On the 4th March 1789, the United States constitution went into effect when the first US Congress met. However, the Congress was unable to actually vote on anything until the first week of April since it did not have the necessary number of members to be quorate.

The Congress itself met in New York City, but the 18th Century’s slow forms of transport meant that many of the members didn’t arrive on time. The grueling journey on horseback, or by stagecoach or sailing ship meant that the House of Representatives didn’t reach quorum until the 1st April, while the Senate was delayed until the 6th April. It was only then, after the houses met in a joint session to count the Electoral College votes, that they were able to certify George Washington had been elected President with John Adams as Vice President.

In line with the Constitution, Adams became President of the Senate while Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected Speaker of the House. He was later to become the first to sign the Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Representative James Madison presented the bill on the 8th June, and after three months of discussion twelve articles were approved by Congress on the 25th September. Ten of these – articles Three to Twelve – were ratified two years later and became the Bill of Rights on the 15th December 1791.

March 4th continued to be a significant date for Congress, until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933 and set the 3rd of January as the first day for Congresses to meet.

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