Center on Congress online resource highlights enduring impact of First Congress

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An updated version of the Center on Congress’ interactive teaching resource, “The Impact of Congress: The First Congress, 1789-91,” is now available on the Web and as an iPad app. The resource looks at 11 key legislative actions by the First Congress that still have an impact on our lives today.

The module 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 a national government.

The module begins with a statement from Lee Hamilton, director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University: "By any measure, the First Congress compiled a remarkable record: firming up the structure of the new government, addressing key challenges, setting the course for the nation's future."

Since those early days of the Republic, Hamilton acknowledges, Congress has seen many contentious periods and "sometimes particular sessions (have been) less productive than others." But overall, he said, Congress "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” looks at these major areas of congressional action from 1789 to 1791:

  • 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 Department of War 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.
  • 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 Abraham Lincoln)
  • The 59th Congress (1905-07, President Theodore Roosevelt)
  • The 65th Congress (1917-19, President Woodrow Wilson)
  • The 73rd Congress (1933-35, President Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • The 89th Congress (1965-67, President Lyndon B. Johnson)
  • The 97th Congress (1981-83, President Ronald Reagan).

"The First Congress" is a product of the Center on Congress Teaching With Primary Sources program, funded by a grant from the Library of Congress. Content featured in partnership with the program does not indicate an endorsement by the library of additional content provided by the partner organization.

About the Center on Congress

The Center on Congress is a nonpartisan educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public's knowledge of Congress and to encourage civic engagement. The center developed out of Lee Hamilton's recognition during his 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives that Americans should be more familiar with Congress’s strengths and weaknesses, its role in our system of government, and its impact on the lives of ordinary people every day.

The center offers an extensive array of civic education programs, projects and resources to foster an informed electorate that understands our system of government and participates in civic life. These include: Web-based, interactive modules and other online learning tools in English and Spanish; print publications; commentaries for newspapers; video and television in the classroom resources; survey research; teacher awards; and seminars, conferences and a lecture series.

The Center on Congress is supported in part by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington.

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