The First United States Congress, consisting of 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.
|1st United States Congress|
Federal Hall, site of the first two sessions of this Congress (1789)
|March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1791|
|Senate President||John Adams (P)|
|Senate President pro tem||John Langdon (P)|
|House Speaker||Frederick Muhlenberg (P)|
59–65 members of the House
|1st: March 4, 1789 – September 29, 1789|
2nd: January 4, 1790 – August 12, 1790
3rd: December 6, 1790 – March 3, 1791
Held March 4, 1789, through September 29, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City
Held January 4, 1790, through August 12, 1790, at Federal Hall in New York City
Held December 6, 1790, through March 3, 1791, at Congress Hall in Philadelphia
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.
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 shows control)
|End of the previous congress||0||0||0||0|
|Final voting share||30.8%||69.2%|
|Beginning of the next congress||9||16||25||1|
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 shows control)
|End of the previous congress||0||0||0||0|
|Final voting share||42.2%||57.8%|
|Beginning of the next congress||29||39||68||1|
This list is arranged by chamber, then by state. Senators are listed by class, and Representatives are listed by district.
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.
The names of members of the House of Representatives are listed by their districts.
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.
New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island, were the last states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, and because of 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 a 1-seat net gain and the Pro-Administration Senators picked up 4 seats.
|Vacator||Reason for change||Successor||Date of successor'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|
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.
|District||Vacator||Reason for change||Successor||Date of successor's|
|New Hampshire At-Large||Benjamin West (P)||Declined to serve||Abiel Foster (P)||June 23, 1789|
|North Carolina 1st||New seats||North Carolina ratified the constitution on November 21, 1789.||John Baptista Ashe (A)||March 24, 1790|
|North Carolina 2nd||Hugh Williamson (A)||March 19, 1790|
|North Carolina 3rd||Timothy Bloodworth (A)||April 6, 1790|
|North Carolina 4th||John Steele (P)||April 19, 1790|
|North Carolina 5th||John Sevier (P)||June 16, 1790|
|Rhode Island At-large||New seat||Rhode Island ratified the constitution on May 29, 1790.||Benjamin Bourne (P)||December 17, 1790|
|Virginia 9th||Theodorick Bland (A)||Died June 1, 1790.||William B. Giles (A)||December 7, 1790|
|Massachusetts 5th||George Partridge (P)||Resigned August 14, 1790.||Remained vacant until next Congress|
Lists of committees and their party leaders.
The United States elections of 1788–89 were the first federal elections in the United States since the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788. In the elections, the George Washington was elected as the first president and the members of the 1st United States Congress were selected.
Formal political parties did not exist, as the leading politicians of the day largely distrusted the idea of "factions." However, in the years after the ratification of the Constitution, Congress would become broadly divided by the economic policies of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, with the Pro-Administration faction supporting those policies. Opposing them was the Anti-Administration faction, which sought a smaller role for the federal government. In these elections, the Pro-Administration faction won majorities in both houses of Congress.
Meanwhile, General George Washington was elected as the country's first president, while John Adams, who finished with the second largest number of electoral votes, was elected as the first vice president.1789 New Hampshire's at-large congressional district special election
A special election was held in New Hampshire's at-large congressional district on June 22, 1789 to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Representative-Elect Benjamin West, who had declined to serve. This was the first special election in the history of the United States House of Representatives.1789 United States House of Representatives elections in New York
The 1789 United States House of Representatives elections in New York were held on March 3 and 4, 1789, to elect 6 U.S. Representatives to represent the State of New York in the 1st United States Congress.1790 Connecticut's at-large congressional district special election
A special election was held in Connecticut's at-large congressional district on December 16, 1790 to fill a vacancy left when Representative-elect Pierpont Edwards (P) declined to serve.1790 State of the Union Address
This State of the Union Address was given on Friday, January 8, 1790, during the term of George Washington. It was the first annual address given by a president. It was given in New York City. The first President felt, “great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.” 
