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Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989 (Record Group 233)

Chapter 7. Records of the Commerce Committees and Its Predecessors

Table of Contents

Records of Committees Relating to Claims 1794-1946 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Manufactures (1819-1911)

History and Jurisdiction

7.10 Among the records of a select committee to revise the rules of the House are two memorials from Philadelphia manufacturers, presented t

o the House in December 1815, asking that a standing committee be appointed "to watch over the interests of our manufacturing citizens." In pleading their case, the memorialists noted the large amount of capital invested in manufacturing, the many citizens interested in it, and its importance to the country as an independent Nation. They maintained that the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers then in existence was inadequate and denied that there was "any propriety in the reference of the subjects of Commerce and Manufactures to the same committee" (14A-F16.4).

7.11 Despite these views, the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures continued for four more years. On December 7, 1819, Peter Little of Maryland offered an amendment of the House rules in order to provide a standing Committee on Manufactures. The chairman of the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers, Thomas Newton, Jr., of Virginia, argued that commerce and manufactures were intimately connected, and noted that relief for threatened manufacturing interests was generally provided in the form of commercial duties. Representative Little, on the other hand, declared that commerce and manufactures were not necessarily connected and frequently had conflicting interests. Such arguments carried the day and, by a vote of 88 to 60, the amendment was accepted on December 8, 1819. 2

7.12 The Committee on Manufactures was assigned jurisdiction over matters relating "to the manufacturing industries." The Committee on Manufactures became inactive during the later years of its existence and was eliminated in 1911, at the beginning of the 62d Congress.

Records of the Committee on Manufactures, 16th-61st Congresses (1819-1911)


Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books3 vols.50th (1887-89), 52d-53d (1891-95)
Docket Books11 vols.23d-28th (1833-45), 31st-32d (1849-53), 35th (1857-59), 39th (1865-67), 43d (1873-75), 45th-46th (1877-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th (1887-89), 52d-53d (1891-95)
Petitions & Memorials7 ft.16th-24th (1819-36), 26th-33d (1839-55), 35th (1857-59), 43d (1873-75), 45th-46th (1877-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th (1887-89), 54th (1895-97), 61st (1909-11)
Committee Papers2 ft.16th-18th (1819-25), 20th-28th (1827-45), 32d (1851-53), 45th-46th (1877-81)
TOTAL:9 ft. and 14 vols. (1 ft.)

7.13 The three minute books of the committee record dates of meetings, attendance, appointments to subcommittees, motions, and some discussions. The volumes for the 50th (1887-1889) and 52d (1891-1893) Congresses contain entries for approximately one meeting per week, but only a few entries appear in the minute book for the 53d Congress (1893-1895). A few additional minutes, covering meetings held from December 28, 1827, to January 10, 1828, are among the committee papers (20A-D12.1).

Rep. John Quincy Adams, MA
Rep. John Quincy Adams, MA (Mathew Brady Studio), Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (U.S. Army) from NARA's Online Catalog.  
7.14 Docket books are more numerous but contain little beyond a list of the matters referred to the committee and the names of the Members who formed the subcommittee to which the document was referred. The docket book for the 23d through 28th Congresses (1833-1845), on the other hand, contains some notes of the activities of the committee. Many of the entries in this volume appear to be in the handwriting of the committee's chairman, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts.

7.15 Many of the petitions were sent by individuals and groups interested in the duties imposed on foreign goods imported into the country. During the 16th Congress (1819-1821), for example, the committee received petitions from manufacturers and other concerned citizens in several States requesting increased duties on iron, cotton, paper, window glass, gloves, boots and shoes, coach lace, musical instruments, and other items, as well as petitions from Maine, South Carolina, and Virginia praying that no changes would be made in the duties then in force (16A-G10.2, 16A-G10.3). A large number of the petitions referred to the Committee on Manufactures during its first decade (1819-1829) sought higher duties on iron (16A-G10.2, 18A-F9.1), cotton and wool (16A-G10.2, 18A-F9.1, 18A-F9.3, 19A-G10.1), and copper (16A-G10.2, 16A-G10.3; 20A-G10.2). Other petitioners requested higher duties on cabinets (16A-G10.2), marble (17A-F8.1), hemp and flax (18A-F9.3), and ready-made clothing (20A-G10.2). From 1829 to 1839, there are considerably fewer duty-related petitions.

7.16 During the years 1839-1841, there are again a large number of duty-related petitions. Included are calls for higher duties on imported manufactures such as pins (26A-G10.3, 26A-G10.4); boots, shoes, and leather (27A-G11.1, 27A-G11.4); umbrellas (26A-G10.2, 26A-G10.4); and salt (26A-G10.4, 27A-G11.4). Some manufacturers asked not only for higher duties on manufactured goods, but also for the repeal of duties on raw materials used to make manufactured goods in the United States (27A-G11.4).

