Skip Content
U.S. Flag

Senate Stories

This collection of stories, written by Senate historians, reflects all areas of Senate activity from the well-known and notorious to the unusual and even whimsical. Presented to enlighten, amuse, and inform, the stories provide clear impressions about the forces, events, and personalities that have shaped the modern Senate.

Jefferson Davis' Farewell

Image of Senator Jefferson DavisBy any standard, this scene has to rank as one of the most dramatic events ever enacted in the chamber of the United States Senate. Would-be spectators arrived at the Capitol before sunrise on a frigid January morning. Those who came after 9:00 a.m., finding all gallery seats taken, frantically attempted to enter the already crowded cloakrooms and lobby adjacent to the chamber. Just days earlier, the states of Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama had joined South Carolina in deciding to secede from the Union. Rumors flew that Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas would soon follow.

Read the full Senate Story.

A Dramatic Session

Abraham Lincoln by Freeman ThorpIn the nation's capital, the Fourth of July, 1861, began with a parade. As bands played, 20,000 militiamen strode proudly down Pennsylvania Avenue. Any thoughts that this was just another festive Independence Day in Washington, D.C. quickly vanished, however, when onlookers observed the vast number of military troops camped in the city and heard reports that enemy forces stood only a day's march away.

Read the full Senate Story.

Ten Senators Expelled

Abraham Lincoln by Freeman ThorpFor what reasons should the Senate expel a member? The Constitution simply states that each house of Congress may "punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member." When the Senate expelled William Blount in 1797 by a nearly unanimous vote, it had reason to believe he was involved in a conspiracy against the United States.

Read the full Senate Story.

Friendship or Treason?

Photo of Jesse Bright of IndianaHe was a large man who walked with a swagger. Despite his limited formal education, he built a flourishing law practice and rose rapidly in the world of Indiana Democratic politics. Abrupt and hot-tempered, he was among the shrewdest of his state's political figures.

Read the full Senate Story.

Senator Resigns to Protest Loyalty Oath

Image of James A. BayardOath-taking by newly elected members of Congress continues a constitutional rite that is as old as the Republic. While this practice dates from a simple 14-word statement enacted by the First Congress in 1789, the current oath is a product of the 1860s—drafted by Civil War-era members of Congress intent on ensnaring traitors.

Read the full Senate Story.

The Senate Passes the Thirteenth Amendment

image: page one of the 13th AmendmentThe 2012 film Lincoln told the story of President Abraham Lincoln and the final month of debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, leading to its passage by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865. What the film did not portray, however, was the Senate’s part of that story.

Read the full Senate Story.

First African American Senator

Photograph of Senator Hiram Revels

An educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator on February 25, 1870.

Read the full Senate Story.