Eight does not a quorum make – Constitution Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the Constitution Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the challenges of the first Congress 226 years ago.

The first Congress met from March 4, 1789 to March 4, 1791, however meeting the Constitution’s quorum requirement was a challenge.

Article I Section 5 of the Constitution states:


Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.


At the time of the first Congress, eleven states had ratified the Constitution. Ten of those states had chosen their senators and representatives.

One state’s legislature, New York, still worked on how their elections would be held.

With ten states and two senators from each state, eleven members were necessary to do business.

At Federal Hall in New York on March 11, 1789, the eight senators present wrote the following message to the absent senators:



Agreeably to the Constitution of the United States, eight members of the Senate, and eighteen of the House of Representatives, have attended here since the 4th of March. It being of the utmost importance that a quorum sufficient to proceed to business be assembled as soon as possible, it is the opinion of the gentlemen of both Houses, that information of their situation be immediately communicated to the absent members.

We apprehend that no arguments are necessary to evince to you the indispensable necessity of putting the Government into immediate operation; and, therefore, earnestly request, that you will be so obliging as to attend as soon as possible.

We have the honor to be, Sir,

Your obedient humble servants,

JOHN LANGDON (New Hampshire)
PAINE WINGATE (New Hampshire)
CALEB STRONG (Massachusetts)
WILLIAM S. JOHNSON (Connecticut)
ROBERT MORRIS (Pennsylvania)
WILLIAM MACLAY (Pennsylvania)

To the Honorable

Tristram Dalton (Massachusetts)
William Paterson (New Jersey)
Jonathan Elmer(New Jersey)
George Read (Delaware)
Richard Bassett (Delaware)
Charles Carroll (Maryland)
John Henry(Maryland)
Richard Henry Lee (Virginia)
William Grayson (Virginia)
Ralph Izard (South Carolina)
Pierce Butler (South Carolina)
James Gunn (Georgia)


After another similar letter sent on March 18, it took until April 6 before enough of the absentee senators arrived to reach a quorum and start business.

The Constitution Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against a view of Federal Hall in New York, circa 1789.

Constitution Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin