In the wake of the elections of 1788, the 1st Congress of The United States began to gather in New York.
To say that absolutely nobody had any clue what to do would be the understatement of the last two centuries. Sure, they had the rules laid out in Article I and plenty of experience in State Legislatures, but nobody had any idea if this would actually work or not. Two States had not yet ratified the Constitution and consequently had not even held elections for the new Congress. Travel times were much different than today, as horses or walking were the only ways to get from there to here. Things were slow.
From March 4th, when the Congress convened, it would take a month before a quorum could be achieved. And before a single piece of legislation could be presented, debated or passed, the first order of business in the House was to elect the 1st Speaker of the House. In the Congress of a nation that was as yet strongly divided, the new Speaker was elected on the very first ballot. It was pretty much the only thing that went easy.
The hurdles faced by the 1st Congress were things that we take for granted in today’s Country. At least half of the Congressmen in New York believed that the new Constitution was not sustainable and that New Yorkers – and by extension Northerners – were conspiring to keep the Nations new capital in New York. As James Madison said, “We are in a wilderness with not a single footstep to guide us.”
And so with the Constitution as their guide and the son of a German Immigrant Luthern Pastor, Frederick Muhlenberg, at the gavel, things got underway…