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This Week in Senate History


April 12, 1926
Photo of Senator Smith Brookhart of Iowa

Following an extended investigation, the Senate resolved a disputed Iowa election contest between Smith Brookhart, an insurgent Republican, and Daniel Steck, a Democrat who enjoyed support from many of his state's conservative Republicans. At the beginning of the Congress in March 1925, the Senate agreed to seat Brookhart, who had won by an 800-vote margin. Then, in response to Steck's challenge, the Senate ordered all 900,000 ballots delivered to Washington for recount. Based on the new tally, the Senate awarded Steck the victory. As a result, Brookhart became the first senator in history to be unseated following a recount.

April 14, 1959
Taft Memorial and Carillon

Congress dedicated a 100-foot-high bell tower on the Capitol's northwest grounds in honor of former Senate majority leader Robert A. Taft (R-OH). Constructed of Tennessee marble, the tower contains 27 bells, the largest of which weighs seven tons. Senator Robert Taft (1889-1953), son of President William Howard Taft, became known as "Mr. Republican" for helping to rebuild his party after the Great Depression and the Democratic dominance of the New Deal years. A month before the tower's dedication, a portrait of Robert Taft was unveiled in a Senate Reception Room ceremony honoring five outstanding former senators.

April 15, 1789
Image of the U.S. Constitution

One of the Senate's first orders of business in 1789 was to decide how to handle a problem fundamental to bicameral legislative bodies: what procedures should be followed when the two chambers passed different versions of the same legislation? On this date, the Senate adopted its first joint rule with the House of Representatives, providing for conference committees to resolve such differences. "If either House shall request a conference," the rule indicated, "...such committees shall,...state to each other verbally, or in writing, as either shall choose, the reasons of their respective Houses, for and against the amendment, and confer freely thereon."

April 16, 1789
Thomas Jefferson by Thomas Sully

testIn adopting its first code of rules, the Senate borrowed heavily from rules drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 for the Continental Congress. Approximately half of the rules established standards of proper behavior for members. "No member shall speak to another, or otherwise interrupt the business of the Senate," instructed Rule II, "or read any printed paper while the journals or public papers are reading, or when any member is speaking." The legislative process on the Senate floor is governed by standing rules, a body of precedents and customary practices, and ad hoc arrangements made to meet specific circumstances.

April 17, 1850
Cartoon drawing of fight between Senators Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and Henry Foote of Mississippi on the Senate floor.

During the Senate's antebellum era, frustration intensified as senators sought a compromise to keep the Union intact despite the ceaseless pressure of the slavery dispute. Antagonism between Mississippi senator Henry Foote and Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton was evidence of the tensions that had caused Vice President Millard Fillmore to warn senators that he would not tolerate violation of the Senate's rules requiring civil behavior. The Benton-Foote friction erupted dramatically on April 17, 1850, when, during a particularly heated exchange, Benton advanced menacingly in Foote's direction. Foote reacted by pulling a pistol. After several tense moments, Foote surrendered the weapon and the members separated the would-be combatants.