The 1st United States Congress, comprising the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives, met from March 4, 1789, to March 4, 1791, during the first two years of George Washington‘s presidency, first at Federal Hall in New York City and later at Congress Hall in Philadelphia. With the initial meeting of the First Congress, the United States federal government officially began operations under the new (and current) frame of government established by the 1787 Constitution. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the provisions of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3of the Constitution. Both chambers had a Pro-Administration majority. Twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution were passed by this Congress and sent to the states for ratification; the ten ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, with an additional amendment ratified more than two centuries later to become the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.
One would think that the Library of Congress today would have preserved a good number of art relics from the very first years of the House of Representatives during the Federal Era.
Surprisingly to say, after doing an intense study over the last two years. It has been learned that very few historically important relics exist from the very first day with its beginnings in NYC at Federal Hall.
The original building was knocked down and replaced by this building pictured below. Here on Wall Street, George Washington took the oath of office as our first President, and this site was home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. The current structure, a Customs House, later served as part of the US Sub-Treasury. Now, the building serves as a museum and memorial to our first President and the beginnings of the United States of America. Except it’s not the original building, just the same location.
The only actual interior building image shows the very first speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg, painted by Joseph Wright. Who was the first official engraver of the US Mint.
Congress had ordered in 1789, the Sergeant at Arms Silver Mace that was stolen by the British durning the War of 1812. This happened in 1814. The silver mace, symbol of the House’s authority, has been in use in the House since 1841 when the Members met in the old House Chamber. It was crafted by William Adams, a New York silversmith. The original mace had been destroyed when the British burned the Capitol in 1814, and during the intervening years, a wooden mace was used. The mace is made of 13 thin ebony rods representing the original states. The rods are bound together by the twining silver bands, which are pinned together and held at the top and bottom of the shaft by repoussé silver bands. The inscription “Wm. Adams/Manufacturer/New York/1841” is engraved on the bottom band. A silver globe with an eagle perched on it sits at the top of the mace, with the Western Hemisphere facing front. So where is the original silver and wooden mace today?
Prior to 1841, the next most important relics belonging to House of Representatives are paintings of George Washington and Marquess De Lafayette. Which I believe were made after 1820.
What is the most cherish and oldest surviving relic with the House of Representatives? Before the Speaker calls each session of the House to order, this coin-silver inkstand is placed on the rostrum. The inkstand is considered the oldest surviving artifact of the House and was made between 1810 and 1820. Although its origins are mysterious, it most likely came into the House around 1819. The inkstand is stamped with the mark of J. Leonard, a Washington silversmith and watchmaker. It contains three replacement crystal inkwells and is adorned on both sides by swags and eagles. The feet of the tray take the form of fasces with snakes winding around them, classical symbols of unity and wisdom, respectively.
So this is it for being the most important relic of the House of Representatives. Adding that my last paragraph was copied from their site. Their symbology of the piece is wrong, go figure!
Here and Now, I get to admit on this blog that I have just finished a rigorous study on what can now be said to be the oldest surviving relic that Congress issued in 1789 and I own it. Backed up as fact by the best forensic scientists and a spectacular lab report. This story will be coming out this summer in a national press release on the relic. The piece will be for sale this fall for seven figures.