issues might inspire viewers to action, she had a different intention for her political drawings: “Just make them laugh.”4 The Senate’s Eleanor Mill collection consists primarily of political cartoons and caricatures of senators and vice presidents that date from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Many of her caricatures, such as those of Albert A. Gore (D-TN) and Robert J. Dole (R-KS) emphasize certain facial features of her subjects, often for humorous effect. She sometimes departed from caricature to provide a more realistic portrayal, such as in a later drawing of Gore. Other caricatures, such as one referencing Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, include additional detail to anchor the subject in the historical moment. Lily Spandorf (1914–2000), a native of Austria, worked for the Washington Star as a contributing artist from 1960 to 1981, providing artistic interpretations of news subjects such as the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the White House Easter Egg Roll. Her work can be found in museum collections and in the book Lily Spandorf’s Washington Never More (1988), which showcases more than 70 of her paintings of Washington, D.C., neighborhoods and buildings. Spandorf preferred creating her work “on the spot” and often searched for outdoor locations in which to draw or paint.5 In 1961 the Washington Star assigned Spandorf to sketch scenes from the filming of Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent , taking place on location on Capitol Hill. After completing the drawings for her initial assignment, she used her press pass over the next several weeks to continue sketching scenes from the filming. “It was exciting and I loved every bit of it,” she recalled in a 1999 interview. Her work caught Preminger’s attention, and at his request her drawings were displayed at the Washington premiere of the film.6 Spandorf worked in pen-and-ink and gouache (a water-based painting technique) to create these drawings, which include numerous views of the Capitol and the Russell Senate Office Building. In the drawing of the actor Don Murray in the Russell Building corridor and in one featuring a cameraman in the Russell Building stairwell (shown here), Spandorf documents the entire scene to impart as much information to the viewer as possible. The cast and crew are captured in a moment of filming, in backgrounds of bricked archways, grand stairwells, and marble arches. She developed friendships with the people on the set, and that intimacy is reflected in her portraits of individuals, such as that of the actor Charles Laughton. The Advise and Consent drawings chronicle interactions between people and architecture, a hallmark of Spandorf’s work. “I combined the action on both sides of the camera with the setting of the U.S. Capitol and Washington. The images capture the events surrounding this unique filming—the only time the interior of the Capitol has been used as a movie set.” The work was challenging, but rewarding: “When I looked at them after years, I was amazed at myself. How could I do that? Because many times I had to be standing up somewhere in the corner to catch the people, and I got amazing likenesses.”7 The drawings by Eleanor Mill and Lily Spandorf bolster the Senate’s extensive collection of works on paper, which range from the 19th century to the present, and demonstrate how these two women used their artistic talents to memorialize their perspectives on the institution. Selections of drawings by both artists can be found by visiting the Art & Artifacts section of the Senate website.
1. Tom Condon, “Artist Vents Conscience in Cartoons,” Hartford Courant, October 15, 1988, D-1. 2. Condon, “Artist Vents Conscience”; Steve Kemper, “Eleanor Mill: ‘I see no reason to draw pretty pictures….The good things are not the things you need brought to your attention,’” Hartford Courant, September 20, 1992, 14. 3. Kemper, “Eleanor Mill.” 4. Condon, “Artist Vents Conscience.” 5. David Montgomery, “A Perennial Draw Pictures Washington: ‘On-the-Spot’ Art Preserves City’s Past,” Washington Post, December 28, 1998, B-1. 6. Amy Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit Features First and Only Hollywood Movie Allowed to Be Filmed in the Capitol," Roll Call, September 30, 1999, 35–36. 7. U.S. Senate Commission on Art, “Senate Unveils Exhibit of Original Artwork from Filming of 1962 Classic Advise and Consent,” press release, July 26, 1999; Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit."
Winston Churchill Addresses Congress, 1941 202205 2Churchill’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.

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.1 Traditionally, Congress holds joint meetings and sessions in the more spacious House of Representatives Chamber. On this occasion, perhaps because many senators and representatives were out of town for the holidays, Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley invited the prime minister to speak in the more intimate Senate Chamber.2 Churchill’s schedule during his visit to Washington was tightly packed with business both official and social. He met with government officials, held a joint press conference with the president, joined Roosevelt in the ceremonial lighting of the National Christmas Tree, and on Christmas Day attended services at Foundry Methodist Church. Everywhere he went, the charismatic Churchill drew cheers and applause. “In less than a week’s time,” the Washington Post noted, “Americans have caught on to one of Winston Churchill’s major characteristics—his ability to thrill a crowd.” His most significant public appearance, however, came when he spoke to Congress in the Senate Chamber.3 On the chilly morning of December 26, Capitol Hill buzzed with anticipation. Crowds gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of Churchill’s arrival at the Capitol. Shortly before noon, the House recessed and its members proceeded to the Senate Chamber. Senate doorkeepers seated House members at desks on the side of the Chamber reserved for the Republican senators while senators crowded into desks on the Democratic side. Supreme Court justices and members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet sat in the first row. Soon, all 96 desks were occupied, forcing doorkeepers to place extra chairs at the rear of the Chamber to accommodate the crowd. Even with limited public access to the event, the visitors’ galleries overflowed with members’ families and foreign guests.4 A hush fell over the crowded Chamber as Churchill took his place at a lectern bristling with microphones. Three national radio stations broadcast his speech live, and two others delivered it overseas via shortwave radio. Powerful overhead lamps illuminated the otherwise dimly lit Senate Chamber. Newsreel cameras began to roll, recording every word for posterity.5 The prime minister began on a light-hearted note. “The fact … that here I am, an Englishman, welcomed in your midst, makes this experience one of the most moving and thrilling in my life, which is already long and has not been entirely uneventful.” The audience erupted in laughter, but soon his speech turned serious. The prime minister warned that “many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us” and predicted that Allied forces would need more than a year to turn the tide of war. The United Kingdom had been the target of a nine-months-long German bombing campaign—known as the Blitz—and Churchill noted that the Axis powers “are enormous; they are bitter; they are ruthless.” These “wicked men” he called them, had brought evil forces into play. They must “know they will be called to terrible account.” “Now,” he stated solemnly, “we are the masters of our fate.”6 Churchill’s audience included isolationists who had resisted U.S. involvement in the overseas conflict. This bipartisan group, which included Senator Burton Wheeler, a Montana Democrat and a prominent figure in the “America First” movement, had worked to pass a series of neutrality acts to limit the administration’s financial and materiel support for Allied forces. The Pearl Harbor attack had significantly weakened this movement’s popularity, however, and Churchill noted Americans’ resolve to defeat the Axis powers. “Here in Washington,” he observed, “I have found an Olympian fortitude … the proof of a sure and well-grounded confidence in the final outcome.” His rousing speech prompted spontaneous cries of “Hear, Hear” and vigorous rounds of applause. At the conclusion of Churchill’s 30-minute address, Chief Justice of the United States Harlan F. Stone extended a “V” for victory sign. Churchill responded in kind. “The effect was instantaneous, electric,” observed one reporter. “The cheers swelled into a roar.”7 It was a speech “full of bubbling humor…, stern courage—and hard facts,” reported the New York Times, and seemed to have the intended effect of inspiring lawmakers to rally behind a unified war effort. Senator John Gurney of South Dakota offered his enthusiastic support for “complete cooperation” between the two countries, and Senator Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania exclaimed that it was “one of the greatest speeches I have ever heard.” Even Wheeler conceded that the speech was “clever” and would appeal to the “average American.”8 After exiting the Senate Chamber, Churchill joined Vice President Henry Wallace and a select group of six House and Senate leaders for a private luncheon in the Capitol before returning to the White House. His visit to the Capitol, and the unusual occasion of a joint meeting held in the Senate Chamber, would not soon be forgotten. Churchill would return to the Capitol to address joint meetings two more times, in 1943 and 1952, an honor afforded to only one other foreign dignitary in the nation’s history.9
1. James K. Libbey, Alben Barkley: A Life in Politics (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016), 221; Congressional Record, 77th Cong., 1st sess., December 26, 1941, 10119. 2. Robert C. Albright, “British Premier Will Address Senate Tomorrow,” Washington Post, December 25, 1941, 1; “Roosevelt and Churchill Attend Public Yule Church Services,” The Sun, December 26, 1941, 1; Libbey, Alben Barkley; John Fisher, “Give Us Victory! Roosevelt and Churchill Pray,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1941, 3. 3. “Big Crowd Thrills as Winnie Appears,” Washington Post, December 27, 1941, 3; Fisher, “Give Us Victory!”; “Churchill Joins FDR in lighting Christmas Tree,” Chicago Tribune, December 25, 1941, 14. 4. “Churchill Tells Congress Allies Will Take the Initiative in 1943,” Washington Post, December 27, 1941, 12. 5. “Churchill to be on Radio,” New York Times, December 26, 1941, 3. 6. Senate Journal, 77th Cong., 1st sess., December 26, 1941, 515–17; “Don’t Count on Collapse in Reich, Says Churchill,” Washington Post, December 24, 1941, 1; “Churchill Promises We Will be Able to Take Initiative Amply in 1943,” Washington Post, December 27, 1941, 1. 7. “Congress Thrilled,” New York Times, December 27, 1941, 1. 8. Ibid.; “Capitol Opinion Gives Approval to Churchill Talk,” Daily Boston Globe, December 27, 1941, 2; “Churchill Speech Hailed in Congress,” New York Times, December 27, 1941, 3. 9. Gladstone Williams, “Georgian, Two Other Senators Greet Churchill,” Atlanta Constitution, December 27, 1941, 2; “Joint Meeting & Joint Session Addresses Before Congress by Foreign Leaders & Dignitaries,” History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives, accessed April 22, 2022,
Motion for the Appointment of Standing Committees, 1816 202204 4Treasures 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.”

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.” In December 1816, the Senate established its first permanent standing committees. Prior to that time, the Senate had relied on ad hoc or temporary committees to sift and refine legislative proposals, to consider nominations and treaties, and to fulfill other constitutionally designated rights and responsibilities. The demands of a growing nation and a war with Great Britain prompted the Senate to revise its procedures. On December 10, 1816, senators approved a resolution to establish 11 permanent standing committees with jurisdictions over designated areas such as finance, foreign relations, military affairs, commerce, and the judiciary. The records of these early ad hoc and standing committees, and all subsequent committees, represent the majority of official Senate records preserved and housed at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and Records Administration. This large collection of archived Senate committee records offers ample evidence of the important work done by each committee. The Center for Legislative Archives preserves the oldest and most historically significant congressional records in its Treasure Vault, including records created during the First Congress, which convened in 1789. Along with the first Senate Journals, there are bills, war and censure resolutions, petitions, presidential messages, nominations, and proposed constitutional amendments. The simple, handwritten 1816 resolution creating the standing committees is among these precious documents. The fact that these documents were gathered and preserved long before the creation of the federal archives system makes their survival all the more extraordinary. The following Senate documents from the Treasure Vault highlight the work of three of the Senate's original standing committees: Pensions, Commerce and Manufactures, and Judiciary. Each document captures a moment in time while providing a window into the operation of Senate committees as constitutional government-in-action. Petition from Mary Colcord, 32nd Congress (1852) In 1818 Congress passed a pension bill to provide financial support to Revolutionary War veterans. The oversight of this support (sometimes the only form of income for veterans and their families) was managed by the Committee on Pensions, one of the standing committees created in 1816. The committee’s archival records include applications like this one submitted to the Senate in 1852 by 81-year-old Mary Colcord. To document the service of her father, Bradstreet Wiggin, during the Revolutionary War, Colcord submitted the handwritten diary of Samuel Leavitt, a contemporary of her father from the same New Hampshire town who had served in the same company. The diary records Leavitt's service in the New Hampshire militia in 1780. It was given to the committee by Colcord presumably as evidence of her father's service, although she indicates that her father served during a different year. Consequently, the Senate’s archival collection has been enriched by this rare and historic record detailing a common soldier’s experience during the Revolutionary War. Although Colcord's claim, submitted more than 70 years after the war ended, was ultimately rejected by the committee, Congress did continue to pay Revolutionary War pensions as late as 1906.1 Following a congressional reorganization in 1946, the Senate moved the management of all war pensions to the Committee on Finance. In 1970 the Senate formed a Committee on Veterans Affairs and consolidated the oversight of all veterans’ issues, including pensions, under the jurisdiction of the new committee. Memorial of Inhabitants of Los Angeles County, California, praying for establishment of a port of entry in that county, 31st Congress (1850) The importance of commerce in national affairs led to creation of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures in 1816. Regulating commerce is an expressed congressional responsibility, so it is not surprising to find among the committee’s papers this memorial, a form of petition, of the residents of Los Angeles County, California, part of the newly acquired Mexican Cession region, asking for the establishment of a port of entry in that county. This document, dated July 1850, was referred to the Commerce Committee amidst the debate over the Compromise of 1850, which resulted in establishing statehood for California that same year. Rapid progress in technology, communication, and commercial development in the 19th and 20th centuries prompted the Commerce Committee to split into various smaller committees to handle an ever-expanding legislative and oversight caseload. Two legislative reorganizations, in the 1940s and 1970s, consolidated most of these committees under the jurisdiction of today’s Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s message regarding national health, 76th Congress (1939) On January 23, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a four-page presidential message to Congress calling for the creation of a “national health program … to make available in all parts of our country and for all groups of our people the scientific knowledge and skill at our command to prevent and care for sickness and disability.” Presidential messages, including the annual State of the Union Address, serve as vehicles for the president to raise urgent matters with Congress. The subjects of public health and health care assistance reflect the expansion of the role of the federal government in response to the national crisis of the Great Depression. Perhaps because of the references to science and economic loss, as well as the interstate nature of the proposed program, the message was referred to the Committee on Commerce.

Petition from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others, 42nd Congress (1871) The First Amendment grants individuals the right to petition Congress to redress grievances or to seek the assistance of the government. Petitions allow ordinary citizens to express their views to their elected representatives. Managing these petitions became the responsibility of Senate committees, including the Judiciary Committee, which was established as a permanent committee in 1816 to oversee the courts, judicial proceedings, and constitutional matters. This petition is typical of thousands received by the committee supporting woman suffrage. It is particularly noteworthy because it includes the signatures of leading suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who ask that they “be permitted in person, and on behalf of the thousands of other women who are petitioning Congress … to be heard … before the Senate and House.” Suffragists first testified before a Senate committee in 1878 and continued to do so until the Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, which granted female suffrage upon ratification in 1920.

President Lyndon B. Johnson's nomination of Thurgood Marshall to be associate justice of the Supreme Court, 90th Congress (1967) The Senate has the constitutional power to advise and consent on presidential nominations, and Senate committees play an important role in that process. Before the 1860s, the Senate considered most nominations without referring them to a committee for review or investigation, although the Judiciary Committee did consider some nominees as early as the 1830s. In 1868 the Senate adopted rules to provide for more routine referral of nominations to "appropriate committees," but investigations of judicial nominees were rare. By the early 20th century, the Judiciary Committee had become much more integral to the nomination process, and by the mid-to-late 20th century, nominees were regularly testifying before the committee. This featured record of the Judiciary Committee, President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1967 nomination of Thurgood Marshall to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, documents the historic appointment of the first African American Supreme Court justice.

First Issue of MAD magazine, from the investigative files of the Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, 82nd Congress (1952) The creation of standing committees enabled the Senate to better pursue its implied constitutional powers of oversight and investigation to inform legislation or to bring attention to important matters. Since World War II, congressional investigations into allegations of wrongdoing, fiscal mismanagement, national security, corporate malpractice, and social and economic issues of concern have resulted in better legislation, taxpayer savings, consumer protections, and stronger ethics laws. In most cases, standing committees serve as the Senate's principal investigative arm, but the Senate also has entrusted this responsibility to special and select committees. The broad and extensive nature of these investigations has created an archival record that includes an interesting and unusual assortment of documents and artifacts. Among these is a collection of early 1950s comic books and youth publications, including 12 of the first 13 issues of MAD magazine. Popular films like Nicholas Ray’s 1955 Rebel Without a Cause dramatized public concern about wayward youths and juvenile violence, prompting a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee to launch an inquiry. That investigation explored the role of popular culture, including publications like MAD magazine, in shaping adolescent behaviors and attitudes. The subcommittee continued to investigate the issue of juvenile delinquency for many years. Illinois senator Everett M. Dirksen once remarked that “floor debate on a bill can be likened to an iceberg…the top shows, but the major part is underneath. The work of the committee is the large part that is not seen by the public.”2 The archived records of Senate committees reflect the behind-the-scenes work of senators and staff. They demonstrate the routine, the historical, the touchingly personal, and even the whimsical nature of committee work. Through these records we gain a better understanding of the history of the Senate and the ever-evolving work of Congress.
1. History of the Finance Committee, United States Senate, S. Doc. 97-5, 97th Cong., 1st sess., 1981, 47. 2. "What a United States Senator Does, by Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, Republican Minority Leader," undated, included in the biographical files of the Senate Historical Office.
Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME), Senate Committee Hearing 202203 1Making 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.
Categories: Women | U.S. Capitol Complex

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. Today, access to private restrooms near the Senate Chamber is a privilege that senators take for granted. Margaret Chase Smith did not enjoy that luxury. While her male colleagues used a “senators only” restroom just steps from the Senate Chamber, Smith was forced to dart down a flight of stairs and queue up with tourists to use the women’s public restroom. One wonders if visitors to the Capitol realized that the distinguished woman in the next stall was a U.S. senator. Reluctant to “rock the boat,” for years Smith quietly endured the inconvenience of sharing a public restroom, but eventually her annoyance at the injustice of the situation prompted her to petition Rules Committee Chairman Carl Hayden for a solution. Although Hayden could not provide a senators-only restroom for women near the Chamber, he gave her a key to a restroom near the Rotunda. “You won’t mind if the Capitol women employees share it with you, will you?” he asked. No, Smith responded, but added, “This is not equal treatment.” She noted that the men in the Senate didn’t share their restroom near the Chamber with other Capitol employees. Later that afternoon, Smith ran into Senator Owen Brewster, her senior colleague from Maine. He looked rather glum. “What’s wrong?” Smith inquired. Brewster held out a key and explained that it used to fit the lock on a restroom near his private office near the Rotunda. “The lock has been changed,” he complained. “I am looking . . . for the fellow who has priority over me.” Smith realized that Hayden had duped them both by changing a men's restroom for employees to a women's restroom. Smith sympathized with Brewster, a friend and colleague, but she relished the prospect of having access to a non-public restroom. She remained silent and went on her way.1 Smith continued to use this restroom until Chairman Hayden ultimately found a way to fulfill her request for a private, senators-only bathroom. He waived senatorial seniority rules for private offices in the Capitol, known as “hideaways,” in order to provide Smith with a small, windowless room that had been used as storage space. Hayden instructed the Senate sergeant at arms to install a private restroom. Although it was not directly outside the Senate Chamber, Smith finally enjoyed the convenience of her own private facility in the Capitol.2 In 1961 Smith was joined by another woman, Maurine Neuberger of Oregon, who was elected to a full term in 1960. The prospect of two women senators serving simultaneously prompted Majority Leader Mike Mansfield to provide them hideaway space in the newly constructed East Front extension of the Capitol, where they would share a semi-private restroom. Smith's new office, with windows, was larger and more ornate than her previous hideaway, but ultimately, she found the arrangement unsatisfactory. Not only was the restroom quite far from the Senate Chamber, but Smith also noted that Neuberger “had many people coming and going,” taking away any sense of privacy. When Neuberger left the Senate in 1967, Smith took advantage of the situation and had her neighbor’s door to the restroom sealed off.3 Smith retired in 1973, but the women senators who followed faced similar problems. For another two decades, during which the number of women senators never exceeded two, party leaders continued to make temporary arrangements to provide them with restroom facilities. Like Smith, some queued up to use the public restrooms. The year 1992, coined the “Year of the Woman” by the press, further changed the power structure of the Senate. In November an unprecedented number of women won election to the Senate, tripling their numbers from two to six. The growing presence of women could not be ignored. Before long, Majority Leader George Mitchell announced that women senators “would soon have a restroom of their own next to the men’s [restroom] just off the Senate floor.” “Plumbing and progress,” one female reporter quipped. From now on, no woman senator will “miss an important vote because she was downstairs in line with the girls from a 4-H club.”4 To accommodate the growing number of women senators in the 21st century, the Senate expanded the women's restroom near the Chamber. At long last, the women of the Senate enjoyed the "equal treatment" once sought by Margaret Chase Smith. It may seem like a small accomplishment, but in an institution long governed by men, it was a major achievement. The Senate was growing accustomed to women senators. Like Smith before them, women senators of the 21st century continue to challenge old assumptions and reshape their working environment. "This place was not built for us," lamented Mary Landrieu of Louisiana about the Capitol. The women of the Senate, like female pioneers in all professions, had to fight to bring physical as well as cultural change to the Capitol Hill environment. Looking ahead, Landrieu added: “I hope the young women never have to even think this way because we want them to know that the Supreme Court was built for them to serve, that spacecraft are built for them to be astronauts…. So maybe this next century, this 21st century, buildings and places of power will feel more comfortable." No doubt, Margaret Chase Smith would have agreed.5
1. Margaret Chase Smith, “Anecdotes: Rest Room for Women Senators,” Margaret Chase Smith Library. 2. Smith, “Anecdotes”; Jack Anderson, “Are Ladies Welcome in the House?” Boston Globe, April 23, 1967, C16. 3. Smith, “Anecdotes.” 4. Anna Quindlen, “A (Rest) Room of One's Own,” New York Times, November 11, 1992, A25. 5. "Mary L. Landrieu, U.S. Senator from Louisiana, 1997–2015," Oral History Interview, September 18, 2017, Senate Historical Office, Washington, DC.
Blanche Kelso Bruce by Simmie Lee Knox 202202 2Celebrating Black History Month
February 2, 2022
To celebrate Black History Month, the Senate Historical Office presents stories, profiles, and interviews available on that recognize the many contributions of African Americans to the U.S. Senate and the integral role they have played in Senate history.

