Legislative Branch (Congress) Timeline
How It All Went Down
First United States Congress
The first session of the first term of Congress convenes in New York City, meeting in Federal Hall on Wall Street. (Washington, DC has not been established yet.) It takes nearly a month for either chamber to achieve a quorum, as lawmakers from other states are slow to arrive.
Bill of Rights
The First Congress passes twelve amendments to the Constitution, sending them to the states for ratifications. Ten are ratified by 1791, becoming the Bill of Rights. Another will be ratified in 1991—more than 200 years later!—becoming the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.
President George Washington lays the cornerstone for the new US Capitol building during an official groundbreaking ceremony in the under-construction capital city of Washington, DC. Construction work on the building will not be completed for 18 years.
First Session in Capitol
Lawmakers hold the first session of Congress inside the new Capitol building in Washington, DC, despite the fact that construction has not been completed. (It will be another 11 years before work on the House wing of the Capitol will be finished.)
Congress ratifies the Louisiana Purchase, authorizing President Thomas Jefferson's acquisition of the vast territory stretching from the Mississippi River to the crest of the Rocky Mountains.
During the War of 1812, British soldiers capture Washington, DC and set fire to the US Capitol. Congress will have to meet elsewhere for five years.
McCullough v. Maryland
In McCullough v. Maryland, the US Supreme Court upholds the "implied powers" of Congress.
As the Civil War comes to an end, Congress passes the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery in the United States.
For the first time, the House of Representatives exercises its power of impeachment against a sitting president, voting to impeach Andrew Johnson for violations of the Tenure of Office Act. By a margin of one vote, the Senate will acquit Johnson, allowing the president to serve out the remainder of his term.
First Black Senator
Senator Hiram Revels, a Mississippi Republican, becomes the first African-American to serve in either house of Congress. Following Revels, 21 black congressmen and one other black US Senator will represent southern districts in Congress during the Reconstruction era.
Congress Regulates Food Industry
Responding to public alarm over the state of the nation's food supply—alarm prompted by muckraking journalism such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle—Congress passes the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act, establishing government regulation over the food industry.
First Woman Congressman
Montana's Jeannette Rankin becomes the first woman ever elected to Congress. Although women in Montana have the right to vote, the 19th Amendment guaranteeing suffrage to all women nationwide will not pass for another three years.
Congress approves the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
Longest Filibuster Ever
Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina speaks for more than 24 consecutive hours, attempting to filibuster the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Less than two hours after Thurmond finally stops talking, the bill passes.
Brooke Breaks Color Line
Edward Brooke III, Republican from Massachusetts, becomes the first African-American to serve in the US Senate since Reconstruction.
For only the second time in its history, the House of Representatives votes to impeach the president, with the Republican majority in the House voting to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate will vote, by a wide margin, to acquit, allowing Clinton to remain in office until 2001.