Center Invites Online Exploration of First Congress’s Lasting Impact
The Center’s new interactive online teaching resource, “The First Congress,” uses primary source images and documents from the Library of Congress collection to carry students back to 1789, when lawmakers met for the first time under the new Constitution and tackled the difficult business of setting up the basic structures of a national government.
By any measure, the First Congress compiled a remarkable record, one that continues to shape our lives in modern-day America. “The First Congress” module (http://www.tpscongress.org/teachers/activity.php?id=36) looks at eleven major areas of congressional action from 1789 to 1791, including:
• passing the Tariff Act of 1789, which gave the new national government revenues to pay for its operations and to pay down the national debt from the Revolutionary War;
• establishing the first Executive Branch departments (War, Treasury, Foreign Affairs) and the Post Office, and setting up the Judicial Branch;
• drafting the Bill of Rights;
• approving the first Census;
• establishing a naturalization process, by which immigrants to the United States could become citizens;
• granting copyright and patent protections to writers and inventors;
• forming the first Bank of the United States;
• deciding the location of the capital of the new nation, on the Potomac River; and
• passing the first Internal Revenue Act, levying an excise tax on distilled liquor.
A second section of the module asks the student to pick another session of Congress and explore its accomplishments. The sessions offered (and explained with the aid of Library of Congress primary source images and documents) are: the 37th Congress (1861-63, President Lincoln); the 59th Congress (1905-07, President Theodore Roosevelt); the 65th Congress (1917-19, President Wilson); the 73rd Congress (1933-35; President Franklin D. Roosevelt); the 89th Congress (President Lyndon B. Johnson); and the 97th Congress (1981-83, President Reagan).
The module concludes with a statement from Center Director Lee Hamilton, who acknowledges that “sometimes Congress goes through contentious periods…and sometimes particular sessions may be less productive than others.” But, he asserts, “Overall it has proven to be a remarkably resilient institution. And there is no doubt that the work of Congress has had a major impact in improving the lives of Americans and helping to shape this great nation.”
“The First Congress” is a product of the Center’s Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program, funded by a grant from the Library of Congress. Content featured in partnership with the Library of Congress TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of all or any additional content provided by the partner organization.
“In no nation, by no Legislature, was ever so much done in so short a period for the establishment of Government, Order, public Credit and general tranquility.”
— Letter to Vice President John Adams on accomplishments of First Congress, 1791