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This Week in Senate History

January 19, 1863

Image of Senate Chamber, 1860
Senate Chamber

In early 1863, as the Civil War continued its bloody course, the Senate Chamber served as a theater for the reading of a narrative poem inspired by the conflict. President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln joined a large audience on the evening of January 19 to hear the celebrated actor James E. Murdoch read Francis Janvier's "Sleeping Sentinel." This narrative poem recounted an 1861 incident in which a Union soldier fell asleep at his guard post and was sentenced to be shot. Lincoln had intervened with the pardon that spared the soldier's life.

January 21, 1861

Image of Senator Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (D-MS)

As a packed and tearful gallery of spectators watched, Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis rose on the Senate floor to offer his final remarks before withdrawing from the body. Davis, his face drawn with pain and illness, explained that Mississippi had voted to secede from the Union because "we are about to be deprived in the Union of the rights which or fathers bequeathed to us." In his address he warned that interference with southern secession would be disastrous. Within weeks, Davis would become president of the Confederate States of America, a position he held throughout the Civil War.

January 22, 1917

Portrait of President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson

For the first time in the nation's history, a president of the United States came to the Senate Chamber to formally address its members. President Woodrow Wilson thought the Senate Chamber an ideal stage from which to proclaim his intentions to lay the foundations for a lasting "peace without victory" among the nations engaged in World War I. Subsequent military actions quickly erased that hope, but Wilson pressed on in his desire to serve as peacemaker, even after the United States entered the conflict eleven weeks later. Wilson addressed the Senate again in 1919 when he urged members to support his peace treaty.

January 26, 1830

Daniel Webster by Adrian S. Lamb

One of the most momentous debates in Senate history entered its final stage on this date. In a packed chamber, Daniel Webster (MA), using his organ-like voice to great effect, began a two-day speech -- known as his "Second Reply to Hayne." In response to Senator Robert Hayne's (SC) argument that the nation was simply an association of sovereign states, from which individual states could withdraw at will, Webster thundered that it was instead a "popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it are responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be."


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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