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This Week in Senate History

November 2, 1920

Warren Harding
Warren Harding Senate Historical Office

Warren G. Harding, an Ohio Republican, became the first incumbent senator to be elected president of the United States. The first sitting senator to campaign for the presidency was Kentucky senator Henry Clay, who lost to the incumbent, Andrew Jackson, in 1832. Although 16 presidents served in the United States Senate at some point in their public careers, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Barack Obama of Illinois are the only other senators to reach the White House directly from the Senate. Harding's administration proved to be ill-fated, tarnished by the Teapot Dome Scandal, and abruptly ended with Harding's sudden death in 1923.

November 4, 1807

Image of John Quincy Adams
John Q. Adams

The Senate created a three-member Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses of the Senate, as proposed by Senator John Quincy Adams. The first permanent, or standing, committee, the Contingent Expenses Committee oversaw all expenditures not related to salary or mileage compensation. In 1823, at the request of the Contingent Expenses Committee, the secretary of the Senate began producing a yearly, detailed report of all such expenses. In 1947, following passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the committee was terminated and its responsibilities transferred to the new Committee on Rules and Administration.

November 5, 1975

The Senate agreed, for the first time, to open all its committee meetings to the public and the media. A series of “sunshine rules” passed by the House of Representatives in 1973 and by the Senate in 1975 routinely opened all committee meetings and hearings. Under specified conditions and procedures, however, a committee may vote to close a particular session or series of hearings for a limited period. This was the latest of a series of changes affecting public access to Senate proceedings. In 1929, for example, the Senate opened its executive floor business regarding treaties and nominations.

November 7, 1983


At 10:58 p.m. a bomb exploded on the second floor of the United States Capitol, in an alcove just adjacent to the Senate Chamber. Although the Senate had enjoyed a busy day of operation, it had adjourned at 7:00 p.m. A reception being held in a nearby room had dispersed around 9:30 p.m., and fortunately, senators, staff, and guests had left the Capitol about an hour before the bomb exploded. Although the bomb rocked the building and caused extensive damage to several works of art, no one was injured. Seven suspects were indicted in 1988. Two years later, three women were convicted for this act of terrorism.


Indirect Elections

When the framers of the Constitution convened in Philadelphia in 1787, they struggled over the question of who should elect United States senators. They considered several options, including selection by the House of Representatives and direct election by the people. Ultimately the framers decided on a method of election that had been utilized in selecting delegates to attend the Convention itself—election by the state legislatures.

The framers believed that having state legislatures elect senators would strengthen the states' ties to the national government and increase the chances for ratification of the Constitution. They hoped the arrangement would give state political leaders a sense of participation, calming their fears about a strong central government. They also wanted to provide a filter between the Senate and the passions and pressures of the populace. As the authors of the Federalist Papers explained, election by state legislatures "is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems" (Federalist No. 62).

Direct Elections

In the early years of the Republic, the system of indirect election of senators seemed to work well. After several decades, however, growing partisanship in some state legislatures resulted in contentious deadlocks that created vacant Senate seats. By the latter half of the 19th century, the system began to break down as intimidation and corruption marked some of the states' selection of senators.

Despite the frequent vacancies, disputed election results, and the growing number of calls for reform, the Senate itself resisted change, forcing states to initiate reforms on their own. Oregon pioneered direct election and experimented with different measures over several years until it succeeded in 1907. Under the so-called "Oregon Model," candidates for the state legislature pledged to support the Senate candidate who won the popular vote in a primary election. Such experiments laid the foundation of other states to adopt measures reflecting the people's will. By 1911 more than half the states were utilizing some element of popular election in the selection of senators. As more senators came to the Senate through these new state-instituted measures, support for a constitutional amendment grew. On June 12, 1911, the Senate finally agreed to the proposed constitutional amendment.


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