This State of the Union Address was given on Friday, January 8, 1790, by President George Washington. It was given in New York City in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall. It was the first annual address given by a president of the United States of America. As the first State of the Union Address President Washington created the example of what would become expected of presidents long after him. Everything from his choice of clothing, who was standing beside him, to the way he gave his message was criticized. “According to Sen. William Maclay’s account “The President was dressed in second morning, and read his speech well. The senate headed by their president were on his right The House of Representatives …. With their speaker were on his left…”. His demeanor gave the event the respect and importance that it has been given since his first speech. For all the importance that his speech has it is the shortest State of the Union Address that has been given to this day with only 1,089 words. His speech did not address in detail many of his points. He explained some of the challenges that their young America would face and he addressed what he expected of the future. President George Washington begins his speech by congratulating the houses with the accession of North Carolina and expressing the country’s progress “… and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.”. President Washington celebrated with the people but he realized the work that they would have to do in order to secure America’s future. “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” was Washington’s call to his country to create a good army and to gather the resources needed to maintain it. The army itself, its funding, supplies, and structure still needed to be decided so Washington included this in his speech because it was of great importance that needed to be addressed immediately. As a new country it had to find its place in the world and shine the light of democracy. The need for foreign policy was a concern that he felt should be dealt with by the President and he promised to do his “duty in that respect in the manner which circumstances may render most public good.”. The need for a naturalization process to be made for foreigners was inserted to show how important they were to the country and to show the need the nation had for new citizens. The citizens themselves were not ignored in his State of the Union Address. With the government being formed by various official men the citizens of the United States were also asked to participate in the growth of their country. President Washington moved beyond official needs to address the everyday lives of the citizens. The President expressed “ the advancement of agriculture, commerce, manufactures…the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” in hopes of inspiring the people to embrace these fields of knowledge in order to better the country. He reminded the country that they needed knowledge in order to be able to “know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them, etc…”. Lastly he also reminded the houses of their duty to the country and the cooperation that they would need to have for the future. The first President felt, “great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.” The short speech that will forever be remembered by American citizens gave them hope for the future and revealed to the world the great efforts that were made by courageous men and women.1790 United States Census
The United States Census of 1790 was the first census of the whole United States. It recorded the population of the United States as of Census Day, August 2, 1790, as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and applicable laws. In the first census, the population of the United States was enumerated to be 3,929,214.Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of United States judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking until the 1840 census. "The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in 'two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned...' and that 'the aggregate amount of each description of persons' for every district be transmitted to the president."1790 Virginia's 9th congressional district special election
A special election was held in Virginia's 9th congressional district in July, 1790, to fill the vacancy left by the death of Theodorick Bland (A) on June 1, 1790.Copyright Act of 1790
The Copyright Act of 1790 was the first federal copyright act to be instituted in the United States, though most of the states had passed various legislation securing copyrights in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. The stated object of the act was the "encouragement of learning," and it achieved this by securing authors the "sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending" the copies of their "maps, charts, and books" for a term of 14 years, with the right to renew for one additional 14-year term should the copyright holder still be alive.First Bank of the United States
The President, Directors and Company, of the Bank of the United States, commonly known as the First Bank of the United States, was a national bank, chartered for a term of twenty years, by the United States Congress on February 25, 1791. It followed the Bank of North America, the nation's first de facto central bank.
Establishment of the Bank of the United States was part of a three-part expansion of federal fiscal and monetary power, along with a federal mint and excise taxes, championed by Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton believed a national bank was necessary to stabilize and improve the nation's credit, and to improve handling of the financial business of the United States government under the newly enacted Constitution.
The First Bank building, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within Independence National Historical Park, was completed in 1797, and is a National Historic Landmark for its historic and architectural significance.Jeremiah Van Rensselaer
Jeremiah Van Rensselaer (August 27, 1738 – February 19, 1810), from the prominent Van Rensselaer family, was Lieutenant Governor of New York and a member of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York in the 1st United States Congress.Judiciary Act of 1789
The Judiciary Act of 1789 (ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73) was a United States federal statute adopted on September 24, 1789, in the first session of the First United States Congress. It established the federal judiciary of the United States. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution prescribed that the "judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and such inferior Courts" as Congress saw fit to establish. It made no provision for the composition or procedures of any of the courts, leaving this to Congress to decide.The existence of a separate federal judiciary had been controversial during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution. Anti-Federalists had denounced the judicial power as a potential instrument of national tyranny. Indeed, of the ten amendments that eventually became the Bill of Rights, five (the fourth through the eighth) dealt primarily with judicial proceedings. Even after ratification, some opponents of a strong judiciary urged that the federal court system be limited to a Supreme Court and perhaps local admiralty judges. The Congress, however, decided to establish a system of federal trial courts with broader jurisdiction, thereby creating an arm for enforcement of national laws within each state.List of United States Senators in the 1st Congress by seniority
This is a complete list of members of the United States Senate during the 1st United States Congress listed by seniority, from March 4, 1789, to March 3, 1791.
The order of service is based on the commencement of the senator's first term, with senators entering service the same day ranked alphabetically. The Senate now assigns an official number to each senator, which is the second number given in the table.During this time, there were no official parties, but senators are labeled as Pro-Administration (P), and Anti-Administration (A).List of members of the United States House of Representatives in the 1st Congress by seniority
This is a complete list of members of the United States House of Representatives during the 1st United States Congress listed by seniority. For the most part, representatives are ranked by the beginning of their terms in office.As an historical article, the districts and party affiliations listed reflect those during the 1st Congress (March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791). Seats and party affiliations on similar lists for other Congresses will be different for certain members.
