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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2840

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: First congressional election.]

The first step in the organization of the government was to elect senators and representatives. The Senate was small, and was expected to be a kind of executive council. In due time John Adams was chosen vice-president, and became chairman. The Senate sat for several years in secret session; but from the journal of William Maclay, senator from Pennsylvania, we learn many interesting details, and know that the casting vote of the chairman was often necessary to settle important questions. The time and manner of electing members of the House was left to the States. In some cases all the members from a State were elected on one general ticket; in others the State was divided into districts. Among the distinguished members were Theodore Sedgwick and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, and James Madison of Virginia. From the first, the custom obtained that a member of the House should be a resident of the district from which he was chosen.

[Sidenote: Organization of Congress.]

The House organized April 6. In the Speaker appeared an officer until now unknown in the Federal system. At first he was only a moderator; after about a year he was given the power to appoint committees; and from that time dates the growth of those powers which have made him second in influence only to the President of the United States. The procedu

re was modelled partly on that of the old Congress, and partly upon that of the State legislatures: it is noticeable, however, that the system of permanent committees so familiar during the previous twelve years was not immediately readopted; It began to come in about 1794. The first act on the statute book was passed June 1, 1789, and prescribed a form of oath. Congress voted itself a moderate per diem of six dollars. The only other important question relative to the form of Congress was that of apportionment. On April 5, 1792, a bill allotting the members of the House to the States was the subject of the first executive veto.

[Sidenote: Amendments.]

One important function was performed before Congress adjourned, by submitting to the States twelve amendments to the Constitution. These were made up by comparison of the propositions submitted by the States at the time of ratification, and practically constituted a brief bill of rights. In due time all but two unimportant clauses were ratified by the States, and the great objection to the Constitution was thus removed.

The importance of the First Congress was that the general forms adopted for the transaction of its business have continued without serious change to the present day. Its officers have increased, its powers have developed, its political importance has expanded; but its parliamentary procedure is still much the same as in 1789.

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