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By act of the old Congress, the first Congress under the constitution was to convene in the city of New York on the 4th of March, 1789. A quorum of the Senate did not meet till the 6th of April, on which day the election of General Washington, as President, and John Adams, as Vice President, was announced, the former by an unanimous vote, sixty-nine being the whole number; Mr. Adams by a plurality vote, he receiving thirty-four votes, and the residue of the sixty-nine being distributed between ten other persons, and messengers were appointed to inform General Washington and Mr. Adams of their election.
The names of the members at the first session of the Senate will appear at the beginning of the journal.
The first Congress held three sessions. The first commenced at the city of New York on the 4th of March, 1789, and terminated on the 29th of September of that year. The second one was held at the same place, commencing on the first Monday of January, 1790, and terminated on the 12th day of August of that year. The third session was held at Philadelphia, commencing on the first Monday of December, 1790, and terminating on the 3d of March, 1791.
During those three sessions, William Maclay and Robert Morris were the Senators from Pennsylvania. In the classification of the Senate, William Maclay fell within the first class, his term expiring on the 4th of March, 1791, and he was not reëlected. His place was not supplied during the first session of the second Congress, but during the second session, viz: On the 28th of February, 1792, Albert Gallatin was elected to fill the vacancy. He was sworn, and took his seat, on the meeting of Congress in December, 1793, but, subsequently, he was declared to be ineligible for want of citizenship for nine years, as required by the third section of the first article of the constitution, and the vacancy was not supplied until James Ross was elected, the certificate of his election being submitted to the Senate on the 2d of April, 1794. He took his seat on the 24th of that month.
During the revolutionary war, the Congress sat with closed doors. Such was also the case during the sessions of the convention which formed our național constitution. When the first Congress held under that constitution convened, the doors of the House of Representatives were opened, but the Senate directed their doors to be kept closed, and were closed, except during the debate on the question of admitting Mr. Gallatin, when they were opened. The doors of the Senate were kept closed until the year 1794. Motions to have them opened were several times made, and negatived; but on 20th of February, 1794, it was resolved that after the end of that session the galleries of the Senate should be opened whilst the Senate was engaged in its legislative capacity, unless in such cases as may in the opinion of the Senate require secrecy.
In December, 1858, or January, 1859, when the Senate were about to remove from their old to their present Hall, Mr. Breckenridge, then Vice President, delivered to it an address, in the course of which he remarked, (See Congressional Globe of January 24, 1859 :) "At the origin of the Government, the Senate seemed to be regarded chiefly as an executive council. The President often visited the Chamber, and conferred personally with this body. Most of its business was transacted with closed doors, and it took comparatively little part in the legislative debates. The rising and vigorous intellects of the country sought the arena of the House of Representatives, as the appropriate theater for the display of their powers."
It will appear hereafter that this statement was very erroneous. President Washington never visited the Senate for consultation, during its session, except on one occasion, that relating to a treaty with southern Indians, an account of which visit will hereinafter appear; and it will also appear that important questions which were debated in the House were also debated in the Senate. It was not reasonable to suppose that the distinguished men who then occupied positions in the Senate would suffer such important questions as were acted on in that body to pass without discussion. Mr. Breckenridge had not the information on the subject which we now possess.
Mr. Maclay, of Pennsylvania, it would appear, in part from the supposition that he might be called on for information, in relation to proceedings in the Senate, and quite probably in the expectation that he might be a candidate for reëlection, kept a journal; but it was not kept with a view to its publication. From this journal it appears that debates in the Senate were earnest and diffuse, referring, amongst other matters, to the following subjects, viz: the communication between the two Houses; the question of titles;
the mode of voting in the Senate, whether by ballot or viva voce, on nominations by the President; whether the President had the sole power to remove from office; on the first bill imposing duties on the importation of foreign goods; the organization of the judiciary; the permanent seat of the General Government; the funding bills and other questions of national interest. Observations of Mr. Maclay, and memoranda of occurrences noted by him, are interspersed throughout the journal, which may give additional interest to it.
In the third volume of the Life and Works of John Adams, pages 408-413, there is a sketch of a debate in the Senate on the power of removal from office, and of one on the bill relating to the permanent seat of the General Government; but they are brief and of a very general character; the name of Mr. Maclay being entirely omitted in the first sketch, and but a few words being devoted to him in the other. In the History of the United States, by S. C. Hamilton, in note on page 560 of the third volume, is the following note: “Are we," Adams observed in the Senate," the two kings of Sparta, the two consuls of Rome, or the two suffetes of Carthage?' The compiler of this volume made several efforts to ascertain from what source these remarks were obtained, but without effect.
The Writer of the Journal.
Mr. Maclay is not as generally known throughout Pennsylvania as he should be. In Lauman's Biography of Members of the U. S. n Senate, he is briefly noticed as follows: "He was a Senator in Congress from Pennsylvania, from 1789 to 1791. In 1797 he was a presidential elector, and was one of those who voted for locating the seat of government on the Potomac."
