Tuesday, April 6, 2010


On this day (April 6) in 1789, the US Senate met for the first time with a quorum and elected its first officers. The House had met for the first time with a quorum and elected its officers on April 1. The Constitution officially took effect on March 4, 1789, but it took until April for the 1st Congress to get its act together. Despite its slow start, however, the 1st Congress (which met in 3 congressional sessions between April 1789 and March 3, 1791) accomplished quite a lot of important national business.

The first session established the Cabinet Departments of State, War, and Treasury, and passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created the Supreme Court of the United States, the Federal District Courts, the Circuit Courts, and established the US Attorney General and District Attorneys. Finally, on September 25, it passed and sent to the states the first set of amendments to the US Constitution. Of the 12 amendments proposed, 10 were ratified and are collectively celebrated as our “Bill of Rights.” (One of the other two proposed amendments was belatedly ratified by the states in 1992 becoming the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. It prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of the Congress from taking effect, until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives.)

The 1790 session provided for the first census, passed the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Patent Act of 1790, the Copyright Act of 1790, the Residence Act, establishing the yet-to-be-built Washington, DC, as the future seat of the Federal Government), and the Indian Intercourse Act of 1790, regulating commerce with Native American Tribes.

The 3rd session (1791) chartered the First Bank of the United States, and admitted Vermont to the Union as the 14th state.

Not a bad record at all! Given that they were doing everything for the first time and that not everyone expected them to succeed, the members of the 1st US Congress left behind an admirable legacy.
Would that every modern Congress could be so productive!

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