The House and Senate achieved their first quorums on April 1 and April 6, 1789, respectively. Things did not start off smoothly in that First Congress, but once they finally got down to business it was the single most productive Congress in American history by almost any measurement. It was also unique in its role of fleshing out the work of the Federal Convention that drafted the Constitution two years earlier.
Being first had its distinct advantages, just like George Washington, being our first president, set precedents that are still followed 225 years later. That First Congress had among its members men who had signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the American Revolutionary War, and drafted the Constitution. They were men experienced in governmental affairs who had a burning passion to make the government work.
They were founders of this nation in every sense of the word. That First Congress gave us the first ten amendments to the Constitution, forevermore known as the Bill of Rights, it created the federal court system (Judiciary Act of 1789) established the government departments of Treasury, State, War, and defined the duties of the secretaries of these cabinet positions. It enacted a revenue plan for the nation and agreed to a plan to pay off the national debt. It established Washington, DC as the future home of the federal government and counted the ballots and certified the election of George Washington as president.
The fact that the first quorum of the House of Representatives came on April 1, long known as “Fool’s Day,” was not lost on the members. It was, perhaps, the first joke told about Congress in what would blossom into thousands of jokes since. There is certainly nothing wrong with humor about Congress, which can be a healthy corrective to some of the pretensions on the Hill in any period of our history.
by Ray Smock