Since 1787, when the framers of the Constitution created the United States Senate, the institution has played an integral role in the larger narrative of American history. The following Senate chronology highlights many notable dates in Senate history.
1787: On July 16
, Framers of the Constitution created a bicameral legislature in which the Senate represents all states equally, while the House represents states in proportion to their respective populations.
1789: On March 4
, the Senate convened for the first time at New York City's Federal Hall. On April 6, it achieved its first
and proceeded to
elect a doorkeeper
, secretary, and chaplain.
1790: On December 6
, Congress began a ten-year residence in Philadelphia, pending construction of a national capital in Washington, DC.
On February 28, the Senate refused to seat a duly elected member, Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania -- the first contested election in Senate history.
Senate approved Jay's Treaty
on June 24.
In December of 1795 the
Senate opened its legislative sessions
to the public. The previous year, the Senate held its first public session to determine whether to seat Albert Gallatin, senator-elect from Pennsylvania, and voted to end the practice of holding legislative sessions behind closed doors.
On December 15, John Rutledge became the first Supreme Court nominee to be
rejected by the Senate
On March 25, the President exercised his right, for the first time, to call an "extraordinary session" of Congress.
William Blount of Tennessee became the
first senator to be expelled
on July 8.
The Senate convened its
first impeachment trial
-- of former Senator William Blount -- on December 17.
The Senate took up residence in the north wing of the
unfinished Capitol in Washington, D.C.
on November 17, and achieved its first quorum in the new national capital on November 21.
On January 5, the Senate permitted admission of
stenographers and note takers
to the chamber floor.
On March 12, the Senate convicted Federal Judge John Pickering and removed him from office, the first conviction following
an impeachment trial
Vice President Aaron
Burr delivered his farewell address to the Senate
on March 2, while under indictment for the murder of Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
On November 4, the Senate created a 3-member committee to audit and control the contingent expenses of the Senate, as proposed by Senator John Quincy Adams.
Secretary of the Senate
Samuel A. Otis
died on April 22, having served as secretary for twenty-five years without missing a day on the job.
During the War of 1812,
British troops set fire to the Capitol
building on August 24.
The Senate established its system of
permanent (standing) committees
The Senate swore in a 28-year-old member on November 16, violating the Constitution's requirement that senators be at least 30 years old. John H. Eaton (R-TN) still
holds the record
for the youngest senator.
On December 6, the Senate occupied its newly reconstructed chamber that will serve as its home until 1859.
On March 5, the Senate agreed to the "Missouri Compromise."
The first issue of
Register of Debates in Congress
appeared on December 6, providing the first consistent coverage of Senate debates.
On December 9, the Senate received the Marquis de Lafayette, who was given a seat of honor to the right of the presiding officer.
On March 9, the Senate defeated a treaty with Colombia on suppression of the African slave trade.
Funeral services for Senator John Gaillard of South Carolina were held in the Senate Chamber, with burial at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., representing the first public payment of funeral expenses for a senator who died in office.
On December 17, the Senate directed its secretary to "cause seats to be prepared for the accommodation of the Reporters of the proceedings of the Senate." Reporters recording the proceedings for the Register of Debates in Congress had complained that their inability to hear distinctly resulted in numerous errors producing "great anxiety among those whose interests seemed likely to be affected."
The Senate appointed its first page on December 7 -- nine-year-old Grafton Hanson, the grandson of
Senate Sergeant at Arms
On March 19, the Senate returned to an earlier practice of electing committees by ballot of all members.
On March 28, the
Senate "censured" President Andrew Jackson
for usurping congressional power. When Jackson's allies regained control of the Senate in 1837, they
"expunged" the censure
For the first time, on June 24, the Senate
rejected a cabinet nomination
-- that of Roger Taney to be treasury secretary.
On December 7, the Senate for the first time organized its committee system on the principle that the majority party should chair the major committees and control a majority of the seats on most panels.
