Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 1

Chapter 1. An Introduction to Research in the Records of Congress

Table of Contents

Research Strategies for Using the Records of Congress Unpublished Documents

1.36 Researchers who are considering using congressional records should first ask themselves if Congress was concerned with the subject of their research. If so, how did it deal with the issue and when? To locate materials among the records of Congress it is important to know the committee or other body that dealt with the problem; the Chamber, House or Senate; and the time period. Researchers who have tightly focused subjects with a specific time frame should consult the indexes and text to the Congressional Record and its antecedents (see paras.1.91-1.94) to identify the committees or other offices that had jurisdiction over the subject of their study as well as any bills or resolutions that may have been introduced. Researchers who do not know if Congress was concerned with their subject, or who have less well defined topics or topics that span a great number of years should examine the Congressional Information Service (CIS) index to the Congressional Serial Set (see paras. 1.102, 1.113). The serial set is a massive publication of congressional committee reports, documents referred to Congress from the executive branch, and other materials that can help researchers quickly identify the time periods and committees of Congress that considered problems relevant to their research. Leads gained from the serial set and this guide could be pursued in the Congressional Record and its antecedents for additional information.

Common Searches Among Congressional Records

1.37 The most common uses of congressional records have been legislative histories, popular opinion, claims filed before Congress, information from investigative files, treaties, and nominations. This section discusses the kinds of information researchers can expect to find among the records described in this guide as well as the information researchers need before requesting records.

1.38 Legislative Histories: Many historians and legal professionals have used congressional records to determine the legislative intent behind specific Acts of Congress. Traditional legislative histories have concentrated on the published sources of congressional activity, such as the Congressional Record and its antecedents, congressional hearings, and committee reports. However, the unpublished records of committee activity among the records of Congress can shed important additional light on the legislative process.

1.39 Description of the Records: While legislative files may include such published items as copies of the bill or resolution, amendments, the committee report, and hearings, they can also include the chairman's correspondence, transcripts of unpublished hearings, committee prints, correspondence indicating the administration's position on the proposal, and internal staff correspondence. In general, files created after the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which authorized professional committee staffs, contain more of these kinds of documents.

1.40 Information Needed to Conduct a Search: Researchers need to know the chamber involved in the legislation, the Congress in which it was introduced, the committee to which it was referred, and the bill or resolution number. This information may be found in the index to the Congressional Record and its antecedents or the Journals of the House and the Senate. Any bill or resolution that was considered by both chambers probably generated a file in both.

1.41 During every Congress, each piece of legislation is assigned a unique number roughly in the order in which it is introduced. Bills introduced in the Senate are captioned S. __, while House bills are captioned H.R. __. Senate and House resolutions, joint resolutions, and concurrent resolutions are captioned S.Res. __ and H.Res. __, S.J. Res. __ and H.J. Res. __, and S. Con. Res. __ and H. Con. Res. __, respectively. House and Senate resolutions are merely expressions of the sentiment of the parent body and as such do not carry the force of law. Senate and House concurrent and joint resolutions require the approval of the other chamber. In addition, joint resolutions, except for those that propose an amendment to the Constitution, require the consent of the President and have the force of law. Even when the bill or resolution is referred to the other chamber, it retains the initiating chamber's bill or resolution number throughout its legislative life. Each bill or resolution must secure passage before the end of the Congress in which it is introduced or it must begin the legislative process anew in the next Congress.

1.42 On popular issues, many legislators may introduce their own bill or resolution to address the problem. All such measures are then referred to a committee, which settles on one as the basis for legislative activity and incorporates or ignores provisions from the others. In general, the file of the bill that became the legislative vehicle is the one with the richest documentation.

1.43 Related Records: The first place to look for material on a bill or resolution is in the legislative files of the committee, but it is also worth looking in the committee's correspondence and subject files for additional information. In pre-World War II Congresses, these records are combined under a series of records called "committee papers." After 1946, committees often maintained separate series of unpublished hearings that may relate to legislation as well as transcripts of business meetings, and markup sessions (where the committee considers each section of a measure). Because executive branch agencies closely track legislation that is of interest to their programs, researchers should also consult the records of relevant agencies for legislative files.

1.44 To review the various versions of bills and resolutions as they passed through the legislative process, researchers should consult the printed bills and resolutions of the Congress, 1830's-1962, in the custody of the Center for Legislative Archives (for more information, see para. 1.114). Among congressional records are the drafts of bills and resolutions that were returned to Congress from the printer; they are in several series labelled "original bills and resolutions" (for more information, see Chapter 24 of this guide). The final version of enacted bills and joint resolutions are published in the United States Statutes at Large (for more information, see paras. 1.115-1.118). To obtain the most complete legislative history of any measure, researchers should consult the publications described in paras. 1.88 through 1.118, as well as the holdings of the Center for Legislative Archives.

1.45 Popular Opinion: Studying petitions submitted to Congress is often a profitable way to understand popular opinion. The records of Congress contain thousands of original petitions from individuals and groups, ample proof that Americans exercise their constitutional right to petition the government. They cover the entire span of congressional history and relate to an extremely wide range of issues, such as pensions for veterans of the Revolutionary War, antebellum antislavery reform, woman suffrage, establishment of post offices and post roads, annexation of Hawaii and the Philippines, the League of Nations, prohibition, and Sabbath observance. These petitions are of two broad types: those in which the petitioner sought individual indemnification from the government, and those for which the petitioner drew attention to a larger social problem. The former category is described below under claims filed before Congress.

1.46 Description of the Records: Congress receives petitions on the floor and usually refers them to the committee whose jurisdiction most closely matches the subject of the petition. A major exception to this procedure was in the case of antislavery petitions presented during the antebellum period. According to a "gag rule" in effect in the House from the 1830's through the 1850's, these petitions were neither received nor referred to a committee; however, many are extant among congressional records.

1.47 As historical documents, petitions have been used in different ways. Some researchers are interested in viewing petitions submitted by prominent Americans, such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, John C. Fremont, or Frederick Douglass. Others, attempting to trace the activities of certain groups or individuals from a particular locale, have examined all petitions received from that group over time. Another approach has been to examine all petitions on a given subject received from all groups over time. In addition to the names of the signers, petitions often show the name of their town or county of residence, along with an expression of opinion on the problem. Depending on the subject and the time period, the statements may be preprinted or individualized.

1.48 Information Required to Make a Search: For most topics, petitions were referred to the same committee for any given Congress, but for particularly contentious or otherwise complex topics, petitions on seemingly similar topics may have been referred to more than one committee. For example, researchers who want to review all antislavery petitions for a given Congress may find some among the records of the Committee on the Judiciary (if the petitioners advocated a constitutional amendment); the Committee on the Territories (if the petition related to slavery in the Territories); the Committee on the District of Columbia (if it related to the slave trade in the District); a select committee (if one was formed relating to the subject); or among those petitions "received," meaning "gagged"; in the Senate such petitions were considered "tabled." Information needed to locate the petitions can be obtained from either the indexes to the Congressional Record and its antecedents (see paras. 1.91-1.94) or the Journals of the House and the Senate (see para. 1.95).

1.49 Researchers looking for all petitions from a particular locale on one topic or on many topics, face several problems. The indexers of the Congressional Record and its antecedents were not consistent in identifying the States from which the petitions were received. One means of surmounting this problem might be to examine petitions introduced by legislators from the locale under study, since most legislators tended to introduce petitions from their own district or State. Some caution should be exercised in employing this strategy, however, since a few Members who were interested in particular issues introduced related petitions from many States. For example, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts submitted antislavery petitions from many States. Further, petitions referred to each committee are usually arranged chronologically by the date introduced on the floor or, in the case of claims, alphabetically by the surname of the petitioner, but rarely are they arranged alphabetically by State or town.

1.50 Those researchers who want more refined indexing, such as the gender, occupation, or the race of the petitioners, will probably be disappointed. For example, when petitioners described themselves as "fifty women from Vermont praying that Congress make liquor trafficking illegal," the compilers of the Congressional Record would probably describe them in those terms in its index and text. But in other cases where the petitioners' group affiliation was less clear, they were likely to be described more generically. Researchers may determine more about the petitioners by consulting other sources, such as census and probate records.

