Virginia ratified the U.S. Constitution, becoming the 10th state to join the Union.
The Senate convened for the first time at Federal Hall in New York City. Because only eight senators were present, there were not enough to constitute a quorum until April 6, when Virginia's first senator, Richard Henry Lee of Westmoreland County arrived and was sworn into office. Lee was the 12th senator out of the eligible 22, and his arrival allowed the Senate to begin its work.
The Senate drew lots to determine the three classes of senators. Richard Henry Lee was assigned to Class 2, with a four-year term set to expire in 1793. Virginia's second senator, William Grayson of Prince William County, who had not yet taken his seat, was assigned to Class 1, with a two-year term set to expire in 1791.
William Grayson presented his credentials and took his Senate seat.
Thomas Jefferson of Albemarle County presided over the Senate as the second vice president of the United States. Jefferson and President John Adams belonged to different political parties--a situation that would prove to be unique in all the nation's history. Jefferson served as vice president until 1801, when he became the third president of the United States.
The Senate passed a resolution authorizing the secretary of the Senate to purchase artist Rembrandt Peale's masterpiece Patriae Pater for $2,000. The porthole portrait of George Washington hangs in the Old Senate Chamber.
The Joint Committee on the Library was instructed to commission a marble bust of the late Chief Justice John Marshall to be placed in the chamber of the Supreme Court of the United States. The committee gave the commission to artist Hiram Powers, who completed the work in 1839.
The Whig Party's national convention, held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nominated John Tyler for vice president of the United States, on the ticket with William Henry Harrison. Harrison and Tyler, under the campaign slogan of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," won the 1840 election.
John Tyler presided over the Senate as the 10th vice president of the United States. Just one month later, Tyler was at his home in Williamsburg, Virginia, when he received news of the death of President William Henry Harrison from Robert Beale of Virginia, the assistant doorkeeper of the Senate, and Fletcher Webster, chief clerk of the State Department. Tyler took the oath of office as president of the United States on April 6, 1841.
Robert Beale of Virginia was elected sergeant at arms and doorkeeper of the Senate and was administered the oath. Beale served until March 17, 1853.
Artist Alexander Galt, a native of Norfolk, reported to the Senate from Florence, Italy, that he had completed the bust of Chief Justice John Rutledge which he had been commissioned to execute. The piece was shipped to the U.S. Capitol, and is currently displayed in the building's Old Supreme Court Chamber.
The Senate established its first investigating committee, the Select Committee to Inquire into the Facts of the Recent Invasion and Seizure of the United States Armory at Harper's Ferry. The committee was chaired by Senator James M. Mason, who introduced the resolution to form the committee.
Waitman T. Willey of Monogalia County and John S. Carlile of Winchester were elected by Virginia's pro-Union legislature to fill the Senate vacancies caused by the withdrawal of Senators James M. Mason and Robert M. T. Hunter. On July 13 the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a motion by Senator James A. Bayard Jr. of Delaware challenging the pro-Union legislature's authority to elect, and the two were seated. Carlile remained in the Senate until March of 1865. Willey served until 1863 and was subsequently elected to be one of the first U.S. senators from the state of West Virginia.
The Senate postponed consideration of the credentials of Joseph E. Segar and John C. Underwood, who were elected to the Senate by Virginia's pro-Union legislature. Senate Republicans had challenged the legitimacy of the Virginia state legislature, despite the fact that the state had maintained loyalist representation in the Senate throughout the Civil War. Virginia remained unrepresented in the Senate until the state was formally readmitted to representation in 1870.
Virginia sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel accepted a commission to execute a bust of Thomas Jefferson. The bust is one of the first secured by Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark to be part of the Senate Vice Presidential Bust Collection.
The Senate passed legislation for the purchase of the portrait of naval hero John Paul Jones by artist George Bagby Matthews of Tappahannock. The Senate later acquired an additional Matthews portrait of revolutionary leader Patrick Henry of Hanover County.
Henry S. Wellcome presented to the Senate a portrait of Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, chief of a large Algonquian confederacy based in the tidewater region of Virginia. The portrait, by an unidentified artist, is a copy of an oil painting that originally hung in the English ancestral home of the Rolfes, the family of Pocahontas' husband.
Congress appropriated funds for the purchase of a bust of President Zachary Taylor of Orange County from the widow of President Taylor's grandson, John Taylor Wood. The artist of the piece is unknown.
Senate Democrats elected Thomas S. Martin of Charlottesville as their Conference chairman, despite the fact that three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan came to the Capitol to oppose the conservative Martin's election. Martin served as chairman until 1913, when he stepped aside after conceding to likely defeat by the progressive John Worth Kern of Indiana.
Congress accepted a bronze statue of Robert E. Lee, by artist Edward V. Valentine, and a bronze statue of George Washington, by artist Jean Antoine Houdon, as Virginia's two contributions to the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Edwin A. Halsey of Lynchburg, a long-time Senate employee, was elected secretary of the Senate. As secretary, Halsey demonstrated a keen interest in preserving the history of the Senate, spearheading the production of several history-based reference books and arranging for the first transfer of Senate records to the newly opened National Archives in 1937.
Harry Flood Byrd became Virginia's longest-serving senator, surpassing the record of 26 years, 3 months, and 27 days set by Carter Glass. Byrd went on to serve a total of 32 years, 8 months, and 7 days.
Stanley Kimmitt of Virginia became secretary of the Senate, a position he held until January 4, 1981.
Howard S. Liebengood of Virginia became the Senate sergeant at arms, a position he held until September 12, 1983.
Larry E. Smith of Virginia became Senate sergeant at arms, a position he held until June 2, 1985.
Jo-Anne L. Coe of Virginia became the first woman to serve as the secretary of the Senate, a position she held until January 6, 1987.
Jeri Thomson of Virginia became the 30th secretary of the Senate, a position she held until January 6, 2003.