7.17 The years 1839-1843 brought several petitions for increased duties on "liquor" and "spirits," a measure intended to reduce consumption rather than increase domestic production. In addition to requesting an increased duty, citizens of Wayne County, NY, asked that liquor no longer be furnished to the Army and Navy, sold in Washington, DC, or in any other areas under Federal jurisdiction (26A-G10.4). Another petition requested both a duty on imported liquor and an excise tax on domestic production in an effort to cut consumption (27A-G11.4).

7.18 Other petitions referred to the committee between 1839 and 1843, rather than requesting a change in the duty for a particular item of manufacture, called for a general protective tariff. Petitions coming from more than a dozen States and containing thousands of signatures support such a tariff as an aid to manufacturing in the United States, preserve home markets, and improve the economy. Such petitions came from several Pennsylvania towns (26A-G10.2); as well as from the Friends of a Protective Tariff in Windsor County, VT; the State legislatures of New Jersey and Massachusetts; and the city of Cincinnati, which submitted a large number of petitions requesting a tariff that would protect "the Arts, Agriculture, and Commerce" (27A-G11.5). One of the most detailed petitions comes from New York City and includes not only signatures but also occupations and addresses (27A-G11.2).

7.19 A few petitions from the years 1839-1843 suggest that attempts to negotiate lower duties with other nations might aid the economy of the country. The General Assembly of Tennessee, for example, supported negotiations with other nations for lower tobacco duties, but, if negotiations failed, the legislature favored placing high duties on imported luxury items (27A-G11.4). Michigan farmers requested negotiations with the British to open their markets to flour and pork produced in the United States (27A-G11.4).

7.20 From 1843 to 1853, there are fewer petitions praying for changes to the duties on imports. Many of the petitions for this period came from merchants and manufacturers who either expressed their support for the protective tariff of 1842 or their displeasure with the Revenue Act of 1846, which cut back some of the 1842 rates (28A-G11.1, 29A-G9.1, 30A-G10.1, 31A-G10.1, 32A-G11.1). After 1853, there are virtually no petitions concerning duties.

7.21 Some petitions requested other types of assistance. Silk manufacturer Ephraim Cooper believed that silkworms and the mulberry trees needed to feed them would thrive in the United States and could greatly aid the poor balance of trade with Britain and the West Indies. In 1820 Cooper requested a $25,000 grant from the Government to support his efforts. Cooper even sent along some samples of silk thread he had manufactured (16A-G10.2).

7.22 The records also include a few petitions that deal with the issue of slavery. An 1820 petition from the city of Philadelphia argue against the spread of slavery into the State of Missouri (16A-G10.2). In 1828, numerous petitions called upon the Government to provide a site on the coast of Africa for blacks wishing to emigrate (20A-G10.2). In 1841, the American Free Produce Association requested that the duty on imported cotton be removed so that people in the United States could purchase foreign cotton instead of cotton produced by slaves (27A-G11.4). The only proposed constitutional amendment among the petitions is also related to the issue of slavery. Referred to the committee in February 1844, this petition from Trumball County, OH, calls for apportionment of representatives counting free inhabitants only, or, as an alternative, counting animals in free States the same as slaves in slave States (28A-G11.2).

7.23 Few petitions are among the committee's records for the years 1853-1911. From 1877 to 1881, petitions in support of legislation to prohibit the adulteration of food and drink, came from the Chicago Board of Trade, the Produce Exchange of New York, and similar groups in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and several other States. The Committee also received petitions concerning the creation of a Federal Department of Manufactures (46A-H13.2) and the regulation of the production and sale of oleomargarine (46A-H13.3). Petitioners during the 50th Congress (1887-1889) sought legislation forbidding the formation of pools, trusts, and combinations.

7.24 The committee papers are not as numerous as the petitions, consisting mostly of reports to Congress, though they include some correspondence and a few memorials. Most of the reports submitted by the committee concerned duties, such as the one in 1820 that examined "the various Memorials praying for, and remonstrating against, an increase of the duties on imports" (16A- D13.1). Papers from the 20th Congress (1841-1843) contain manuscript transcripts of hearings held during that Congress on the wool, iron, spirits, window glass, rum, and hemp industries in the country, as well as a committee report, witness subpoenas, and an index of the transcripts by witness and topic (20A-D12.1).

7.25 During the 1830's and 1840's, there are both majority and minority committee reports on the protection of domestic manufacturing (22A-D15.1, 27A-D12.1), in addition to reports concerning the manufacturing of silk (24A-D12.1) and the decision in 1844 not to amend the 1842 tariff (28A-D16.1). No other significant records appear in the committee papers until 1888, when the committee held hearings on trusts. Accompanying the empowering resolution from Congress for the committee to investigate combinations and their effect upon prices is testimony from several witnesses involved in the distillation and sale of whiskey and the manufacturing and sale of cotton bagging (50A-F21.1). There are no committee papers after 1888 other than a list of appointments to the committee in 1895 (54A-F24.1).

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2 Annals of Congress of the United States, 16th Cong., 1st sess., 8 Dec. 1819, pp. 708-10.

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