To celebrate Black History Month, the Senate Historical Office presents stories, profiles, and interviews available on that recognize the many contributions of African Americans to the U.S. Senate and the integral role they have played in Senate history. Shortly after the Civil War, Hiram R. Revels (1870) and Blanche K. Bruce (1875) of Mississippi set historic milestones as the first African Americans to be elected to the Senate. It would be nearly another century—not until 1967—before Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts followed in their historic footsteps. In 1993 Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois became the first African American woman to be elected to the Senate. To date, 11 African Americans have served as U.S. senators. In 2021 California senator Kamala D. Harris resigned her Senate seat and took the oath of office as the nation’s 49th vice president, thereby becoming the first African American to serve as the president of the Senate. The role of African Americans in Senate history extends beyond those who served in elected office. One of their earliest and most enduring contributions came with the construction of the U.S. Capitol. Although historians know little about the laborers who built the Capitol, evidence shows that much of that labor force was African American, both free and enslaved. Many years later, Philip Reid, an enslaved man, brought to the Capitol the mechanical expertise needed to separate and then cast the individual sections of the Statue of Freedom, which was placed atop the Capitol Dome in 1863. African Americans also worked in and around the Senate Chamber in the 19th century. Tobias Simpson, for example, was a messenger from 1808 to 1825. His quick action during the British attack on the Capitol in 1814 saved valuable Senate records, and he was subsequently honored with a resolution (and a pay bonus). His role in that record-saving endeavor was described in an 1836 letter written by Senate clerk Lewis Machen. Another example was a young African American boy named William Hill. In the winter of 1820, senators counted on the warmth provided by fires tended by Hill, who was paid $37 for his services by Sergeant at Arms Mountjoy Bayly. Several African Americans employed by the Senate became trailblazers. In 1868 Senate employee Kate Brown sued a railroad company that forcibly removed her from a train after she refused to sit in the car designated for Black passengers. Brown’s case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Brown’s favor in 1873. The first African American to join the Senate’s historic page program, Andrew F. Slade, was appointed in 1869 and served until 1881. John Sims, known by his contemporaries as the “Bishop of the Senate,” built relationships with senators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as both a Senate barber and a popular Washington, D.C., preacher. The first African Americans to be hired for professional clerical positions appeared in the early 20th century, including Robert Ogle, a messenger and clerk for the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Jesse Nichols, who served as government documents clerk for the Senate Finance Committee from 1937 to 1971. Senate staff members Thomas Thornton and Christine McCreary and news correspondent Louis Lautier challenged the de facto segregation of Capitol Hill in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. In 1985 Trudi Morrison became the first woman and the first African American to serve as deputy sergeant at arms of the Senate. Alfonso E. Lenhardt, who served as sergeant at arms from 2001 to 2003, was the first African American to hold that post. The Senate appointed Dr. Barry C. Black as Senate chaplain on July 7, 2003, another first for African Americans. On March 1, 2021, Sonceria Ann Berry became the first African American to serve as secretary of the Senate. These are just a few milestones among many. As research continues, Senate historians are discovering other stories of African Americans who have played a unique and integral role in Senate history.
Photo of Senator Willard Saulsbury, Jr. of Delaware 202201 3Three 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.
Categories: Elections

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 easily gain the 16-vote majority he needed from the 30-member state legislature, but—to his surprise—two serious competitors challenged him for the seat. Willard Saulsbury began his Senate career in 1859 as a “copperhead” (or “peace Democrat”), someone who resisted secession and opposed war while maintaining opposition to the abolition of slavery. Believing that the Union could be saved through peaceful means, he proposed a “Central Confederacy” of states that excluded the extreme proslavery states of the South as well as the radical antislavery states of the North. His proposal was ignored.1 Soon after taking office, Saulsbury began having “political difficulties,” often due to a combination of his combustible personality and his fondness for alcohol. In 1863, for example, as the Senate debated a bill to criticize President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Saulsbury accused Lincoln of being a “weak and imbecile” man. “If I wanted to paint a despot,” he proclaimed, “I would paint the hideous form of Abraham Lincoln.” Vice President Hannibal Hamlin called Saulsbury out of order and demanded that he take his seat, but the Delaware senator refused. When Hamlin directed the sergeant at arms to “take the senator in charge,” Saulsbury drew a pistol. “Let him do so at his expense,” he cried and threatened to shoot the officer. Days later, facing a resolution of expulsion, Saulsbury apologized. The Senate considered expelling him again in 1867 when he repeatedly appeared in the Chamber intoxicated, but Saulsbury managed to escape disciplinary action.2 Not surprisingly, by 1871 members of the Delaware state legislature had grown concerned about Saulsbury’s erratic behavior. As his reelection drew near, party leaders discretely approached another possible candidate—the senator’s elder brother, Gove Saulsbury. A physician and out-going governor of Delaware, the ambitious Gove readily agreed to challenge his younger brother. Willard cried foul and charged Gove with betrayal, vowing to stop at nothing to defeat him. Thus the two brothers—Willard and Gove—became fierce competitors for the Senate seat. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, when state legislators prepared to vote on January 17, 1871, a third, surprise candidate appeared—Eli Saulsbury, the third brother. Three brothers—one Senate seat. On the first two ballots, the incumbent Willard drew 13 votes, but Gove got 14 with Eli trailing far behind. On the third ballot, Gove held the lead with 15, followed by Willard at 14, leaving just a single vote for Eli. As the fourth ballot began, knowing that Gove was just one vote away from a majority, a bitter Willard released his supporters and backed brother Eli as a compromise candidate. Eli Saulsbury won the election.3 Unlike his very competitive brothers, Eli was not a fiery orator nor a partisan crusader. “He was a quiet plodder,” suggested a reporter, “a lawyer by profession, and a man who was plain and unassuming.” He was also a dedicated teetotaler. Eli Saulsbury remained in office for the next 18 years.
1. American National Biography, s.v. “Saulsbury, Willard (02 June 1820–06 April 1892)”; Harold B. Hancock, Delaware During the Civil War: A Political History (Wilmington: Historical Society of Delaware, 1961). 2. Richard A. Baker, 200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787 to 2002 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2006), 77; Hancock, Delaware During the Civil War, 129; Jonathan W. White, Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011), 72; Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 195; Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 3rd sess., January 27, 1863, 549–84; Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991), 98–100. 3. “Hon. Eli Saulsbury, the New Senator from Delaware,” New York Times, January 20, 1871, 2; “Washington: The Closing Scenes of Congress,” Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1871, 2; “United States Senators Elect: Eli Saulsbury, of Delaware,” Baltimore Sun, January 19, 1871, 1; “Political,” Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1871, 3.
Hiram Bingham (R-CT) with Petitioners, April 1932 202112 3Beer 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 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 Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress in December 1917 and ratified by the states in January 1919, banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” To enforce the amendment, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act (named for its sponsor, Representative Andrew Volstead of Minnesota), in October 1919. Passed over a veto by President Woodrow Wilson, the Volstead Act defined an “intoxicating beverage” as anything that contained more than .5 percent alcohol. While much of the campaign against alcohol in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had focused on hard liquor, the act’s strict definition also outlawed beer and wine.1 After a decade of Prohibition and the challenges of enforcement—even in the halls of Congress—American politicians in the 1920s split between the “drys,” who wanted to maintain Prohibition, and the “wets,” who wanted it repealed. Both political parties were internally divided over the issue and for more than a decade refrained from adopting a national stance on the question of alcohol. In 1932, however, with the nation suffering through the Great Depression, the Democrats adopted a party platform that supported repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and modification of the Volstead Act to allow for the manufacture of beer. The Republicans stopped short of endorsing repeal that year—their party platform stated the issue “was not a partisan political question”—but did support altering the amendment to allow states to decide the issue for themselves.2 With Franklin Roosevelt’s victory in the 1932 presidential election and Democratic majorities elected to the House and Senate, many believed that the end of the Prohibition Era was imminent. The election had been largely a referendum on economic issues, but popular majorities throughout the country had expressed support for legalizing alcohol again. In the November election, nine states voted to repeal their Prohibition statutes, and two others approved referenda supporting national repeal. Elected officials, including Louisiana senator Huey Long, began to state optimistically that Congress might deliver “beer by Christmas.” Throughout the country, beer producers, pubs, and taverns quietly made preparations in anticipation of serving beer by December 25.3 As Congress returned for a lame-duck session in December, which would last until March 4, 1933, the “wets” arrived in Washington ready to act. Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, soon to be Vice President Garner, made repeal of the Prohibition amendment the first order of business, but on December 5 Garner’s resolution fell six votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. The “drys” had won that round, but the “wets” did not concede defeat. “Congress will legalize some sort of beer before Christmas,” Garner announced.4 House Democrats had already held meetings in November before the opening of the session, including with President-elect Roosevelt, and scheduled committee hearings for December 7 to consider a beer bill. Representative James Collier, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, drafted a bill to legalize beer containing less than 2.75 percent alcohol, which he deemed “non-intoxicating.” Collier’s bill also provided for taxation of beer sales, which allowed supporters to emphasize that legalization would provide badly needed revenue to the federal government in the face of growing budget deficits. Beer producers urged the House to increase the allowable alcohol content to 3.2 percent and promised that they could employ 300,000 people and provide the government with $400 million in revenue over the next year.5 Despite a sense of urgency, the House committee did not report the bill until December 15, and another week passed before the House passed the bill on the 22nd. The prospect of “beer by Christmas” was now in the hands of the Senate. Could the Senate act quickly enough to make the Christmas deadline?6 On December 23, the Senate referred the Collier bill to the Judiciary Committee. Since it included a beer tax, the bill also went to the Finance Committee. With time running out, Republican senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut—who had just lost his re-election campaign and was now a lame-duck senator—attempted to bypass the committees and get quick action. Bingham had introduced his own beer bill at the start of the previous session of Congress. The Committee on Manufactures had considered his bill but reported it to the full Senate with the recommendation that it not pass. Despite the adverse report, the bill was still available on the Senate calendar. Believing that the political situation had changed, Bingham moved to call up his bill. He intended to amend it by substituting the bulk of the Collier bill for his, predicting the amended bill would promptly pass the Senate.7 When Bingham made his motion to proceed to his bill, however, Democratic Leader Joseph Robinson of Arkansas—soon to be majority leader—applied the brakes. Would any beer, even 3.2 percent beer, be constitutional under the Eighteenth Amendment, Robinson pondered? He insisted that the decision required more careful attention and should not be made with “undue haste.” As the popularity of repeal grew nationwide and Democrats prepared to take the majority on March 4, partisan gamesmanship was also at play. Robinson charged the Republican Bingham of attempting to “embarrass” and upstage the Democrats. As one reporter wrote, “The Democrats let it be known that they had no intention of letting a Republican lame duck steal both the show and the beer bill.” Consequently, Bingham watched his motion fail by a vote of 23–48. Frustrated, he complained that America wouldn’t see beer even by Valentine’s Day.8 Beer would not flow by Christmas or even by the end of the 72nd Congress, but in February of 1933 both houses of Congress approved a constitutional amendment to repeal Prohibition. While the country awaited ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment (which came in December 1933), the House and Senate convened the 73rd Congress on March 4 ready to act. On March 22, 1933, Congress passed the bill to legalize beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less. Within an hour, the bill was on President Roosevelt’s desk. Always in tune with public opinion, Roosevelt signed it into law and then reportedly remarked: “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”9
1. Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (New York: Scribner, 2010), 96–114. 2. Lisa McGirr, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015), 157–88, 238–39. 3. “Beer by Christmas Seen by Huey Long,” Washington Evening Star, October 29, 1932, 3; “Nine States Voted Repeal of Dry Laws,” Wall Street Journal, November 15, 1932, 4. 4. “Beer Up Next,” Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1932, 1. 5. “Hearing on Beer to Start Dec 7,” Boston Globe, November 24, 1932, 15; “Beer for Revenue,” New York Times, November 25, 1932, 14; “Drys Forming Lines for Repeal Battle,” New York Times, November 28, 1932, 1; “Beer Hearing Begun, 3.2 percent Urged,” New York Times, December 8, 1932, 1. 6. “Beer Approved by Committee,” New York Times, December 16, 1932, 1. 7. A bill to amend the National Prohibition Act, as amended and supplemented, in respect to the definition of intoxicating liquor, S. 436, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., December 9, 1931; Senate Committee on Manufactures, Amendment of the Prohibition Act, S. Rpt. 72-635, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., May 3, 1932; “Bingham to Ask Vote in Senate on Beer Today,” Washington Post, December 23, 1932, 1. 8. Congressional Record, 72nd Cong., 2nd sess., December 23, 1932, 956–58; “Beer by Christmas Defeated as Senate Demands More Time,” New York Times, December 24, 1932, 1; “Beer Loses,” Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1932, 1. 9. “Beer Back After 13 Years,” Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1933, 1; “Roosevelt Signs Beer Bill,” Hartford Courant, March 23, 1933, 1; “Bill Signed; Capital Gets Beer Tonight,” Washington Post, April 6, 1933, 1.
In 1961 Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (right) and House Republican Leader Charles Halleck (left) began holding weekly press conferences, which came to be known as the “Ev and Charlie Show.” 202111 15The 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.”
Categories: Leadership | Parties

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 the Republican Joint Congressional Leadership Conference. Each week, Republican leaders met behind closed doors, then the House and Senate minority leaders held a joint press conference. Officially titled the “Republican Congressional Leadership Statement,” this weekly event became known as “The Ev and Charlie Show.”1 Born in Pekin, Illinois, in 1896, Everett Dirksen’s earliest ambition was to go on the stage, but eventually he was drawn to that other theater—politics. “The ambition to sit in Congress is probably similar to the flu,” he once said. “Everybody gets it at some time or another.” He came to Congress as a representative in 1933, then gained national attention in 1950 by unseating Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucas to gain a coveted seat in the Senate. Elected Republican whip in 1957, Dirksen rose to the position of floor leader two years later. Charles Halleck, born in Demotte, Indiana, in 1900, joined Congress two years after his Illinois colleague. Becoming Republican leader first in 1947, Halleck was House minority leader in 1961. Both were conservative Midwestern Republicans serving during an era of Democratic Party dominance. From 1933 to 1969, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for all but four years, but that didn’t stop these intrepid leaders from wielding their influence in legislative debates.2 The first meeting of the Leadership Conference took place on January 24, 1961, in Dirksen’s Senate office. When the meeting concluded, Dirksen and Halleck faced the news cameras in the Senate’s old chamber, making statements and fielding questions from reporters. Weekly press conferences by leaders of both parties have become a familiar sight on Capitol Hill, but that practice was less common in 1961, particularly for members of the minority party. At first, the press took a lighthearted view of the weekly events, treating them as a novelty. One reporter compared the two leaders to broken-down Shakespeareans, while another noted that Dirksen and Halleck demonstrated to a whole new generation just “what it was that killed vaudeville.” New York Times reporter Tom Wicker mocked it as “The Ev and Charlie Show,” and the label stuck.3 The frivolous coverage angered Charlie Halleck. “I’m no clown,” he complained, arguing that such parodies were thinly veiled partisan attacks. “The leadership meetings were serious business with Halleck,” noted one historian, “and he wanted them treated as such.” In contrast, Everett Dirksen loved the publicity. He embraced the label of “Ev and Charlie” and encouraged reporters to compare them to other “great American duos” like “corned beef and cabbage” and “ham and eggs.” Dirksen's encyclopedic knowledge and charismatic stage presence served him well in his interactions with the press. He “knew the publicity they were getting simply could not be bought,” explained a biographer, “and that he could turn it to his own advantage.” Instinctively, Dirksen understood that with time the ridicule would diminish while his ability to give voice to the opposition would grow.4 Before long, the “Ev and Charlie Show” was a hit. “Every Thursday morning,” reported the New York Times, “two of this town’s most agile political performers have been taking a turn on-stage and on-camera.” Networks included excerpts of the show on the evening news, and the team received widespread coverage in daily newspapers, as they discussed issues that ranged from civil rights to Cuban affairs, unemployment to Vietnam. Dirksen and Halleck became well-known national figures, but not all of their colleagues were pleased. Some Republicans, in Congress and out, wanted to promote a broader agenda than that offered by the conservative duo, but few denied the fact that Dirksen and Halleck kept the voice of the minority before the public. The leaders also provided bipartisan support for the Kennedy administration during times of national crises. “It was primarily due to Dirksen and Halleck,” commented one scholar, “that Republicans solidly backed Kennedy during the missile crisis in Cuba and during the period of extreme tension when East Germans built the Berlin Wall.”5 By the time the Kennedy administration became the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, the regular broadcasts of the “Ev and Charlie Show” were a mainstay in American politics. In 1965 Michigan representative Gerald Ford replaced Halleck as House minority leader and the show was renamed the “Ev and Jerry Show.” They continued the regular broadcasts until 1969, when Republican Richard M. Nixon became president, but the new rendition never quite captured the magic of the original. As it turned out, Charlie Halleck’s irascible nature proved to be the perfect counterpart to Dirksen’s folksy demeanor.6 For eight years, the show gave Republican leaders a national forum as they tried to find what one contemporary described as that “elusive but important distinction between opposition and obstruction.” Sometimes criticized, frequently ridiculed, but always informative, Dirksen’s weekly press conferences with his House counterpart reminded the public of the importance of the loyal opposition and the relevance of a minority voice. In fact, Dirksen’s influence often matched and sometimes surpassed that of majority-party senators, because—as so many of his colleagues understood—Dirksen was always the star of the show.7
1. Edward L. Schapsmeier and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, Dirksen of Illinois: Senatorial Statesman (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 131–32. 2. Annette Culler Penney, The Golden Voice of the Senate (Washington, DC: Acropolis Books, 1968), 113. For biographical information, see: Neil MacNeil, Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man (New York: World Publishing Company, 1970); Henry Z. Scheele, Charlie Halleck: A Political Biography (Hicksville, NY: Exposition, 1966). 3. MacNeil, Dirksen, 187–89; Byron C. Hulsey, Everett Dirksen & His Presidents (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 145–46; “Rules-Unit Fight Nears a Decision,” New York Times, January 25, 1961, 20; “Charlie and Ev,” New York Times, March 12, 1961, E11; “G.O.P. Broadens Attack,” New York Times, May 7, 1961, E12; “Washington,” New York Times, January 9, 1963, 5; “Shuffles at State,” Washington Post, Times Herald, April 2, 1962, A2. 4. MacNeil, Dirksen, 188–89. 5. Schapsmeier, Dirksen of Illinois, 131–34; Hulsey, Everett Dirksen & His Presidents, 145–46. 6. MacNeil, Dirksen, 249, 281–82; “Charlie and Ev,” New York Times; “Halleck, Ford, in Bout for House GOP Rein, Seek to Sidestep Party’s Ideological Rift,” Wall Street Journal, December 21, 1964, 5. 7. Hulsey, Everett Dirksen & His Presidents, 146; Schapsmeier, Dirksen of Illinois, 132–33, 170; “Ev-Jerry Show Won’t Last Long,” Atlanta Constitution, January 14, 1965, 4; “Ford Left Downstage: Dirksen’s Act is Hard to Follow,” Baltimore Sun, September 2, 1966, A4; “Ev and Jerry Show Leaving Air Waves,” New York Times, January 23, 1969, 23.
Director Otto Preminger and Crew in the Senate Caucus Room, Russell Senate Office Building 202110 5Hollywood 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.

