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Origins & Development of the United States Senate

The framers of the United States Constitution deliberated at length over the Senate's role in the new federal government. Since that time, the Senate has evolved into a complex legislative body, while remaining true to its constitutional origins.

Original Ledger Found

Image of Senate Ledger Spine

"Probably the oldest book of consecutive accounts kept by government officers," noted an 1885 newspaper article, "is a time-worn volume kept in the office of General Anson G. McCook, secretary of the senate." Marked S-1, this financial ledger records nearly a century of salary and mileage payments to senators, from 1790 to 1881. McCook, recognizing the ledger's importance, had it restored and rebound in 1884. Future employees were not so careful. In the early 1960s, S-1 and nearly sixty other financial ledgers were stored in the basement of the Capitol, and then forgotten. Rediscovered in late 2002, this collection is a unique treasure of Senate history. S-1 has been digitized by the Library of Congress and is now available online.

This Week in Senate History

November 21, 1800
Image of U.S. Capitol in 1800
U.S. Capitol, ca.1800

Following a ten-year temporary residence in Philadelphia, the Senate met for the first time in the District of Columbia. Construction of the new capitol had begun in 1793, but materials and labor proved to be more expensive than anticipated. Facing major funding shortfalls, the building's commissioners in 1796 decided to halt construction of the House wing and the domed center building to concentrate on the north wing, designed for the Senate. Although some third-floor rooms remained incomplete by moving day, the north wing was substantially ready to receive not only the Senate, but also the House, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and district courts. Although the House moved to its own south-wing quarters within three years, cramped conditions would continue to plague the Senate for decades.

November 22, 1982
Mountains and Clouds

The Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building opened to its first occupants. Authorized ten years earlier as an extension to the Everett Dirksen Office Building, this $137 million structure was designed principally to house members' personal offices so that the Dirksen Building could be returned to its original purpose as a facility for committee offices and hearing rooms.

November 23, 1814

Vice President Elbridge Gerry experienced chest pains while presiding over the Senate and returned to his boardinghouse, where he died. When he had assumed the vice-presidency in March 1813, the office had been vacant for nearly a year. His death renewed that vacancy for another twenty-seven months. The Constitution's Twenty-Fifth Amendment, ratified in 1967, now provides a mechanism for filling vice-presidential vacancies.

November 24, 1929

Senator Francis E. Warren, Wyoming's first governor and one of its first two senators, died in Washington at the age of eighty-five. At the time of his death, Warren was the only remaining member of Congress to have served on the Union side during the Civil War. He also held the current record as the longest-serving United States senator. His thirty-six-year-and-two-month record remained in place for more than a third of a century.

November 25, 1811
Image of James Monroe of Virginia
James Monroe (VA)

By a vote of 30 to 0, the Senate confirmed President James Madison's nomination of James Monroe to be Secretary of State.

November 27, 1800

As the Senate completed its move to permanent quarters in Washington, members elected the Right Reverend Thomas John Claggett, the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, as the body's third chaplain. He served for a year. All but two of the twelve Senate chaplains serving between 1789 and 1810 were Episcopalians. Since 1789 Senate Chaplains have represented many denominations, including Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Unitarian, Congregationalist, Lutheran and Roman Catholic.


Senate and the Constitution
Senate is Created
Senate Moves to Washington
Permanent Committees Created
Annotated Senate Time Line
Majority & Minority Parties
Institutional Bibliography (pdf)

Historical information provided by the Senate Historical Office.