1.51 Researchers looking for all petitions signed by an individual, perhaps for a biographical study, may need to employ several of the strategies listed above. As the sole signer of a petition, the individual would most likely be listed by name in the index to the Congressional Record and its antecedents. In this case the researcher needs only to know the Congress in which the petition was submitted to make a search, since the Record and its antecedents are indexed by Congress (see paras. 1.91-1.94 for details). If the individual were one of many signers of a petition, an educated guess must be made as to the type of petition the individual would have signed. One researcher, for example, located a Lincoln signature by correctly guessing that as postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, in 1834, Lincoln might have signed a petition praying for Congress to establish a post road in his area.

1.52 Related Records: For the period 1789 through the 1850's, some petitions were published in American State Papers. See paras. 1.104-1.105, for more information on American State Papers.

1.53 Private Claims Filed Before Congress: Individuals have asked for congressional intervention in their behalf on a wide range of issues, such as compensation for serving in the armed forces, eligibility for pensions, rights to land, damages to persons or property committed by representatives of the United States, of foreign governments, or Indians, and the removal of political disabilities for certain former Confederate officials after the Civil War.

1.54 Description of the Records: Such files can include the original petition, the congressional committee's report, a bill introduced to alleviate the problem, a report from an appropriate executive branch official, and depositions from friends and neighbors in support of the petitioner's plea. These records can be quite informative, because they provide a description of the complaint, usually in the words of the individuals involved, and the judgment of the Congress.

1.55 Information Needed to Conduct a Search: In order to retrieve original documentation on these claims, researchers need to know the name of the claimant, the chamber in which the claim was filed, the Congress or Congresses in which it was introduced, and the committee to which the claim was referred. Fortunately the Congress produced a number of indexes that provide the information necessary to access the records. Indexes to private claims brought before the Senate and House were periodically published as part of the Congressional Serial Set (see paras. 1.100-1.103). Each index is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the claimant and shows the object of the claim, the Congress and session before which it was brought, the committee to which it was referred, the nature and number of any committee reports or bills, the dates when the bill was passed by both Chambers, and the date that the bill was approved by the President. These lists were compiled from the Journals of the House and Senate. A listing of these indexes is available in the Chapter 6 of this guide.

1.56 Several words of caution are appropriate for researchers interested in using these indexes. Not all of the documents listed in them are extant. In the case of those claims that were repeatedly submitted, the index indicates that a claimant submitted numerous petitions on the same subject, giving the impression that multiple documents exist. In fact, the same document was usually resubmitted numerous times. Finally, the indexes are best suited to researchers looking for information on specific individuals.

1.57 Those researchers interested in examining all claims on a particular topic or all claims submitted by specific groups, will find the indexes less satisfying. If all claims on a certain subject are sought, researchers may identify the committee of referral by examining this guide, as well as the indexes to the Congressional Record and its antecedents. The indexes are less useful in determining the group identification of claimants. (See paras. 1.49-1.51, for a further discussion of this point.)

1.58 Related Records: Over the entire course of American history, many agencies of the United States Government processed different kinds of claims. These claims files are described in some detail in Chapter 16, National Archives Trust Fund Board, Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives (Washington: National Archives and Records Service, 1982).

1.59 Southern Claims Commission: Genealogists and social historians have found that the records of the Commissioners on Claims, popularly known as the Southern Claims Commission, provide a wealth of detail about the lives of southerners in the 1860's and 1870's. The Commission met between 1871 and 1880 to examine the claims that those people who had lived in the former Confederate States had against the United States Army or Navy for property used, taken, or damaged during the Civil War. The Commissioners judged each claimant's loyalty to the United States during the war, certified the amount, value, and nature of the property taken or furnished, and reported their judgment on each claim presented to the House. The Commission received 22,298 claims for over $60 million dollars towards which about $4.6 million was paid.

1.60 Description of the Records: Only the barred or disallowed case files--that is, ones in which the Government made no payment at all--are among the records of the House of Representatives. Those records have been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M1407, Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880. For a more detailed discussion of these records, see Chapter 6 of this guide.

1.61 These files constitute a rich source of Civil War and Reconstruction history of the South. Each claimant and witness was required to answer a long, detailed questionnaire. Frank W. Klingberg, author of The Southern Claims Commission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955), estimates that as many as 220,000 witnesses gave testimony for the claimants or the Government in the process of the Commission's work. But because the Commission could compensate only those individuals who could prove their loyalty to the Union during the War, the testimony should be used with caution.

1.62 Information Needed To Conduct a Search: Researchers interested in finding an individual claim should consult the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871-1880 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), which is arranged alphabetically by the surname of those persons who filed claims before the Commission. The Consolidated Index also gives the office number and report number, the amount claimed, amount received, a brief description of the property involved, and whether the case was barred (failed to be submitted on time).

1.63 Researchers interested in examining all files from a geographic area should consult Gary Mills, Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War Damage Claims Filed Before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880 (Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1980), which lists claimants alphabetically by surname and by State. Because Mills provides the county of residence, researchers interested in all claims from one or more counties can easily compile a listing of relevant case files from Mills' index. After developing the list of individuals, however, researchers still must use the Consolidated Index to obtain the file numbers necessary to retrieve the original documents.

1.64 Related Records: Those cases that were approved in whole or in part are among the settled accounts and claims of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, in Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, Record Group 217, formerly Records of the United States General Accounting Office.

1.65 In 1883 and 1887, Congress passed acts that permitted cases handled previously by the Commission to be transmitted to the U.S. Court of Claims for reconsideration. As a result, some of the barred and disallowed case files are among the Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, Record Group 123.

1.66 Those interested in the administrative files of the Commission should consult the Records of the Southern Claims Commission, part of the General Records of the Department of the Treasury, Record Group 56. Those records have been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M87, Records of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission), 1871-1880.

1.67 Investigative Files: Congress has the authority to investigate perceived problems in any area of American society, but particularly within the Federal Government. For example, Congress has investigated the national military establishment from the Indians' defeat of Arthur St. Clair in 1792, to the manner in which the Civil War was prosecuted in the 1860's, to the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur in the 1950's. In the 20th century, Congress has examined various facets of the economy through investigations of the banking community in 1912 and 1933, labor unions' organizational difficulties in the late 1930's, and the munitions makers of World War I. Congress also reviewed the activities of organized crime and subversion through committees such as the House Un-American Activities Committee (1945-1975).

1.68 Description of the Records: Often a tremendous amount of data is compiled on the subject of an investigation. Among the records of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, for example, are files on individuals who were considered security risks. The files of a number of investigative committees of the 20th century contain copies of the financial records of many large corporations and other economic data of interest to students of the business community. Because some information contained in the records of 20th century investigative committees may be considered sensitive, the National Archives staff must screen these materials prior to their release. Researchers interested in using investigative records should therefore contact the Center for Legislative Archives well in advance of their proposed research visit.

1.69 Information Needed to Conduct a Search: The records of each investigation are organized by the administrative unit that conducted the investigation, usually subcommittees of a standing committee or select or special committees. See Chapters 2-25 of this guide for more detailed information on the records of House committees.

1.70 Treaties: The Constitution provides that the President must seek the advice and consent of the Senate on all treaties. The concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators present when a treaty is considered by Congress is necessary.

1.71 Description of the Records: Treaty files may include a copy of the proposed treaty, a message from the President, a copy of the committee's report, transcripts of hearings, committee prints, correspondence of committee chairman, correspondence indicating the administration's position, internal staff communications, and for treaties relating to taxation, a statement from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Department of the Treasury. Treaty files that postdate the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which authorized the creation of professional staff for committees, are more likely to contain fuller documentation. The records are in two series: Indian treaties, 1789-1870, and foreign treaties, 1789-present.

1.72 Information Needed to Conduct a Search: Researchers need to know the Congress in which the treaty was disposed of by the Senate and the parties to the treaty. This means that if the President submitted a treaty before one Congress and it was neither accepted nor rejected until the next Congress, records of the treaty are in the latter Congress. This disposition information can be located in either the Congressional Record and its antecedents or the Senate Executive Journal (see para. 1.89 for more information on the Journal).

