Johns Hopkins University Press

About the First Federal Congress (1789-1791)

"All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

United States Constitution, Article I, Section 1

The critically important role of the First Federal Congress (FFC), 1789-1791, as the legislative body which began to implement and interpret the new Constitution of the United States is well recognized. The conception of the federal government occurred at the Federal Convention which drafted the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, but it was not until the First Federal Congress began to make decisions and pass enabling legislation that life was breathed into that government. The responsibility for the success or failure of the American Revolution rested with the members of this most important and productive Congress in U.S. History.

The significance of this Congress cannot be overstated. It acted as a virtual second sitting of the Federal Convention, addressing issues that the Convention found too potentially divisive to handle, such as the jurisdiction and structure of the federal judiciary, the funding of the federal and state Revolutionary War debts, and the location of the federal capital. The First Congress fleshed out the structure of the federal government outlined in the Constitution and provided stability for the new nation. Despite the difficult and divisive issues facing them, the members overcame their political and regional differences and left to the future a sturdy foundation on which a great nation could be built.

"In no nation, by no Legislature, was ever so much done in so short a period for the establishment of Government, Order, ... & general tranquility"

(John Trumbull to John Adams, 20 March 1791)