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This Week in Senate History

February 11, 1794
Image of Federal Hall in New York City

Meeting at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, the Senate temporarily abandoned its practice of conducting business behind closed doors while it considered whether or not to seat one of Pennsylvania's senators. Albert Gallatin had already had taken his Senate oath, but senators questioned whether the Swiss-born senator had been a U.S. citizen for the constitutionally required nine years. To avoid public criticism, senators determined on February 11, 1794, that the case should be resolved in full public view. On February 28, by a two-vote majority, the Senate denied Gallatin his seat. This open-door experiment prompted the Senate to permanently open its proceedings once a public gallery had been built.

February 15, 1797
John Adams by Eliphalet Frazer Andrews

Vice President John Adams, soon to become president of the United States, delivered a farewell address in which he saluted the Senate for its "eloquence, patriotism, and independence." Adams first entered Congress in 1774, as a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he became an ardent advocate for American independence. During the Revolution, he served in diplomatic posts in France and England. He became the nation's first vice president in 1789 and its second president in 1797. During his eight years as vice president, Adams set many important precedents as the Senate's constitutional presiding officer, including casting a still record-holding 29 tie-breaking votes.

February 17, 1906
Treason of the Senate

Following the conviction of two senators on charges of corruption, novelist David Graham Phillips began a nine-part series of articles titled "Treason of the Senate." Publishing his articles in Cosmopolitan magazine, Phillips argued that large corporations and corrupt state legislators played too large a role in the selection of senators. The articles attracted a wide audience, but Phillips' reliance on innuendo and exaggeration soon earned him the scorn of other reformers, including President Theodore Roosevelt who coined the term "muckraker" to describe this kind of sensationalist journalism. Nonetheless, the series intensified pressures to establish the direct popular election of senators.