The Federalist Papers has posted a PDF copy of an Elementary Catechism on the Constitution from 1828 written by Arthur J. Stansbury. I’m publishing it on Mondays in a series of posts. Because the date of publication was 1828, some content has been changed by later Constitutional amendments. There are no sections in the book, so I’m dividing it into any natural breaks of topics and the posts will vary in length. Any emphases within the text are Stansbury’s.
IX. Meetings of Congress
Q. How often does Congress meet?
A. It must meet once, at least, in every year ; but may meet oftener if necessary.
Q. Is any day fixed for its meeting?
A. Yes; the first Monday in December ; but it has power to alter that to some other fixed day. When Congress ceases to meet, it is said to Adjourn.
Q. Suppose all the members of the Senate, or all the members of the House of Representatives do not attend a meeting, can those who do attend make laws without them?
A. If more than one half are present, they have in most cases power to do whatever the whole number could have done. More than one half are called si Majority, less than one half are called a Minority. As many as are necessary to do business are called a Quorum.
Q. Supposing less than one half should attend, can they do nothing?
A. Yes, they have power to send for the others and compel them to attend. If they do not choose to do this, they have power to adjourn till the next day; (that is, they may separate after agreeing to meet the next day;) and so they may continue to do till a Quorum shall be present to do business.
Q. Are there any fixed rules for doing business in Congress?
A. Certainly, every thing is done by settled rules, called Rules of Order.
Q. Who settles what these rules shall be?
A. The Rules for the Senate are made by the Senate; the Rules for the House of Representatives are made by the House of Representatives. Each House has power to alter its own Rules of Order; or to suspend them, that is to say, a particular rule may be disobeyed for a certain time; after which it is again in force.
Q. Suppose a Member refuses to attend, or behaves, when he does attend, in a disorderly manner?
A. He may be punished in any way the other Members think proper.
Q. May he be even expelled from the House? that is, turned out of it?
A. Yes, but not unless two thirds of all the Members think he deserves it.
Q. You said that the Clerk of the House of Representatives keeps a written Journal of all that is done in that House; is a Journal kept in like manner by the Secretary of the Senate?
Q. Are these Journals published? that is, printed and sold?
A. Yes; excepting such parts as either House of Congress may think proper to keep secret for a time, when the public good requires it.
Q. Do Congress ever sit in secret?
A. Yes. Whenever they are engaged in business which it will be better for the public good to keep secret for a time, they close their doors. At other times they sit in public, and every body who can get into the gallery may see and hear all that is done.
Q. Does the Journal shew how each Member voted in every case that came to be considered?
A. No. But if one fifth of the Members present when any measure is proposed, require that the names of those who voted for and against it, be put down in the Journal, it must be done.
Q. After Congress has met, may either House adjourn (that is, cease to meet) for more than three days at a time, without the consent of the other House?
Q. Do the two Houses, that is, the Senate and House of Representatives, meet in the same building?
Q. May either House remove to any other place?
A. No, not unless the other House removes too.
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution posts:
Elementary Catechism on the Constitution (Preface)
I. The Necessity of Government and Its Forms
II. The American Revolution
III. The Occasion and Purpose of the Constitution
IV. State and National Laws
V. The House of Representatives
VI. The Senate
VIII. Impeachment of the President & The Rule of Law
Book image from The Federalist Papers. Other reading formats of the Elementary Catechism on the Constitution can be found here.