This article describes the criteria for seniority in the House of Representatives and sets out the list of members by seniority. It is prepared on the basis of the interpretation of seniority applied to the House of Representatives in the current congress. In the absence of information to the contrary, it is presumed that the twenty-first-century practice is identical to the seniority customs used during the 1st Congress.Naturalization Act of 1790
The original United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 (1 Stat. 103) provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of national citizenship. This law limited naturalization to immigrants who were free White persons of good character. It thus excluded Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and later Asians, although free blacks were allowed citizenship at the state level in certain states. It also provided for citizenship for the children of U.S. citizens born abroad, stating that such children "shall be considered as natural born citizens," the only US statute ever to use the term. It specified that the right of citizenship did "not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States."Residence Act
The Residence Act of 1790, officially titled An Act for establishing the temporary and permanent seat of the Government of the United States (1 Stat. 130), was a United States federal statute adopted during the second session of the First United States Congress, and signed into law by President George Washington on July 16, 1790. The Act provided for a national capital and permanent seat of government to be established at a site along the Potomac River and empowered President Washington to appoint commissioners to oversee the project. It also set a deadline of December 1800 for the capital to be ready, and designated Philadelphia as the nation's temporary capital while the new seat of government was being built. At the time, the federal government was operating out of New York City.
Congress passed the Residence Act as part of a compromise brokered among James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Madison and Jefferson favored a southerly site for the capital on the Potomac River, but they lacked a majority to pass the measure through Congress. Meanwhile, Hamilton was pushing for Congress to pass the Assumption Bill, to allow the Federal government to assume debts accumulated by the states during the American Revolutionary War. With the compromise, Hamilton was able to muster support from the New York State congressional delegation for the Potomac site, while four delegates (all from districts bordering the Potomac) switched from opposition to support for the Assumption Bill.Secretary of the United States Senate
The Secretary of the Senate is an elected officer of the United States Senate. The Secretary supervises an extensive array of offices and services to expedite the day-to-day operations of that body. The office is somewhat analogous to that of the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives.
The first secretary was chosen on April 8, 1789, two days after the Senate achieved its first quorum for business at the beginning of the 1st United States Congress. From the start, the secretary was responsible for keeping the minutes and records of the Senate, including the records of senators' election, and for receiving and transmitting official messages to and from the President and the House of Representatives, as well as for purchasing supplies. As the Senate grew to become a major national institution, numerous other duties were assigned to the secretary, whose jurisdiction now encompasses clerks, curators, and computers; disbursement of payrolls; acquisition of stationery supplies; education of the Senate pages; and the maintenance of public records. Today, the secretary coordinates two of the largest technology initiatives in Senate history, both designed to bring state-of-the-art efficiency to management of legislative and financial information. The secretary's responsibilities include both legislative and administrative functions. Today, by agreement of the two parties, the Majority Leader selects the Secretary of the Senate, and the election is merely ceremonial.
The current secretary (for the 115th United States Congress) is Julie E. Adams.Tariff of 1789
The Tariff Act of 1789, was the first major Act passed in the United States under its present Constitution of 1789 and had two purposes as stated in Section I of the Act which reads as follows;
Whereas it is necessary for that support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures, that duties be laid on goods, wares and merchandise
The Federal legislature, acting under the recently ratified US Constitution, authorized the collection of tariff and tonnage duties to meet the operating costs of the new central government, to provide funds to pay the interest and principal on revolutionary war debts inherited from the Continental Congress. It also provided a degree of protection. "The protective acts of the states furnished the experience on which the national legislators based their proceedings." The general range of duties was by no means such as would have been thought protective in later days; but the intention to protect was there.The debates over the purpose of the tariff exposed the sectional interests at stake: Northern manufacturers favored high duties to protect industry; Southern planters desired a low tariff that would foster cheap consumer imports. The final bill extracted concessions from both interests, but delivered a distinct advantage to maritime and manufacturing regions of the country.Representative James Madison of Virginia navigated to passage, but was unable to insert provisions that would have discriminated against British imports and shift the carrying trade to French and American vessels.
The Tariff Bill was passed in the House by a vote of 31-19 on July 1, 1789; the resultant enrolled Bill was signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate on July 2, 1789; and President Washington signed the Act in law on July 4, 1789.Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Tenth Amendment (Amendment X) to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified on December 15, 1791. It expresses the principle of federalism and states' rights, which strictly supports the entire plan of the original Constitution for the United States of America, by stating that the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people.
The amendment was proposed by the 1st United States Congress in 1789 during its first term following the adoption of the Constitution. It was considered by many members as a prerequisite to many state ratifications of the Constitution and particularly to satisfy demands of Anti-Federalists who opposed the creation of a stronger federal government.
The drafters of this amendment had two purposes in mind: first, as a necessary rule of construction; and second, as a reaffirmation of the nature of federalism.Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-seventh Amendment (Amendment XXVII) to the United States Constitution prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives. The amendment is the most recent to be adopted, but one of the first proposed.
It was submitted by the 1st Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, along with eleven other proposed amendments. While ten of these twelve proposals were ratified in 1791 to become the Bill of Rights, what would become the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment did not get ratified by enough states for them to also come into force with the first ten amendments.
The proposed congressional pay amendment was largely forgotten until 1982, when Gregory Watson, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a paper for a government class in which he claimed that the amendment could still be ratified. A teaching assistant graded the paper a "C" and an appeal to the professor, Sharon Waite, failed, motivating Watson to launch a nationwide campaign to complete its ratification. The amendment eventually became part of the United States Constitution, effective May 5, 1992, completing a record-setting ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.
United States Congresses (and year convened)