The Old Senate Chamber

The senate will meet today for the first time in 150 years for official business in the Old Senate Chamber. This chamber, which housed the “golden age of the senate” from 1810-1859 witnessed personalities such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John Calhoun. The senate in the 19th century was a unique time in American history, where tempers flared and there was a constant need for compromise dealing with anti and pro slavery states. Senators in the 1850s carried loaded pistols into the chamber because the atmosphere was so tense. One of the most famous stories of this chamber is when Senator Charles Sumner, who was reportedly “educated, arrogant, and elegant,” gave an anti-slavery speech titled “The Crime Against Kansas.” In this speech, he openly attacked and criticized senators, including Andrew Butler who he called a “pimp for slavery.” A relative of Andrew Butler heard of this offense, and came into the Senate Chamber in 1856 and beat Sumner nearly to death with a cane. The decisions in this chamber and the importance it had for establishing the history and guidelines of the senate are still revered by senators today. This room, therefore, offers a very symbolic place for senators to meet this evening to discuss rule changes to this long-established structure.