March 4, 1789: Government Under the U.S. Constitution Begins


The Confederation Congress, in September 1788 after the necessary nine states ratified the United States Constitution, chose March 4, 1789, as the day it handed off power to the new constitutional government. The Confederation Congress’ resolution of September 13, 1788, stated –

Whereas the Convention assembled in Philadelphia pursuant to the resolution of Congress of the 21st of Feby 1787 did on the 17th of Sept in the same year report to the United States in Congress assembled a constitution for the people of the United States, Whereupon Congress on the 28 of the same Sept did resolve unanimously ” That the said report with the resolutions & letter accompanying the same be transmitted to the several legislatures in order to be submitted to a convention of Delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof in conformity to the resolves of the convention made and provided in that case ”

And whereas the constitution so reported by the Convention and by Congress transmitted to the several legislatures has been ratified in the manner therein declared to be sufficient for the establishment of the same and such ratifications duly authenticated have been received by Congress and are filed in the Office of the Secretary therefore Resolved That the first Wednesday in Jany next be the day for appointing Electors in the several states, which before the said day shall have ratified the said Constitution; that the first Wednesday in feby next be the day for the electors to assemble in their respective states and vote for a president; And that the first Wednesday in March next be the time and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution. (Emphasis added)

At New York City’s Federal Hall, on March 4, 1789, the first session of the U.S. Congress under the new Constitution began. However, of the 22 senators and 59 representatives called to represent the 11 states who had ratified the Constitution, only 9 senators and 13 representatives were present on that date. It would take another month for enough members to arrive in New York to start the 1st Congress and form a quorum to vote.

President George Washington, who had been elected unanimously by the electoral college on February 4, 1789, would not be inaugurated until April 30, 1789.

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