Historical Highlights

The Controversial Final Adjournment of the 23rd Congress

March 03, 1835–March 04, 1835
The Controversial Final Adjournment of the 23rd Congress Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A seven-term Member from Tennessee, James K. Polk served two terms as Speaker of the House (1835–1839).
On the legislative day spanning these dates, the 23rd Congress (1833–1835) adjourned amid controversy over whether it had the authority to conduct business. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the biennial start date of a new Congress was March 4, with the final session ending on March 3. The practice occasionally created some debate about whether the old Congress could act beyond midnight on March 4th up to the prescribed start of the new Congress at noontime later that day. In the final hours of the 23rd Congress, Members remained in session after midnight without passing a resolution to adjourn. Representative James K. Polk of Tennessee submitted the question asking, “whether this House can transact business after 12 o’clock.” John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts noted, “The constitution said not a word on the subject.” Samuel Beardsley of New York gave voice to a sentiment held by many of the Members, noting that “the constitutional term of the existence of this Congress having expired, he could not vote.” Members continued to debate whether any resolutions (including the one to adjourn) were valid. Finally, at 3:30 am, the House adjourned. On rare subsequent occasions, the issue of whether the legislative day of March 3 could extend into March 4, vexed the House until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933. Designed to reduce the number of “lame duck” sessions of Congress (those occurring after the November elections and before the March 4 start date), the Twentieth Amendment set the start date for the new Congress as January 3 in odd-numbered years. Moreover, it moved the presidential inauguration from March 4 to January 20. The 74th Congress (1935–1937) was the first new Congress to assemble under the provisions of the amendment, at noon on January 3, 1935.

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