In this picture, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addresses a joint Congressional meeting in the Senate Chamber on December 26, 1941, less than three weeks after the United States entered World War II.
History of the United States Senate
The United States Senate is often called the world’s greatest deliberative body. It was created as part of the “Great Compromise” during the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787. However, the Senate, as we know it today, might not exist if it weren’t for a small band of delegates from North Carolina.
At the convention there was much disagreement over whether the states should be equally represented in the legislature or whether they would be represented in portion to their population. Delegates from the larger of the 13 original states wanted representation to be based solely on the number of people within the state which would give them more power. The smaller states thought it would be more fair if there were an equal number of representatives. After weeks of deliberation, a compromise was reached. States would have representation based on population in the House of Representatives, but would have equal representation in the Senate where there would be two members from each state – large or small.
It was only by the narrowest of margins that this compromise was agreed to. North Carolina joined Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland in voting for equal representation. Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia voted against it. Massachusetts was divided. New York did not vote, Rhode Island did not send a delegate and New Hampshire’s delegates did not arrive for another week.
It was intended that the Senate be an independent and more mature and stable body than the House. The minimum age for senators was set at thirty-years old compared to twenty-five for House members. It was agreed senators would serve six-year terms, while all House members would be elected every two years. Additionally, senators were to be elected by the legislature of their respective states rather than by popular vote, a practice that ended with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.
In its early days the Senate met in secret. It was not until 1795 that they began to meet in open session. The Senate first convened in New York City at a time when our small, but growing nation, had only 26 senators. From there the Senate moved to Philadelphia and then to its permanent location in Washington D.C. where the number of senators over time reached 100, the number it is today. To date, more than 1,800 persons have served as United States Senators.
Some of the most influential political leaders in U.S. history have served in the Senate. Sixteen of our presidents were once Senators. One president, Andrew Johnson of North Carolina, held the Senate in such high regard that he returned there at the end of his presidency. Numerous vice-presidents have also come from the ranks of the Senate as have various cabinet members, ambassadors and members of the Supreme Court.
North Carolina has counted among her representatives many distinguished senators, including Zebulon Vance, a former governor of North Carolina, and Charles Aycock, a strong supporter of public education in the state. Statues of both of these men are part of the National Statuary Collection located in the Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Since the time the delegates from North Carolina helped to establish the Senate, its members have grappled with issues from slavery and territorial expansion to states’ rights and civil war. Throughout all this, the Senate has remained, “the great anchor of government,” envisioned by James Madison providing our nation with the enduring stability the delegates to the convention had fought so hard to achieve.