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This Week in Senate History

January 2, 1811


A leader of the Federalist Party, Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts denounced President James Madison's decision to annex West Florida as unconstitutional. On December 31, 1810, Pickering rose on the Senate floor to read a diplomat's letter related to the administration's claim to the West Florida region. Immediately, a Senate colleague objected to the public reading of a confidential document, an act which violated Senate rules. Henry Clay introduced a resolution to censure Pickering for the violation. On January 2, 1811, the Senate approved the censure 20-7 and Pickering became the first senator to face such a formal rebuke by his colleagues.

January 3, 1934

U.S. Constitution

Under the provisions of the newly ratified Twentieth Amendment, Congress for the first time convened on this day. When Congress is in session after a November election and before the beginning of the new Congress, it is known as a "lame-duck session." Prior to 1933, new Congresses convened in December of odd-numbered years, allowing the post-election Congress to meet and pass legislation for more than a year. The 1933 amendment changed the convening date for a new Congress to January 3 of odd-numbered years, shortening the time between an election and the beginning of the next Congress to just two months. Since that time, Congress has met in lame-duck session rarely, to conclude urgent or unfinished business.

January 4, 1859

Image of Senator John Crittenden
John Crittenden (KY) Senate Historical Office

John Crittenden, at the time the Senate's senior member, rose to speak in a chamber packed to capacity. "This place, which has known us for so long, is to know us no more forever as a Senate." Vice President John Breckinridge offered his own farewell, then led a solemn procession of senators out of the room (now known as the Old Senate Chamber) and down the hall 45 paces to the newly constructed chamber that the Senate occupies today. The next day's New York Herald described the new room as light, graceful, and "finely proportioned."

January 5, 1937

Photo of Charles McNary, Life Magazine
Charles McNary (R-OR)

Republican floor leader Charles McNary for the first time occupied the front-row, center-aisle desk on the eastern side of the Senate Chamber. Democratic floor leader Joseph T. Robinson had inaugurated a comparable tradition on his side of the center aisle 10 years earlier. Since then, floor leaders of both parties have consistently chosen to operate from these well-placed desks. That same year, Vice President John Nance Garner announced a policy of giving priority recognition to the majority leader and then the minority leader before all other senators seeking to speak, further empowering party leaders.

January 6, 1801

As the Senate prepared to consider a highly controversial diplomatic agreement with France, it established rules requiring that all relevant executive communications and treaty documents be kept "inviolably secret" until explicitly made public. On January 6, 1801, the Senate clarified and tightened its procedures for managing treaties by specifying that the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote on final agreement to ratification would also apply to amendments to that resolution. The Senate later eased this requirement, adopting the current practice of allowing a simple majority vote on treaty amendments.


Organizing Resolutions

At the beginning of a new Congress, the Senate adopts an organizing resolution to determine committee ratios, committee membership, and to establish agreements between the parties on the operation of the Senate. Typically a routine matter approved by unanimous consent agreement, on occasions when the Senate has been closely divided, the organizing resolution has provoked fierce debate. On January 13, 1953, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, a former Republican and newly declared Independent, protested the organizing resolution, which had removed him from prime committee assignments. Using a long-forgotten Senate rule, Morse nominated himself to serve on the committees of his choice.

Presenting Credentials

Senator Goldwater's Certificate of Election

Before a new senator can take the oath of office, an election certificate must be presented to the Senate to confirm that the person was duly elected. Issued by the secretary of state representing the state of the incoming member, the election certificate is affixed with the state’s official seal and is delivered to the secretary of the United States Senate for official recording.


E-mail a Senate historian
Questions about Senate History?

E-mail a Senate historian. historian@sec.senate.gov

Golden Gavel Award
Freshman senators who preside for 100 hours during any session earn the Golden Gavel award.

Civil War Senate, 1863

Historical Minutes
In 1789 members took the Senate's first oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States."
In 1789, anticipating the impeachment trial of William Blount, the Senate adopted its first impeachment rules.

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