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This Week in Senate History


January 21, 1861
Image of Senator Jefferson Davis

As a packed and tearful gallery of spectators watched, Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis rose on the Senate floor to offer his final remarks before withdrawing from the body. Davis, his face drawn with pain and illness, explained that Mississippi had voted to secede from the Union because "we are about to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us." In his address he warned that interference with southern secession would be disastrous. Within weeks, Davis would become president of the Confederate States of America, a position he held throughout the Civil War.

January 22, 1917
Portrait of President Woodrow Wilson

For the first time in the nation's history, a president of the United States came to the Senate Chamber to formally address its members. President Woodrow Wilson thought the Senate Chamber an ideal stage from which to proclaim his intentions to lay the foundations for a lasting "peace without victory" among the nations engaged in World War I. Subsequent military actions quickly erased that hope, but Wilson pressed on in his desire to serve as peacemaker, even after the United States entered the conflict 11 weeks later. Wilson addressed the Senate again in 1919 when he urged members to support his peace treaty.

January 26, 1830
Daniel Webster by Adrian S. Lamb

One of the most momentous debates in Senate history entered its final stage on this date. In a packed chamber, Daniel Webster (MA), using his organ-like voice to great effect, began a two-day speech–known as his "Second Reply to Hayne." In response to Senator Robert Hayne's (SC) argument that the nation was simply an association of sovereign states, from which individual states could withdraw at will, Webster thundered that it was instead a "popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it are responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be."