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Tag: Congress

On display: The Senate Journal of the First Congress

The first Senate Journal is on display from April 1 to April 16, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building. Today’s post comes from Martha Grove, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives.

“Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same . . .” U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 5

This year marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress. On March 4, 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time. It was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand new system of government, defining the rules and procedures of the House and Senate, and establishing the precedents that set constitutional government in motion.

The First Congress opened on March 4, 1789, in New York City. However, when the Representatives and Senators gathered that day, not enough members of either body were present to constitute a quorum. Elected members were delayed by bad roads and harsh weather. Some states had not yet held elections, while others had not yet determined the winning candidates when the First Congress convened. The House finally reached a quorum on April 1, and the Senate followed on April 6.

One of the … [ Read all ]

Records of Rights Vote: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote”

Cast your vote for the 26th Amendment to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Congress can move quickly. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 100 days, faster than any other amendment.

In April 1970, Congress controversially lowered the voting age to 18 as part of legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many people, including President Richard Nixon, believed that it was the right of the states, not the federal government, to set the voting age. President Nixon, nevertheless, signed the act, which was to go into effect January 1, 1971.

The effort to lower the voting age to 18 had begun three decades earlier. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” a slogan first heard during World War II, was adopted by student activists during the Vietnam War.

In 1942, the slogan prompted Congressman Jennings Randolph of West Virginia to propose an amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson both championed the cause. Activists during the Vietnam War increased pressure on Congress to change the voting age, and in 1971, when Senator Randolph reintroduced his original proposal, it passed overwhelmingly.

On December 21, 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had indeed overstepped its legislative bounds in lowering … [ Read all ]

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took 811 days to ratify those ten, and they became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Each December 15, we observe Bill of Rights Day.

The proposed first amendment, dealing with congressional apportionment, has never been ratified. The proposed second amendment, dealing with congressional pay, was approved by the Michigan and New Jersey legislatures on the same day in 1992—more than 202 years after Congress submitted it to the 13 states. By 1992, … [ Read all ]

The Check is in the Mail: The Hunt for Abraham Lincoln’s Congressional Pay Records

Today’s blog post comes from David J. Gerleman, assistant editor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln’s two-year stint as a Illinois Whig congressman is one of the lesser-known periods of his eventful life. Had he remained in obscurity, it might have remained the crowning achievement of a fizzled frontier political career.

Having been tasked with looking through the records of the 30th Congress for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, I have gotten to know Congressman Lincoln intimately. Well over a year was spent sorting through the sea of papers generated by Congress for the years 1847–49: handwritten draft bills, printed amended bills, engrossed bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, simple motions, yea and nay journals, petitions, letters, committee papers—all these and more had to be searched for traces of Lincoln. Among the wealth of congressional materials were volumes dedicated to recording minute expenses, such as the cost of firewood, stationary, and glue. There were records of how much paper folders, messengers, and cleaning women were paid, yet one vital component was missing—Lincoln’s pay and mileage records.

Ironically, it was Lincoln’s great rival, Stephen A. Douglas, who helped set off an intense search for pay records of the 30th Congress. While hunting through an odd cache of files in the Auditors of the Treasury Records in pursuit of a Lincoln document involving “Coffee Mill Guns,” … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: The 13th Amendment

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

The news of the Emancipation Proclamation was greeted with joy, even though it did not free all the slaves. Because of the limitations of the proclamation, and because it depended on a Union military victory, President Lincoln recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment in order to abolish slavery.

After the Senate passed a bill for an amendment in April 1864, but the House of Representatives did not, Lincoln suggested that the bill be taken up by the Republican Party in its 1864 platform for the upcoming Presidential elections.

His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 1865. On February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of Congress submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865.

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States. It provides that ”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The struggle for complete freedom was far from finished even with the 13th Amendment. Two more amendments were added to the … [ Read all ]