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. "There's more excitement on Capitol Hill about the soon-to-be filming of 'Advise and Consent' . . . than about the long anticipated adjournment [of Congress]," the Washington Post reported. "Nearly everyone . . . on Capitol Hill is getting into the picture one way or another.”1 The star-studded cast included Franchot Tone as the president, Lew Ayres as the vice president, Henry Fonda as the controversial secretary of state nominee (whose character lied about a youthful flirtation with communism), Walter Pidgeon as the Senate majority leader, and Charles Laughton as the president pro tempore, with other roles portrayed by Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Gene Tierney, and George Grizzard. Adding to the public intrigue, and much speculation in Washington, was the fact that some of the characters in Drury's novel were based on real-life politicians. Grizzard’s character, for example, was loosely based upon Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Actress Betty White made her feature film debut playing the film’s only female senator, a character based upon Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith.2 When Preminger and his film crew arrived on Capitol Hill, Washington socialites, Capitol Hill staff, members of the press, and even senators quickly found themselves a part of the action both on and off camera. “Scores of Senators' secretaries have been signed up to play themselves in the film and can hardly wait for the Senate to adjourn so they can begin their movie career,” noted one reporter. Preminger hired hundreds of extras, including socially prominent Washingtonians, to stage a key party scene filmed at the palatial Washington estate Tregaron. Members of the Washington press corps were hired to recreate the annual White House Correspondents Dinner at the Sheraton-Park Hotel. Former senator Guy Gillette of Iowa landed a role as a fictional senator, as did Arizona’s former senator, 87-year-old Henry Ashurst, who was cast as an elderly senator with a habit of dozing off during proceedings. Washington senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson played himself in the party scene.3 To ensure authenticity, the filmmakers brought in Allen Drury as technical advisor and consulted other experts, including Senate staff. Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, recalled in an oral history interview being asked to come in on a Saturday morning to advise the movie crew on setting up the large Caucus Room in the Old Senate Office Building (now called the Russell Senate Office Building) for a hearing. When she arrived, she was informed that they planned to have her in the scene as a clerk working at the nomination hearing, but she declined. The film’s director instead cast her colleague Gladys Montier in the role.4 Preminger was permitted unprecedented access to many spaces throughout the Capitol complex. Filming took place in the Senate Press Gallery, the Capitol corridors outside the gallery of the Senate Chamber, the old Senate subway, and inside the Old Senate Office Building. Remaining off limits, however, was the Senate’s Chamber. A long-standing Senate rule prohibited filming in that historic space. Fortunately, Preminger had a remarkably accurate replica at his disposal. Back in the 1930s, when director Frank Capra was similarly denied permission to film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the Senate Chamber, he constructed an impressive reproduction on a Hollywood sound stage. Preminger brought Capra's old set out of storage, updated it to reflect the modern Chamber, and used the Hollywood set to shoot all Chamber scenes.5 While many on Capitol Hill were star-struck and enthusiastic about the making of the film, there were others who complained about the chaotic atmosphere. As cameras and equipment blocked streets and crowded the corridors of the Old Senate Office Building, senators, staff, and reporters found it difficult to go about their daily business. "In comes a company, lock, stock, and booms,” one person complained, “invading the Capitol and acting for all as though this exalted ground is merely another prop on sound stage seven.”6 As filming continued, events around town brought together Hollywood and Washington celebrities. At a cocktail party in the Senate Caucus Room, actor Charles Laughton chatted enthusiastically with Mississippi senator John Stennis, whose voice he had been studying for his role as a southern senator. "It's getting hard to tell a senator from an actor—and vice versa,” lamented Josephine Ripley of the Christian Science Monitor. “Not only that, even more confusing is the problem of deciding whether a Washington party is a party after all, or just a movie set.”7 To capture the action of Hollywood on the Hill, Washington’s Evening Star newspaper sent artist Lily Spandorf to create on-the-spot drawings. By the time Spandorf completed her assignment for the paper, she had become so enthralled by the movie-making process that she continued sketching throughout the duration of the Washington shoot. She produced more than 80 illustrations, depicting both the filming and the relaxed hours of waiting between takes. Her distinctive pen and ink drawings show Preminger and the actors at work in Washington and around the Capitol. Spandorf’s work caught the director's attention, and at his request her images were displayed at the Washington premiere of the film. “It was exciting and I loved every bit of it," Spandorf recalled. The U.S. Senate Commission on Art later acquired Spandorf’s sketches as a permanent addition to the U.S. Senate Collection.8 On March 20, 1962, senators attended a preview screening of Preminger's Advise and Consent at Washington's Trans-Lux Theater. The film became a box office success, but senators offered predictably mixed reviews. "Many thought it was 'good theater,' but . . . they seemed to agree they were not quite looking into a mirror," the New York Times reported. "We're much more complicated than that," Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy complained. His fellow Minnesotan, Hubert Humphrey, added, "It was good theatre and good drama. If anyone wants a totally accurate reflection of the Senate, he can ask for a newsreel."9 Although it was a thrilling experience, the filming of Advise and Consent proved to be the last time a motion picture production crew was allowed largely uninhibited access to Senate spaces. The disruption of Senate work and other ongoing distractions prompted the Senate to refuse subsequent requests and eventually adopt rules that restrict filming and prohibit commercial use of Senate spaces unless authorized by resolution. Nevertheless, the movie captured a unique moment in time. Today, it serves as a mid-20th century time capsule of Senate history, illustrating through Preminger’s carefully constructed and edited video footage what life was like on Capitol Hill in the 1960s.10
1. Marie Smith, “Senators Won't Be in the Show, But Their Aides Will Be,” Washington Post, August 27, 1961, F5. 2. Robert C. Byrd, “The Senate in Literature and Film,” in The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991), 487. 3. Smith, “Senators Won't Be in the Show, But Their Aides Will Be.”; Betty Beale, "Capitalites Play Themselves in Film," Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), September 22, 1961, C-4; Eugene Archer Washington, "Cinema Congress: Capitol Sites, Sounds Serve 'Advise' Film," Washington Post, October 1, 1961, X7. 4. Washington, "Cinema Congress"; “Ruth Young Watt, Chief Clerk, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1948–1979," Oral History Interviews, July 19 to November 9, 1979, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C. 5. Byrd, The Senate, 1789–1989, 487. 6. "Capitol Stardust," Roll Call, September 20, 1961, 4. 7. Isabelle Shelton, “Celebrities Meet Celebrities: Women's National Press Club Is Host to Actors,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), September 13, 1961, C-1; Josephine Ripley, "The Senate Meets Itself: An Intimate Message From Washington," Christian Science Monitor, September 16, 1961, 14. 8. Amy Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit Features First and Only Hollywood Movie Allowed to Be Filmed in the Capitol," Roll Call, September 30, 1999, 35–36. 9. "60 Senators Caucus at 'Advise' Preview," New York Times, March 22, 1962, 42; "'Advise and Consent,'" New York Times, May 13, 1962, SM36. 10. Keller, "'Advise and Consent' Exhibit"; Mike Canning, “Through a Dome Darkly: The Capitol as Symbol, Touchstone, and Admonition in American Film,” The Capitol Dome 55, no. 2 (2018): 5–6.
Signing of the Constitution, by Howard Chandler Christy 202109 17Constitution 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.”
Categories: Constitution

When the framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they debated for months about how the new national legislature would be organized and function. How would its members be chosen and what qualifications would they have to fulfill? How large would the legislature be, and what would be the basis of its representation? What powers would it exercise? While these questions remained unsettled for weeks, the delegates in Philadelphia did enjoy a broad consensus on one aspect of the new Congress: it would be composed of two distinct bodies, a house and a senate. 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.”1 In creating a senate, the framers were heavily influenced by the idea of mixed government, a concept rooted in ancient Greece and Rome. In the 4th century BCE, the philosopher Plato characterized three rival forms of government: monarchy (rule by the one), aristocracy (rule by the few), and democracy (rule by the many). Each system, in Plato’s view, could result in power wielded unjustly. Monarchy could turn into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into mob rule and anarchy. Although each order had its strengths—the monarchy energy, the aristocracy wisdom, and the people honesty—Plato posited that the best government was a mixed one that would balance the three social orders, with each exercising equal power in the process of making laws.2 American political thinkers of the revolutionary era frequently referenced classical history and philosophy and expressed the belief that a stable republic rested on the principles of mixed government. In 1772 John Adams, the most influential proponent of this idea, wrote, “The best Governments of the World have been mixed. The Republics of Greece, Rome, and Carthage were all mixed governments.” Adams and others did not have to look back to antiquity, however, to find a model of mixed government. For many, Britain provided the ideal system, with a monarch, the aristocratic House of Lords, and the democratic House of Commons. Americans understood their own colonial governments in a similar way, with power shared among a royal governor, a small advisory council, and an assembly elected by the colonists. If the British system had failed, many argued, it was because the balance among these orders had been destroyed—the king had corrupted Parliament and the colonial governments. As Americans created new state governments in the 1770s, their mission became “to correct the errors and defects” that plagued the British system.3 Proponents of mixed government argued that the stability of a republic required two separate legislative bodies. “I think a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy,” John Adams wrote, “whose government is in one Assembly.” The upper house had traditionally represented the aristocracy, but the United States lacked a titled nobility based on heredity and wealth. Many of the framers of state constitutions believed this role could be filled by a “natural aristocracy,” individuals who, in their view, possessed superior talents that brought them property and prominence. William Hooper of North Carolina, debating the constitution of his state in 1776, argued that in a single assembly, “A Warmth of Zeal may lead [representatives] into errors which a more cool, dispassionate enquiry may discover and rectify.” That dispassionate enquiry would come from those “selected for their Wisdom, remarkable Integrity, or that weight which arises from property and gives Independence and Impartiality to the human mind.” Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania conceded in 1777 that the United States had “no artificial distinctions of men into noblemen and commoners,” but surely the states had individuals of “superior degrees of industry and capacity” that have “introduced natural distinctions of rank.”4 Ten of the original 13 states established bicameral legislatures with an upper house, identified either as a council or a senate. To establish these upper houses as distinct from the general assemblies, most states adopted higher property qualifications for those elected to the senate. Some states limited voting for senators to those with greater property. Maryland provided for indirect election of senators by a group of electors rather than by the people.5 In the decade leading up to the federal constitutional convention, states that had not sufficiently balanced their democratic assemblies became a target of criticism. In his 1784 Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson complained that the Virginia senate was not designed to attract a different class of people from the assembly. “The senate is, by its constitution, too homogenous with the house of delegates. Being chosen by the same electors, at the same time, and out of the same subjects, the choice falls of course to men of the same description.” Jefferson argued that the two houses ought to “introduce the influence of different interests or different principles,” just as the British relied on the Commons for “honesty” and the Lords for “wisdom.” James Madison, in his Vices of the Political System of the United States, written in 1787 in anticipation of the constitutional convention, criticized the caliber of the individuals serving in state legislatures and accused them of passing “vicious legislation” that “prove[d] a want of wisdom” and threatened property rights. Pennsylvania’s powerful unicameral legislature received the most criticism. Rush called the Pennsylvania government “absurd” and an invitation to “mob government.”6 When the delegates to the federal convention arrived in Philadelphia, therefore, many of them were already convinced that the national government required a bicameral legislature to bring balance to what Virginia’s Edmund Randolph called the “turbulence and follies of democracy.” At the convention, some of the delegates went further, hoping to create a Senate that empowered America’s elite. John Dickinson of Delaware wanted the Senate “to consist of the most distinguished characters, distinguished for their rank in life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the House of Lords as possible.” Alexander Hamilton argued that society was naturally divided into the few and the many, and that each should have control over a portion of the government to prevent one from tyrannizing the other. He called for a Senate with members appointed to lifelong terms to allow the few to check the democratic passions of the many. Others argued that senators should earn no salary so as to attract only the wealthiest Americans.7 Although the completed Constitution submitted to the states for ratification stopped well short of creating an American House of Lords, it did set the Senate apart from the House in important ways. State legislatures would elect senators, thus producing the filter that framers believed necessary to select individuals with wisdom and independence. Longer terms of service for senators than for members of the House of Representatives as well as staggered elections would contribute to greater stability in the Senate, balancing the more democratic and ever-changing House. While the Constitution did not include property requirements for serving as a senator, jettisoning one of the ways in which states had identified the natural aristocracy, it did require senators to be older and have been naturalized citizens for longer than the members of the House. Despite these stricter qualifications for senators, those who opposed the Constitution during ratification debates charged that the new government lacked the balance required of a proper mixed government. They argued that the proposed bicameral Congress placed power too distant from the people and laid the foundation for oligarchy. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, writing as the Federal Farmer, believed that members of both the House and Senate would represent “an ever artful aristocracy.” The individuals in both houses would be too similar and too far removed from the “middling classes.” “The partitions between the two branches,” Lee held, “will be merely those of the building in which they sit.”8 Supporters of the Constitution applauded the separation of powers as defined in the new Constitution and embodied in the Senate. James Madison contended that the nation was not made up of rival social orders, nor did parts of the government represent distinct social orders. Each department of the government—legislative, executive, and judicial—derived its power from the people. That power was separated to prevent “those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all powers of government in the same hands.” The legislative power was divided between “different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other” and thus “doubles the security of the people.” Madison acknowledged that the new Congress, especially the Senate, would be removed from the people, but he argued that this was the genius of the system. “In all civilized Countries,” he wrote,” the people fall into [many] different classes having a real or supposed difference of interests.” Congress’s purpose, Madison suggested, was to provide a forum wherein deliberation would allow representatives of the people to transcend narrow interests and arrive at laws that would serve the public good. The Senate, made up of “enlightened citizens,” was “necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions” and would produce “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.” A sound government, he argued, required an “anchor against popular fluctuations.”9 The U.S. Senate is the product of political concepts both ancient and modern, reflecting established ideas about mixed government while pointing to new ways of thinking about the relationship between the people and their government. The Senate as established by the Constitution was created in an era of social and political transformation, and the beliefs about its role in the American system of government would continue to evolve. Over the next 233 years, the Senate moved farther away from its mixed government roots as the nation expanded, democratic sentiment grew among the people, and more groups demanded full participation in their government. The U.S. Senate continued, however, as a forum for deliberation and has remained a source of stability in an ever-changing nation.
1. "James Madison to Thomas Jefferson," October 24, 1787, in Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, eds., The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), Volume 1, Chapter 17, Document 22, accessed September 9, 2021, 2. Carl J. Richard, “The Classical Roots of the U.S. Congress,” in Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon, Inventing Congress: Origins and Establishment of the First Federal Congress (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994), 3–7; David J. Bederman, The Classical Foundations of the American Constitution: Prevailing Wisdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 15–16. 3. John Adams, “Notes for an Oration at Braintree, Spring 1772,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 9, 2021,; Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 197–214; Daniel Wirls and Stephen Wirls, The Invention of the United States Senate (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 11–38; Elaine K. Swift, The Making of an American Senate: Reconstitutive Change in Congress, 1787–1841 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 23–26. 4. "John Adams, Thoughts on Government," April 1776, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Document 5, accessed September 9, 2021,, quoted in Richard, “Classical Roots,” 12; "Benjamin Rush, Observations upon the Present Government of Pennsylvania," 1777, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 12, Document 8, accessed September 9, 2021,, quoted in Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 246. 5. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 213–14. 6. "Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia," 1784, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 12, Document 11, accessed September 9, 2021,; James Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States, April 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; Benjamin Rush to Anthony Wayne, May 19, 1777, in L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 1:114–15, quoted in Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 233. 7. "Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention, Thursday, June 7, 1787," Avalon Project, Yale Law School Goldman Law Library, accessed on September 9, 2021,; Alexander Hamilton, “Constitutional Convention, Speech on a Plan of Government, James Madison’s Version, [18 June 1787],” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; Richard, “Classical Roots,” 20–21. 8. "Federal Farmer, no. 11, January 10, 1788," in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 11, Document 12, accessed September 9, 2021,; "Federal Farmer, no. 4," October 12, 1787, in Kurland and Lerner, eds., Founders’ Constitution, Volume 4, Article 5, Document 5, accessed September 9, 2021,; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 483–99. 9. Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Knopf, 1996), 228–39; “Term of the Senate, [26 June] 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; James Madison, “The Federalist Number 48, [1 February] 1788,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; Madison, “The Federalist Number 10, [22 November] 1787,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 430–67; James Madison, “The Federalist No. 62, [27 February 1788],” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,; Madison, “The Federalist Number 63, [1 March] 1788,” Founders Online, accessed September 9, 2021,
Photo of Vice President Charles Curtis 202108 2Cooling 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.

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. Lawmakers of the 19th century were usually away from the capital during the hottest months of the year. Until adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Congress convened in December, typically stayed in session for six or seven months, and then adjourned sine die in June or early July. Short second sessions convened in December and adjourned in March.1 Complaints from lawmakers in the 1840s about the ineffective heating and cooling of the Capitol led supervising engineer Captain Montgomery Meigs to focus on improved ventilation during construction of the new wings of the Capitol in the 1850s. The Senate wing, featuring a new windowless Chamber, opened in 1859, equipped with large steam-engine powered fans to draw in outside air and push it up through registers in the floor. This system proved to be insufficient. In their first summer session there, during June 1860, senators complained of the hot, stale air in the Chamber. If not for the pressing business of the Civil War, the Senate might have adopted proposals to knock down walls and extend the Chamber to the building’s outside perimeter to allow access to open windows. An 1865 report identified the glass ceiling of the Chamber as a major source of excessive heat. The stained glass allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate and heat the room, and in the evening the gas lights that illuminated the room pushed the temperature even higher. Making matters worse, the air sucked into the building tended to be dirty and dusty, as it was drawn from ground-level inlets on the Capitol terrace.2 In 1872 the Senate once again considered plans to rebuild the Chamber. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York was adamant about the need for a change. “Who ever heard of putting men or animals in a box inside a building,” he asked, “shut out on every hand from the outer air.” Nevertheless, the Senate only approved minor changes to the ventilation system. In 1889 a stone tower was built on the Capitol grounds to increase the volume of air brought into the Senate wing, relatively free of the dirt and dust brought in by ground-level intakes.3 These changes helped to purify the air but did little to keep the Chamber cool, which was especially problematic during years when sessions continued into August. In the late 19th century, for example, the mid-summer heat wreaked havoc on the Senate’s sartorial decorum. Newspaper reporters complained about the many lawmakers who went without a vest or jacket in the halls and cloakrooms. “Dignity has gone to the wind,” wrote one correspondent. A jacket was required on the Chamber floor, and some turned to linen suits to stay cool. Reporters observed that members of both the House and the Senate took great advantage of the marble bathtubs in the Capitol basement to refresh themselves.4 In 1890 the Capitol gained electricity, and with it came a new tool for fighting the summer heat. Electric fans were placed strategically in Capitol hallways, often blowing over blocks of ice to cool the air. Some suggested using giant blocks of ice to cool the Chamber itself, but an 1895 report on Chamber ventilation by engineer S. H. Woodbridge, commissioned by the Senate Rules Committee, pointed out that cooling 600,000 cubic feet of air from 95 to 80 degrees would require melting 1,150 pounds of ice. Woodbridge also reported that “the air so cooled would be more uncomfortable and dangerous than the hotter air of 95 degrees because of its excessive humidity.” To remedy that problem would require cooling a ton of ice per hour.5 The Senate again turned to new technology for a solution. In 1895 senators approved a major renovation of the Chamber’s ventilation system, installing new fans beneath the Chamber and a refrigerant machine that promised to deliver cooled air to both senators on the floor and visitors seated in the galleries. This system also proved to be inefficient, however, cooling the air by no more than five degrees. In 1910 the Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce and Labor developed a method for removing humidity from the air using a calcium chloride solution pumped through radiator pipes. In 1912 Congress appropriated funds to put this refrigerator system in place, but the plan was scrapped after the superintendent of the Capitol reported that installation required dramatic changes to the existing ventilation system with a cost dramatically higher than Congress anticipated.6 By the early 20th century, the Senate Chamber had gained the reputation of a death trap. Between 1916 and 1924, 22 incumbent senators died. When Senator Royal Copeland of New York, a practicing physician and former commissioner of the New York City Board of Health, took office in 1923, he blamed the poor quality of the Chamber’s air for the deaths. Copeland introduced a resolution directing Capitol officials to consult with leading architects to develop a plan to improve conditions in the Chamber. The Senate approved Copeland’s resolution in June 1924 as the increasingly warm late-spring days again called attention to this perennial problem. Another 12 senators died in office over the next four years.7 The firm of Carrere & Hastings, designers of the Senate Office Building that opened in 1909, revived the idea of removing several walls to extend the Chamber to the Capitol's northern exterior wall. In removing these interior walls, the Senate would have to sacrifice the Marble Room (a popular senators-only gathering spot), the President's Room, and the vice president's formal office, but it would provide windows to the outside world that senators had pined for since the Chamber opened in 1859. In April 1928 Copeland, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, succeeded in adding $500,000 to an appropriations bill for reconstructing the Senate Chamber. Copeland’s plan was not the only one under consideration. The House, in its version of the bill, proposed funding to allow the Architect of the Capitol to accept bids for “an improved and modern system . . . for conditioning the air” of the Hall of the House and the Senate Chamber. The final bill included both appropriations, but only one plan came to fruition. In 1928 the Carrier Corporation won the contract to install in the Chambers of the House and Senate a new technological innovation, which it called "manufactured weather." The system was installed in the Hall of the House in December 1928 and work began on the Senate Chamber early the following year. By August 1929, in the midst of an unusually long session, the Senate had its first air-conditioning system. With the new system in place, the Architect of the Capitol dropped the plan to redesign the Chamber.8 Between 1935 and 1939, air-conditioning was expanded to the rest of the Capitol and to the Senate Office Building. “Summer work,” a reporter commented, “is no longer the broiling death-dealing business for elder Congressmen that it used to be.” Air-conditioning in the Capitol and the office buildings meant, according to another reporter, that lawmakers were “privileged to wave their arms or pound their typewriters or evolve masterpieces of statecraft in relative comfort.”9 Yet even this air-conditioning system proved inadequate for the hottest days, due in part to the Chamber’s glass ceiling (which was finally removed in a 1949 renovation). Plus, no matter how well cooled the Capitol was, senators still had to contend with the city’s summertime climate outside the building. Few members of Congress lived in air-conditioned homes at this time, which made the air-cooled Senate Chamber a double-edged sword. As one writer opined, walking outside or into a non-air-conditioned building became “twice as oppressive.” Some members fled the city, such as a group of five senators who rented a bachelor pad in Bethesda, Maryland, during the summer of 1929 to escape the heat of the city while their wives were out of town.10 Still, the air-conditioning led to a much more comfortable environment in the Capitol, and it had arrived just in time. Adoption of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1933, which moved the start date of each congressional session to January, meant that long Senate sessions lasting well into summer were about to become much more common.
1. For session dates, see 2. William C. Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Structures, and Politics (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 361; Congressional Globe, 36th Cong. 1st sess., May 19, 1860, 2191. 3. Congressional Globe, 42nd Cong., 2nd sess., June 7, 1872, 4353, quoted in Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol, 364; Joint Select Committee on the Senate Chamber and the Hall of the House of Representatives, Improvement of the Halls of Congress, S. Rep. 38-128, 38th Cong. 2nd sess., February 20, 1865, 6; Glenn Brown, Glenn Brown's History of the United States Capitol (Washington, DC: U.S. Capitol Preservation Commission, 1994; originally published 1900), 419. 4. “Reed’s Giddy Suit,” Boston Globe, July 20, 1890, 24. 5. Senate Committee on Rules, Report on the Heating and Ventilation of the Senate Wing of the United States Capitol, Washington, DC, S. Rep. 54-713, 54th Cong., 1st sess., December 14, 1895, 15; Brown, Glenn Brown's History of the United States Capitol, 423; “Thermometer Reached 100 Degrees in the Shade,” Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1894, 2. 6. “Senate Chamber Transformed,” Hartford Courant, November 30, 1896, 6; “Try New Device to Cool Capitol,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 22, 1910, 14; “Refrigerated Air for Congressmen,” Boston Daily Globe, August 18, 1912, SM-5; Ventilation of the Senate Chamber, S. Doc. 62-1061, 62nd Cong, 3rd sess., February 3, 1913; Refrigerating Apparatus, United States Capitol, H. Doc. 62-1419, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess., February 24, 1913. 7. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Establishment Appropriation Bill, 1929: Hearing on H.R. 12875, 70th Cong., 1st sess., March 13, 1928, 1. 8. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Appropriation Bill, 1929, S. Rep. 70-857, 70th Cong., 1st sess., April 21, 1928; An Act Making appropriations for the Legislative Branch of the Government for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1929, Public Law 70-386, 70th Cong, 1st sess., May 14, 1928, 45 Stat. 526; Joseph M. Siry, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890–1970 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2021), 84–91; Allen, History of the U.S. Capitol, 401–3. 9. Siry, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 91–92; “Congressmen Go To Work in Capitol to Keep Cool,” Boston Globe, July 9, 1939, C3. 10. “Five Senators Take House for Summer Place,” Washington Post, June 3, 1929, 7.
Charles Mathias (R-MD) and Frank Church (D-ID), co-chairs of the Senate Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency, pictured with committee staff, 1973 202107 1Reasserting 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.

