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This Week in Senate History


June 16, 1789
George Washington

In the first letter of nomination he sent to the Senate, President George Washington recommended appointment of William Short to replace Thomas Jefferson as minister to the Court of France. Reluctant to let President Washington know how they would vote on this nomination, the Senate adopted a rule providing for a secret written ballot. Some senators opposed this procedure, arguing that principled men should be willing to take a public stand. Two weeks later, the Senate revised the rule to provide for an open voice vote. From its earliest years, the Senate has jealously guarded its power to review and approve or reject presidential appointees.

June 17, 1932
Bonus Marchers in front of the Capitol

Twelve thousand "Bonus Marchers" waited outside the Capitol in the darkest hours of the Great Depression as the Senate prepared for a 9:00 p.m. vote on a bill providing immediate payment of a veterans' bonus. As Capitol policemen armed with rifles guarded the doors, the Senate soundly rejected the bonus bill. Although the assembled marchers dispersed peacefully, they remained in makeshift campsites near Capitol Hill. A month later, heavily armed federal troops, led by General Douglas MacArthur and Majors Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, torched and gassed the veterans' camps, killing several and wounding many.

June 19, 1959
Lewis Strauss

In a bitter fight, the Senate narrowly rejected President Dwight Eisenhower's nomination of Lewis Strauss to be secretary of commerce. President Eisenhower called it "the second most shameful day in Senate history," second only to Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial. Time magazine pronounced it a "stinging personal slap...U.S. history's bitterest battle over confirmation of a presidential nomination." Others debated whether it was a "legislative lynching or political suicide." The Senate has formally rejected only a handful of cabinet nominees over the past two centuries. This vote marked the only rejection of a cabinet nominee between the years 1925 and 1989.

June 20, 1863
Waitman Willey

On June 20, 1863, precipitated by the Civil War and Virginia’s vote to secede from the Union, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union. Because the western counties of Virginia were strongly pro-Union, Virginia's secession was almost immediately followed by a counter movement in the northwest part of the state to remain loyal to the Union. Both the state government and general assembly were reconstituted in the town of Wheeling, and Waitman T. Willey of Morgantown and John S. Carlile of Clarksburg were chosen to represent Virginia in the United States Senate. With the restored government of Virginia in place, ardent northwestern Virginians then launched the decisive effort to form a new state in trans-Allegheny Virginia.