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Archive for 'U.S. Senate'

On Exhibit: The Judiciary Act of 1789

An Act to Establish the Federal Courts of the United States, 09/24/1789. (National Archives Identifier 1501550)

An Act to Establish the Federal Courts of the United States, 09/24/1789.
(National Archives Identifier 1501550)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress the National Archives is displaying the original Judiciary Act of 1789.

For three months beginning September 17, 2014, you can see the landmark piece of legislation in the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Article III of the U.S. Constitution established the Supreme Court but gave Congress the authority to create lower Federal courts at its discretion. One of the first actions the First Congress took was to establish a Federal court system.

On April 7, 1789—just one day after the Senate reached a quorum for the first time—the Senate appointed a committee to prepare a bill organizing the judiciary of the United States.

After two months of work, the committee reported the first bill ever introduced into the United States Senate—S. 1, a bill to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States, what would become known as the Judiciary Act of 1789.

The bill’s principal author was Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut. A key member at the Constitutional Convention, Ellsworth would eventually become Chief Justice of the United States in 1796.

President George Washington's Nomination of Judges, Attorneys, and Marshalls, September 24, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s Nomination of Judges, Attorneys, and Marshalls, September 24, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Major provisions of … [ Read all ]

The Name Speaks for Itself

George Washington’s nomination of Alexander Hamilton and others, front, September 11, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

George Washington’s nomination of Alexander Hamilton and others, front, September 11, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Today’s post comes from Dan Ruprecht, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

On September 11, 1789, President George Washington sent the first cabinet nomination under the new U.S. Constitution to the Senate. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gave the power to determine federal officers to both the executive and legislative branches:

[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.

Washington’s message was brief and to the point: “Gentlemen of the Senate, I nominate. . .” followed by a list of names and their respective positions, establishing a precedent for brief nominations that continues today.

George Washington’s nomination of Alexander Hamilton and others, back, September 11, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

George Washington’s nomination of Alexander Hamilton and others, back, September 11, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

The President’s message did not list the credentials of the nominees nor did it include any comments from Washington regarding his choices; it simply listed the names.

It was then up to the Senate to debate each candidate’s ability and … [ Read all ]

Setting the Records Straight

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Today’s post comes from Dan Ruprecht, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

From its earliest days, the Federal Government has been concerned with preserving its records.

During its very first session, the First Congress under the new Constitution in 1789 passed the Records and Seals Act, setting the expectation that government records were to be preserved for future generations.

The Records and Seals Act holds a special place in the heart of the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the formative years of the Republic, the act established the importance of recordkeeping and provided that copies of government records would be made available to the public via newspapers.

With the act’s passage, the Founding Fathers attempted to archive the nation’s documents and set a precedent to record, preserve, and report national history—a reflection of their belief that the American public ought to be a well-informed citizenry. Many of the nation’s founders shared the belief that it was imperative for the people of the young nation to be educated and informed in order for the government to properly function.

The act changed the name of the Department of Foreign … [ Read all ]

The Senate irritates the President

This post continues our celebration of the 225th anniversary of the First Congress.

The Constitution gives the President the “power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties.”

George Washington, portrait. (National Archives Identifier 532860)

George Washington, portrait. (National Archives Identifier 532860)

This first time the President attempted to seek that advice occurred in August 1789 when first President George Washington sent a message to the Senate asking “to advise with them” on a treaty with the Southern Indians (at that time the United States treated Indian tribes as foreign nations).

On August 22, 1789, Washington arrived at Federal Hall in New York City (then the capital) with Secretary of War Henry Knox, and they proceeded to read aloud a series of documents related to the various Southern Indian tribes.

The incident was not recorded in the Senate Executive Journal, but Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania kept a diary and documented what transpired: apparently the noise from the Manhattan traffic below drowned out the reading of the documents.

As a result, the Senate decided to appoint a committee rather than debate the issue in front of the President, which caused great consternation to Washington.

(Henry Knox (3/4 length). National Archives Identifier 532928)

(Henry Knox (3/4 length). National Archives Identifier 532928)

After regaining his composure, Washington agreed to come back to receive the Senate’s advice. Shortly thereafter, however, Washington decided that all future dealings with the Senate … [ Read all ]

Featured Document: Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying a draft of the Bill of Rights from August 12 to September 11, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery.

During the 1787–1788 Constitutional ratification process, opponents criticized the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights. They argued that the Constitution should include one, because without it a strong central government would trample individuals’ liberties and freedoms.

As states debated whether to ratify the Constitution or not, two kinds of amendments emerged: rights-related amendments (amendments intended to protect individuals) and structural amendments (amendments intended to fundamentally alter the structure of the new government).

In the end, enough states supported the Constitution without amendments that it was ratified without changes. However, the effort to amend the Constitution carried over into the first Federal elections. Anti-Federalists—those who opposed the Constitution—pushed to elect pro-amendment members to the First Federal Congress.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

This was especially true in Virginia, a state whose ratification convention proposed 20 amendments and a separate bill of rights to the Constitution.

In one Virginia House race, James Madison—who opposed amendments—faced James Monroe—who supported them. Because Virginia had such strong anti-Federalist sentiments, Madison softened his stand against Constitutional amendments, which … [ Read all ]