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This Week in Senate History


June 1, 1950
Photo of Margaret Chase Smith

In her famous Senate speech, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) responded to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's (R-WI) charges that Communists had infiltrated federal government agencies. Her "Declaration of Conscience" proved to be an act of great political courage as this lone woman senator, with minimal support from other colleagues, attacked a fellow Republican for creating an atmosphere of political fear in Washington—for turning the Senate from the "world's greatest deliberative body" to "a forum of hate and character assassination." In December 1954, Smith would take satisfaction in voting with a Senate majority to censure McCarthy for behaving "contrary to senatorial traditions."

une 2, 1913
Portrait of President Woodrow Wilson

Responding to President Woodrow Wilson's charge that an "industrious" and "insidious" lobby of manufacturing interests was showering favors on senators to defeat the administration's tariff-reduction legislation, a Senate committee began an investigation. During this inquiry, foreshadowing a practice the Senate would later adopt, senators for the first time disclosed their personal financial holdings. For six days, senators sat before the committee to answer questions. Although no "improper influences" were discovered, the investigation temporarily weakened lobbying pressures on senators, and Wilson gained a legislative victory when Congress enacted the lower tariff rates he had championed.

June 5, 1852
William R. King

The Democratic National Convention selected William King (D-AL) as its vice-presidential nominee, marking the first time an incumbent senator won a vice-presidential nomination. In November, King won that office, the principal duty of which was to preside over the Senate. As the second longest-serving member in Senate history at that time, and a frequent Senate president pro tempore, King was well suited to his new assignment. Deteriorating health kept him from fulfilling his duties, however, while he traveled to Cuba in search of a cure. By a special act of Congress, King took his vice-presidential oath of office in Cuba. He died soon thereafter.

June 4-5, 1862
Image of Senate Chamber, 1860

Soon after the Senate occupied its current chamber in 1859, members began to complain about the room's poor ventilation. In the past, Congress had avoided Washington's oppressive summer heat by adjourning before the weather turned unbearably hot. Such a solution proved impossible in June of 1862, as the Civil War emergency forced members to remain in the capital city. In frustration, the Senate appointed a three-member committee to consider moving the chamber to a location with windows. Preoccupied with the war, the Senate took no action, and another 70 years passed before air conditioning ended this seasonal complaint.

June 6, 1968
Photo of Senator Robert Kennedy

While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Robert F. Kennedy died from an assassin's bullet in Los Angeles, California. Kennedy was the younger brother of John F. Kennedy, who served in the Senate from 1953 until his election as president in 1960, and the older brother of Edward M. Kennedy, who served more than 46 years in the Senate. In 2009 the Senate voted to name the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building to honor the brothers. As senators, all three participated in major hearings held in the room, and John and Robert both announced their presidential candidacies there.

June 7, 1787
Image of the U.S. Constitution

The framers of the Constitution, meeting in closed session in Philadelphia, agreed on a plan for electing senators. Earlier proposals included selection by the president, direct popular election, or election by the House of Representatives from candidates nominated by individual state legislatures. On this day, the framers decided that each legislature would choose its state's senators, without any involvement by the House of Representatives. The state legislatures, they argued, would provide the necessary "filtration" to produce better senators—the elect of the elected. This practice remained in effect until the 1913 ratification of the Constitution's Seventeenth Amendment, which established direct election of senators.