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. The story of this obscure Senate committee begins with the Vietnam War. In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon pledged to end the war if elected. In the spring of 1970, however, President Nixon secretly expanded the war into Cambodia—without congressional approval. Weeks later, Nixon announced the expansion of the war into Cambodia on national television. The administration’s actions infuriated many senators, especially Frank Church, a long-time Vietnam War critic. Church drafted a proposal—later known as the Cooper-Church amendment—to prevent congressionally appropriated funds from being used in Cambodia. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird quickly rendered this effort moot. If Congress halted funding for the Cambodia effort, Laird warned, the Pentagon would fund the operation under the emergency provisions of a Civil War-era law called the Feed and Forage Act. With that law, Congress had granted the U.S. Cavalry the authority to purchase feed for its horses if previously appropriated money had run out while Congress was not in session. Laird explained that the provision had been used in 1958 in Lebanon and in 1961 in Berlin to fund U.S. military actions.1 The administration’s ability to circumvent Congress under the authority of a century-old law troubled Church. He had developed a reputation among his colleagues as a checks and balances proselytizer, routinely sermonizing that growing executive power threatened the health of constitutional government. When Nixon’s predecessor, Democrat Lyndon Johnson, occupied the White House, Democratic majorities in Congress felt little urgency to limit the powers of a president of their own party, and Church’s homilies fell on deaf ears, but the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia converted some of Church’s colleagues to his cause. One of them, Republican Charles “Mac” Mathias of Maryland, insisted that Congress had a role to play in holding every president accountable—regardless of party. On January 6, 1973, the Senate created the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency. Church and Mathias would lead the inquiry, joined by six colleagues and a small committee staff. Identifying the powers that Congress had conferred on presidents during times of emergency proved to be a complex task. In the pre-personal computer era, searching hundreds of printed government publications for delegated emergency powers was extraordinarily time-consuming. After months of digging, committee staff learned that the U.S. Air Force maintained a searchable list of statutes on a computer in Colorado. Using that database and other published paper sources, investigators painstakingly compiled a list of 470 powers that Congress had granted to presidents in the previous 50 years during times of crisis, such as depression or war. “Taken together, these hundreds of statutes clothe the president with virtually unlimited power with which he can affect the lives of American citizens in a host of all-encompassing ways,” Church wrote, including seizing property and commodities, instituting martial law, and controlling transportation and communication. Though these crises had ended, Congress had not officially cancelled or revoked the powers it had granted to administrations to address them. As the Nixon administration had demonstrated, presidents could exercise these powers without congressional approval. Four national emergencies remained in effect—including one on the books since 1933! “It may be news to most Americans,” explained one Washington Post reporter, that “we have been living for at least 40 years under a state of emergency rule.”2 The committee’s investigation found that the legislative branch had rarely limited presidents’ emergency powers. The judicial branch, by contrast, had occasionally constrained those powers. For example, the Supreme Court firmly rebuffed President Harry Truman during the Korean War. The president had issued an executive order to seize control of some steel mills in 1952. Truman insisted that, as commander in chief, he had the authority to take action to avoid steel production slowdowns likely to be caused by an anticipated labor strike. The Court’s landmark decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer found that no law provided for the president to seize control of private property. Associate Justice Robert Jackson wrote that presidents enjoyed maximum power when they worked under the express or implied authority of Congress, but presidents who took steps explicitly at odds with the wishes of Congress worked “at [the] lowest ebb” of their constitutional power.3 The committee’s exhaustive research as well as several high-profile congressional investigations, including the Senate Watergate inquiry of 1973–74, convinced many in Congress that the time had come to reassert congressional checks and balances. The House introduced the National Emergencies Act in 1975 and the Senate passed a slightly amended version of that bill by voice vote in August 1976. The House agreed to the Senate’s amended bill, and President Gerald Ford signed the National Emergencies Act into law on September 14, 1976. The new law ended four existing states of emergency and instituted accountability and reporting requirements for future emergencies.4
1. Frank Church, “Ending Emergency Government,” American Bar Association Journal 63 (February 1977): 197–99. 2. “Bill Miller, Staff Director, Church Committee," Oral History Interview, May 5, 2014, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.; Church, “Ending Emergency Government,” 197–99; Ronald Goldfarb, “The Permanent State of Emergency,” Washington Post, January 6, 1974, B1; Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency, Emergency Powers Statutes: Provisions of Federal Law Now in Effect Delegating to the Executive Extraordinary Authority in Time of National Emergency, S. Rep. 93-549, 93rd Cong., 1st sess., November 19, 1973. 3. "Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer," Oyez, accessed June 16, 2021, 4. “Major Congressional Action: National Emergencies,” Congressional Quarterly Almanac 32 (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1976): 521–22.
Senate Barbershop, ca.1937 202106 1Shaving 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.

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 in his native South Carolina 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. Despite his impressive rise from the bonds of slavery to the corridors of power, he is largely forgotten today. That’s because John Sims wasn’t a powerful senator or a high-profile member of Capitol Hill staff—he was the Senate’s barber.1 Sims’s dangerous flight to freedom landed him in the town of Oskaloosa in southeast Iowa. He arrived with no funds and no marketable skills, but he managed to find work in a barbershop. An apprenticeship followed and soon he was earning a living as a skilled barber. Then, in the mid-1880s, came the first of two fateful senatorial encounters—when Iowa senator William Boyd Allison got a haircut. Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century, many Senate jobs were filled through patronage. Senator Allison, who chaired the Appropriations Committee, had plenty of patronage to give. He brought Sims to the Senate, where the barber’s tonsorial talents gained recognition. Sims “knows the whims [and] the vanities” of the Senate, reported the New York Times. His skill with shears and razor kept him employed long after his patron was gone, but it was Sims’s weekend job and a second notable encounter that brought him to public attention.2 John Sims moonlighted as a preacher at the Universal Church of Holiness in Washington, D.C. One day in 1916, Ohio senator (and future president) Warren G. Harding sat in the barber’s chair. “Sims,” he said, “I’m coming down next Sunday to hear you preach.” A few days later, to the surprise of the entirely African American congregation, Senator Harding attended the service. “He walked in by himself,” Sims recalled, “and took a seat near the middle of the church and waited until I was through.” When the service ended, Harding thanked Sims and returned to the Capitol to spread the news of the preaching talents of the Senate barber. A week later, Harding returned to the Universal Church of Holiness and brought several of his colleagues with him. As the years passed, more and more senators appeared. Vice Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Charles Dawes also attended. “From the North, from the South, from the East and the West they have come to hear me,” Sims explained. “And to think that I have come up from a lowly place of humility . . . to where I have the honor of preaching to those who are high in the nation’s affairs!” Sims insisted that he owed it all to Harding. “He started it all—and the Senators have been coming to hear me ever since.” The preaching barber became known as the “Bishop of the Senate.” His prayers, noteworthy for both length and fervor, also enlivened his official Senate duties. “[If] he thought the occasion required [it],” commented a reporter, Sims would “drop to his knees . . . in the midst of . . . a shave and pray with all his heart” for the senator sitting in his chair. In 1921, as the Senate prepared to vote for its next official chaplain, Senator Bert Fernald of Maine asked, “Can we vote for anybody who has not been placed in nomination?” With an affirmative answer to his question, he cast his vote for John Sims, although the post went to the Reverend Joseph J. Muir.3 Bishop Sims was strictly nonpartisan and loyally supported all of his patrons at election time. When two of his favorite Senate clients—Democrat Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas and Kansas Republican Charles Curtis—competed for the vice presidency in 1928, Sims fervently prayed for each to win their party’s nomination. His prayers were answered. The two men faced each other in the general election. “Who are you for [now],” Robinson asked the barber, “myself or Senator Curtis?” “I prayed for your nominations,” Sims replied diplomatically, but now “you gotta hustle for yourself.” John Sims achieved success, as barber and as preacher, but one cherished goal remained elusive—to pray in an open session of the Senate. “Sims cannot die happy unless he has had at least one chance to shrive the Senate,” reported the Baltimore Sun in 1928. “For many years he has been longing to be allowed to open one of the Senate sessions with a prayer.” That year, it looked as if the 85-year-old preacher’s wish would finally come true. With the second session of the 70th Congress set to convene in December, a senator pledged to invite him to give the daily prayer, but no record of such an occasion has been found. It seems that wish remained unfulfilled.4 Rising from slavery to become friend and confidant of senators, vice presidents, and presidents, John Sims remained on duty in the Senate barbershop until his death at age 91. Even after he retired from active barbering and served only as supervisor, he reported to work every day, preaching to the Senate community. Eventually, age and illness took their toll and kept Sims away from the Capitol, prompting senators to visit him at his home where they could still count on his advice and encouragement. “Don’t you worry,” Sims reassured Minnesota senator Henrik Shipstead during one of his visits to the sickbed, “I will be back in the barbershop in a couple of days.” When Sims passed away on March 29, 1934, Shipstead echoed many of his colleagues when he described the preaching barber as “the most beloved and popular man on Capitol Hill.”5 A reporter once asked Sims to explain the secret of his popularity among senators. I’m just “shaving and saving,” Sims responded. Give a good shave, and always preach salvation.6
1. “Senate Barber Preaches: Sermons of John Sims, Once a Slave, Are Heard by Many of His Tonsorial Patrons,” New York Times, September 5, 1926, 10. 2. “Rev. John Sims Has Shaved Four Decades of Senators,” New York Times, April 21, 1929, 150. 3. “Senate Barber Preaches: Sermons of John Sims, Once a Slave, Are Heard by Many of His Tonsorial Patrons,” 10; “Fernald Votes for Negro for Chaplain of Senate,” Boston Daily Globe, January 22, 1921, 12; “Odd Items from Everywhere,” Boston Daily Globe, December 14, 1923, 32. 4. “A Strange Ambition,” Baltimore Sun, July 2, 1928, 8; “Senate May Hear Negro Barber Pray at Session,” Washington Post, July 1, 1928, A10; “Aged Barber to Officiate over Senate,” Chicago Defender, July 21, 1928, A1; “Rev. John Sims Has Shaved Four Decades of Senators.” 5. “Bishop Sims,” South Carolina Genealogy Trails, accessed April 26, 2021, 6. “Negro Barber’s Wish to Pray in U.S. Senate to Be Fulfilled,” Baltimore Sun, July 1, 1928, 13.
Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, ca.1894 202105 3Senate 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.

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. Senate progressives like Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, William Borah of Idaho, George Norris of Nebraska, and Robert Owen of Oklahoma viewed the federal courts as a growing obstacle to their reformist agenda and worked to limit their power.1 Their top target was the United States Supreme Court. Under a broad interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and its guarantee of “due process of law,” the Supreme Court, beginning in the 1890s, used judicial review to an unprecedented extent in order to declare state laws unconstitutional. The Court weakened the power of state governments to regulate the rates of railroads and other public utilities. It struck down state laws regulating the wages and hours of workers, most famously in the 1905 case Lochner v. New York, in which the Court ruled that a law limiting the number of hours a baker could work was an infringement on a worker’s “liberty of contract.”2 The Supreme Court struck down federal laws as well. When Congress passed a law in 1916 banning child labor—a bill co-sponsored in the Senate by Robert Owen—the Court declared it unconstitutional two years later in the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart. In 1923 the Court also invalidated a federal law establishing a minimum wage for women in the District of Columbia.3 The progressives also had concerns about the actions of lower courts. When corporations challenged state regulations, federal district judges issued injunctions barring state officials from enforcing the laws. Federal judges handed down injunctions to stop labor unions from engaging in boycotts and certain strike tactics. District judges ordered the arrest of those who violated their injunctions for contempt of court. Labor leaders and progressive politicians denounced “government by injunction” and what they saw as an abuse of judicial power.4 Progressives, including those in the Senate, responded with proposals to make federal judges more accountable to the people. In 1911 Robert Owen proposed that a majority of both houses of Congress have the power to recall a judge and remove him from office. “The Federal judiciary has become the bulwark of privilege,” he stated in a 1911 speech, “and ought to be made immediately subject to legislative recall by the representatives of the people.” In 1918, after the Court struck down the federal ban on child labor in a 5-4 decision, Owen rejected the notion that a single judge could be the determining factor in nullifying “the matured public opinion of the country as expressed by Congress.” He introduced a new bill to reinstate the ban and included a provision to ban the Court from striking it down.5 Owen was not alone in his attacks on the Court. Similarly, William Borah saw closely divided decisions as “a matter of deep regret.” He introduced legislation in 1923 that would have required the support of at least seven of the nine justices on the Court to invalidate a statute. When the Court once again struck down a federal anti–child labor law in 1922, Robert La Follette condemned these “judicial usurpations” and called for a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to override the Supreme Court by simply re-passing any laws declared unconstitutional.6 Progressives made up a small coalition within the Senate in the 1920s, and while they did not have enough congressional support to pass their court proposals, they asserted what power they could. Progressive Republicans like Senators La Follette, Borah, and Hiram Johnson of California represented a small portion of the Senate’s Republican caucus and were often at odds with the caucus’s more powerful Old Guard members. This division became apparent by 1921 in the relationship between Senate progressives and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. La Follette had already battled with Taft while he was president and had helped to defeat Taft’s campaign for a second term in 1912. Subsequently, La Follette, Borah, and Johnson were three of the four senators to vote against Taft’s appointment to the Court in 1921. Along with Progressive Democrats like Owen and Thomas Walsh of Montana, they continued to frustrate Taft during his tenure as chief justice. Taft, who had served as a federal circuit judge in the 1890s and later defended the power of the courts as president of the American Bar Association in 1914, had his own goals for the federal judiciary. In his view, the problem with the courts was not judicial review or injunctions—he praised both as indispensable tools to protect property rights from political majorities. Rather, he believed that the federal courts needed to become more efficient in handling their rising caseloads, and this meant giving the chief justice “executive authority” over the lower courts. In 1922 Taft drafted a bill with Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty, introduced in the Senate by Taft ally Albert Cummins of Iowa, to create a conference of federal circuit judges headed by the chief justice that would gather caseload information from the lower courts. The legislation also proposed appointing a new group of at-large judges and giving the conference the power to send them to districts across the country with backlogs of cases.7 Progressive Republicans, along with many Democrats, were in no rush to strengthen the power of the chief justice over the judiciary, especially not that of the conservative Taft. George Norris even opposed the idea of judges gathering in Washington to be influenced by the chief justice. Norris used his time during the Senate debate over Taft’s bill to call for abolishing the lower federal courts altogether and returning jurisdiction to the state courts.8 The progressive Republicans joined forces with southern Democrats to oppose Taft’s plan. Senators jealously protected the influence they had in presidential nominations of district and circuit judges who would preside in their states. Southern senators argued that the chief justice would have power to send northern “carpet-bagging” judges to southern courts, possibly to enforce a proposed federal anti-lynching law under consideration in 1922. Tennessee Democrat John Shields—who resented Taft’s role in drafting the legislation in the first place—argued that the creation of at-large judges and the power to assign them to any district represented an infringement on the independence of district courts. Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas objected to “giving to the Chief Justice the power to send out a horde of judges all over this country to designated places, concentrating in his power the whole judiciary system.” In the end, Taft got his Conference of Senior Circuit Judges but not the power to reassign what he called a “flying squadron” of judges.9 Taft chafed at Senate opposition, especially from those opponents who were members of his own party. He bemoaned that “being attacked by progressives” was “the penalty one has to pay for trying to reform matters.” Taft went so far as to lobby Republican Leader Henry Cabot Lodge to get senators more sympathetic to his proposals onto the Senate Judiciary Committee to counter Borah and Norris. He wrote to a fellow judge that the “yahoos of the West . . . were Republicans in getting on committees but not Republicans after they have succeeded.” Lodge, while sympathetic to the challenges posed by insurgents within the Republican ranks, politely rebuffed Taft.10 Senate progressives continued their efforts to curb the courts into the 1920s and even after Taft left the Court in 1930, winning victories with anti-injunction laws and defeating or delaying other elements of Taft’s plans. Norris was able to exert particular influence when he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1926. Progressives also succeeded in defeating the nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1930 after raising objections to his anti-labor rulings and to his opposition to African American voting rights. Such victories were short-lived, however, as the flurry of legislation passed during the Great Depression ensured that the battle between Congress and the courts would continue for years to come.
1. William G. Ross, A Muted Fury: Populists, Progressives, and Labor Unions Confront the Courts, 1890–1937 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994). 2. Paul Kens, The Lochner Era: Economic Regulation on Trial (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998). 3. Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923). 4. William Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991). 5. Judicial Recall, Address by Senator Robert L. Owen, S. Doc. 62-249, 62nd Cong., 2nd sess., January 11, 1912; Congressional Record, 65th Cong., 2nd sess., June 6, 1918, 7432–33. 6. William E. Borah, “Five to Four Decisions as Menace to Respect for Supreme Court,” New York Times, February 18, 1923, 21; Report of the Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor (Washington, D.C.: Law Reporter, 1922), 234–43; Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U.S. 20 (1922). 7. William Howard Taft, “The Selection and Tenure of Judges,” Report of the 36th Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association (1913), 420–26; Daniel S. Holt, ed., Debates on the Federal Judiciary: A Documentary History, Volume 2, 1875–1939 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center, 2013), 180–96. 8. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., April 6, 1922, 5107–14. 9. Congressional Record, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., March 31, 1922, 4848–49, 4855–65,; William Howard Taft, “Possible and Needed Reforms in Administration of Justice in Federal Courts,” American Bar Association Journal 8, no. 10 (October 1922): 601. 10. Taft to Hiscock, April 12, 1922, Taft to Lodge, January 17, 1922, Taft to Judge Baker, January 22, 1922, Taft to Robert Taft, April 5, 1924, Lodge to Taft, January 18, 1922, William Howard Taft Papers, Series 3: General Correspondence, 1877–1941, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
Senate Records Storage in the U.S. Capitol, April 1, 1937 202104 1Saving 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.

