Ask An Expert: First Congress

Question: Where and when did the First Congress meet? How many days were they in session and what was their agenda?

Answer: The First Congress was one of the longer ones — but then so was its agenda.  It drafted the Bill of Rights, it established the Departments of Treasury, War, and Foreign Affairs, and it established the structure and procedures of the federal judiciary.  Other issues the First Congress worked through included settling the Revolutionary War debts, choosing a site for a new capital city, creating a national bank, establishing copyright and patent procedures, regulating trade with Indians, and providing for a national census.  The First Congress consisted of three separate sessions. It convened on March 4, 1789 and adjourned sine die on March 3, 1791, for a total of 519 days.

The first session was held from March 4, 1789 to September 29, 1789. The second session convened on January 4, 1790 and adjourned on August 12, 1790. The third session convened on December 6, 1790 and adjourned on March 3, 1791, which ended the First Congress.

The first and second sessions were held in Federal Hall in New York City, the third session was held in Congress Hall in Philadelphia.

The First Congress had 65 Representatives and 26 Senators. Each state sent 2 Senators. The 13 states each sent the following number of Representatives:

  • Connecticut, 5
  • Delaware, 1
  • Georgia, 3
  • Maryland, 6
  • Massachusetts, 8
  • New Hampshire, 3
  • New Jersey, 4
  • New York, 6
  • North Carolina, 5
  • Pennsylvania, 8
  • Rhode Island, 1
  • South Carolina, 5
  • Virginia, 10

For more information on the First Congress, see George Washington University’s First Federal Congress Project, and the book, Inventing Congress: Origins & Establishment Of First Federal Congress (Perspective History Of Congress) by Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon (Hardcover – July 4, 1999).

Do you have a question about Congress for Ilona Nickels, Liberty Central’s Visiting Scholar?  If so, please contact us here.

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2 Responses to “Ask An Expert: First Congress”

  • Roy Stephenson

    Dear Ilona Nickels,
    I am interested in when the U.S. Patent Office first opened and what advance or invention was awarded with the first United States patent. I think that would be of interest to many Americans, especially would-be inventors and patent-seekers. –Roy S.

  • Sarah Field

    Hi Roy,

    Thanks for your question. Look out for Ilona Nickel’s answer tomorrow!

    Best,
    Sarah