Method of Electing the First U.S. Senators


This incomplete roster of the first U.S. Senate was published on 15 April 1789 in the Gazette of the United States, a New York City newspaper. It did not include the full name for James Gunn of Georgia. No Senators are listed from North Carolina and Rhode Island since they had not yet ratified the Constitution. Eventually, Samuel Johnston and Benjamin Hawkins would represent North Carolina. Joseph Stanton, Jr. and Theodore Foster would represent Rhode Island.

In Article I, section 3, the Constitution provides that U.S. Senators were to be chosen by their state legislature. The legislatures had to decide exactly how they would elect their Senators. Under the Articles of Confederation, delegates to Congress were to “be annually appointed in such manner as the legislature of each state shall direct.” Eleven state legislatures directly elected their delegates, while in two states (Massachusetts and Rhode Island) the legislatures provided that their delegates to Congress were to be elected by the people. All of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were appointed by their state legislatures.

Under the Constitution, states chose a variety of methods in electing their U.S. Senators. Seven states elected their Senators by joint ballots in their two houses. The single-house legislatures in Pennsylvania and Georgia elected their delegates by ballot. In three states, the Senators were first elected in one house and then confirmed in the other house. After considerable debate, the New York legislature elected its two Senators by concurrent resolution.

Connecticut: House elects two Senators; Council concurs with the election.
Delaware: House and Council in joint session nominate two candidates for Senate. A joint session of the legislature met and by joint ballot elected the two men previously nominated.
Georgia: Single-house Assembly elects two Senators.
Maryland: Legislature elect both Senators by joint ballot.
Massachusetts: The legislature could not agree on a method of electing Senators. Election by a joint ballot (how Confederation Congress delegates were elected) was rejected by the Senate. The House proposed that it select two Senators by a majority vote to be sent to the Senate who should confirm the election of each senator by a majority vote. The Senate rejected this method. Finally the House elected two Senators—the Senate confirmed the election of Caleb Strong but rejected the other candidate. The Senate then elected Tristram Dalton. After rejecting this candidate three time, the House relented and also elected Dalton.
New Hampshire: House elected two Senators (one Federalist and one Antifederalist). The Senate rejected the Antifederalist (Nathaniel Peabody). Senate elects Josiah Bartlett; House accepts. Bartlett declines to serve. House nominates Paine Wingate; Senate accepts Wingate.
New Jersey: Joint session of Assembly and Council elects two Senators by joint ballot.
New York: Two Senators elected by concurrent resolution of both houses of legislature.
North Carolina: Two Senators were elected by joint ballot of the two houses of the legislature before the act for the election of Senators was adopted. The act provided that the senators be elected by joint ballot of both house provided that a majority of the votes had be to received for the election.
Pennsylvania: Chosen by ballot in the single house Assembly.
Rhode Island: Four men were nominated—two Antifederalists and two Federalists. The two Antifederalists were put in one slate of candidates and the two Federalists were put into another slate. One Senator from each slate was elected by joint ballot of the two houses of the legislature.
South Carolina: Elected by joint ballot in legislature.
Virginia: House of Delegates nominated four candidates; joint ballot of both house of the legislature elect the two Senators.

For a complete record of the procedures used to elect the first U.S. Senators, see Merrill Jensen, Gordon DenBoer et al., eds., The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788-1790 (Madison, Wis., 1976-1989).