The Senate reserved one-third of its chamber's circular gallery on February 17 for the exclusive use of women.
On March 15, the
Roger B. Taney as Chief Justice of the United States.
The Senate conducted its first continuous
on March 5, over the issue of dismissal of the printers of the Senate. The filibuster continued until March 11. The first extended filibuster, debating the establishment of a national bank, began on June 21 and lasted fourteen days.
On July 8, the Senate amended Rule 47, removing reporters from the floor of the Senate chamber and placing them in the eastern gallery, then after known as the "press gallery."
David Levy Yulee (D-FL) became the first Jewish senator to serve in the U.S. Senate on July 1.
Members began to sit together in the Senate chamber according to party affiliation.
The Senate began to make committee assignments based on recommendations of its political party caucuses rather than separate balloting of the full Senate.
On December 3, the Senate chamber was lit with gas for the first time, providing "light enough to write by and read the finest print in any part of the chamber."
Senate arrested New York Herald correspondent John Nugent
on March 26, in a futile effort to get him to reveal who leaked the still-secret treaty ending the war with Mexico. After several weeks of confinement in the Committee on Territories room, with evening trips to the Sergeant-at-Arm's home for dinner and a night's sleep, Nugent was set free on April 28.
Daniel Webster delivered one of the most notable speeches
in Senate history on March 7. His classic three-hour oration set forth a defense of the Union and called on northerners to respect slavery in the South. Moderates in all sections praised his remarks, while northern abolitionists charged he had sold his soul to the devil.
The Senate readopted Rule 34 on December 12, specifying for the first time the number of members specifically assigned to each committee.
The Senate allowed its major committees to hire clerical staff.
Senator Charles Sumner delivered his "Crime Against Kansas" speech on May 19,
prompting the violent attack
on his person by Representative Preston Brooks on May 22.
Senate occupied its current chamber
for the first time on January 4.
On September 16, Senator David Broderick became the first and only sitting
senator to die in a duel
1861: Jefferson Davis delivered his farewell address to the Senate
on January 21 before leaving the chamber to become president of the Confederacy.
On January 25, the Senate adopted a rule requiring senators and the Secretary of the Senate to take a
The Senate passed legislation on July 25, regulating election of senators by state legislatures.
On March 6, in a move toward greater institutional efficiency, the Senate created a
Committee on Appropriations
, so that legislative committees would no longer be responsible for appropriating as well as authorizing funds.
The Senate approved the Alaska purchase treaty on April 9.
The Andrew Johnson impeachment trial began on March 30, and ended on May 16 when the
Senate acquitted President Johnson
by a one-vote margin.
On February 23, Hiram Revels of Mississippi presented his credentials. He was sworn into office on February 25, becoming the
first African American senator
In response to a growing number of contested elections, on March 10 the Senate created a Committee on Privileges and Elections to handle these contentious and often complex disputes. Four days later, the Senate sent to the committee pending cases from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.
The Senate established its own library on August 1, independent of the Library of Congress, and appointed its first librarian, George S. Wagner.
was published on March 4.
On March 4, seven years after the Senate acquitted him in an impeachment trial,
Andrew Johnson became the first former president to serve as a senator
The Senate acquitted Secretary of War William Belknap on August 1. Belknap is the only cabinet officer ever impeached.
To allow all members of each party to sit together in the chamber, on March 5 the Senate began the practice of moving desks according to party division rather than keeping an equal number of desks on each side of the center aisle.
On February 14, Blanche K. Bruce became the
first African American to preside over the Senate
The Senate adopted the "Anthony Rule" on February 5, allowing senators to speak no more than five minutes on certain measures before voting. This was the Senate's first effort to add a
provision to its rules.
On January 14, the Senate agreed to "cause a telephone to be placed at some convenient point, for the use of the Senate, in connection with the general telephone system of the city of Washington."
For the first time, the Senate provided all members with clerical staff.
