On February 10, 1791 this bill to admit Vermont to Union was introduced in the Senate. Vermont was the first state to be admitted to the Union after the original 13 colonies on March 4, 1791.
Bill for Admission of Vermont to the Union, 2/10/1791, SEN 1A-B1, Records of the U.S. Senate (ARC 1151205)
Because no candidate received a majority of the votes cast when the Electoral College met on December 1, 1824, it was immediately clear that the Presidential election would be left up to the U.S. House of Representatives for the second time in our young nation’s history. Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that the Electoral College shall vote for President of the United States, and that the ballots would be counted by Congress. The person with the majority of votes would become President, while the person with the second most votes would be come Vice President. If a majority was not achieved, the U.S. House of Representatives would then choose a President from among the top three contenders.
When Congress convened to officially count the votes on February 9, 1825, Andrew Jackson held the most electoral votes at 99, but fell 32 votes shy of the required majority. Having finished fourth in the tally, Henry Clay was no longer a candidate when the election was handed over to the House, but as House Speaker he played a key role in determining the selection of the next President. With Clay’s support and influence, John Quincy Adams was elected President by the House of Representatives. After his March 4, 1825, inauguration, Adams nominated Clay to be Secretary of State. Jackson and his supporters saw this as the epitome of political corruption for the position of Secretary of State was considered a stepping stone toward the presidency, making Clay Adams’ likely political heir.
Jackson resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1825, and began campaigning for the 1828 election on the heels of the alleged “Corrupt Bargain.” The bitterly contested 1828 election was a rematch between Jackson and Adams, but with a decisive outcome. Jackson received 173 electoral votes, while Adams received only 83. Jackson was inaugurated as the seventh President of the United States on March 4, 1829.
Electoral Tally, 2/9/1825, SEN 18A-J1, Records of the U.S. Senate (ARC 306207)
Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) caught the attention of the nation during a speech in West Virginia on February 9, 1950 in which he claimed he held in his a hand a list of 205 names of people who were Communists working in the State Department. While not everyone was convinced of McCarthy’s allegations, he remained unscathed by numerous Senate investigations into his various claims of communism in the government.
In 1952, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee and the Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. It was as chairman of these two committees that McCarthy waged his full-scale attack on communists in the government. He investigated the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the International Information Agency (IIA), and the U.S. Army. The nationally televised hearings of the U.S. Army eventually lead to McCarthy’s political demise. His brutal tactics and reckless questioning gave his colleagues in the Senate more than enough motivation and evidence to put an end to his attacks.
On July 20, 1954, Senator Ralph Flanders (R-VT) introduced a resolution for censure to the Senate. The resolution was referred to a six-member subcommittee. The subcommittee issued its recommendation of censure on September 27. The Senate began debate on the subcommittee’s recommendation on November 8. The Senate finally came to a vote on December 2. The resolution was passed, 67-22, to censure McCarthy for contempt and abuse contrary to senatorial traditions and ethics.
S Res 301, 7/30/1954, SEN 83A-B4, Records of the U.S. Senate (ARC 1157557)
Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. November’s post comes from Center archives specialist, Christine Blackerby.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. By the 1968 election, areas covered by the Voting Rights Act averaged a 25% increase in the number of registered African American voters. The new voters caused a shift in the political base of the entire nation, realigning the political parties and sending large numbers of African American representatives to Congress for the first time.
When the Voting Rights Act was under consideration in Congress in March and April of 1965, Americans vigorously exercised their First Amendment right to petition their government. Citizens’ petitions, witness testimony, statistical data, and other information came before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which solicited many points of view during consideration of the bill. The two documents on display here are letters from citizens received by the committee—one is in favor of voting rights legislation and the other is against.
Several documents from the records of the Committee, which reflect multiple perspectives, are part of a lesson plan created by the Outreach staff of the Center for Legislative Archives. The lesson puts students in the shoes of members of the Committee as they deliberated the bill, and asks them to evaluate the evidence which led to the Voting Rights Act.
The education programs at the Center aim to make the historical records of Congress available to help teachers integrate the history and workings of Congress into American history and government classes. More lessons are available in the lesson plan section of our website.
Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson, 03/08/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 2173239)
Letter from George Neu, 03/26/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 2173238)
Happy Thanksgiving, Fellow Tumblrs!
Did you know that there was once so much confusion over what day Thanksgiving would be officially celebrated on that Congress had to pass a joint resolution declaring that last Thursday in November would be the legal holiday?
Here’s the story: In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation stating that Thanksgiving would be regularly commemorated on the last Thursday of November. Prior to Lincoln’s Proclamation, Thanksgiving celebrations varied from year to year with the dates and months constantly changing. Then in 1939, when Thanksgiving fell on the last day in November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned that a shortened Christmas shopping season would dampen the economic recovery. He issued a Presidential Proclamation changing the celebration to the second to last Thursday in November. Not wanting to deviated from tradition, some states refused to move the date of celebration. For two years, the nation and some states celebrated Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November while other states continued to celebrate on the last Thursday of the month.
To unite the nation and end confusion, Congress decided to fix the date of the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring that the last Thursday in November was a legal holiday.
The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays.
The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
H.J. Res. 41, 10/6/1941, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Senate Amendments to H.J. Red. 41, 12/9/1941, Records of the U.S. Senate
Congress went into its first session in the newly constructed Capitol on November 17, 1800. President John Adams delivered his fourth annual message to Congress, the first presidential message to be received in the Capitol, on November 22, 1800.
John Adams’ Fourth Annual Message, 11/22/1800, SEN 6A-E1, Records of the U.S. Senate
On November 20, 1789, New Jersey became the first state to ratify amendments in the Bill of Rights. The state ratified Articles 1 and 3 thru 12. President George Washington sent this message to Congress on August 6, 1790 transmitting documents on the state’s ratification.
With Virginia’s ratification on December 15, 1791, Articles 3 thru 12 became the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Visit our article on the Bill of Rights to learn more about Congress’ involvement in amending the Constitution for the first time.
Message from President Washington, 8/6/1790, SEN 1A-E2, Records of the U.S. Senate
Honoring Representative Leo J. Ryan
Today is the anniversary of one of the saddest days in congressional history: the assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan, the only sitting Member of Congress ever assassinated.
Congressman Ryan’s delegation, including current Representative Jackie Speier, who was then a member of Ryan’s staff, visited the People’s Temple Agricultural Community in Jonestown, Guyana, in response to concerns from constituents with relatives living in the community. Prior to the trip, Ryan wrote a letter to Clement Zablocki, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asking for permission to travel to Guyana as a representative of the committee to investigate the situation first hand.
After arriving at the People’s Temple the previous afternoon, Ryan spent the morning of November 18 speaking with members of the community. Following an attempted knife attack on Ryan at the compound, the party, which now included several residents who wanted to leave the People’s Temple, headed to the airstrip at nearby Port Kaituma for the flight back to Guyana’s capital. At the airstrip, Ryan and his party were preparing to board airplanes when a trailer of armed People’s Temple members drove onto the airfield and opened fire. Ryan and four others were murdered. Nine people, including Speier, were injured.
Ryan’s trip to Jonestown was emblematic of his crusading spirit. From his earliest days of public service he used his position to explore the needs and concerns of the less fortunate by conducting first hand investigations of complex issues such as the conditions in Folsom Prison and African American unrest in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Today we honor the life and service of Congressman Leo J. Ryan.
Letter from Congressman Leo J. Ryan, 10/4/1978, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives