Episode 338: The Early History of the United States Senate

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution and submitted it to the states for ratification. In honor of Constitution Day, we join three historians from the Senate Historical Office to investigate Article 1 of the Constitution and its creation of the United States Senate.

This episode is supported by an American Rescue Plan grant to the Omohundro Institute from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Three historians from the Senate Historical OfficeBetty K. Koed, Katherine Scott, and Daniel Holt—join us to investigate the creation and formation of the United States Senate.

During our investigation, these Senate historians reveal the structure of the legislative branch created by the United States Constitution; details about the early U.S. Senate, including its powers, organization, and process for doing business; And how divisive party politics influenced the work of early U.S. Senates and eventually led to the creation of the modern-day filibuster.

What You’ll Discover

  • Senate Historical Office and its work
  • Records of the United States Senate
  • Institutional origins of the U.S. Senate
  • Article 1 of the United States Constitution
  • Government in colonial British America
  • Powers of the Senate
  • Rules of the First Senate
  • Officers of the early Senate
  • Why the early Senate met & conducted its business secretly
  • The Senate and the Press
  • Records of the early Senate
  • Details about the first meeting of the Senate in 1789
  • The first issues the Senate addressed in 1789
  • John Adams as president of the Senate
  • Divisive party politics in the early Senate
  • The Jay Treaty, 1794
  • Senate’s power to approve or reject presidential nominations
  • The history of the filibuster and cloture

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Complementary Episodes

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if the United States Constitution had established a unicameral or one-house Congress instead of dividing the Congress into the two houses we have today–the House of Representatives and the Senate? How do you think the early history of the United States Congress would be different?

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