On July 5, the Senate directed the Sergeant at Arms and the Architect of the Capitol to rent suitable rooms outside the Capitol for committees and subcommittees -- they decided on the Maltby Building.
Presidential Succession Act of January 19 removed the
President Pro Tempore
presidential line of succession
On February 22, the tradition of the
reading of George Washington's farewell address
began. It became an annual event beginning in 1893.
1895: Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett
died on December 18. Bassett began his Senate service in 1831 as a page and after 1860 became widely identified as keeper of the Senate's historical lore.
On April 6, the Senate revised Rule I to allow for appointment of a presiding officer by the president pro tempore or another senator in the event of the vice president's death.
The Senate Democratic
Conference began keeping minutes
of its closed-door meetings on March 16.
On April 28, Congress authorized construction of a
fireproof Senate office building
On February 17, novelist David Graham Phillips'
"Treason of the Senate"
series began publication in
magazine. This investigative series detailed the relationship between senators and corporate interests, and was one factor leading to the
direct election reform
of the Progressive era.
Congress authorized funds on February 26 for construction of a "subway" connecting the Capitol and Senate office building.
On noon of July 31 the
cornerstone was laid
for what is now known as the Russell Senate Office Building.
Charles Curtis of Kansas became the first
Native American senato
r. Curtis was part Kaw Indian, his mother was the granddaughter of Kansa-Kaw Chief, White Plume.
The Senate opened its first permanent office building, which in 1972 was
named in honor of Senator Richard B. Russell
On April 22, the Senate Commerce Committee held subcommittee hearings to
investigate the Titanic disaster
. The committee
issued its report
on May 28.
On March 5, John W. Kern became the first officially designated Democratic
The Constitution was amended (17th Amendment) to provide for
direct popular election of senators
, ending the system of election by individual state legislatures.
The Senate adopted a rule on March 9
on the floor of the Senate because Senator Ben Tillman, recovering from a stroke, found the smoke irritating.
President Woodrow Wilson delivered his "Peace Without Victory" speech in the Senate Chamber on January 22. He returned two years later to
deliver the Treaty of Versailles
to the Senate.
adopted a rule (cloture)
to limit filibusters.
On November 5, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman of a major party to run (unsuccessfully) for a Senate seat. Rankin was currently serving as a member of the House of Representatives.
On March 1, Public Law 66-190 became the first statute to be printed on paper instead of parchment.
On November 2, Warren G. Harding became the
first incumbent senator to be elected president
of the United States.
On October 3, Rebecca Felton (D-GA) became the
first woman appointed to the Senate
. She served in the Senate for just 24 hours, from noon on November 21 to noon on November 22.
On October 22, the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys began a series of hearings to investigate the leasing of government oil reserves in Wyoming to oil men and developers. This became known as the
"Teapot Dome" investigation
Senate Republicans officially designated their
for the first time -- Charles Curtis (R-KS) -- on March 5.
Harlan Fiske Stone became the
first Supreme Court nominee to appear
before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Smith W. Brookhart (R-IA) became the first previously seated senator to be unseated following a recount of election ballots.
McGrain v. Daugherty
, the U.S. Supreme Court firmly established the general power of congressional committees to compel testimony from witnesses.
On December 5, Democratic Leader Joseph T. Robinson (D-AR) started the tradition of party floor leaders sitting at the front-row, center-aisle desk in the Senate chamber.
Octaviano Larrazolo (R-NM) became the
first Hispanic senator
on December 7.
from the Senate chamber occurred on March 4, in connection with the vice presidential inauguration ceremony.
On January 12, Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway (D-AR) became the
first woman elected to the Senate
. Reelected twice, she served until 1945.
On March 9, the Senate passed the Emergency Bankng Act after only several hours of debate.
On July 1, the Senate established the office of the
and promoted journal clerk Charles Watkins to the new position. He continued as journal clerk for two more years, serving in both positions. Watkins remained parliamentarian until his retirement in 1964.