Staff and visitors to the Senate may occasionally see carts containing gray manuscript boxes in the hallways of Senate office buildings. Very likely they are viewing Senate committee records on their way to or from the Center for Legislative Archives (CLA) at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Within NARA, the CLA is the custodian of thousands of linear feet of Senate textual records and terabytes of electronic data. Noncurrent Senate committee records are boxed up and sent to NARA when the committee no longer needs immediate access to the materials. And, once archived, these records are also loaned back to the Senate when needed for reference, and made available to scholars and researchers after a closure period of at least 20 years. While these and other Senate records have long been cared for and kept secure, in the long history of the Senate, it wasn’t always this way. In the Senate’s earliest days, the person responsible for safeguarding the ever-expanding collection of records—including bills, reports, handwritten journals, the Senate markup of the Bill of Rights, and George Washington's inaugural address—was Secretary of the Senate Samuel A. Otis. Sam Otis died in April 1814, just months before a contingent of British troops invaded the capital city and set fire to the White House, the Capitol, and other federal buildings. Fortunately, when word reached Washington on August 24, 1814, that British troops would soon occupy the city, Lewis Machen, a quick-thinking Senate clerk, and Tobias Simpson, a Senate messenger, hastily loaded boxes of priceless records onto a wagon and raced to the safety of the Maryland countryside. Nearly five years later, when the Senate returned to the reconstructed Capitol from temporary quarters, a new secretary of the Senate moved the records back into the building. With space at a premium in the Capitol, however, these founding-era documents, as well as those created in the remaining decades of the 19th century, ended up being stored in damp basements, humid attics, closets, and even behind Capitol walls. And those were the records that had been saved; countless documents had been lost or damaged over time, some falling victim to autograph hunters who snipped the signatures of presidents from their messages to Congress.1 The Senate’s records remained in this state until Secretary of the Senate Edwin P. Thayer, whose term began in 1925, found an original copy of the Monroe Doctrine in the Senate financial clerk's safe. This discovery sparked his interest in preserving additional Senate records that were scattered throughout the basement storerooms of the Capitol. In 1927 Thayer hired Harold E. Hufford, a young George Washington University law student, as a file clerk to find these dispersed and neglected materials and put them in order. Hufford famously recounted going down into the brick-lined rooms of the Capitol basement in search of documents. After cautiously opening a door, disturbing mice and roaches in the process, and walking across the room to turn on a light, he looked down and found a document underfoot; on it was the imprint of his shoe and the signature of Vice President John C. Calhoun. “I knew who Calhoun was,” Hufford said, “and I knew that the nation’s documents shouldn’t be treated like that.” Hufford spent the next six years at the Senate working tirelessly to locate, organize, and index these valuable records, including the first Senate Journal from 1789 and the Senate markup of the Bill of Rights—some of the very same records that Machen and Simpson had saved more than a century earlier.2 Meanwhile, as Hufford labored over the Senate’s neglected documents, construction began on a building to house federal records. Legislation authorizing and funding a national archives had been years in the making, finally culminating in the 1926 Public Buildings Act. The groundbreaking for the National Archives building took place on September 5, 1931, on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets Northwest. As one of his last acts as president, Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone on February 20, 1933.3 Building the National Archives was one thing, but filling it up and running it was quite another. In March 1934 a bill to establish the National Archives as the agency that would manage, preserve, and make available the nation’s federal records was referred to the Senate Committee on the Library, chaired by Tennessee senator Kenneth McKellar. Reporting the bill back to the Senate in May, McKellar called it “one of the most important matters that has been before the Senate for some time.” By June the House and Senate conferees had agreed unanimously on the final report. The bill passed both houses of Congress and on June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Archives Act into law. The legislation created the Office of the Archivist of the United States, with an archivist appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to oversee all records of the government—legislative, executive, and judicial.4 On October 10, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed Robert D. W. Connor as the first archivist of the United States. In his first annual report to Congress, in June of 1935, Connor recalled the many efforts that led to the creation of his office. He noted that while the idea of a “Hall of Records,” which would simply provide a warehouse function, had been circulating through Congress since the early 1800s, it took much longer for scholars and historians to convey to Congress the importance of a national archives in researching and understanding American history. In 1910 the American Historical Association adopted a resolution stating its concern “for the preservation of the records of the National Government as monuments of our national advancement and as material which historians must use in order to ascertain the truth.” The Association petitioned Congress to build a “national archive depository” to properly care for and preserve the records. Connor believed that “the idea of service to Government officials and to scholars as a primary function of a national archives establishment” gave emphasis to “the movement and stimulated a livelier interest in the proposal,” ultimately leading to its success.5 This concept of the National Archives as a place for research and education utilizing our nation’s primary documents has continued, and the Senate participates in those efforts by sending its noncurrent committee and administrative records to the archives—work that began on March 25, 1937, when the Senate authorized the secretary of the Senate to transfer certain records to the custody of the archivist. “From the standpoint of historical as well as intrinsic interest,” remarked the examiner who surveyed the Senate’s collection, “this is perhaps the most valuable collection of records in the entire Government. It touches all phases of governmental activity, and contains a vast amount of research material that has never been used.” Three years earlier, Senate Librarian James D. Preston commented that the imperfect storage of the historic records of the Senate would require their ultimate caretaker to be prepared for a long, hard job and be an expert at document evaluation. Luckily for the Senate, not only did those rescued Senate records move from attics and basements to the newly constructed building, so did Harold Hufford, who left the Senate to join the National Archives staff, becoming director of the legislative section. Hufford didn’t just preserve and catalog Senate records that came to the archives, he also provided excellent service to Senate committees and their staff by loaning back records efficiently and ensuring their safe return to the archives.6 Nearly 50 years later, in an address on Senate history, Senator Robert C. Byrd stated that “many on Capitol Hill said that they could receive faster service on their noncurrent records from the National Archives than they could by keeping and servicing the records themselves.” Senator Byrd’s statement remains accurate today, as staff at the Center for Legislative Archives facilitate the transfer of records to and from the Senate. The Senate archivist in the Senate Historical Office advises senators, committees, and administrative staff on disposition of their noncurrent office files and maintains information detailing locations of former members' papers. Both the Senate Historical Office and the Center for Legislative Archives staff assist students, researchers, scholars, and the general public with reference requests and access to these invaluable historical resources. All of these records, whether housed in gray archive boxes or held electronically on computers, are critical to our ability to research and understand the history of the Senate and our nation.7
1. Lewis Henry Machen to William C. Rives, September 12, 1836, William Cabel Rives Papers, Box 54, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Ben Cole, “Document Sleuth,” Indianapolis Star Magazine, March 11, 1956, 137. 2. “Edwin P. Thayer, Secretary of U.S. Senate 10 Years, Succumbs Here,” Indianapolis Star, February 4, 1943. 3. See, “A History of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.,” National Archives and Records Administration, accessed March 17, 2021, 4. Congressional Record, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., May 28, 1934, 9707; National Archives Establishment Act, Public Law 73-432, 73rd Cong., 2nd sess., June 19, 1934, 48 Stat. 1122. 5. “First Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1935,” Annual report on the National Archives and Records Service from the annual report of the Administrator of General Services, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1936. 6. S. Res. 99, Congressional Record, 75th Cong. 1st sess., March 25, 1937, 2735; Frank McAllister to Thomas M. Owen, Jr., February 12, 1937, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; “Senate Librarian Would Make Archives Post Lifetime Job,” Washington Post, September 23, 1934, B7. 7. Robert C. Byrd, “Archives and Records” in The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, vol. 2, ed. Wendy Wolff, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991), 361–73.
Mary Jean Simpson 202103 1Breaching 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.
Categories: Women | Officers and Staff

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. Among the earliest pioneers was Leona Wells, who joined Senate staff in 1901 and remained on the payroll for the next 25 years. Born in Illinois around 1878, Wells moved to Wyoming when she turned 21 (because this young suffragist could cast a vote in Wyoming). There she met Senator Francis E. Warren, whose patronage brought her to Washington, D.C. She served as messenger and assistant clerk to several committees. When Senator Warren became chairman of the Committee on Appropriations in 1911, he assigned to Wells the management of all committee business, although she never gained the official title of clerk—forerunner to today’s chief clerk position. Wells wasn’t the first woman to hold a clerical position for a Senate committee, nor the first to be lead clerk, but she was the first to assume that responsibility for such a powerful committee as Appropriations.1 At the time, Leona Wells was unusual—a well-paid professional woman on Capitol Hill. In fact, she was so unusual that she attracted media attention. Leona Wells “is probably the most envied woman in government service,” reported the Boston Globe in 1911. Not only did she earn a good salary, the Globe noted, but she is “placed in charge of the affairs of a big committee.” Wells scouted new territory for female staff, but one area remained off-limits—the Senate Chamber. When Chairman Warren was on the floor handling committee business, Wells had to wait outside. Male committee clerks freely entered the Chamber, but the Senate was not yet ready to admit a female staffer to its inner sanctum. Instead, as the Globe reported, Wells waited “just outside the swing doors of the senate chamber . . . and kept the door an inch or two ajar that she might hear everything that went on inside.”2 Soon, other women set their own milestones. By 1917 five women served as top clerk on Senate committees, including Jessie L. Simpson, clerk for the Committee on Foreign Relations. Raised in St. Louis, Simpson actively participated in the presidential campaign for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, where she caught the attention of Missouri senator William Stone. Simpson joined the Senate staff that year through Stone’s patronage, serving as messenger and clerk to several committees before joining the staff of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1914. Having served as assistant clerk, Simpson gained the top committee job in 1917 with an annual salary of $3,000. (At that time, senators received a salary of $7,500.) News reporters took note of the accomplishment, but they often commented not on Simpson’s abilities but on her fitness for such a sensitive job. “It’s an old story that a woman can not keep a secret,” commented one, “but here is one who must keep many,” who must “go through what is described as an ordeal for her sex” to keep diplomatic secrets. Despite the attention, Simpson took it in stride. “I can’t see why all this fuss about my being appointed to the clerkship,” she stated. “I’ve been acting clerk for months. It’s merely a question of my appointment being made permanent.” As the committee’s top clerk, the New York Times reported, Simpson took on tremendous responsibilities. “In her hands will be treaties with foreign Governments . . . and much other information of a delicate nature.” Like Leona Wells, Jessie Simpson proved that women in government service could tackle difficult jobs with great skill, but she didn’t stay in the position long. In November of 1917, Simpson relinquished her well-paying Senate job to “do her bit” for the war effort. She became a clerk for the U.S. Department of War in France.3 By this time, a growing number of women were taking jobs in the Senate. As early as 1904, news accounts had noted that some “of the best paid employees of our government are women.” Many came to Washington, D.C., during the First World War to fill jobs held by men who had joined the war effort, while others came seeking employment that would be long-lasting. “Is Washington in danger of being overrun by women?” asked a reporter for the Washington Post in 1917. By the 1920s, women filled a number of top positions in senators’ offices and in committees. In 1922 six Senate committees employed women as principal clerks, and many other women served as assistant clerks. In fact, that year, at least 82 of the Senate’s 154 committee clerks listed in the Congressional Directory—53 percent—were women. Four Senate committees were staffed entirely by women.4 Among those six chief clerks was Mabelle J. Talbert. Hired by Nebraska senator George Norris in 1915, Talbert moved with Norris through several committees. When he became chairman of the Committee on Agriculture in 1921, Talbert signed on as assistant clerk. A year later, she became clerk in charge of all committee operations, including management of investigative hearings into such issues as the meat-packing industry and shipment of “filled” or adulterated milk (declared illegal in 1923). Like a number of other top female staff at the time, Talbert served in dual roles in the Senate, as lead clerk to a committee and as secretary to the committee chairman. Norris once described his secretary as a “trusted lieutenant” who “knew the ground and understood the nature of the opposition forces and weapons.”5 Cora Rubin, in 1922 the clerk for the Education and Labor Committee and also secretary to Idaho senator William Borah, became a well-known figure on Capitol Hill. An Idaho native, Rubin first worked for Borah when he was a lawyer in their home state. When the state legislature elected Borah to the Senate in 1906, Rubin followed him to Washington to serve as his stenographer, then as secretary, and by 1920 also was in charge of a major committee. In her dual capacity, Rubin assumed so much responsibility that the press dubbed her “deputy senator.” One Borah biographer described her as the “Cerberus who guarded the office door.” Regardless of her position and decades of service on Capitol Hill, Rubin still faced persistent institutional barriers, such as Chamber access. As committee clerk she held floor privileges but was wary of exercising them, as she explained, “because of the notoriety that would follow.” Although this has been difficult to document, Rubin most likely overcame that hesitation. “I have promised myself that before I leave here for good,” she told a reporter in 1922, “I am going to walk right in on the floor of the senate when it is in session and watch the grave and reverend senators fall over at such desecration!” It would take many years for the “masculine precinct” of the Senate Chamber, as the New York Times described it in 1929, to be fully breached by women staff.6 Another milestone came in 1926 when Mary Jean Simpson became the Senate’s first female bill clerk. Sponsored by Vermont senator Porter Dale, Simpson was no newcomer to politics and public service. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1913 and became active in politics in her home state of Vermont. She participated in various wartime efforts and served in local and state elective offices. Serving as Senate bill clerk until 1933, Simpson later led Vermont’s emergency relief efforts during the Great Depression, directed the women’s division of the Vermont Works Progress Administration, and then became dean of women at the University of Vermont. Today, that university awards an annual prize in honor of this one-time Senate pioneer, the Mary Jean Simpson Award, to a female student “who best exemplifies the qualities of character, leadership, and scholarship.”7 As the role of women on Senate staff grew, Lola Williams took those trailblazing efforts a step further and made history in 1929. “For the first time,” reported the New York Times, “a woman is serving as secretary to the Vice President.” This long-time secretary to Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas achieved that milestone when Curtis took the oath of office as vice president on March 4, 1929, thereby becoming the constitutional president of the Senate. Curtis enthusiastically extolled Williams’s intelligence and experience, but press coverage of her groundbreaking move focused more on appearance than ability. “Miss Williams has one salient characteristic, essentially feminine,” remarked an Associated Press reporter, “for all her efficiency, she wears clothes well and is good to look upon.” As the vice president’s chief aide, Williams oversaw correspondence between Curtis and President Herbert Hoover and managed all official business while the vice president presided over the Senate. A woman had “never appeared in such an official capacity,” noted the Times.8 Earlene White was also a pioneer, although much of her story remains a puzzle. Born in Mississippi, White began her career as a newspaperwoman in Jackson and then went into public relations. It is unclear what brought White to the nation’s capital, but that move may have coincided with her becoming president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs in 1937. By that year, she also served as a mail carrier in the Senate, and by the end of that decade news accounts consistently identified her as Senate postmaster. Senate employment records do not assign that title to her; rather, they list her as mail carrier throughout her Senate career. Whether she enjoyed the title of postmaster or not, White was a powerhouse. In addition to her Senate duties, she continued to lead national women’s rights organizations. Advancement of the Equal Rights Amendment and equal opportunities in the workplace became her principal goals. “I ask each of you within sound of my voice,” White proclaimed to a large audience in 1938, “to take a pledge that we will not rest until the women of all the nations enjoy political opportunities. . . . We must think how best to advance women for high political and appointive office.” When White died in 1961, the Washington Post described her as “a fighter for the rights of women” and as the “former postmistress of the Senate.” Was Earlene White the de facto postmaster without a title, just as Leona Wells had been de facto lead clerk of a committee without that title? That remains a mystery, but there is no question that she was one of the Senate’s female pioneers.9 It took much longer for women of color to find their place on the Senate’s professional staff. Although African American women had been Senate employees for a century, not until the 1950s did they likely gain professional positions on committees or in senators’ offices. One of the earliest was Christine McCreary, who joined the staff of Missouri senator William Stuart Symington in 1953. When McCreary came to Capitol Hill, she not only faced lingering resistance to women in top staff positions, but also a racially segregated workplace. In an oral history interview with the Senate Historical Office, McCreary recalled the frightening experience of being among the first to challenge segregation in Senate spaces. “I didn’t know what to expect,” McCreary remembered, “because you see Washington was segregated and you had to deal with that.” Facing segregation in the Senate cafeteria, for example, McCreary courageously demanded to be served, and refused to give up. “I went back the next day, and the next day, until finally they got used to seeing me coming in there.” McCreary remained on Senate staff until 1998.10 For many years, scholars studying Congress paid scant attention to Capitol Hill staff, and those who did assumed that women played little or no role on Senate staff before the Second World War. As research continues, Senate historians are discovering that women held positions of influence, on committee staff and in senators’ offices, early in the 20th century. This important role of the “Women of the Senate” is not a recent phenomenon but a story encompassing more than a century of Senate history.
1. The title of chief clerk was adopted in 1947, following implementation of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. 2. Annual Report of Charles G. Bennett, Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 57-1, 57th Cong., 2nd sess., December 2, 1902; Annual Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 62-954, 62nd Cong., 3rd sess. December 4, 1912; “Is Suffragette Uncle Sam’s Highest Salaried Woman,” Boston Daily Globe, August 6, 1911, SM11; “Is Best-Paid Woman,” Washington Post, May 28, 1911, M1; “Women Who Count,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 24, 1911, J11. 3. Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 65-309, 65th Cong., 3rd sess., December 2, 1918; “Important Post for Woman: Miss Jessie L. Simpson Appointed Clerk to Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” New York Times, January 3, 1917, 10; “First Woman Secretary of Senate Committee,” Boston Daily Globe, January 3, 1917, 11; “Going to the Front,” Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1917, I1; “Drops Honor for War,” New York Times, November 13, 1917, 5; “Pretty Girl Custodian of Important Secrets,” Knoxville Sentinel, February 8, 1917, 9. 4. Congressional Directory, 67th Cong., 2nd sess., December 1921, 232–33; 67th Cong., 4th sess., December 1922, 234–35; “Women Crowding to Washington to Fill Government Jobs of Men Gone to Fight Nation’s Battles,” Washington Post, June 17, 1917, SM4; “Women. Government Employs a Large Number,” Boston Daily Globe, May 22, 1904, 55. 5. Richard Lowitt, George W. Norris: The Persistence of a Progressive, 1913–1933 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 273; “A Number of United States Senators Have Women Secretaries,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 10, 1926, C8. 6. Marian C. McKenna, Borah (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 86, 372; Frances L. Garside, “Being Secretary to Busy Senator Big Job,” Hartford Courant, June 4, 1922, B6; “That Women Secretaries Sometimes Are Even More Efficient Than Men,” Washington Post, June 24, 1928, S2. 7. The Mary Jean Simpson archival collection is housed in Special Collections of the University of Vermont Libraries in Burlington, VT; “Grafton ‘Old Home’ Day,” Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 1925, 3; “Miss Mary Jean Simpson to Aid on Women’s Project,” Washington Post, October 4, 1936, M14; “WPA Consultant Accepts Deanship,” August 6, 1937, 3. 8. “Girl to Be Secretary to Vice-President Curtis,” Hartford Courant, February 24, 1929, D11; “Curtis Creates Precedent, Having a Woman Secretary,” New York Times, March 24, 1929, 156. 9. Report of the Secretary of the Senate, S. Doc. 76-136, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., January 11, 1940; “City Club Dinner Party Will Honor Miss White,” Washington Post, August 11, 1935, S7; “Senate Postmistress is Nominated for President of Professional Women’s National Federation,” Washington Post, July 23, 1937, 17; “Earlene White in 2d Address,” Washington Post, August 5, 1938, 15; “Guest Speaker,” Washington Post, September 13, 1938, 20; “Hill B. & P. W. Forms Branch,” Washington Post, August 2, 1939, 13; “Earlene White, Woman Leader,” Washington Post, February 23, 1961, B3; “Colonials Hear Earlene White,” Washington Post, April 18, 1941, 17. 10. "Christine S. McCreary, Staff of Senator Stuart Symington, 1953–1977 and Senator John Glenn, 1977–1998," Oral History Interviews, May 19, 1998, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.
1880 Census Document Identifying Andrew F. Slade as a "Page in the Senate" 202102 8Andrew 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.

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. Slade’s story, forgotten in the Senate by the 1960s, offers a window not just into the Senate of the late 19th century, but into the history of Washington, D.C.’s, free Black community.1 Andrew Slade was born in 1857, the son of Josephine Parke and William Slade, a prominent free Black couple from the District of Columbia. Josephine, born as a free woman in 1818, was the daughter of a woman who had been enslaved by George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, on his Arlington, Virginia, estate. William was born free in 1814; his mother was formerly enslaved by the Foote family of Virginia. Henry Foote later represented Mississippi in the Senate. William believed, in fact, that his mother was Senator Foote’s half-sister.2 During the 1850s Andrew's father William was a porter at Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel, a posh establishment popular with Washington’s political elite. There he made connections that eventually took him to the White House. With a recommendation from Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, William first took a job at the Treasury Department as a messenger in 1861. In 1862 he was appointed to Abraham Lincoln’s White House, where free people of color were integral to its daily operations.3 William’s title was “usher,” one of the highest posts in the Executive Mansion staff. Andrew's mother, Josephine, also periodically worked at the White House as a seamstress, alongside African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly. The couple’s children, including Andrew, often played with young Tad Lincoln, even hosting him at their home, the boardinghouse they owned and operated on Massachusetts Avenue.4 In the White House, William Slade was not just a servant but a confidante of the president, someone Lincoln turned to as he considered the weighty questions of emancipation and the fate of freed African Americans. The Slades were leading figures in the District’s free Black community. William was an elder of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. As freed African Americans flooded into the capital during the war, the Slades, along with friend and colleague Elizabeth Keckly, created the Contraband Relief Association to provide assistance and organized a school at the First Colored Baptist Church. William served as president of the Social, Civil, and Statistical Association, an organization dedicated to achieving Black citizenship following the war. Josephine was a leading organizer in the movement for universal suffrage.5 After the death of President Lincoln, William Slade continued to work at the White House under President Andrew Johnson, who appointed him steward in 1865. William died three years later at age 53. President Johnson paid his respects at the Slade home, and the funeral was officiated by Howard University president and former Senate chaplain Byron Sunderland, an abolitionist preacher. With William gone, Josephine Slade became the head of a household that included a son and daughter in their 20s and three younger children, including 11-year-old Andrew.6 Andrew Slade was appointed as a Senate page in December 1869. He had been educated in a school in the District of Columbia for Black children established by African American civil rights activist John F. Cook, Jr. Andrew owed his appointment to Sergeant at Arms John R. French, an opponent of slavery and supporter of Black rights who had been friends with his father William. The Baltimore Sun noted the appointment and described Andrew as “a bright mulatto boy, son of . . . the late colored steward of the White House.” The writer speculated that the boy would be assigned as a special page to Senator Charles Sumner, another defender of Black civil rights who had been acquainted with his father. Although Andrew had not yet worked in the Chamber, the article stated that he was “on duty in the corridors.” Another reporter commented on Andrew’s light complexion and suggested that “such is the prejudice against a color, even milk-and-molasses color, that it has been thought best to introduce him by degrees into the Senate Chamber, lest the Caucasian pages leave en masse.” As was the case with other pages, Andrew’s salary, $3 per day, was paid to his mother.7 Historians have long known that many page appointments were given to local orphans or children of widowed mothers. While this appeared to be a way for the Senate to provide benefits to families in need, Josephine was anything but destitute. William left her a sizeable estate of $100,000, including $14,000 in real estate. But Josephine was a widow, nevertheless.8 Andrew’s first stint as a page was a short one. In 1870 his sister Marie Louise, a copyist at the U.S. Pension Office, married a prominent Black Arkansas politician named James W. Mason. Andrew, his mother, and his siblings all moved with Marie and her new husband to Arkansas later that year. In 1872, Josephine Slade passed away, leaving Andrew an orphan. The next year, he enrolled at Oberlin College’s preparatory school in Ohio and attended for one year.9 Andrew returned to Washington in January 1874, now 16 years old, and was again appointed as a page. Senate records list him as the ward of longtime assistant doorkeeper James I. Christie. Later that year, his sister returned to Washington following the death of her husband and Andrew spent the rest of the decade living with her while working as a page. He served as a riding page delivering messages throughout the District and eventually became a mail carrier for the Senate Post Office. He also likely worked on the Chamber floor and was reportedly a favorite of Vice President Henry Wilson. Andrew, in fact, helped attend to Wilson as he lay dying in his office across the corridor from the Chamber in 1875. 10 The Senate had no maximum age for pages in the late 19th century, so Andrew continued as a page into November 1881, when he was 24 years old. In December he applied for a position at the Pension Commission, supported by a recommendation from Democratic senator George Pendleton of Ohio, famous for his 1883 Civil Service Reform Act. In 1882, while visiting or living in Warwick, New York, Andrew submitted an application for a position at the Department of the Interior, with recommendations from Garland, Senator Henry Teller of Colorado—who had recently left the Senate to serve as secretary of the department—and T. W. Ferry of the Senate Post Office.11 It is unknown whether Andrew gained another government position, but by 1886 he was living in Philadelphia and working at the Tribune newspaper, the city’s recently founded African American paper. A reporter from the Washington Bee, another African American paper, noted meeting Andrew on a visit to the Tribune’s offices and described him as a man with “a good heart and a mild disposition” who was “well known in Washington.” The historical record offers little information about how Andrew fared in Philadelphia. In 1899 he is listed in the city directory as a driver. He died that year, at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife, Laura.12 Andrew Slade’s story, incomplete though it may be, offers a glimpse into an era of dramatic social changes in and around the Capitol and the role played by this prominent Black family. Andrew's mother and father both walked the corridors of official Washington and used what power they had to fight for the rights of African Americans in an era when those rights were under constant siege. Their stature likely opened the doors of the Senate to their son at a time when others like him would have been denied the opportunity. We are left wondering, however, what Andrew thought about his position in the Senate and how he was received by senators of the 1870s. What role did Andrew’s race play in his experiences in and around the Senate Chamber? How did senators view Andrew, especially those former Confederates who returned to Congress in the years after Reconstruction, dedicated to maintaining the racial caste system in their home states? Perhaps Andrew Slade’s very presence served as a reminder to senators of the insecure future of Black Americans outside the Capitol. All of these questions and more will fuel future research by Senate historians.
1. “Pioneer Senate Page: Lawrence Wallace Bradford, Jr.,” New York Times, April 14, 1965, 26; Marcie Sims, Capitol Hill Pages: Young Witnesses to 200 Years of History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, Incorporated, 2018), 64–68. 2. Blake Wintory, “Biography of Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade, 1818–1872,” Alexander Street, Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, accessed July 20, 2021, The District of Columbia was a popular destination for formerly enslaved African Americans manumitted from the upper South, leading to a free population of over 11,000 by 1860, about 20 percent of the city’s population. Dorothy Provine, “The Economic Position of the Free Blacks in the District of Columbia, 1800–1860,” Journal of Negro History 58, no. 1 (January 1973): 61. 3. John E. Washington, They Knew Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2018; originally published 1942); James B. Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House,” White House Historical Association, accessed July 20, 2021, 4. Wintory, “Biography of Marie Louise (Slade) Mason, 1844–1919,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists, Alexander Street, accessed July 20, 2021,; Conroy, “Slavery’s Mark on Lincoln’s White House.” 5. Natalie Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People’: The Agency of William Slade, Leader in the African American Community and Usher to Abraham Lincoln,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 34, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 21–41, accessed July 20, 2021,; Diaries of Julia Wilbur, 1860–66, April 20, 1865, Haverford College, Quaker and Special Collections, Transcriptions by volunteers at Alexandria Archaeology, accessed July 20, 2021, For more on Black organizations in the District of Columbia during the Civil War, see Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). 6., 1870 Census, Washington Ward 4, Washington, District of Columbia, Roll: M593_124, 780A; Family History Library Film: 545623; Sweet, “A Representative ‘of Our People.’” 7. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, 1870, S. Mis. Doc. 41-8, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., December 5, 1870, 2; Progressive American (NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 34, Folder E, p. 130, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423162, p. 2) at]; “Colored Page in the Senate,” Baltimore Sun, December 16, 1869, 1; “The Alta on Our Colored Brother,” San Jose Mercury News, December 28, 1869, 3; Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett noted in his unpublished memoir Andrew’s appointment as the “first colored page,” Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 3, Folder A, p. 31 [(ARC Identifier 5423058, p. 36)]. 8. Wintory, “Josephine Lewis (Parke) Slade,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 9. “Colored Female Clerks,” Washington Evening Star, March 27, 1869, 1; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Oberlin College for the College Year 1873–74, (Cleveland, OH: Press of Fairbanks, Benedict, & Co., 1873), 29; Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. 10. Receipts and Expenditures of Senate, 1874, S. Mis. Doc. 43-74, 43rd Cong., 2nd sess., December 7, 1874, 10. Senator George Pendleton’s recommendation letter for Slade in 1881 indicated that he worked in the Senate Chamber. See Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD; Progressive American (NY), undated, in Isaac Bassett Papers. 11. Slade, Andrew F., File 2942, Appointments Division, Applications and Appointments 1881, Box no. 65, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD; Slade, Andrew F., Appointments Division, File 874, Applications and Appointments 1882, Box no. 72, Entry 27, Department of the Interior, Record Group 48, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD. Special thanks to Blake Wintory for sharing his research. 12. “Our Visit to Philadelphia,” Washington Bee, November 13, 1886; "Andrew Slade," Washington Bee, August 26, 1899. We know much more about Slade’s sister Marie Louise, who moved to Montana in 1889 and became a leader in the movement for women’s suffrage. She later moved to Paris and then London with her daughter, who studied to be an artist. See Wintory, “Marie Louise (Slade) Mason,” Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists. Slade’s sister Katherine Slade went on to become a teacher and was a key source for John Washington’s They Knew Lincoln.
On January 4, 1939, in the U.S. Senate Chamber, Vice President John Nance Garner issues the oath of office to Senator Elmer Thomas of Oklahoma. 202012 30When 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.

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. The Constitution mandates that Congress convene once each year at noon on January 3, unless the preceding Congress designates a different day.1 In odd-numbered years, following congressional elections, a “new” Congress begins. From 1789 until 1934, a new Congress began on March 4. The Twentieth Amendment, adopted in 1933, changed the opening date to January. Regardless of the change in date, the first day of a new Congress for the Senate follows a well-established routine—parts of which date back to the first Congress in 1789. The day begins with the opening prayer and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the swearing-in of senators-elect (and sometimes appointed senators), the establishment of a quorum, notifications to the House of Representatives and the president, and often the election of a president pro tempore and other officers. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate, as a continuing body, does not have to adopt or readopt its rules with each new Congress. Article 1, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides for staggered six-year terms for senators. The Senate is divided into three classes for election purposes, and every two years only one-third of the senators are elected or reelected, allowing two-thirds to continue serving without interruption. Before senators-elect can begin exercising their legislative responsibilities, each must present his or her certificate of election and then take the prescribed oath of office in an open session of the Senate. The certificate of election, issued by the governor from the incoming member’s state, confirms that the person was duly elected. Affixed with the state’s official seal, it is delivered to the secretary of the Senate for official recording. After the opening prayer and recitation of the pledge, the vice president of the United States, who serves as the president of the Senate, announces the receipt of certificates. Following established tradition, senators-elect are then escorted down the center aisle of the Senate Chamber to the presiding officer’s desk. Typically, the other senator from the member-elect’s state serves as an escort. Occasionally, the senator-elect chooses an alternative or additional escort, such as a former senator or a family member who also served in the Senate. The vice president, or, in the vice president’s absence the president pro tempore, administers the oath of office. Senators-elect take the oath to defend the Constitution by raising their right hand and agreeing to the words spoken by the presiding officer:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Some hold in their left hand a personal Bible or other text of personal significance. The final act in the oath-taking ceremony occurs as the secretary of the Senate invites each newly sworn senator to sign his or her name on a dedicated page in the Senate Oath Book. Following the official oath-taking ceremony in the Senate Chamber, newly sworn senators join the vice president in the Old Senate Chamber, where they reenact the swearing-in ceremony. Prior to 1987, when the opening day of the Senate was first broadcast on live television, the official swearing-in ceremony was normally off-limits to cameras of any sort. The long-standing ban on photography in the Chamber led newly sworn members to devise an alternative way of capturing this moment for their families, constituents, and posterity. In earlier years, the vice president invited newly sworn senators and their families into his Capitol office for a reenactment for home-state photographers. In 1983 the reenactment ceremony moved to the restored Old Senate Chamber and has been held in that historic setting ever since. Once the senators-elect have been sworn in, the vice president directs the Senate clerk to call the roll to establish a quorum, which the Constitution requires in order for the Senate to conduct business. The majority leader then moves to adopt resolutions to notify the House and the president that the Senate has a quorum and is ready to proceed. The language of those resolutions has changed very little over the last 230 years. In 1791 the Second Congress convened in Philadelphia. After senators-elect presented their credentials and the vice president administered the oath of office, the Senate passed the following motion:
Ordered, That Messrs. Butler, Morris, and Dickinson, be a committee to wait on the President of the United States, and inform him that a quorum of the Senate is assembled agreeably to the Constitution, and ready to receive any communications he may be pleased to make to the Senate.2
On January 3, 2019, the Senate adopted this resolution:
Resolved, That a committee consisting of two Senators be appointed to join such committee as may be appointed by the House of Representatives to wait upon the President of the United States and inform him that a quorum of each House is assembled and that the Congress is ready to receive any communication he may be pleased to make.3
While the committee members appointed to “wait upon the President of the United States” did so in person in the 18th and 19th centuries, today the committee informs the president by telephone.4 The Senate next proceeds to other administrative business, which often includes the election of the president pro tempore, the secretary of the Senate, the sergeant at arms, and the chaplain. The Senate typically adopts a resolution early in the new Congress to set procedures for operating the Senate during the next two years. The resolution may include committee ratios, committee membership, and other agreements made between the majority and minority parties on the operation of the Senate. This is usually a routine matter approved by unanimous consent agreement, but there have been occasions when the Senate faced unique challenges, making organization difficult. With much of the “housekeeping” out of the way, the Senate is ready to take up legislative and executive business. With each new Congress, all pending legislation and nominations of the previous Congress expire, requiring many bills and resolutions to be reintroduced. Guests seated in the Senate galleries and those watching from home will note that members often stand behind their Senate desks to deliver their remarks. At the start of each Congress, the desks are reapportioned between the two sides of the Chamber based on the number of senators from the two political parties. For many years, the desks were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. When a seat became available, the first senator to speak for it won the right to it. Today, at the beginning of each Congress, senators are given the option to change their seats, based on seniority. Three desks that are not assigned in this manner are the Daniel Webster Desk, the Jefferson Davis Desk, and the Henry Clay Desk. Senate resolutions govern the assignment of these desks. To learn more about the opening day of a new Congress or other Senate traditions, visit Frequently Asked Questions about a New Congress or About Senate Traditions & Symbols.
1. U.S. Const., amend. XX, § 2. 2. Senate Journal, 2nd Cong., 1st sess., October 24, 1791, 323. 3. “Informing the President of the United States That a Quorum of Each House Is Assembled,” Congressional Record, 116th Cong., 1st sess., January 3, 2019, S5 (daily edition). 4. Valerie Heitshusen, "The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the Senate Floor." Congressional Research Service, RS20722, updated December 22, 2020, 4.
Thaddeus Caraway (D-AR) as Santa Claus with Senate Pages, 1923 202012 14Christmas 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.

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. Christmas was not always an eventful holiday in the Senate. Prior to the 1850s, senators took very little time off while the Senate was in session. The legislative session started in the first week of December and, in the era before widely available railroad service, it was too onerous to travel home for a short holiday break. The Senate was typically in session on December 24, adjourned for Christmas Day, then returned to business on December 26. Not until 1857 did senators resolve to take a recess for the Christmas and New Year holidays. In 1870 Congress passed legislation that made Christmas a holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia. By the 1890s newspapers reported that attendance in both houses of Congress was “steadily diminishing” as the holiday approached, noting the Capitol was “practically deserted.”1 The absence of senators during a holiday recess meant there was time for those who stayed in town, especially staff, to celebrate the season. Soon, gift giving became part of the Senate’s holiday tradition. On Christmas Day 1862, for example, the Chamber’s messengers presented their supervisor Isaac Bassett—the assistant doorkeeper who began his 64-year Senate career as a page in 1831—with an engraved gold-topped cane to thank him for his service, in particular for “always showing the utmost courtesy to the messengers under his direction.”2 Another notable gift came in 1902, when Senate Sergeant at Arms Daniel M. Ransdell received a package from an unknown sender. Ransdell carefully removed the gold-foil wrapping from the package to find 14 ounces of anthracite coal. Before assuming that he was on the “naughty list,” know that the lump of coal was actually a welcome gift. Ransdell had been short on fuel for heating the Capitol that season.3 In the late 19th century, holiday celebrations—which had long been public displays of revelry—became more focused on children. In the Senate, gift-giving traditions centered on the youngsters employed as Senate pages. In 1887 California senator Leland Stanford, a multimillionaire, gave each page a five-dollar gold coin at Christmas. Isaac Bassett was charged with dispensing the gift and, though not a rotund man, his white hair and long beard and his “merry eye and cheerful voice” led the pages to dub him Santa Claus.4 Vice President Thomas R. Marshall began a tradition in 1913 of an annual Christmas dinner with the pages in the Senate dining room. Pages were treated to a sumptuous holiday spread and toasted for their hard work. Marshall then offered sage advice to the sated boys on how to succeed after they left the Senate’s employ. Calvin Coolidge continued the tradition when he became vice president in 1921.5 Some senators took advantage of the annual dinner to give the pages tokens of their appreciation. In 1915 Senator George Oliver of Pennsylvania and Senator James Martine of New Jersey gave each page a crisp new dollar bill. The following year Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware joined Oliver in giving cash gifts to the 16 pages. For a number of years Senator John Kendrick of Wyoming gave each page a new necktie. In an oral history interview conducted decades later, page Donald Detwiler recalled a Christmas dinner in 1917 at which Senator James D. Phelan of New York presented each page with a book.6 When the vice presidency was vacant in 1923—Coolidge had ascended to the presidency after the death of Warren G. Harding—a newspaper reporter quipped that “tiny Tim,” the smallest of the Senate pages, had lost his Santa Claus because no substitute had emerged to carry on the holiday tradition.7 The pages needn’t have worried. A few days after Christmas, Maud Younger, congressional chairwoman of the National Woman’s Party, learned that the pages might miss their celebration and invited them to her home for a feast. Arkansas senator Thaddeus Caraway donned a Santa Claus suit and arrived at Younger’s home with a bag of gifts. In 1925 Senator Robert Stanfield of Oregon took over the role of Santa and distributed gifts to the pages on the steps of the Capitol.8 When Vice President Charles Dawes revived the Christmas page dinner in 1925, the appreciative pages decided to turn the tables and offer their own gifts to the vice president. They delivered gifts to Dawes in a giant paper-mache pipe, a nod to his affinity for smoking a Lyon pipe (he became so identified with it that it became known after as the Dawes pipe). The gifts included a copy of the Senate rules “shot full of holes,” a clever reference to Dawes’s much-publicized harangue against Senate procedures that he had delivered from the presiding officer’s chair earlier that year. At the 1927 dinner, the pages presented Dawes with a new set of rules they had written to give the vice president complete control over Senate debate. Another gift was a model of a yellow taxicab, to mark the day that Dawes slept peacefully at the Willard Hotel when he was needed to cast a critical tie-breaking vote. Dawes had been awakened and hopped into a cab to rush back to the Chamber only to find he was too late to cast a vote. A few years later, the pages presented Vice President Charles Curtis with a tool to maintain order in the Chamber: a giant paper-mache gavel. The pages informed Curtis that should a senator become disorderly, the gavel was “guaranteed to mash ’em flat.” In return, Curtis gave each page a silver dollar.9 The vice president’s annual Senate page Christmas dinner and the associated gift giving continued a few more years, but the nascent tradition came to an end in the 1930s. Part of the reason for its demise was the adoption in 1933 of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which moved the start of congressional sessions from December to January. With the Senate recessing by fall in the years that followed, neither the vice president nor the pages were on duty at the Capitol for the holiday season. By the 1960s, when Senate sessions were growing longer and often extending into December, both the page program and the vice presidency had undergone changes. Rather than employing local youngsters for multiple years, the page program began accepting high school students from around the country to serve one semester at a time. By this time, the vice president also spent less time at the Capitol. Assuming more executive duties, the vice president began presiding only on ceremonial occasions or when needed to break a tie vote. Once a cherished Senate tradition, the annual gift exchanges disappeared and became lost to the past.
1. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., December 23, 1857, 156; Jacob R. Straus, "Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices," Congressional Research Service, R41990, updated July 1, 2021; “Holiday Pressure Is Growing,” Washington Post, December 19, 1892, 6; “Around the Capitol,” Baltimore Sun, December 25, 1894, 2. 2. Isaac Bassett Papers, Box 20, Folder G, p. 180, Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. [online version available through Archives Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 5423124, p. 22) at]. 3. “Coal His Christmas Gift,” New York Times, December 25, 1902, 3. 4. “Christmas Celebration at the Federal Capital,” Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1900, 18; “Senate Pages Christmas Gifts,” Washington Post, December 23, 1887, 2. 5. “Marshall Is Pages’ Host,” Washington Post, December 24, 1915, 4; “Coolidge Invites Pages,” New York Times, December 23, 1921, 12. 6. “Senators Remember Pages and Officials,” Washington Times, December 25, 1915, 6, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, accessed December 1, 2020,; “Senate Pages Receive Gifts,” Washington Evening Star, December 23, 1916, 10, Chronicling America,; Washington Evening Star, January 4, 1925, Chronicling America,; “Senate Chief Pages Get Christmas Gifts,” Washington Herald, December 25, 1915, 9, Chronicling America:; "Donald J. Detwiler: Senate Page (1917–1918),” Oral History Interview, August 8, 1985, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., available at 7. “Pages in Senate Have Lost Santa Clause thru Promotion,” Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1923, 16. 8. “Senate Pages Get Feast After All,” Boston Daily Globe, December 29, 1923, 7. 9. “Curtis Gets a Huge Gavel,” New York Times, December 25, 1930; “'Study Senators' Is Advice to Pages,” Washington Evening Star, December 25, 1929, 4, Chronicling America, ; “Dawes Gives Christmas Party,” Washington Post, December 24, 1926, 4; “New Set of Rules Is Dawes’s Gift from Pages in Senate,” Hartford Courant, December 23, 1927, 10; “Senate Pages Turn the Tables on Dawes,” New York Times, December 24, 1926, 2.
Plaque Affixed to Statue of David Rice Atchison (D-MO), Plattsburg, Missouri 202011 13David 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?

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? David Rice Atchison was a Missouri Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate from 1843 to 1855. Raised and educated in Kentucky, he settled in Missouri and opened a law practice in Clay County in 1829. Atchison rose to prominence in Missouri when he served as legal counsel to members of Joseph Smith’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons, who were being forcibly removed from Jackson County in 1833. Mormons living in his district helped to give Atchison his start in politics when they supported his successful candidacy for the state legislature in 1834. Atchison later served as brigadier general in the state militia and sought to maintain order as anti-Mormon violence ultimately drove them from the state. He went on to serve as a state court judge for two years before the governor appointed him to fill a vacant seat in the Senate in 1843.1 Unfortunately, Atchison’s support for Mormon rights did not extend to civil and human rights for others. In the Senate he was a staunch defender of slavery. He was a member of the so-called F Street Mess, a group of southern senators who successfully pushed for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed for the expansion of the institution into new western states and sparked outrage among opponents of slavery. Atchison joined other pro-slavery advocates and organized incursions into Kansas in 1854 to ensure that Kansas would become a slave state. He warned Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi that they would “be compelled to shoot, burn, and hang” to drive the “Abolitionists” out of Kansas. A group of pro-slavery settlers named their town Atchison in his honor, and the violence that engulfed Kansas marked another milestone on the road to civil war.2 Atchison’s actions in Kansas had lasting consequences, but today he is best remembered for the role he played—or didn’t play—in the presidential transition in 1849. Atchison was popular with his Senate colleagues, and they elected him president pro tempore on 13 separate occasions. In those days, the vice president regularly presided over Senate sessions, and the Senate chose a president pro tempore to preside in his place only during brief vice-presidential absences. On March 2, 1849, Vice President George M. Dallas took leave of the Senate for the remainder of the session and the Senate elected Atchison as president pro tempore. Atchison’s position as president pro tempore combined with a fluke of the political calendar in 1849 to set the stage for his alleged one-day presidency. Until the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, presidential and congressional terms began and ended at noon on March 4. In 1849 March 4 fell on a Sunday. On the morning of March 4, President James Polk signed the last of the session’s legislation at the White House and at 6:30 a.m. recorded in his diary, “Thus closed my official term as President.” The Senate, having been in session all night, adjourned sine die at 7:00 a.m. President-elect Zachary Taylor, in observance of the Christian Sabbath, preferred not to conduct his inauguration on Sunday, March 4, and the ceremony was delayed until the next day. On Monday, March 5, Taylor took the oath of office on the Capitol’s east front portico and the transition of power was complete.3 But if President Polk’s term ended on March 4 at noon, and Zachary Taylor was not sworn in until noon on March 5, who was president on March 4? Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 the Senate president pro tempore immediately followed the vice president in the line of presidential succession. Had Atchison been president from noon on March 4 to noon on March 5? Neither the Congressional Globe nor the Senate Journal included any suggestion that there was a vacancy in the presidency prior to Taylor’s inauguration on the 5th, yet the notion that Atchison had briefly ascended to the office of president of the United States began to circulate. The earliest public statement came in the March 12 edition of the Alexandria Gazette, which reported that Atchison “was on Sunday, by virtue of his office, President of the United States—for one day!” The “fact” was eventually included in profiles of Atchison, including his entry in an early version of the Biographical Directory of the American Congress. In 1907 a Philadelphia newspaper published a story about Atchison’s one-day presidency, which sparked further discussion in newspapers around the country. As often happens with a story like this, it became more elaborate with each retelling. “It was held by Congress,” the account stated, “that the functions of the President must devolve upon him from Sunday noon till Monday noon.” Atchison allegedly took the role so seriously, the story went, that he “signed one or two official papers as President.” Supposedly Atchison’s Democratic colleagues had playfully suggested that he could summon the army and prevent Taylor, a member of the rival Whig Party, from assuming the presidency altogether.4 Is there any truth to the idea that Atchison was the chief executive for a day? No. Atchison himself did not take the idea seriously. He wrote in 1880 that “I never for a moment acted as President of the U.S.” Congress did not make any determinations about who was president on March 4, and Atchison certainly did not sign official paperwork, but he did have some fun with it. He later joked that because of the long nights in session the previous days, he might have slept through his “term” except that his friends woke him to congratulate him and seek patronage jobs for their friends. “I recollect,” he said in 1889, “that Senator Mangum of North Carolina suggested that I make him secretary of state.” He liked to say that his presidency had been “the honestest administration this country ever had.”5 In 1925 historian George Haynes—an authority on the Senate—dismissed the claims of Atchison’s presidency. The clearest indication that Atchison was not president, he noted, was the fact that Atchison’s existing term as senator and, more importantly, as president pro tempore, had ended at noon on March 4. The position of president pro tempore was, in fact, vacant. Atchison was not elected to the position again until the Senate’s special session convened at noon on March 5. Minutes later the president and vice president took their oaths.6 If Atchison was not the president on March 4, who was? Atchison himself believed that the office was essentially vacant for that day. He could point to precedent on this point. Inauguration day similarly had fallen on a Sunday in 1821, the day on which President James Monroe was to take the oath for a second term. Monroe also chose to delay his oath until March 5, leading John Quincy Adams to write in his diary that the delay created “a sort of interregnum during which there was no qualified person to act as President.” Constitutional scholar Charles Warren concluded in 1925, however, that the Constitution only requires that the president take the oath “before he enter upon the execution of his office.” Zachary Taylor, Warren argued, was for all intents and purposes president the moment Polk’s term ended, since he could have taken the oath and executed his responsibilities at any time thereafter.7 Despite debunking by scholars, the myth of Atchison’s one-day presidency carried on, as evidenced by the plaque below his bronze statue unveiled in Plattsburg, Missouri, in 1928. Months later the Atchison “presidency” was highlighted in the widely syndicated “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” newspaper feature, and it has resurfaced periodically ever since.8 Regardless of whether the presidency fell to the Senate’s president pro tempore or the country actually lacked a president for a day in 1849, the next time inauguration day fell on a Sunday, the president-elect took steps to avoid the same confusion. On Saturday, March 3, 1877, two days before his public inaugural ceremony, Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House to become the 19th president of the United States. Hayes’s oath raises another question, however, that has not attracted much attention. If outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant’s term did not end until March 4, did the United States have two presidents at the same time for one day?9
1. William E. Parrish, David Rice Atchison of Missouri: Border Politician (University of Missouri Press, 1961); Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Atchison’s Letters and the Causes of Mormon Expulsion from Missouri,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 3 (July 1986): 1–47. 2. Alice Elizabeth Malavasic, The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Re-Wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Parrish, David Rice Atchison, 164. 3. George Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” American Historical Review 30, no. 2 (January 1925): 309. 4. “News of the Day,” Alexandria Gazette, March 12, 1849; “Atchison Never President,” Washington Post, February 1, 1908, 14; John Wilson Townsend, “History of David Rice Atchison of Kentucky,” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society 8, no. 23 (May 1910): 39–44. 5. Atchison to Joseph Howarth, [c. 1880], Shapell Manuscript Foundation, accessed October 9, 2020,; Walter B. Stevens, “A Day and Night with Old Davy: David R. Atchison,” Missouri Historical Review 31, no. 2 (January 1937): 129, 130–31. 6. Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” 308–10. 7. "John Quincy Adams diary 31, 1 January 1819–20 March 1821, 10 November 1824–6 December 1824, page 545" [electronic edition],The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society, 2004, accessed October 7, 2020,; Haynes, “President of the United States for a Single Day,” 310. 8. “Memorial to Atchison: President for a Day,” New York Times, October 28, 1928, 52; “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” Washington Post, November 21, 1928, 17. 9. “The Oath—Where and How It Was Taken,” Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 1877, 4.
Book Jacket of Journal of William Maclay 202010 16Senate Diaries
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.
Categories: Archives and Research

