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1st United States Congress

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1st United States Congress
→ 2nd

March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791
Members22–26 senators
59–65 representatives
Senate majorityPro-Administration
Senate PresidentJohn Adams (P)
House majorityPro-Administration
House SpeakerFrederick Muhlenberg (P)
1st: March 4, 1789 – September 29, 1789
2nd: January 4, 1790 – August 12, 1790
3rd: December 6, 1790 – March 3, 1791

The 1st United States Congress, comprising the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives, met from March 4, 1789, to March 4, 1791, during the first two years of George Washington's presidency, first at Federal Hall in New York City and later at Congress Hall in Philadelphia. With the initial meeting of the First Congress, the United States federal government officially began operations under the new (and current) frame of government established by the 1787 Constitution. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the provisions of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, of the Constitution. Both chambers had a Pro-Administration majority. Twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution were passed by this Congress and sent to the states for ratification; the ten ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, with an additional amendment ratified more than two centuries later to become the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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It was a very tenuous time in American history. They needed to get it right very quickly in order to keep the public’s confidence in what they were doing. I’m Charlene Bickford and I direct the First Federal Congress Project at The George Washington University. The First Federal Congress Project’s goal is to publish the complete documentary record of the most important and productive Congress in United States history. They were left to create the whole federal government structure. They had to found the executive departments. They had to flesh out the judiciary of the United States. Seventeen volumes have been published and we have three that are in page proof and indexing stage. And two more to go after that. We were looking for every single piece of evidence that relates to the First Federal Congress. This is a letter from Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts. In this letter is commentary on the amendments that were introduced by James Madison, what we know today as the Bill of Rights. His final conclusion about the amendments introduced by James Madison: “Upon the whole it may do some good towards quieting men…and may get the mover some popularity, which he wishes.” The First Federal Congress Project got started in the 1950s with Ford Foundation grants. Primary funder is the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making entity within the National Archives. We have collected about, I think it’s 14,000 documents in the project’s history. Gone to every repository in the country that has documents dated between 1787 and 1791. Which meant searching 93 newspapers in case some member of Congress sent a speech to his hometown paper. Over 600 petitions submitted to the First Congress. We worked with shorthand notes of debates. Every letter written to or from a member of the First Federal Congress. We’re still finding things and new collections are still opening up. The Supreme Court has used our volume called, “Creating the Bill of Rights.” And we’re providing all the evidence for people to work with long into the future.

Major events

Congress Hall in Philadelphia, meeting place of this Congress's third session.

Major legislation

Statue of George Washington in front of Federal Hall, where he was first inaugurated as president.

Session 1

Held March 4, 1789, through September 29, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City

Session 2

Held January 4, 1790, through August 12, 1790, at Federal Hall in New York City

Session 3

Held December 6, 1790, through March 3, 1791, at Congress Hall in Philadelphia

Constitutional amendments

States ratifying Constitution

  • November 21, 1789: North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and thereby joined the Union.
  • May 29, 1790: Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and thereby joined the Union.

Territories organized

Party summary

There were no political parties in this Congress. Members are informally grouped into factions of similar interest, based on an analysis of their voting record.[4]

Details on changes are shown below in the "Changes in membership" section.


During this congress, two Senate seats were added for North Carolina and Rhode Island when each ratified the Constitution.

(shading indicates faction control)
March 4, 1789
7 13 20 2
July 25, 1789[a] 14 21 1
July 27, 1789[a] 15 22 0
November 27, 1789[b] 17 24
March 12, 1790[c] 6 23 1
March 31, 1790[d] 18 24 0
June 7, 1790[e] 7 19 26
November 9, 1790[f] 8 18
November 13, 1790[g] 17 25 1
November 23, 1790[h] 18 26 0
Final voting share 30.8% 69.2%
Beginning of the
next Congress
8 17 25 1

House of Representatives

During this congress, five House seats were added for North Carolina and one House seat was added for Rhode Island when they ratified the Constitution.

(shading indicates faction control)
March 4, 1789
23 31 54 5
April 13, 1789[i] 32 55 4
April 22, 1789[j] 33 56 3
April 23, 1789[k] 24 57 2
May 9, 1789[l] 25 58 1
June 23, 1789[m] 34 59 0
March 19, 1790[n] 26 60
March 24, 1790[n] 27 61
April 6, 1790[n] 28 62
April 19, 1790[n] 35 63
June 1, 1790[o] 27 62 1
June 16, 1790[n] 36 63
August 14, 1790[p] 35 62 2
December 7, 1790[q] 28 63 1
December 17, 1790[r] 36 64
Final voting share 43.7% 56.3%
Beginning of the
next Congress
25 37 62 3



House of Representatives


This list is arranged by chamber, then by state. Senators are listed by class, and representatives are listed by district.

Skip to House of Representatives, below


Senators were elected by the state legislatures every two years, with one-third beginning new six-year terms with each Congress. Preceding the names in the list below are Senate class numbers, which indicate the cycle of their election. In this Congress, all senators were newly elected, and Class 1 meant their term ended with this Congress, requiring re-election in 1790; Class 2 meant their term ended with the next Congress, requiring re-election in 1792; and Class 3 meant their term lasted through the next two Congresses, requiring re-election in 1794.

House of Representatives

The names of members of the House of Representatives are listed by their districts.

Changes in membership

There were no political parties in this Congress. Members are informally grouped into factions of similar interest, based on an analysis of their voting record.[4]

New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island were the last states to ratify the U.S. Constitution and, due to their late ratification, were unable to send full representation at the beginning of this Congress. Six Senators and nine Representatives were subsequently seated from these states during the sessions as noted.