Senator Huey P. Long (D-LA) was assassinated in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on September 10.
On March 25, 1937, the
Senate agreed to transfer its historical records to the newly opened National Archives
. Previously, Senate clerks had kept official records in the Capitol's attic and basement store rooms where they became victim to vermin, moisture, and souvenir hunters.
On August 13, Vice President John Nance Garner announced a policy of
to the majority leader and and then the minority leader in the Senate chamber.
The Senate passed a resolution providing that "the Chaplain shall open each day's session of the Senate with prayer."
Columbia Pictures released Frank Capra's film
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
senators attended a world premiere
of the film on October 17, held at Washington's Constitution Hall.
On March 1, a Senate resolution created
The Truman Committee
, the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program.
On December 26, Congress held a joint meeting in the Senate chamber for an
address by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
On October 19, Hattie Caraway (D-AR) became the
first woman to preside over the Senate
President Harry S. Truman addressed the Senate on the United Nations charter on July 2.
President Harry S. Truman signed the Legislative Reorganization Act, which
reformed the committee system
, sweeping away obsolete committees, eliminating redundancy in committee work, and establishing an effective congressional staff system.
Implementing aspects of the Reorganization Act, each member and committee hired professional staff for the first time.
On January 2, the Senate established the Committee on Armed Services.
On March 18, 1947, the Senate Rules Committee gave press gallery accreditation to Louis R. Lautier, making him the first African-American reporter to sit in that gallery in seventy years.
Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) became the
first woman elected to both houses
On November 2, Russell Long of Louisiana became the first senator to win a seat previously occupied by both his father (Huey Long) and mother (Rose Long).
A major remodeling project began in the Senate chamber.
On February 9, in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph
McCarthy (R-WI) first raised charges
that Communists had infiltrated federal government agencies.
On June 1, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) delivered her
"Declaration of Conscience"
speech, attacking -- without naming -- Senator Joseph McCarthy for his anti-communist tactics, referring to them as "vilification" and "smear."
William Knowland became the youngest Majority Leader in Senate history, at age 45. Lyndon Baines Johnson became the youngest Democratic leader in Senate history, also at age 45.
On April 22, the Senate began a 55-day series of
. Television transformed the hearings into a national spectacle.
On November 2, Hazel Hempel Abel (R-Nebraska) became the first woman senator to succeed another woman (Eva Bowring).
The Senate "condemned" Senator Joseph McCarthy on December 2.
On January 21, the Senate paid tribute to seven employees, each with more than fifty years of service, including Charles Watkins (Parliamentarian and journal clerk since 1904), Paul Johnson (restaurant head waiter since 1900), Arthur Cook (assistant Architect of the Capitol, 1897), Charles Alden (assistant superintendent of the Senate office buildings, 1900), Lillian Taylor (architectural clerk, 1901), James Preston (Senate registration clerk, 1897), and James Murphy (chief reporter of debates since 1896).
The Senate Republican Policy Committee commenced weekly luncheon meetings on January 17.
On August 28-29,
Senator J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina
delivered the longest speech in Senate history.
against the 1957 Civil Rights Act, Thurmond spoke for a
24 hours 18 minutes.
Five senators were chosen as "most outstanding" by a special Senate committee, chaired by Senator John Kennedy. When special portraits were commissioned for the Senate Reception Room, they became known as the "Famous Five."
The Senate opened its
second office building
, which in 1972 was named in honor of
Senator Everett Dirksen
The Senate unveiled
portraits of the Famous Five
in the Senate Reception Room: John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Robert La Follette, Sr., and Robert A. Taft, Sr.
Hiram L. Fong (R-HI) became the first senator of Chinese-American ancestry on July 29.
On June 10, the
Senate ended a lengthy filibuster
, allowing for passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Select Committee on Standards and Conduct was created on July 9, forerunner of the current Select Committee on Ethics.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy died from the effects of an assassin's bullet on June 6, while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.
