This Week in Senate History
March 28, 1834
When President Andrew Jackson refused to provide the Senate with documents related to the Bank of the United States, the Senate in a novel interpretation of its constitutional prerogativesvoted to "censure" him for usurping Congress' power to control the government's financial management. Jackson responded with a lengthy protest denying the validity of the Senate's action. In another unprecedented move, the Senate responded by refusing to print the president's message in its journal. When Jackson's allies regained control of the Senate in 1837, they quickly repealed the censure resolution.
March 30, 1790
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
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
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."
A Woman in the Senate
Rebecca Felton championed women’s rights as a charter member of the National Women’s Party. For 30 years she wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal and became known as the “grand ol’ lady” of Georgia. On October 3, 1922, Felton became the first female senator when she was appointed to a vacant seat by Georgia’s governor. She took the oath in open session on November 21 and delivered a single speech, then relinquished the seat to her duly elected successor the next day. "When the women of the country come in and sit with you,” Felton proclaimed, “you will get ability, you will get integrity..., and you will get unstinted usefulness."
Hattie Caraway Presides
On October 19, 1943, a woman formally took up the gavel as presiding officer, when the duties of the chair were assigned to Senator Hattie Caraway. Caraway had presided once before. In 1932 she briefly filled in for Vice President Charles Curtis, but there was no official recognition of the event. Caraway took note. “Made history,” she wrote in her diary. Other precedents followed – she became the first woman to chair a committee and the first woman to stand in for the floor leader. By 1943 Caraway had grown accustomed to breaking the Senate's gender barriers.