1.73 Related Records: Related records are also available in other record groups in the National Archives. Many of these records have been filmed. Ratified Indian treaties are located in Record Group 11, General Records of the U.S. Government and are filmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M668, Ratified Indian Treaties, 1722-1869. The treaties were published in Vol. II of Charles J. Kappler's, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904). Supporting documents pertaining to the negotiation and ratification of Indian treaties are in Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and they have been filmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication T494, Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Indian Tribes, 1801-1869. Researchers should also consult John H. Martin's compilation: List of Documents Concerning the Negotiation of Ratified Indian Treaties, 1801- 1869, Special List 6 (Washington: National Archives, 1949), which identifies documents that are not included in Microfilm Publication T494. Researchers interested in international treaties and conventions should consult the inventories of General Records of the U.S. Government, Record Group 11, and General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59.

1.74 Nominations. As with treaties, the Senate must provide its advise and consent on the nomination of a number of presidential appointments, such as cabinet officers, Federal judges, postmasters, and officers in the Armed Forces.

1.75 Description of the Records: A nomination file may include such documents as a transcript of the nomination hearing, resume of the nominee, letters of recommendation from individuals and professional organizations, financial disclosure information, correspondence from the administration, committee vote tallies, petitions from interested citizens, and internal staff memoranda. The records are arranged in two series: Messages of the President (placing a candidate's name in nomination) and the nomination files.

1.76 Information Needed to Conduct a Search: Nomination files are arranged by the Congress in which the appointment was made and then alphabetically by the surname of the candidate. Beginning with the 80th Congress (1947-49), the records are arranged by the Congress, thereunder by the committee to which the nomination was referred, and thereunder alphabetically by the surname of the nominee. The appropriate Congress and committee can be located in either the Congressional Record and its antecedents or the Senate Executive Journal. The National Archives has published a listing of all of the nomination files from 1789-1901: George P. Perros, James C. Brown, and Jacqueline A. Wood, compilers, Papers of the United States Senate Relating to Presidential Nominations, 1789-1901 Special List 20, (Washington: National Archives and Records Service, 1964).

1.77 Related Records: There may be additional documentation among the records of the government agency to which the candidate was nominated and the records of the Office of the President.

Citing Unpublished Congressional Documents

1.78 In citing unpublished governmental records, researchers are encouraged to consult NARA's General Information Leaflet 17: "Citing Records in the National Archives of the United States." In line with this Leaflet, the following specific guidance is provided for researchers citing unpublished congressional materials.

1.79 The Elements of a Citation: The purpose of any citation is to promote the easy retrieval of the materials cited. To facilitate retrieval, researchers are encouraged to identify the following elements in their citations to unpublished congressional records: record, file unit, series, Congress, record group, and repository. Obviously, in subsequent notes some of this information can be abbreviated. Each element of the note should be separated by a semicolon to avoid confusion. In general it is not necessary to cite the session of Congress since few unpublished congressional records are arranged by session. What follows is more precise guidance on each of the elements of a citation.

1.80 Record: A record is a unit of information, regardless of physical form. The citation should identify the document, its date and, where appropriate, its author and recipient. For many 18th-and-19th-century documents the identifying data is found in the document's endorsement. The endorsement, written on the back of a document, shows when the item was received and what actions were taken on the subject of the document. If the date of the document differs from the endorsement date, which is usually the case, cite the document date and in parentheses indicate the date of the first endorsement. The endorsement date is important, because it is often the date that is used for filing these documents.

1.81 File Unit: A file unit may be a single record, a bound volume, or an envelope or file folder that contains various types of records. In some series of congressional records, such as committee papers, petitions referred to committees, treaty files, and Indian treaty files, there are important subdivisions that need to be noted for ease of retrieval. For committee papers, committee reports and papers, petitions referred to committee, papers accompanying specific bills and resolutions: Identify the committee to which the matter was referred (for papers accompanying specific bills and resolutions, include the bill or resolution number as well). For foreign and Indian treaty files: Identify the specific treaty.

For nominations: Identify the name of the nominee.

