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This Week in Senate History


March 30, 1790
Senator John Walker of Virginia

John Walker of Virginia (1744-1809) became the first person appointed to the Senate by a governor, filling the vacancy caused by the death of William Grayson. Originally, senators were chosen by state legislatures, and the Constitution allowed for temporary gubernatorial appointments of senators if vacancies happened during the recess of the legislature of any state. In 1913 the 17th Amendment provided that senators would be directly elected by the people, but maintained that states could permit gubernatorial appointments of senators in cases of vacancies. Walker served in the Senate from March 31 to November 9, 1790, when a successor was elected.

April 1, 1850
Image of John C. Calhoun

Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, his voice choked with emotion, announced to the Senate the death of his state's senior senator, John C. Calhoun. Funeral services were held in the Senate Chamber. Pall bearers included the surviving members of the Senate's "Great Triumvirate," Massachusetts's Daniel Webster and Kentucky's Henry Clay. "No more shall we witness from yonder seat the flashes of that keen and penetrating eye of his," Clay lamented. "No more shall we behold that torrent of clear, concise, compact logic, poured out from his lips, which, if it did not always carry conviction to our judgment, commanded our great admiration."

April 3, 1850
Millard Fillmore

The heated issue of allowing slavery in certain newly admitted states severely divided the Senate in 1850. Recognizing the need for greater firmness in conducting proceedings, Vice President Millard Fillmore promised to end the tradition under which the presiding officer waited for members to call disruptive colleagues to order. Fillmore warned that he would do his duty to contain the first spark of disorder before it ignited a conflagration. "[A] slight attack, or even insinuation, of a personal character, often provokes a more severe retort, which brings out a more disorderly reply, each Senator feeling a justification in the previous aggression."