The following remarks, together with his journal, will give him wider celebrity: He was a native of Franklin county, in this State, was born on the 20th of July, 1737, and was of Scotch-Irish descent. He was the son of Charles Maclay, who, with his brother, John Maclay, emigrated from the north of Ireland, and settled in Franklin county, Pennsylvania. One of the family was killed in the battle of the Boyne, fighting on the side of King James. The grandfather and father of William Maclay were Protestants; and he was a Presbyterian. He was married to a daughter of John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg, and in the latter part of his life resided within the present limits of Harrisburg, where he built the stone house on Front street, on or near the lower line of his property. He died in the year 1804. He was, in early life, a member of the bar, having been admitted to the bar in York county, in April. 1860, though he
probably never practiced in that county; and it appears, from a letter of John Penn, in 1763, that Mr. Maclay had practiced law, and had acted for the prothonotary, in Cumberland county. The court-house in Carlisle having been burned, information as to his admission to the bar of that county, and practice there, cannot be obtained. Mr. Maclay was also a surveyor; and in the year 1763 he visited England, and had an interview with Thomas Penn, one of the proprietaries of the Province, relative to employment in making surveys in middle and northern Pennsylvania.
The county of Northumberland, in Pennsylvania, was.organized in 1772, and in March, 1772, he was appointed, with William Plunket, to whom he was related through marriage, to administer the oaths of office to the judges and other officers in that county; and in the same year he was appointed by Richard Penn, acting under a commission from Thomas and John Penn, the proprietaries, clerk of the sessions of that county, and also register for the probate of wills in that county. He also had an appointment as deputy surveyor of lands within the Indian purchase of 1754; and in 1785 he was appointed by John Lukens, Surveyor General, deputy surveyor of lands then lately purchased from the Indians, in the district extending from the upper end of the first narrows on Lycoming creek, to the northern boundary of the State of Pennsylvania. As to his character as a surveyor, Judge Huston, one of the judges of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in his book on the history and nature of land titles in Pennsylvania, remarks that when he was admitted to the bar, which was in 1795, no law book of decisions of the courts in this State had been published, except the first volume of Dallas' Reports; that he became acquainted with several persons who had been deputy surveyors, both under the proprietary and State government, and he mentions, particularly, William Maclay, from whom he observes that he acquired more information in relation to land titles than from any other one, perhaps, from all others whom he had previously consulted. As to his character as a man, I have a paper signed by several aged citizens of Harrisburg, who state that they were personally acquainted with William Maclay, then of Harrisburg, who had been a member of the first Senate of the United States, and that, "from the high character for intelligence and integrity which he possessed in this community, we consider that any statement as to fact on his journal, kept whilst he was a member of the first Senate of the United States, and made on his own observation and knowledge, is entitled to credit."
Mr. Maclay was a member of the State Legislature in 1781, and in September, 1788, was elected a Senator of the United States, in
conjunction with Robert Morris. After the expiration of his term in the Senate, viz: in the year 1795-6, he was member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and was again elected in 1803. He was a presidential elector in 1796, and in 1801-2-3, he was an associate judge of Dauphin county.
It also appears that in the year 1758 he served as lieutenant in the company of Captain John Montgomery, in an expedition to recover Fort Duquesne, at the present site of Pittsburgh; but the enemy had left before the troops arrived there.
Mr. Máclay was a man of strict integrity, of positive opinions; having implicit confidence in his own honesty and judgment, he was inclined to be suspicious of the integrity of others, whose sentiments or action in matters of importance, differed from his own, and his journal is evidence of the strength of his intellect. Various of his opinions on public matters agitated in his day, would not be approved of now; and if he were now alive, enjoying the lights of our experience, it is probable would not be entertained by him. But it will be seen, in the course of his journal, that he had the manliness and honesty to express them, at the hazard of his influence and popularity, a virtue not possessed by all of the public men of our day.
As respects his personal appearance, Mr. Maclay is said to have been six feet three inches in height, and stout and muscular. His complexion was light, and his hair, in middle age, appears to have been brown, and was worn tied behind, or clubbed. On the first page of a book of surveys of land belonging to him, of which he had large bodies, is a statement of his marriage, and of the dates of the birth of his children, which terminates in the following beautiful expression: "As to our three dear, departed babes, Faith, Hope, and Charity, too, must conspire to place them in celestial mansions, and their names, of course, will be found in the registry of Heaven."
He was in advance of public sentiment in Pennsylvania, on the subject of imprisonment for debt, an essay, by him, in favor of its abolition, being left among his papers.
He was very decidedly opposed to bestowing on the President and Vice President, any other title than that given in the Constitution.
The matter of titles was suggested by Mr. Adams, on the second day after his installation. Mr. Maclay attacked the proposition at once, resting his objections on the Constitution. He was instrumental in defeating the measure in the House, which, after deciding against titles, addressed the President, as suggested by Mr. Maclay,