Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Archive for 'U.S. House'

“Rogue Island”: The last state to ratify the Constitution

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

In 1781, Rhode Island began acquiring nicknames.

American newspapers called it “the perverse sister.” “An evil genius.” The “Quintessence of Villainy.” The name “Rogue Island” stuck all the way to 1787, when the Constitutional Convention began and the small state refused to send delegates. Although this press war started because Rhode Island vetoed an act passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation, it lasted for nearly 10 years.

George Washington’s letter notifying Congress that Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution, June 1, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

George Washington’s letter notifying Congress that Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution, June 1, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

On May 29, 1790, “the rogue’s” persistent efforts to defy the national government finally failed, and it became the last state to ratify the Constitution, more than a year after it went into effect.

Ironically, Rhode Island played a key role in advancing the Constitution it strongly opposed. In 1786, an electoral revolution took place in Rhode Island that swept the populist Country Party into power. Infuriated by the prospect of a national tax, this faction opposed the expansion of the national government and favored an inflationary monetary policy.

In a single month, the legislature printed 100,000 pounds worth of paper currency. The resulting rampant inflation made Rhode Island—for many Americans—a dark symbol of what ailed the Confederation. Opponents of … [ Read all ]

Opening the Doors to Debate

Today’s post comes from Kate Mollan, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

Resolution to Open the Doors of the Senate Chamber, April 29, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Resolution to Open the Doors of the Senate Chamber, April 29, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

From the earliest days of the First Congress there were clamors for the Senate to open the doors to its chamber so that the public and press could witness the proceedings. Unlike the House of Representatives, the early Senate chose to hold its deliberations in secret.

On April 29, 1790, a resolution to open the chamber was made. A day later, the Senate rejected it. This was the first of several unsuccessful motions to open the chamber during the first few years of the Senate’s history.

As there is no record of the debate, the Senate’s reasons for maintaining secrecy are largely unknown. However, it is likely there was concern that the impulse to speak to the assembled public and use more impassioned rhetoric might impede doing the people’s business in an expedient fashion. By keeping its doors closed, the Senate was following the example of the Continental and Confederation Congresses as well as the Constitutional Convention.

Yeas and Nays on Motion to Open the Doors of the Senate, February 18, 1794. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Yeas and Nays on Motion to Open the Doors of the Senate, February 18, 1794. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Meeting in secret also meant greater freedom of discussion. Many senators looked … [ Read all ]

From Ben Franklin to the Civil War: Antislavery Petitions in Congress

Today’s post comes from Natalie Rocchio, an archives specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

One of the most contentious issues facing our nation in the early years was slavery. Unsurprisingly, the First Congress received a series of antislavery petitions as part of the first unified campaign to the new Federal Government. These petitions came from three organizations: the Philadelphia and New York Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery to Vice President John Adams, February 3, 1790. (National Archives Identifier 306388)

Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, February 3, 1790. (National Archives Identifier 306388)

Benjamin Franklin served as President of the Pennsylvania Society, which was believed to be the most influential of the three organizations.

On February 3, 1790, Franklin signed a petition which he sent to Congress on February 9, 1790, calling for Congress to “devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People” and to “promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.” While Franklin’s petition was considered the most radical, all three petitions sparked intense debate in the House and the Senate.

After a day of debate, the Senate decided to take no action on the petitions. The House referred them to a select committee for further consideration. The committee reported on March 5, 1790, stating that the Constitution … [ Read all ]

Currently on Exhibit: George Washington’s First Annual Message

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying George Washington’s first annual address from January 6 to February 4, 2015, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC.

This version, from the first Journal of the House of Representatives, shows the final page of George Washington’s annual address (what we now call the State of the Union speech). With this message, delivered on January 8, 1790, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress, thus fulfilling the Constitution’s mandate for the President to  “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

In the message, Washington praised the accomplishments of the First Congress and gave a brief overview of his administration’s agenda. He emphasized the need to provide for the common defense; establish uniform systems of currency, weights, and measures; and promote education.

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

[ Read all ]

Annual Message on the State of the Union: The President Speaks

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, an Outreach Specialist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered a speech at Federal Hall in New York City. This speech, called his first annual message to Congress (which we now refer to as the State of the Union), was short—in fact, it remains the shortest one ever.

President George Washington’s first Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate. National Archives)

President George Washington’s first Annual Message to Congress, January 8, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives) Transcript

In it, Washington touched on several subjects to which he recommended that Congress give its attention, including national defense, naturalization, uniform weights and measures, promotion of education, and support of the public credit.

Fully aware of the enormity of the task in front of them, Washington’s last sentence speaks to the heart of their endeavor:

The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed.—And I shall derive great satisfaction from a co-operation with you, in the pleasing though arduous task of ensuring to our fellow citizens the blessings, which they have a right to expect, from a free, efficient and equal Government.

Washington gave this speech to fulfill the President’s obligation outlined in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, of the Constitution:

The President “shall from time to

[ Read all ]