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A Brief Saturday Session

November 30, 1867
A Brief Saturday Session Representative Schuyler Colfax of Indiana Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Schuyler Colfax of Indiana served three terms as Speaker of the House before his election as Vice President of the United States in 1868.
On this date, the House of Representatives met briefly on a Saturday to conclude the first session of the 40th Congress (1867–1869) and ensure the second session began on time. Before the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution required that each new session of Congress open on the first Monday of December. During the 40th Congress, this meant that by law the second session would begin on December 2, 1867. But because Thanksgiving fell late in November that year, the House had little time to both complete the first session and take time off to observe the holiday before the second session opened. Prior to adjourning for Thanksgiving, Representative Elihu Washburne of Illinois hoped to buy the House more time by requesting that the upcoming “legislative day” of Saturday, November 30, extend into Monday, December 2. Because legislative days are measured from when the House gavels into session to when it officially adjourns, and do not necessarily reflect calendar days, Washburne hoped his parliamentary workaround would extend the holiday recess and enable the House to avoid having to go in on the weekend. Speaker Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, however, ruled “that there cannot be a formal session on Monday,” since, constitutionally, Monday, December 2, was the start of the second session. “The proceedings of this session which may take place on Monday must be journalized as of Saturday,” Colfax said. With time running out, the House decided to meet on Saturday, November 30. The House’s only official business that day occurred when the Speaker administered the oath of office to Representative-elect Alexander Bailey of New York, who had recently won a special election. Although modern Congresses rarely meet on weekends, the practice was more common in the nineteenth century, when slower modes of transportation to and from the national capital meant that Members met for brief, intensive sessions with more frequent six-day work weeks bookended by long recesses.

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