Skip Content
U.S. Flag

This Week in Senate History

August 12, 1790
Image of Federal Hall in New York City

With the adjournment of the second session of the First Congress, the Senate met for the last time in New York City. As provided in the Residence Act, which the president had signed just four weeks earlier, the national government then moved to Philadelphia until 1800, when it would relocate to its permanent capital along the Potomac River. As its final item of business, the Senate adopted a resolution of thanks to "the City of New-York for the elegant and convenient accommodations" on the second floor of Federal Hall, which it had occupied since March of the previous year.

August 16, 1856
Image of Senate Ledger Spine

For the first time, legislation provided that members of Congress would receive an annual salary ($3,000) rather than a payment ($8) for each day of actual attendance, effective December 3, 1855. The Senate's previous experimentation with an annual salary in 1816 had been received with a firestorm of public outrage. The 1855-56 annual salary was calculated to equal the sum a member would have received under the previous daily rate for attending most sessions. To prevent members from collecting their salaries without bothering to show up for sessions, the law authorized the secretary of the Senate to dock the pay of senators for unexcused absences.

August 16, 1894

Uncertain as to the scope of its investigative powers, the Senate ordered a comprehensive survey of all previous congressional investigations. In May, the Senate had responded to published charges that senators had taken bribes to support tariff schedules favorable to the sugar industry by creating a special investigating committee. In conducting its investigation, the Special Committee to Investigate Attempts at Bribery, subsequently produced the thousand-page compilation Decisions and Precedents of the Senate and House of Representatives Relating to their Powers and Privileges Respecting their Members and Officers, which usefully documents Congress' institutional development through its first century.

August 17, 1936

On August 17, 1936, workers in the U.S. Capitol uncovered two large, marble, dusty, bathtubs in the basement of the Senate wing. These strange objects aroused much curiosity, as they had been covered up and forgotten since the 1890s. Installed in 1859, a time when most senators lived in boarding houses with primitive bathing facilities, the tubs were part of the 1850s Capitol expansion. At senators’ request, Capitol engineer Montgomery Meigs ordered six large tubs of Italian Carrara marble and installed them in a basement room decorated with Minton floor tiles, ornamental plaster, and walnut privacy panels. According to the New York Times, the Senate’s bathing facilities were “truly palatial.”

August 17, 1937
Senator Hugo Black

As a U.S. senator, Hugo Black of Alabama had earned a reputation as a tenacious, at times aggressive, interrogator while serving as chairman of a select committee to investigate public utility lobbying practices. On August 17, 1937, just five days after President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Black as associate justice of the Supreme Court, the Senate confirmed his nomination. Black proved to be a controversial pick when, shortly after his confirmation, he was reported to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Critics called for his resignation but Black refused. Over the next three decades on the Court, Black proved to be a staunch defender of civil rights.