This Week in Senate History
March 2, 1805
Under indictment for murder of Alexander Hamilton, Vice President Aaron Burr delivered a farewell address to the Senate at the conclusion of his term of office. He described the Senate as "a sanctuary, a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty." He concluded that "it is here in this exalted refuge; here if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrensy and the silent arts of corruption; and if the Constitution be destined ever to perish by the sacrilegious hands of the demagogue or the usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be witnessed on this floor."
March 3, 1843
On three separate occasions in a single day, and by increasingly negative margins, a hostile Whig majority in the Senate rejected President John Tyler's nomination of Caleb Cushing to be treasury secretary. A veteran of state government in Massachusetts, Cushing had served in the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1843, where he often championed Tyler's policies. His defense of Tyler prompted the Senate to reject his nomination, and Cushing became the second cabinet nominee in history not to be confirmed. Despite this setback, Cushing went on to serve in diplomatic service, as the U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to China.
March 4, 1789
Following ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788, the new federal government began operating on March 4, 1789. The Senate convened for the first time on that date, but only 8 of the 12 members necessary to form a quorum appeared in the new chamber at New York City's Federal Hall. Consequently, the Senate reconvened periodically until April 6, when the 12th member presented his credentials. With a quorum established, the Senate turned to its first order of businesscertifying the election of President George Washington and preparing for the nation's first presidential inauguration.
March 5, 1877
To allow senators of each political party to sit together in the chamber, the Senate began arranging desks according to party division rather than keeping an even number of desks on each side of the center aisle. As early as the 1830s some senators selected their desk based upon party affiliation, but others preferred to sit with senators from their geographical region. Since 1877 the desk arrangement has reflected the two-party system, with Republicans sitting to the presiding officer's left and Democrats to the right. During times when one party held an overwhelming majority, the minority party has been forced to yield space to the majority.
March 6, 1867
To establish greater institutional efficiency, the Senate created a Committee on Appropriations so that legislative committees would no longer be responsible for appropriating as well as authorizing funds. It became clear in the 1860s, when the Civil War vastly expanded federal spending, that the Senate needed to gain control over its appropriations process. In 1865, for the first time in national history, expenditures passed the billion-dollar mark. Following an example set by the House of Representatives, on March 6, 1867, Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island proposed a new committee. The Senate unanimously agreed, and the Appropriations Committee was born.
March 7, 1850
Senator Daniel Webster delivered one of the most notable speeches ever presented to the Senate. Webster's classic three-hour "Seventh of March" oration called upon the Senate to approve compromise measures designed to relieve the sectional tensions created by territorial expansion. Moderates praised his remarks, but northern abolitionists charged that the Massachusetts senator had sold his soul to the devil. The address ended Webster's political career. With his support, and with the assistance of Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, Congress passed revised versions of the measures. The so-called Compromise of 1850 became law in September 1850.
A Woman in the Senate
Long active in Georgia politics, Rebecca Latimer Felton championed women’s rights and served as a charter member of the National Women’s Party. She came to Washington in 1875 as the wife of Representative William Felton, then shocked his more conventional constituents by upstaging her husband and delivering fiery stump speeches. For 30 years Felton wrote a regular column for the Atlanta Journal. By 1922 she was known as the “grand ol’ lady” of Georgia politics. On October 3 of that year the Georgia governor appointed Felton to a vacant Senate seat, and she became the first female senator. She took the oath of office on November 21, 1922, and served another 24 hours before relinquishing the seat to her duly elected successor. Before leaving office, Felton answered one roll-call vote and delivered a single speech. "When the women of the country come in and sit with you,” she told her colleagues, “...you will get ability, you will get integrity..., you will get exalted patriotism, 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.