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1811

First censuring of a U.S. senator

Senator Timothy Pickering, a Federalist from Massachusetts, becomes the first senator to be censured when the Senate approves a censure motion against him by a vote of 20 to seven. Pickering was accused of violating congressional law by publicly revealing secret documents communicated by the president to the Senate.

During the Revolutionary War, Pickering served as General George Washington’s adjutant general and in 1791 was appointed postmaster general by President Washington. In 1795, he briefly served as Washington’s secretary of war before being appointed secretary of state in 1795. He retained his post under the administration of President John Adams but was dismissed in 1800, when Adams, a moderate Federalist, learned that he had been plotting with Alexander Hamilton to steer the United States into war with revolutionary France. Returning to Massachusetts, he was elected a U.S. senator, but resigned after he was censured for revealing to the public secret foreign policy documents sent by the president to Congress. An outspoken opponent of the War of 1812, Pickering was elected as a representative from Massachusetts in 1813 and served two terms before retiring from politics.

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