On September 6, Senator
Margaret Chase Smith
of Maine missed her first
roll call vote
in thirteen years. Since 1955 she had cast 2,941 consecutive roll call votes. The missed vote was due to the Senator's hospitalization in New York.
Paulette Desell and Ellen McConnel, both sixteen years old, became the
Senate's first female pages
Supreme Court decides
Gravel vs. U.S.
, providing immunity from prosecution for Senator Mike Gravel who read the secret "Pentagon Papers" into the public record. Decision based on the Constitution's "Speech and Debate Clause."
The Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the
) opened public hearings.
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller
being sworn into office in the Senate Chamber.
The Senate Budget Committee was established.
The Senate provided that the "Daniel Webster Desk" be assigned to the senior senator from New Hampshire.
The Senate voted to open committee meetings to the public.
to allow three-fifths of the senators voting to end debate rather than two-thirds.
Mike Mansfield of Montana
set the record for longest-serving Majority Leader, having held that post for sixteen years.
Senate opened all committee meetings to the public.
The Old Senate Chamber is restored and reopened for the National Bicentennial.
The [Frank] Church Committee
of the CIA led to creation of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senate Select Committee on Ethics is established, which acopted the "Code of Official Conduct for Members, Officers, and Employees of the United States Senate."
Senate debates on the Panama Canal Treaty broadcasted over National Public Radio.
Senate began requiring public financial disclosure by all members, candidates, officers, and certain employees.
Senator Robert C. Byrd began a series of hour-long lectures to the Senate on the institution's history and traditions. By 1989, he had delivered
more than one hundred addresses
First change in
majority party control
in twenty-six years.
The Senate opened its third office building,
named in honor
of Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan.
explode a bomb
at 11:00 p.m. on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol, outside the Senate chamber, causing $250,000 in damage.
Jo-Anne Coe became the first female
Secretary of the Senate
Regular television coverage (C-Span 2) of Senate floor proceedings began.
The Senate participates in a joint committee to investigate the Iran-Contra affair.
The Senate established the Office of Senate Security, to replace the Office of Classified National Security Information.
C. Abbott Saffold became the first female
Democratic Party Secretary.
1989: The Senate convened in the Old Senate Chamber on April 6, 1989, to celebrate its 200th birthday.
1991: Martha Pope became the first Senate
Sergeant at Arms
. In 1994, Pope became Secretary of the Senate, the first woman to serve in both positions.
1993: On January 5,
of Illinois became the first African-American female to serve in the U.S. Senate.
1993: The Supreme Court ruled in
Walter Nixon v. United States
that the Senate's power to try
is not subject to judicial review.
1995: Senate Republicans adopted a rule limiting the party's committee chairmen to a six-year term.
1995: Senator Nancy Kassebaum became first woman to chair a major standing committee. (Senator Hattie Caraway chaired the Committee on Enrolling Bills in 1933.)
1995: Senate Republicans adopted a term limit on committee chairships, limiting committee chairs and ranking members to a six-year term.
1995: The Senate launched its first home page on the World Wide Web -- www.senate.gov.
1995: Elizabeth Letchworth became the first female
Republican Party Secretary
1996: Senate employees gained collective bargaining rights under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act.
1997: The Senate's membership, for the first time, included nine
1998: Senator John Glenn returned to space aboard the Space Shuttle
1999: The Senate held an
of President William Clinton. Trial began on January 14, and the Senate voted on articles of impeachment, ending the trial with acquittal, on February 12.
1999: The Senate Commission on Art created the Senate Leadership Portrait Collection to honor
presidents pro tempore
majority and minority leaders
. Interest in memorializing Senate leaders had been sparked by the
Leaderâ€™s Lecture Series
, in which former leaders share their insights with current and past members of the Senate.
Senator Howard Baker
was the honored guest at the leaderâ€™s lecture in 1998 when he spoke about his years as majority leader.
