Benjamin Fishbourn, a naval officer from Georgia, was among the first nominees to the nascent federal government in 1789. President George Washington nominated Fishbourn to a minor post as naval officer in charge of the port of Savannah, Ga. Every other nomination of Washington's had been approved by the Senate except Fishbourn's, making the naval officer the first person in American history to endure an unsuccessful nomination.
What did Fishbourn do to earn such ignominy? It turned out that Fishbourn had apparently previously insulted Georgia senator James Gunn. To make matters worse, Gunn had another nominee in mind. Gunn led the charge against Fishbourn's nomination, which was quickly sunk.
The rejection of Fishbourn -- in addition to it being the first -- is notable for two other reasons. It established the custom of senatorial courtesy, a tradition which continues today. Under it, senators rely on the judgment of colleagues from an unknown nominee's home state. A senator from the nominee's state can effectively give the thumbs up (or down), and the rest of the Senate follows suit. Secondly, Washington sent a letter to Congress asking why they'd rejected a man he found "irreproachable" [source: Washington]. Before Congress could respond, however, Washington withdrew his request for an explanation, establishing the tradition that the president needn't furnish a reason for nomination, or the Senate for rejection.