There was 1 resignation, 1 death, 1 replacement of a temporary appointee, and 6 new seats. The Anti-Administration Senators picked up 1 new seat and the Pro-Administration Senators picked up 5 new seats.

Senate changes
Vacated by Reason for change Successor Date of successor's
formal installation[s]
New York (3) New seats State legislature failed to choose senator until after Congress began. Rufus King (P) July 25, 1789
New York (1) Philip John Schuyler (P) July 27, 1789
North Carolina (3) North Carolina ratified the constitution on November 21, 1789. Benjamin Hawkins (P) Elected November 27, 1789
North Carolina (2) Samuel Johnston (P)
William Grayson (A) Died March 12, 1790. John Walker (P) Appointed March 31, 1790
Rhode Island (1) New seats Rhode Island ratified the constitution on May 29, 1790. Theodore Foster (P) Elected June 7, 1790
Rhode Island (2) Joseph Stanton Jr. (A)
John Walker (P) James Monroe was elected to the seat of Senator William Grayson. James Monroe (A) Elected November 9, 1790
New Jersey (2) William Paterson (P) Resigned November 13, 1790,
having been elected Governor of New Jersey.
Philemon Dickinson (P) Elected November 23, 1790

House of Representatives

There was 2 resignations, 1 death, and 6 new seats. Anti-Administration members picked up 3 seats and Pro-Administration members picked up 2 seats.

House changes
District Vacated by Reason for change Successor Date of successor's
formal installation[s]
New Hampshire at-large Benjamin West (P) Member-elect declined to serve and a new member was elected in the first congressional special election. Abiel Foster (P) June 23, 1789
North Carolina 1 New seats North Carolina ratified the constitution November 21, 1789. John Baptista Ashe (A) March 24, 1790
North Carolina 2 Hugh Williamson (A) March 19, 1790
North Carolina 3 Timothy Bloodworth (A) April 6, 1790
North Carolina 4 John Steele (P) April 19, 1790
North Carolina 5 John Sevier (P) June 16, 1790
Rhode Island at-large New seat Rhode Island ratified the constitution May 29, 1790. Benjamin Bourne (P) December 17, 1790
Virginia 9 Theodorick Bland (A) Died June 1, 1790. William B. Giles (A) December 7, 1790
Massachusetts 5 George Partridge (P) Resigned August 14, 1790. Remained vacant until next Congress


Lists of committees and their party leaders.


House of Representatives

Joint committees



House of Representatives

See also


  1. ^ a b In New York: the state legislature failed to choose Senators until after Congress began.
  2. ^ In North Carolina, the state ratified the Constitution and elected two Senators.
  3. ^ In Virginia, William Grayson died.
  4. ^ In Virginia, John Walker was appointed to fill the vacancy created when William Grayson died.
  5. ^ In Rhode Island, the state ratified the Constitution and elected two Senators.
  6. ^ In Virginia, James Monroe was elected to fill the vacancy created when William Grayson died.
  7. ^ In New Jersey, William Paterson resigned, having been elected Governor of New Jersey.
  8. ^ In New Jersey, Philemon Dickinson was elected to fill the vacancy created when William Paterson resigned.
  9. ^ In South Carolina's 1st district, William Loughton Smith was seated late after a contested election.
  10. ^ In New York's 5th district, Peter Silvester arrived late.
  11. ^ In New York's 4th district, John Hathorn arrived late.
  12. ^ In New York's 6th district, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer arrived late.
  13. ^ In New Hampshire's at-large district, Abiel Foster was elected after Benjamin West refused to take his seat.
  14. ^ a b c d e North Carolina ratified the Constitution on November 21, 1789, and elected five members.
  15. ^ In Virginia's 9th district, Theodorick Bland died.
  16. ^ In Massachusetts's 5th district, George Partridge resigned.
  17. ^ In Virginia's 9th district, William Branch Giles was elected to fill the vacancy created when Theodorick Bland died.
  18. ^ Rhode Island ratified the constitution May 29, 1790 and elected one member.
  19. ^ a b When seated or oath administered, not necessarily when service began.


  1. ^ "Journal of the First Session of the Senate of The United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of New York, March 4, 1789, And In The Thirteenth Year of the Independence of the Said States". Senate Journal. Gales & Seaton. 1820.
  2. ^ Unger, Harlow Giles (September 4, 2012). John Quincy Adams. Da Capo Press. pp. 71. ISBN 9780306821301. john adams new york city vice president inauguration April 20.
  3. ^ "Vice Presidential Inaugurations". Washington, D.C.: Architect of the Capitol. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Martis, Kenneth C. The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress.
  5. ^ "American Memory: Remaining Collections". Retrieved February 13, 2018.

Further reading

  • Bickford, Charlene Bangs, and Kenneth R. Bowling. Birth of the nation: the First Federal Congress, 1789–1791 (Rowman & Littlefield, 1989)
  • Bordewich, Fergus M. The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government (2016)
  • Bowling, Kenneth R. Politics in the first Congress, 1789–1791 (Taylor & Francis, 1990)
  • Christman, Margaret C.S. The first federal congress, 1789–1791 (Smithsonian Inst Pr, 1989.)
  • Currie, David P. "The Constitution in Congress: Substantive Issues in the First Congress, 1789–1791." The University of Chicago Law Review 61 (1994): 775–865. online
  • Jillson, Calvin C., and Rick K. Wilson. Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789 (Stanford University Press, 1994)
  • Martis, Kenneth C. (1989). The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
  • Martis, Kenneth C. (1982). The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

External links

This page was last edited on 7 November 2023, at 17:36
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