Convening of Congress Clause
Seth Barrett Tillman, ‘Convening of Congress Clause’ in THE HERITAGE GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION (3d ed. circa Sept. 2025, Forthcoming)
5 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2023 Last revised: 7 Aug 2023
Date Written: July 16, 2023
Under traditional British practice (that is, circa 1788), unless otherwise controlled by statute, the king could convene or dissolve (that is, terminate) a Parliament. Not only could the king dissolve or terminate a Parliament; the king could also prorogue Parliament. Prorogation, in contrast to dissolution, had only the more limited effect of terminating legislative business then pending before both houses of Parliament. Thus, prorogation would permit the extant Parliament to start a new session, where legislative business could be taken up anew. All told, if the King were displeased with Parliament’s legislative agenda, he could dissolve or terminate Parliament, and the King also had the lesser power of prorogation, which stopped legislative business then before Parliament. In short, the King played an important role in setting the calendar and legislative agenda before both houses.
By contrast, the Constitution of 1788, like many of its state constitutional Revolutionary-era predecessors, broke with the British model—not just in regard to limitations on the substantive powers within the competence of the national legislature, but also in regard to the Executive’s control over Congress’s calendar and legislative agenda. The President had no unilateral power to dissolve Congress, much less call new elections for its members. Instead, Congress was on a strict, fixed two-year cycle. The first day a new Congress would meet was determined by a statute enacted, customarily, by the prior Congress, and the last day a Congress would meet within its two-year term would be fixed by a concurrent resolution. [1 Hinds’ Precedents of the House ch. 1, Section 2 (discussing adjournment by concurrent resolution),
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