The stories that historians craft are only as good as the sources available. Historians of the Senate can draw on a wide variety of published records created by Congress, such as the Senate Journal, speeches and debates in the Congressional Record, and committee hearings and reports. The National Archives is filled with memos, reports, and correspondence. Senators establish large archives of their personal papers in home-state libraries and universities. There are also vast collections of newspaper articles penned by Senate contemporaries, 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. Consider the First Congress that met in New York City in 1789. That Congress created the first three executive departments, approved the Judiciary Act of 1789, and passed the Bill of Rights. It also established the permanent location of the federal capital, funded the Revolutionary War debts, and created the first national bank. The Senate’s doors were closed to the public during this precedent-setting period, but we have a key source that sheds light on what went on in the Chamber: the diary of Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania. Maclay’s diary is the lone insider account of Senate proceedings during his two-year tenure, 1789 to 1791. Maclay, who wrote every evening with the day’s events fresh in his mind, conveyed George Washington’s frustration during his visit to the Chamber to confer with senators about a treaty. He recorded colorful descriptions of individuals and remarked on what it was like to mingle with members from other parts of the country. He noted, for example, that New Englanders “dwell on trivial distinctions . . . and ceremony.” Vice President John Adams was the subject of Maclay’s ridicule for what the Pennsylvania senator perceived as Adams’s haughty attitude. “He . . . has a very silly kind of laugh,” wrote Maclay. He also noted that from the very first session some senators were already willing to use prolonged debate to delay action on a bill, a tactic later dubbed the filibuster. “The design of the Virginians and of the South Carolina gentlemen was to talk away the time, so that we could not get the bill passed,” Maclay wrote in 1789. Maclay’s descendants kept the diary private for decades. Published by his family in abridged form in the 1880s, the full diary was commercially published in 1890. It has been an indispensable reference for historians ever since.1 John Quincy Adams kept a diary ( throughout his life, including while he served a single term in the Senate from 1803 to 1809. Adams’s writings provide behind-the-scenes details of the Senate. For example, although the Senate Journal in 1803 attributed a three-day recess to necessary repairs for the Chamber's leaky roof, Adams records that "another motive, not mentioned, might be that the annual horse races of the city are held this week." Adams was critical of Vice President George Clinton for what he saw as poor judgment and ignorance of basic Senate procedure. The Massachusetts senator derided Clinton for asking senators to warn him when they planned to make a long speech so that he could turn over the duties of presiding to someone else and "take the opportunity to warm himself by the fire."2 As did Maclay and Adams, other senators have left records of their observations, interactions, and experiences. New Hampshire senator William Plumer first put quill to paper to start his diary on October 17, 1803. Decades before the Senate made any regular effort to report its proceedings verbatim, Plumer kept a complete record of Senate sessions until his term expired in 1807. His diary—he called it his “memorandum”—provides unique information on the Louisiana treaty debate, for example, including his outburst at President Thomas Jefferson for taking the Senate’s approval for granted. The president, by publicly supporting the treaty before the Senate had a chance to take it up, was, in Plumer's words, destroying the Senate's "freedom of opinion."3 Lawyer and publisher Horace Chilton of Texas is another senator who served for a brief time but left voluminous commentaries on the Senate. While sitting in the Chamber in the 1890s, Chilton would listen to speeches and jot down detailed descriptions of his colleagues. From Chilton we get a description of how senators of that era delivered speeches from their small desks: “His desk is arranged according to [a] custom very general in the Senate by putting six or eight large books on his desk building up a sort of pulpit twelve or fifteen inches high, and laying his notes on that pulpit or pile of books.” Chilton had intended to use his notes as the basis for a memoir and wanted to present his unvarnished assessments of colleagues. “I have concluded to note from time to time reflections concerning public men of my acquaintance,” he wrote. “The purpose will be to deal in candor. To avoid any mere gossip of evil, but to avoid equally the tone of adulation . . . which characterize[s] nearly all biography.” While listening to a speech by Senator William Chandler of New Hampshire on February 16, 1897, concerning the monetary question, Chilton wrote that Chandler “is a very prominent man in this country, [but] in the Senate not an influential man. Not a man on whose judgment people will rely. But active, always throwing himself into debate.”4 As anyone who has tried keeping a diary knows, it takes discipline. Ten years later, Chilton looked back on his notes and lamented, “What a small amount of matter of the kind intended to be recorded was actually put down.” He never published his memoir. Two senators from Vermont brought the habit of keeping a political diary into the 20th century. Frank Greene served in the Senate from 1923 to 1930. He kept a diary of one of the most fascinating periods in U.S. history—the years between the two world wars. In the 1970s, Senator George Aiken compiled and published his modern-era diary. He first joined the Senate in 1941 but did not begin keeping a diary until 1972. He dictated his thoughts every Saturday for 150 weeks until his retirement in 1975. One notable entry describes the senator’s meeting with President Richard Nixon on the evening of August 8, 1974, just before the president announced his plan to resign the following day. “I had constantly opposed resignation on the President’s part, preferring the impeachment process,” Aiken wrote. He hoped, above all, that his diary would show “how events can change their appearance from week to week and how the attitude of a Senator can change with them.”5 Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, the first woman elected to the Senate, kept a diary in the early 1930s. Appointed in 1931 to fill a vacancy caused by the death of her husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway, she subsequently won a special election in January of 1932 for the remainder of the term. Soon after joining the Senate, friends encouraged her to keep a diary about life in Washington—from a female perspective. As a widowed mother of three sons, Caraway hoped the eventual publication of her diary might provide needed financial support to her family. As her senatorial duties took up more of her time, however, she put her diary aside. A slim volume titled Silent Hattie Speaks was published, but not until 1979.6 For many years, historians dismissed Caraway’s diary as the scribblings of a widow lost in the wilderness of politics, but a more careful examination paints a different picture. In the midst of commentary about fashion and hairstyles—presumed to be the observations that would most interest her potential readers—Caraway included some useful, pithy nuggets about her history-making service in the Senate. For example, when she surprised nearly everyone by announcing that she would seek election to a full term in 1932, she wrote in her diary, “I pitched a coin and heads came [up] three times,” adding, “I really want to try out my own theory of a woman running for office.” After the announcement was made, she wrote, the “die is cast” and “all I can do is sit tight and take whatever . . . comes from such a blow to tradition.” She won that election, and was reelected in 1938. During her early years in the Senate, Caraway felt ignored by her male colleagues, a complaint echoed by other women senators who followed. Fellow Arkansas senator and Democratic leader Joe T. Robinson, for example, “came around only for a moment at the instigation” of his chief of staff. Later, when Caraway initiated a conversation with Robinson, she wrote: “I very foolishly tried to talk to Joe today. Never again. He was cooler than a fresh cucumber and sourer than a pickled one.” As years passed, however, Caraway gained a good deal of respect from her colleagues and her constituents and broke down some significant barriers to women in the Senate. Historians now wish she had kept up that diary throughout her 14 years as a senator. These are but a sample of notable Senate diaries. Simon Cameron, who served as secretary of war in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet and represented Pennsylvania in the Senate during the antebellum and Reconstruction eras, left a chronicle of his experiences during the nation’s crisis of disunion. Harold Burton has the distinction of being the last sitting senator to be appointed to a seat on the Supreme Court. He represented the state of Ohio during World War II and left a private diary as part of his personal papers in the Library of Congress.7 One time-honored way to shape the historical record of the Senate, and ensure your place in that record, is to keep a diary. Fortunately for the historians of the Senate, many senators did just that.
1. Edgar S. Maclay, ed., Journal of William Maclay (New York: Appleton and Co., 1890). Available online at A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, Library of Congress, accessed October 6, 2020, 2. "The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection," Massachusetts Historical Society, accessed October 6, 2020, 3. William Plumer Papers, Diaries 1805–1836, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. 4. Horace Chilton Papers, Diaries 1888–1894, 1897, Briscoe Center for American History, University at Texas-Austin. 5. George Aiken, Aiken: Senate Diary, January 1972–January 1975 (Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Greene Press, 1976). 6. Diane D. Kincaid, ed., Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979). 7. Simon Cameron Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
Constitution Cake 202009 17Celebrating 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.

More than two centuries after its ratification, the United States Constitution remains a fundamental document. Strengthened by amendments, it continues to guide our public officials and the people they serve. It has endured through civil war, economic depressions, assassinations, and even terrorist attacks, and remains a source of wisdom and inspiration. To encourage Americans to learn more about the Constitution, Congress established Constitution Week in 1956, to begin each year on September 17—the date in 1787 when delegates to the federal convention signed the Constitution. In 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia took it a step further, sponsoring 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. Appropriately, Senator Byrd kicked off the Senate's first Constitution Day celebration in 2005 with a speech in the historic Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building. He shared his personal devotion to the Constitution (a copy of which he always kept in his pocket) and stressed the importance of educating Americans about their founding document. "Just as the birth of our nation depended on the quality, knowledge, and experience of the men who gave it life, its continued vitality depends on the efforts of our generation, and of future generations, to keep the vision of its Framers alive," Byrd stated. "It depends on the personal commitment of each and every one of us to learn, to understand, and to preserve the governing principles that are set forth so clearly and powerfully in the text of our remarkable Constitution." For the Senate Historical Office, Constitution Day has been an opportunity to explore the ways in which the Constitution has shaped the Senate, the role of the Senate in amending the Constitution, and how the Senate has exercised its constitutional prerogatives and fulfilled its constitutional duties. The annual event has examined the debates of the federal convention in 1787 that led to the creation of the Constitution, the heated arguments of the state ratification process, as well as the nature of federal elections under the Constitution and how Congress has changed the electoral process over time. These events also have examined how the Constitution has been amended, from the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791 to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators in 1913 and the Nineteenth Amendment providing for female suffrage in 1920. Other topics have included the Senate's constitutional role in the treaty-making process and the various constitutional crises confronted by the Civil War Senate, including defining a quorum in the wake of secession, Civil War amendments to the Constitution, and the readmission of states to representation after the war. In recent years, Constitution Day programs have expanded to include guided exhibits featuring facsimiles of historic documents, maps, and images. In 2016, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the creation of the Senate’s first permanent standing committees in 1816, Senate historians and archivists created four archival exhibits that demonstrated how committees aid the Senate in exercising its powers under the Constitution. Highlighting the work of four committees established in 1816 (Foreign Relations, Finance, Judiciary, and Commerce), these exhibits illustrated how Senate committees provide a forum for constitutional government in action. Using case studies from different eras, the documents revealed how Senate committee work has changed since 1816 and highlighted the growing role of committee staff. In the 20th century, as the nation grew to superpower status, the Senate reformed and modernized its committee structure, allowing for increased professional staff who brought their expertise to the legislative and oversight process. For the many staff members attending the event, this served as a reminder of the vital role they play in Senate history and the continuing importance of archiving committee records. In 2017 the Senate’s Constitution Day event focused on the contentious debate during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 over representation that culminated in the Great Compromise of 1787, the agreement that established state equality rather than population-based representation as a defining characteristic of the Senate. Following a brief historical presentation, those attending the event explored archival exhibits illustrating the debate that produced this compromise, how the compromise was received during the ratification process, and its enduring legacy. Constitution Day 2018 examined how the constitutional provision for equal state representation in the Senate led to fierce battles over the admission of new states. Article IV of the Constitution specifies that "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union." The Constitution also gave Congress the power "to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory . . . belonging to the United States." The Constitution, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, and later treaties under which the U.S. acquired new territories—such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803—governed Congress's practices for organizing territories and setting conditions for statehood. Only after territories had served a period of tutelage and built up the requisite population and economic resources could they apply to Congress for equal status as a state. As Assistant Historian Daniel Holt explained in his Constitution Day 2018 presentation, the Senate frequently “took center stage in the often-contentious battles over admission of new states. Each additional state has held the potential to upset the existing balance of power in the Senate." To accompany this event, the Historical Office created an online feature entitled "On Equal Footing: The Constitution, the Senate, and the Expanding United States," which included historical information and the archival exhibits from this presentation. The Constitution of 1787 established the framework for the United States government, but it has fallen to succeeding generations to interpret and implement its principles. Every year, Constitution Day provides the opportunity for citizens to revisit the nation’s founding document and examine how it shapes this nation more than two centuries after its ratification. The Senate Historical Office welcomes this annual opportunity to continue its explorations into the origins of the Constitution and its role in the history of the United States Senate.
Reenactment of Oath-taking in the Vice President's Office, January 3, 1949 202008 18Women 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.
Categories: Women | Oral History Project

On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee state legislature approved the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by a nail-biting margin of one vote. The Volunteer State was the 36th state to approve the amendment, and having met the constitutional requirement of approval by three-quarters of the states, the amendment was ratified. Suffragists across the nation celebrated this long and hard-fought victory. Two years later, 87-year-old Rebecca Felton of Georgia, a Democrat, became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Appointed to fill a vacancy, Felton took the oath on November 21, 1922. She gave only one speech in the Senate Chamber, but her brief tenure tore down a long-standing barrier to women. Felton predicted a new day for women in politics. “When the women of the country come in and sit with you . . . , you will get ability, you will get integrity . . . and you will get unstinted usefulness.” Even before Felton took office, women had already left their mark on Senate history. In fact, women have always been a part of the Senate’s story, influencing its members and guiding its actions as petitioners, activists, correspondents, spouses, witnesses, lobbyists, speakers, and most importantly, as staff and then as senators. To commemorate the centennial of the Woman Suffrage Amendment, ratified in 1920, and to acknowledge the service of the first woman senator in 1922, the Senate Historical Office celebrates the evolving role of the Women of the Senate. Since the Senate opened its doors to the public in 1795, women have been a near-constant presence in and around the Chamber. Margaret Bayard Smith was an avid writer of letters who began writing for the National Intelligencer, Washington, D.C.’s first newspaper, in the 1820s. An articulate observer of the Senate's early years, Smith's accounts of the dramatic exchanges between Senators Daniel Webster and Robert Hayne provided a richly detailed portrait of this historic debate. In addition to chronicling Senate debates, women have played pivotal roles in shaping them, such as petitioning to abolish slavery and demanding women’s right to vote, among other issues. Spouses have been active political participants, engaging with elected members and the nation in a variety of ways. During World War I, for example, Senate wives formed a local Red Cross branch to support U.S. troops, rolling bandages and assisting local hospitals. After the war, the Ladies of the Senate expanded their mission to include other charitable work. Today, Senate spouses—including the husbands of women senators—maintain a connection with the Red Cross and pursue a variety of activities, including hosting an annual luncheon for the First Lady. Senate spouses continue to play an important role in the Senate of the modern era, not only as partners in Senate families, but also as active, dynamic, and influential actors in the American political system. By the time Felton took office in 1922, a growing number of pioneering women had assumed top staff positions on committees and in senators’ offices. One of those pioneers, Leona Wells, joined the Senate's clerical staff on January 14, 1901, and remained on the payroll for the next 25 years. Today, women hold many important and influential positions in the Senate. They work for committees and in members’ offices, as elected officers, policymakers, legal counsel, and staff directors. They also support the institution’s daily operations, serving on the Capitol Police force, for example, in Senate dining facilities, in building maintenance, as Senate curators and historians, and in a variety of other positions. Felton’s historic Senate appointment paved the way for other women senators. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman to win election to the Senate in 1932. In 1949 Margaret Chase Smith of Maine took the oath of office, becoming the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In the 21st century, women’s growing influence in politics is seen daily in the Senate Chamber, where a record number of women currently serve as U.S. senators. Fifty-seven women have served in the United States Senate since the first woman took the oath of office in 1922. To capture some of their varied experiences, document the challenges they faced, and record their unique perspectives on social and political issues of the day, Senate historians have conducted oral history interviews with former women senators and staff. Their stories are central to understanding Senate history. They provide a fuller, richer understanding of the evolving role of women in the Senate and their impact on the institution and the country. The Senate Historical Office continues its Women’s Suffrage Centennial series with its new online commemorative exhibit Women of the Senate.
Campaign Button, "Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois, for U.S. Senate" 202007 29The 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.
Categories: Oral History Project

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. The interviews below represent a small sample of the larger collection. On January 3, 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first woman from Illinois and the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. As one of only seven women senators and the only African American in the Senate at the time, Moseley Braun experienced a level of constituent demands rarely seen before. “I had a job to do. I had to represent the people of Illinois. That means attending to their business. That means being a legislator. That means constituent service work … That's how I saw what I was supposed to do.”
Elizabeth Letchworth began her Senate career as a page in the 1970s and moved on to serve in the Republican cloakroom and as a floor assistant. In these positions, she often worked at the heart of the action in the Senate Chamber. In 1995 senators elected her Republican Party secretary, the first woman to serve in that position. “Because of the nature of the job, because it’s not a job where you can learn from reading books or going to classes, it is the epitome of on-the-job training.”
Carl Marcy served for 18 years as chief of staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the height of the Cold War. Marcy recalls that pivotal era as one in which the trust between Congress and the White House steadily eroded, most notably over the war in Vietnam. “It was during that summer [of 1965] that I think the administration began to worry a little bit about what [Foreign Relations Chairman Bill] Fulbright's attitude was. He was a bit too independent for them.”

These and other stories are found in the many interviews that make up the Senate Oral History Project. The Historical Office recently redesigned the online presentation of its oral histories. A wide-ranging selection of interviews can now be searched by name, position, or era, and by a select number of subjects and events. Each interview provides a unique perspective on Senate history, offering a deeper and more nuanced understanding of congressional action and life on Capitol Hill.

George S. McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota, 1963–1981. 202006 5A 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.

