In order to allow for the installation of scaffolding and floor, statuary, and artwork protection in conjunction with the Dome Restoration Project, the Rotunda of the Capitol will be closed from Monday, July 27 through Monday, September 7. While the Rotunda is unavailable for tours, an alternate tour route will be provided. The Capitol Visitor Center is open during the closure of the Rotunda and will offer special activities which do not require advance reservations. You can also download our new U.S. Capitol Rotunda app.

Behind Closed Doors 1789–1795

Why meet in closed session? The Constitution does not require Congress to meet in public. The House of Representatives, elected directly by voters, immediately opened its doors to the public and press. Senators, originally chosen by state legislators, decided to meet in private, believing they could work more efficiently without public scrutiny and interference.

The earliest Senate Chambers, in New York City and Philadelphia, did not have visitors’ galleries. The Senate decided to build a viewing area in 1794 after many state legislatures and newspapers demanded more openness. Beginning in 1795, the Senate debated legislative business (lawmaking) in open session but continued to discuss executive business (treaties and nominations) in closed sessions until 1929. Today, both houses of Congress conduct all debates in public sessions, except when discussing information that could risk national security.

History of Congress and the Capitol

The Senate 1789-1815

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Letter from Maryland Legislature
Image Caption

Letter from Maryland Legislature

In the early 1790s, the Maryland legislature instructed the state’s two U.S. senators to support a resolution requiring public access to the Senate’s legislative sessions.

Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives, Special Collections (Early State Records Collection), Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates, December 16, 1791, MSA SC 4872, M3197

Letter from Maryland Legislature

In the early 1790s, the Maryland legislature instructed the state’s two U.S. senators to support a resolution requiring public access to the Senate’s legislative sessions.

Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives, Special Collections (Early State Records Collection), Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates, December 16, 1791, MSA SC 4872, M3197

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