Featured Records

  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789

Article III of the Constitution of the United States established the Supreme Court but left open to Congress the ability to create lower courts. During the first session of Congress in April 1789, just one day after the Senate had achieved a quorum, the first Senate went about addressing this and appointed a committee to draft S. 1, the first piece of legislation ever proposed in the upper house of Congress.

What became known as the Judiciary Act of 1789 established the multi-tiered federal court system we know today. In addition, it set the number of Supreme Court Justices at six and created the office of the Attorney General to argue on behalf of the United States in cases before the Supreme Court.

On September 24, 1789 the Judiciary Act was signed into law by President George Washington. That same day, he appointed the first Supreme Court Chief and Associate Justices and lower court judges.

Though there have been many adjustments and revisions to this initial law, the justice system we have in America today still follows the basic structure set up by this, the first bill ever introduced into the United States Senate.

This document is on display in the “Records of Rights” exhibition in the National Archives Museum’s David M. Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, September 17 through December 16, 2014.

Download a high-resolution version of this record from the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

Past Featured Records
  • Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore
    Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore

    The summer of 1814 saw military actions in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, with dramatically different outcomes. The British capture of the nation’s capital and the destruction of public buildings stand as one of the lowest points in U.S. history.  The American victory at Baltimore,... Read more

  • Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
    Senate Revisions to House Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

    On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced a series of proposed amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Though initially against the idea of an enumerated list of individual rights, fearing that they would be redundant and possibly limit... Read more

  • Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon
    Richard Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s Pardon

    During the night of June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Investigation into the break-in exposed a trail of abuses that led to the highest levels of the Nixon administration and... Read more

  • Tonkin Gulf Resolution
    Tonkin Gulf Resolution

    By 1964, Vietnam had been torn by international and civil war for decades. U.S. military support for South Vietnam had grown to some 15,000 military advisers, while the North received military and financial aid from China and the Soviet Union.

    In a late-night televised address on August... Read more

  • G.I. Bill of Rights
    G.I. Bill of Rights

    Originally established to provide services and benefits to the veterans of World War II, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, after it had passed the House... Read more

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Civil Rights Act of 1964

    The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since... Read more

  • Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration
    Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries: Shiloh Illustration

    Fought April 6-7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee was one of the first major battles in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. 54,000 Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell battled 44,000 Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard as part of the Union’s effort to cut off Confederate rail communications along... Read more

  • Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920
    Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920

    On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May a holiday for the “public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” To commemorate the centennial of the first national observance of Mother’s Day,... Read more

  • The Smith-Lever Act of 1914
    The Smith-Lever Act of 1914

    The Smith-Lever Act established a national Cooperative Extension Service that extended outreach programs through land-grant universities to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology. These advances helped increase American agricultural productivity dramatically throughout the 20th century.

    Today, cooperative extension continues to serve the educational... Read more

  • Senate Journal of the First Congress
    Senate Journal of the First Congress

    2014 marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress of the United States.  What was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history met for the first time in the spring of 1789. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand... Read more