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. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beach on the coast of Normandy, France. This extraordinary military operation marked the beginning of a strategic plan to liberate continental Europe from Nazi occupation. Philip Hart waded ashore at Utah Beach that day with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. As he and his fellow soldiers advanced on fortified German targets, an artillery shell hit his right arm, severing the main artery. He slowed the bleeding with a hastily made tourniquet and insisted that medics attend first to a fallen comrade before consenting to his own evacuation. Hart was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He later served 17 years in the Senate, from 1959 to 1976, representing the state of Michigan. Miles east of Hart’s location, Lee Metcalf, a commissioned officer with the army’s 5th Division, stormed Omaha Beach. Two thousand Americans died in a single day in a battle that came to be known as Bloody Omaha. American journalist Ernie Pyle later confessed what many thought at the time: “It seemed to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.” After Omaha, Metcalf helped to liberate Paris and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Discharged in 1946, he returned to his home state of Montana, where voters elected him to four terms in the House of Representatives, followed by three terms in the Senate, from 1961 to 1978. While Allied forces took Normandy beaches, James Strom Thurmond crash landed miles inland at an apple orchard near Sainte-Mère-Église, France, as part of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Thurmond sustained minor injuries, spent the next few days in combat, and later helped to organize local provisional governments. He was awarded the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with Valor device, and the Purple Heart. The native South Carolinian represented his state in the Senate from 1955 to 2003. Other future senators also fought with distinction. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Edward Brooke, a former ROTC cadet and recent graduate of Howard University, was assigned to the U.S. Army’s segregated 366th Combat Infantry Regiment. In addition to the hazards of combat, Brooke encountered daily reminders of the second-class status given to African American soldiers who fought bravely in the European theater while facing intimidation and even violence from military officials. The U.S. military barred black soldiers from the PX and officers’ clubs and granted them access to the base movie theaters only at designated times. Later promoted to captain, Brooke earned the Bronze Star and a Distinguished Service Medal. Brooke represented the state of Massachusetts in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. Throughout the war, American air power offered crucial support to Allied ground forces. Army Air Corps Lieutenant George McGovern flew a B-24 bomber on 35 missions over wartime Europe and never lost a man on his crew. The army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his “high degree of courage and piloting skill … intrepid spirit … and rare devotion to duty.” He later served three Senate terms for the state of South Dakota, from 1963 to 1981, and was the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee. In the spring of 1945, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division began an offensive to gain control of northern Italy. Robert Dole, a combat infantry officer in the division, was critically wounded while leading his platoon on a mission to neutralize a pocket of German resisters holed up in a farmhouse. Dole spent nine agonizing hours on the battlefield awaiting his medical evacuation. The army awarded the future senator two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with Valor device for his leadership and courage under fire. Dole represented Kansas in the Senate for 27 years, from 1969 to 1996, and won the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. That same month, another future senator fought in the Italian countryside. When the U.S. military dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans in 1943, Daniel Inouye joined the U.S. Army’s segregated all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. On a Tuscan battlefield in April 1945, Inouye was shot in the stomach while leading a flanking maneuver. He refused medical treatment and then organized a second attack. That’s when a German rifle grenade nearly severed his arm. Doctors later amputated it. For Inouye’s effort and perseverance, the Army awarded him the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. Later, while recuperating in a Michigan hospital, he befriended Philip Hart and Robert Dole, both of whom were recovering from their own injuries in the same hospital. Inouye represented the state of Hawaii in the Senate for 49 years, from 1963 to 2012. These men, and more than 100 other veterans of the Second World War, shaped the Senate for decades to come. In 2013 the Senate’s last World War II veteran, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, died in office. Each year, as we commemorate D-Day on June 6, the war memorials that dot the coastline of Normandy serve as reminders of the sacrifices made by Allied forces during World War II, including the future senators who served in so many theaters of war. “We are duty bound to keep [their memory],” the Omaha Beach Museum states simply, “that future generations may never forget at what cost our freedom came.”
Charles Sumner 202005 4Charles 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.

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is best remembered for his role in a dramatic and infamous event in Senate history—what has become known as the “Caning of Sumner.” Just days earlier, Sumner had delivered a fiery speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas,” in which he railed against the institution of slavery and unleashed a stream of vitriol against the senators who defended it. In retaliation, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sumner at his desk in the Senate Chamber, beating him with a heavy walking stick until the senator was left bleeding and unconscious on the Chamber floor. Sumner convalesced, returning only intermittently over the next three years. He resumed full-time duties in 1859 and over the next 15 years became a trailblazing legislator who left an indelible mark on the Senate and the country. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1861 to 1871, Sumner wielded great influence over the nation’s diplomacy, but his tireless efforts in the realm of abolition and civil rights were what truly defined his career. Sumner was among the first members of Congress to argue that the Civil War had to be fought to end slavery as much as to save the Union. In fact, he said the two goals were inextricably linked. He called slavery “the main-spring of Rebellion” and insisted, “Let the National Government . . . simply throw the thing upon the flames madly kindled by itself, and the Rebellion will die at once.”1 He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to prevent moderate Republicans in Congress and in Abraham Lincoln’s administration from compromising on the question of abolishing slavery. When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which freed slaves in the rebelling states, Sumner praised Lincoln’s action but quickly added that the presidential proclamation did not go far enough. Only national abolition, immune from action by the Supreme Court, could guarantee an end to the heinous institution—and that meant a constitutional amendment. To gain Senate approval of what would become the Thirteenth Amendment, Sumner collaborated with a number of antislavery activists and forged a unique alliance with members of the Women’s National Loyal League. Created by stalwart reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the Women’s National Loyal League held its first convention in May of 1863 and began a campaign to collect one million signatures on a petition demanding a constitutional amendment for the total abolition of slavery. To receive this and other petitions, Sumner asked the Senate to create a special committee “to take into consideration all propositions . . . concerning slavery.” The Senate complied and named Sumner as chairman.2 By early 1864, the National Loyal League had collected 100,000 signatures. Never one to miss a moment of high drama, on February 9, 1864, Sumner entered the Senate Chamber accompanied by two tall African American men who carried a pair of massive steamer trunks filled with petitions. Sumner presented the petitions to the Senate, calling the signers “a mighty army, one hundred thousand strong. . . . They ask for nothing less than universal emancipation.”3 Sumner’s speech became known as “The Prayer of One Hundred Thousand.” Sumner hoped to use his position as chairman of the new committee to promote total abolition. In February of 1864, just before delivering his “Prayer” speech, he introduced a constitutional amendment to end slavery, asking that it be referred to his Select Committee on Slavery and Freedmen, although Senate practice dictated otherwise. Judiciary Committee chairman Lyman Trumbull objected, insisting that his committee was the proper one to consider such proposals. The Senate sided with Trumbull. When the Judiciary Committee reported its version of an abolition amendment to the full Senate, Sumner thought it was not strong enough. He had insisted that any amendment must include a provision that all persons were “equal before the law,” but few senators were ready to take such a bold step. Making all persons “equal before the law,” argued one senator, might lead to dangerous consequences, such as providing voting rights to women. Instead, the committee approved more modest language that echoed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Although the statement was less than Sumner had hoped for, he joined his colleagues in voting for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in April of 1864. In the years following the Civil War, Sumner recognized that abolition was only the beginning of the battle for civil rights. He used what power he could muster to protect the gains that African Americans had made in the South and urged his colleagues to approve mobilization of federal resources to do so. He emerged as a leading opponent of President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, which Sumner and other Radical Republicans believed were designed to reinstate white supremacy in the former Confederate states. He supported impeachment and removal of the president in 1868, though the Senate came up one vote short of conviction. Sumner’s steadfast defense of his principles often led him to oppose compromise measures. He believed that the government owed former slaves a guarantee of their suffrage rights, along with support for education and land ownership. Sumner initially opposed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that African Americans were citizens entitled to equal protection of the laws, because it did not contain a clear guarantee of voting rights. Ultimately, he cast his vote in favor of the amendment. Never shy about chastising his fellow Republicans for not going far enough, Sumner took every opportunity to place the question of equal rights before the Senate. Such radical views stirred action, but they also made enemies. “If I could cut the throats of about half a dozen senators,” confessed William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, “Sumner would be the first victim.”4 In 1870 Sumner introduced what he considered to be his most important piece of legislation, a civil rights bill to guarantee to all citizens, regardless of color, “equal and impartial enjoyment of any accommodation, advantage, facility, or privilege.” Sumner had characterized segregation and other anti-black laws in the South as “nothing but the tail of slavery,” and he predicted his civil rights bill would be the greatest achievement of Reconstruction. “Very few measures of equal importance have ever been presented,” he proclaimed.5 Unfortunately, Sumner’s idealistic and uncompromising stance had alienated him from many of his Senate colleagues, and the bill failed. In 1871 he even lost his influential position atop the Foreign Relations Committee when he entered into a fierce public battle with President Ulysses S. Grant over plans to annex Santo Domingo. The party caucus sided with Grant and removed Sumner as chairman. Despite becoming increasingly isolated within his party, Sumner persisted and continued to introduce the civil rights bill. After suffering a heart attack in 1874, Sumner’s final thoughts remained with his bill. The dying Sumner pleaded with Frederick Douglass and others at his bedside: “Don’t let the bill fail. You must take care of [my] civil rights bill.”6 Sumner did not live to see the fate of his bill. When Sumner died on March 11, 1874, his supporters mourned him as a national leader. Thousands passed by his casket in the Capitol Rotunda, where it was placed on the same catafalque that had held President Lincoln’s casket a decade before. Thousands more lined the train route by which the senator’s body was transported north and were present upon its arrival in Massachusetts. As he lay in state in the Massachusetts State House, soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, composed of African American soldiers who had fought in the Civil War, stood guard. The Springfield Republican lamented: “The noblest head in America has fallen, and the most accomplished and illustrious of our statesmen is no more.”7 As a final tribute to their often-difficult colleague, senators passed an amended version of Sumner’s bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, but again Sumner proved to be ahead of his time. The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1883. It would take another 80 years for Sumner’s ideas to gain full legislative endorsement—with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you seek the source of Sumner’s fame, look to the caning. To truly understand the importance of Sumner’s enduring legacy as statesman and legislator, however, you need to explore the career that came after the caning.
1. Quoted in David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York: Knopf, 1970), 29. 2. Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 148. 3. Congressional Globe (38th Cong., 1st Sess.), February 9, 1864, p. 536. 4. William Pitt Fessenden to Elizabeth Fessenden Warriner, June 1, 1862, quoted in Eric L. McKitrick, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 272. 5. Congressional Globe (38th Congress, 1st Session), May 13, 1864, p. 2246; Sumner to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, February 25, 1872, in Edward Lillie Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, 1860-1874 (Boston, 1894), 502. 6. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, 1860-1874, 598. 7. Quoted in Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 8.
TimePetition to the Senate for a Suffrage Amendment, 1918 202004 2Discovering 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.”

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.” Formally proposed in the Senate for the first time in 1878, the Nineteenth Amendment was finally approved by the Senate 41 years later, on June 4, 1919. Ratified the following year, the amendment extended to women the right to vote. To tell the story of the suffragists’ protracted campaign to win that right, Senate historians delved into a variety of primary sources, including petitions, congressional hearings and reports, and the personal papers of U.S. senators. Records of Congress The Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives (where congressional records are stored) houses a vast collection of woman suffrage records. The bulk of these records consists of petitions created by tens of thousands of suffragists who exercised their First Amendment right. Their petitions come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are as brief as a telegram, while others include hundreds of signatures pasted or stitched together and rolled up in large bundles. Senate historians combed through scores of petitions to understand not only the suffragists and their demands but also those who opposed woman suffrage. Senate historians also consulted speeches printed in the Congressional Record and committee hearing transcripts and reports to understand senators’ evolving attitudes toward woman suffrage. When California senator Aaron Sargent introduced the woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution in 1878, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections agreed to allow women to testify in support of the amendment. After hearing from witnesses, including suffrage pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Reverend Olympia Brown, the committee’s majority remained unconvinced and recommended that Sargent’s proposal be “indefinitely postponed.” A few senators voiced their dissent. “The American people must extend the right of Suffrage to Woman or abandon the idea that Suffrage is a birthright,” concluded Senators George Hoar (R-MA), John H. Mitchell (R-OR), and Angus Cameron (R-WI). In 1913, following a historic suffrage parade in the nation’s capital, a Senate subcommittee investigated the chaotic and hostile conditions endured by suffragists along the parade route. The voluminous testimony and photographs published in these hearing volumes provide compelling evidence of lewd comments, physical assaults, and intimidation, as well as the volatility of the massive crowds of people that converged along the parade route. In the wake of these dramatic hearings, the committee concluded that the police had acted with “apparent indifference and in this way encouraged the crowd to press in upon the parade.” Senators’ Papers To delve deeper into this rich and engaging story, the historians also ventured outside the Senate’s official holdings at the National Archives to explore the personal papers of individual senators and suffragists, as well as the records of suffrage organizations housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Correspondence between senators and their constituents often revealed the motivation behind a senator’s decision to support or oppose the amendment. Idaho senator William Borah, for example, who opposed the national suffrage amendment, insisting it was an issue best left to the states, justified his opposition to the amendment in letters to concerned constituents. “I am aware . . . [my position] will lead to much criticism among friends at home,” he wrote. “I would rather give up the office,” he continued, “[than] cast a vote . . . I do not believe in.” Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette succinctly explained his support for the proposal in a letter to Anne Fitzhugh Miller: “A government of equal rights cannot justly deny women the right of suffrage. It will surely come.” Like the petitions in the National Archives, such letters offer a palpable sense of the engagement of citizens with their senators. Organizational Archives and Other Primary Sources Senate historians reviewed archival materials housed at the National Woman’s Party (NWP) at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, including materials related to the organization’s complex lobbying operation and a political cartoon collection by artist Nina Allender. Many of Allender’s cartoons prominently featured the Senate. A deep dive into the extensive photographic collection at the Library of Congress turned up a host of illuminating images to illustrate suffrage campaign activities at the Capitol and the Senate Office Building, as suffragists assembled to deliver their petitions and to demand the right to vote. An exhaustive review of historical newspapers and periodicals revealed personal testimonials and editorials. Particularly informative was the series of articles written by suffragist Maud Younger and published in McCall’s magazine in 1919, just after congressional passage of the amendment. Entitled “Revelations of a Woman Lobbyist,” Younger’s intimate account provides an insider’s view of the extensive lobbying campaign suffragists waged to win House and Senate approval of the Nineteenth Amendment. Primary sources such as photos, petitions, speeches, published hearings, correspondence, historical newspapers, and periodicals are all essential to the historian’s work. Our special feature, “The Senate and Women’s Fight for the Vote,” which drew upon all of those resources and more, demonstrates the value and importance of congressional archives. Without these records, the important role played by suffragists and their allies in the Senate’s long battle over the suffrage amendment would be lost or forgotten.
Senators Maurine Neuberger and Margaret Chase Smith, January 5, 1961 202003 9Two 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!
Categories: Women

In celebration of Women’s History Month, this Senate Story highlights a historic day in 1961 when—for the first time in Senate history—two women took the oath of office on the same day. One of the Senate’s most enduring traditions is the biennial oath-taking ceremony. A long-standing feature of this ritual is the escorting of newly elected or reelected senators to the well of the Chamber. Marching down the center aisle in pairs, or occasionally in groups of three, current and former senators, traditionally from the same state as the newly elected or reelected senator, then stand by to witness this much-anticipated moment in every Senate career. 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! The 1960 election had already set a milestone. For the first time, two women candidates faced off against each other for the same Senate seat. One candidate was the Republican senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, whose courageous stand against McCarthyism had won her national acclaim and placed her on the list of America’s most admired women. First elected to the Senate in 1948, Smith was reelected in 1954, and in 1960 she was seeking a third term. Political observers predicted an easy win for Smith, but the Democrats had a plan for victory. Their carefully chosen candidate was state representative Lucia Cormier. The only way to beat Smith, the Democrats insisted, was with another woman. The Smith-Cormier contest quickly gained national attention. Despite the many accomplishments of both women, the press often reported the campaign in sexist terms. It was a contest of “widow vs. spinster,” declared the Los Angeles Times. We expect to see “a real fur-flying political cat fight,” predicted the Washington Post, between “a scrappy ex-school teacher” and “the snowy-maned, frosty-mannered Republican ‘queen bee.’” The campaign heated up even more in February of 1960 when Maine’s junior senator, Edmund Muskie, personally championed Cormier’s campaign. Muskie even went so far as to escort the Democratic candidate to the Senate Chamber. He introduced Cormier as “the next senator from Maine” and urged her to take a seat at one of the historic desks. This was a clear breach of Senate etiquette and something that Senator Smith did not forget. Margaret Chase Smith won the election (and another in 1966). There were no post-election hard feelings between Smith and Cormier, who had been friends and colleagues for years, but as Smith returned to Washington to take the oath for a third time, she was none too pleased with Ed Muskie. Less publicized but equally important, another woman made Senate history that year. On November 8, 1960, Democrat Maurine Neuberger was elected as the first (and to date, only) woman senator from the state of Oregon. A teacher, writer, photographer, and activist for consumer rights, Neuberger had served in the Oregon state legislature in the 1950s but came to Washington, D.C., when her husband, Richard, was elected to the U.S. Senate. They quickly became a high-profile Washington “power couple.” When Richard died in 1960, Maurine Neuberger ran for election to his seat, winning both a special election to fill out the remainder of his term and a general election to the full six-year term beginning in 1961. For the first time in Senate history, two women were elected to a full term in the same election and would take the oath of office on the same day. “The gap between the two parties, the distance between Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, will be bridged” by two women, promised a reporter. As the opening day of the 87th Congress arrived in January of 1961, the press paid a good deal of attention to the two women senators. Margaret Chase Smith, who for much of her career had been the only female senator, welcomed the company of another woman. Smith was also an astute politician. She understood that the oath-taking ceremony provided a perfect opportunity for a display of female solidarity in the Senate. It also provided an opportunity for some political payback. On January 3, 1961, when Margaret Chase Smith entered the Chamber to take the oath of office, she ignored Senate tradition. In a rebuke of her Maine colleague, she walked into the Chamber arm in arm with Maurine Neuberger. The two women got a standing ovation, women in politics got a hefty boost, and Margaret Chase Smith got even with Edmund Muskie.
Studio photograph of Senator Hiram Revels. 202002 25Hiram 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.

Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. In recognition of Black History Month, our first blog post celebrates the sesquicentennial of the swearing in of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator. 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. Just 22 days earlier, on February 3, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Revels was indeed “the Fifteenth Amendment in flesh and blood,” as his contemporary, the civil rights activist Wendell Phillips, dubbed him. Hiram Revels was born a free man in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 27, 1827, the son of a Baptist preacher. As a youth, he took lessons at a private school run by an African American woman and eventually traveled north to further his education. He attended seminaries in Indiana and Ohio, becoming a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845, and eventually studied theology at Knox College in Illinois. During the turbulent decade of the 1850s, Revels preached to free and enslaved men and women in various states while surreptitiously assisting fugitive slaves. When the Civil War began in 1861, Revels was serving as a pastor in Baltimore. Before long, he was forming regiments of African American soldiers in Maryland, serving as a Union army chaplain in Mississippi, and establishing schools for freed slaves in Missouri. He settled in Natchez, Mississippi, at war’s end, where he served as presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1868 he gained his first elected position, as alderman for the town of Natchez. The next year he won election to the state senate, as one of 35 African Americans elected to the Mississippi state legislature that year. In 1870, as Mississippi sought readmission to representation in the U.S. Congress, the Republican Party firmly controlled both houses of Congress and also dominated the southern state legislatures. That, along with the pending ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, set the stage for the election of Congress’s first African American members. One of the first orders of business for the new Mississippi state legislature when it convened on January 11, 1870, was to fill the vacancies in the United States Senate, which had remained empty since the 1861 withdrawal of Albert Brown and future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Representing around one-quarter of the state legislative body, the black legislators insisted that one of the vacancies be filled by a black member of the Republican Party. “An opportunity of electing a Republican to the United States Senate, to fill an unexpired term occurred,” Revels later recalled, “and the colored members after consulting together on the subject, agreed to give their influence and votes for one of their own race for that position, as it would in their judgement be a weakening blow against color line prejudice.” Since Revels had impressed his colleagues with an impassioned prayer at the opening of the session, legislators agreed that the shorter of the two terms, set to expire in March 1871, would go to him. Mississippi gained readmission on February 23, 1870, and Senator Henry Wilson, one of the Senate’s strongest civil rights advocates, promptly presented Revels’s credentials to the Senate. Immediately, three senators issued a challenge. They charged that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the constitutionally required nine years. Citing the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, they argued that Revels did not gain citizenship until at least 1866, with passage of that year’s civil rights act, and perhaps not until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. By this logic, Revels could claim that he had been a U.S. citizen for, at most, four years. Revels and his supporters dismissed the challenge. The Fourteenth Amendment had repealed the Dred Scott decision, they insisted, and they pointed out that long before 1866 Revels had voted in the state of Ohio. Certainly that qualified him as a citizen. “The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said …. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators,” Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner declared, bringing the debate to an end with a stirring speech. “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests to this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality.” By an overwhelming margin, the Senate voted 48 to 8 to seat Revels. Escorted to the well by Senator Wilson, Revels took the oath of office on February 25, 1870. Three weeks later, the Senate galleries were again filled to capacity as Revels rose to deliver his maiden speech. Seeing himself as a representative of African American interests throughout the nation, Revels spoke against an amendment to the Georgia readmission bill that could be used to prevent blacks from holding state office. “Perhaps it were wiser for me, so inexperienced in the details of senatorial duties, to have remained a passive listener in the progress of this debate,” he began, acknowledging the Senate tradition of waiting a year or more to deliver a major address, “but when I remember that my term is short, and that the issues with which this bill is fraught are momentous in their present and future influence upon the well-being of my race, I would seem indifferent to the importance of the hour and recreant to the high trust imposed upon me if I hesitated to lend my voice on behalf of the loyal people of the South.” Revels made good use of his time in office, championing education for black Americans, speaking out against racial segregation, and fighting efforts to undermine the civil and political rights of African Americans. When his brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College. During the Reconstruction Era, a total of 17 African Americans served in the United States Congress, 15 in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In 1874 the Mississippi legislature elected Blanche K. Bruce to a full Senate term. Bruce, who had escaped slavery at the outbreak of the Civil War, became the first African American to preside over the Senate in 1879. Another eight decades passed before Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts followed in Revels and Bruce’s historic footsteps to take office in 1967. The significance of the courageous and pioneering service of Revels, Bruce, and the other African American congressmen of the Reconstruction Era cannot be overstated. Although the struggle to fully achieve equality would continue for years to come, their remarkable accomplishments opened doors for others to follow.