Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: April 6, 1989

Senate Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary

On April 6, 1989, at 11 a.m., the Senate convened in the old Senate chamber to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of its first quorum. This gathering included the five majority leaders who have served since 1961 and more than twenty other former members. Following a prelude concert by an ensemble from the United States Marine Band, President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd called this special legislative session to order. For the first time in history, two former members addressed the Senate.

Former Senator Thomas Eagleton discussed the nature of legislative accommodation, from the Compromise of 1850 to modern times. He reminded us that our diverse nation has held together because Congress has traditionally accepted the fundamental need for compromise. "Without some accommodation and compromise," Senator Eagleton observed, "our government cannot function and we will not be able to preserve the values we hold in common and in trust for future generations."

Former Senator Howard Baker spoke from his unique perspective as the son of two members of Congress and the son-in-law of Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen, as a former majority leader, and as chief of staff to President Reagan. He underscored the Senate’s role as a national board of directors and noted that the greatest threat to the nation "is not that the Senate will do too much, but that the Senate will do too little." He expressed his hope that, as the Senate examines the elements that have contributed to its institutional strength over the past two centuries, it will recognize the primacy of a relationship with the presidency that is built on "friendship and civility and understanding and partnership."

Following these addresses, the Senate recessed and proceeded to its current chamber. A twenty-five-member Marine band greeted the arriving members. Following a roll call of the states, the Senate heard addresses from several of its current members. Senator Byrd outlined the challenges that confronted the Senate when it met for the first time. Senator Wendell Ford described the institutional Senate of 1789, and Senator Mark Hatfield carried the story ahead a century to 1889. Senator Ted Stevens then chronicled the major historic events that have taken place in this chamber since the Senate occupied it in 1859. Finally, Senator George Mitchell and I attempted to look ahead to the Senate of the future. Senator Mitchell observed that the Senate, possessing "a responsiveness and depth unmatched elsewhere in government," has fulfilled its constitutional mandate of being "a guardian of tradition without becoming a barrier to change."

I predicted that, despite the uncertainty of the future, we can expect that the Senate will live on, rich in tradition and richer still in democracy. I expressed my belief that two centuries from now the people’s business will come first, just as it does now. It is never easy, but we must always be true to our forefathers’ dream that we judge issues not by whether they are popular, but by whether they are best for America. Daniel Webster gave heroic expression to this dream on March 7, 1850, when he proclaimed, "I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States."

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "Senate Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed April 26, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKMG24SG9CB88NY.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "Senate Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 26 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKMG24SG9CB88NY.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'Senate Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 26 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DKMG24SG9CB88NY.