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Origins and Development
Signing of the US Constitution

During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison described the Senate as “a necessary fence” which would protect “the people against their rulers” and from “the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.” Over the course of more than two hundred years, the Senate has expanded and evolved into a complex legislative body while remaining consistent with Madison’s vision, fulfilling the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse nation.

Powers and Procedures
Image of the U.S. Constitution

“By its rules the Senate wisely fixes the limits to its own power,” noted Vice President Adlai Stevenson. “In this Chamber alone are preserved, without restraint, two essentials of wise legislation and of good government—the right of amendment and of debate.” The Constitution grants unique powers to the Senate, allowing it to serve as the more deliberative legislative body and as a check on the executive and judicial branches by providing advice and consent on nominations and treaties.

Changing the clock for the first daylight saving time.

"To trace the history of the Senate,” wrote Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, “would be to write the history of the United States.” The framers of the Constitution created the United States Senate in 1787 and it convened its first session on March 4, 1789. Since that momentous day, the institution has played an integral role in the larger narrative of American history. Explore many notable dates in Senate history.

Party Division
"Senatorial Courtesy."

Known as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” the Senate has been a forum for free debate and the protection of political minorities. “In war and in peace,” explained Senator Robert C. Byrd, “it has been the sure refuge and protector of the rights of the states and of a political minority.” Historically, the institution’s unique role as guardian of minority rights has rendered political party ratios extremely important. The Senate was created so that, “the sober second thought of the people might find expression,” wrote Senator George F. Hoar, to “resist the hasty, intemperate, passionate desire of the people.”