A portrait of Baker
, painted by Herbert Elmer Abrams, was donated to the Senate by the Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Center in 2000, and became the first portrait acquired for the new series.
1999: On November 10, a Senate session was staffed entirely by women for the first time.
2000: The Senate approved the addition of two new portraits, to join the Famous Five in the Senate Reception Room, creating
The Famous Seven
2000: On November 7, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first "First Lady of the United States" to be elected to the Senate.
2001: Following the 2000 election, the Senate was divided evenly -- 50/50 -- between the two parties, Republicans and Democrats. From January 3 to January 20, the Democrats held the majority, thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Al Gore. When Dick Cheney became Vice President on January 20, 2001, the Republicans regained majority status and held it until June 6, 2001, when Senator James Jeffords' switch from Republican to independent status returned the majority to the Democrats.
2001: Four more women became senators on January 3, bringing the total to a record-setting thirteen.
2001: Alfonso E. Lenhart became the first African American to serve as Senate Sergeant at Arms.
2001: A terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon forced a temporary evacuation of the U.S. Capitol and Senate office buildings.
2001: On October 17, two days after a letter containing anthrax was opened in the office of Senator Tom Daschle, Senate leadership closed the
Hart Senate Office Building
. The building remained closed for remediation for three months, displacing fifty senators and hundreds of staff. The building reopened on January 22, 2002.
2002: On September 6, the United States Senate and the House of Representatives met in a commemorative joint session in New York City's Federal Hall. A tribute to the heroes and victims of September 11, 2001, the meeting also marked the return of Congress to the location of its first home. The first U.S. Congress met in an earlier
from March 4, 1789 to August 12, 1790,
before moving to Philadelphia
for ten years while building its permanent home in Washington, D.C.
2002: On October 25, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, along with his wife, daughter and three staff members, died in a plane crash while on the campaign trail.
2002: On November 7, Senator Edward Kennedy marked his 40th anniversary as a U.S. senator. For the first time, the Senate included
three forty-year incumbents
and Robert Byrd).
2002: On December 2, Senator Frank Murkowski resigned to become Governor of Alaska. On December 20, Governor Murkowski appointed his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation. They became the first father-daughter combination to serve in the Senate.
2002: Senator Strom Thurmond celebrated his 100th birthday on December 5, setting a new record as the only sitting senator to reach the century mark.
Thurmond died seven months later
2002: Following Senator Trent Lott's resignation as Republican leader on December 20, Senator William Frist of Tennessee was elected Republican leader by telephone conference call on December 23.
2004: Portraits of Senators Robert Wagner of New York and Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan were added to the Senate Reception Room, joining the "
2005: On January 3, Barack Obama (D-IL) became the fifth
to serve in the U.S. Senate, and Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) brought the number of
2005: On May 24, a newly commissioned portrait of former
Majority Leader George J. Mitchell
was unveiled and added to the Senate Leadership Portrait Collection established in 1999.
2005: A newly commissioned
portrait of Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith
was unveiled in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber on October 18.
2006: On January 18, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) took the oath of office, having been appointed to a vacant seat, and became the sixth Hispanic American known to have served in the U.S. Senate.
2006: On July 25, a newly commissioned portrait of former
Majority Leader Robert J. Dole
was unveiled and added to the Senate Leadership Portrait Collection established in 1999.
2007: On September 25, a newly commissioned portrait of
Senator Robert C. Byrd
, former majority leader of the Senate, was unveiled and added to the Senate Leadership Portrait Collection established in 1999.
2008: On April 22, a newly commissioned portrait of
Senator Tom Daschle
, former majority leader of the Senate, was unveiled and added to the Senate Leadership Portrait Collection established in 1999.
2008: On November 4, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois was elected as the 44th president of the United States, along with Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware as vice president. To date, fifteen senators had
also served as president
. Only twice before has a sitting senator been elected president -- Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.