1.82 Series: A series may be a single file or several files brought together because of their common arrangement, source, use, or physical form. Many congressional records are organized in the following series:

  • Original journals
  • Original bills and resolutions
  • Committee papers
  • Committee reports and papers
  • President's messages
  • Reports and communications submitted to the [House or Senate]
  • Petitions and memorials referred to committee
  • Petitions and memorials that were tabled
  • Election records
  • Records of impeachments
  • Records of the Clerk of the House
1.83 For House records, 1789-1962, and Senate records, 1789-1946, researchers should cite the file number in parentheses immediately after the series title. The file number bears a HR or SEN designation, depending on whether it was a House or Senate record, an initial number indicating the Congress, and other letters and numbers, such as HR 69A-H6.13, which indicate the series and subgroups to which the records belong. See paras. 1.20-1.26, for a more detailed explanation of the file numbers.

1.84 Congress: A new Congress begins every two years, following the congressional elections. Each has been numbered sequentially beginning with the First Congress, which met from 1789 to 1791.

1.85 Record Group: The record groups for congressional materials are listed below with accepted abbreviations in parentheses:

  • Record Group 46--Records of the U.S. Senate (RG 46)
  • Record Group 233--Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (RG 233)
  • Record Group 128--Records of Joint Committees of Congress (RG 128)
  • Record Group 287--Publications of the U.S. Government (RG 287)
1.86 Repository: All records of the Congress in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration are in the National Archives, Washington, DC. This element may be abbreviated as NA.

1.87 Examples of Notes: Below are examples of how to cite congressional materials. All of the documents are fictitious.

  • Fifty women from Vermont praying an end to slavery in the District of Columbia, Jan. 15, 1838 (endorsed Feb. 7, 1838); Committee on the District of Columbia; Petitions and Memorials Referred to Committees (HR 25A-G4.1); 25th Congress; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • President's message, March 10, 1808 (endorsed March 12, 1808); Treaty with the Cherokees; Indian Treaty Files (SEN 12B-C1); 12th Congress; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • Original Legislative Journal, Dec. 6, 1847, page 3; First Session (SEN 30A-A2); 30th Congress; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • Petition of Robert W. Smith, Apr. 17, 1874; Report 4, Office 123; Disallowed Claims Files; Records of the Commissioners on Claims; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • William Smith to Walter Jones, Jan. 5, 1956; Hanford Power Plant; unclassified subject files; Records of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Record Group 128; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • Hearings on the Situation in Cuba, Jan. 9, 1963, page 56; formerly classified hearings; Committee on Foreign Relations; 88th Congress; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • James Jones to Jay Sourwine, July 7, 1952; Owen Lattimore file; Individuals files; Subcommittee on Internal Security; 82d Congress; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, DC.
  • John Doe to Alexander Smith, Dec. 3, 1946; Individuals: Philip Murray; Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, 1941-48; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, DC.
Published Congressional Documents

1.88 More than any other agency of the Federal Government, the Congress publishes an extensive record of its activities. The most important examples of this effort are listed and described below. These publications are available in the Library and Printed Archives Division of the National Archives and may also be available in Government Depository Libraries located around the United States. Additional information about the depository library system is provided in Appendix E of this guide.

1.89 Congressional publications fall into two categories: those that record activities conducted on the floor of Congress and those that record activities in its committee.

Records of Floor Proceedings

1.90 The quality of the record of debates and actions that take place on the floor of Congress have varied widely throughout the history of Congress. The Constitution stipulates in Article I, section 5, that Congress simply maintain a journal of its proceedings. Production of an accurate record of the actual speeches and debates developed slowly. In part this was due to congressional traditions. All Senate proceedings held during the period 1789 to December 1795, for example, were closed to the public. Senate proceedings on its executive business (treaties and nominations) were also closed to the public until the 1920's. House deliberations on the other hand have, except on rare occasions, always been open to the public. Because of the poor quality of early efforts at transcription, legislators insisted on the right to edit their remarks. This is permitted for the style but not the substance of remarks. In order to expedite business, Members of Congress have also been permitted to submit materials for incorporation into the record that they did not actually read on the floor.

1.91 Annals of Congress (1789-1824): During its first 3 decades, Congress did not produce its own transcription of its proceedings. In the 1830's, two pioneers in reporting congressional activity, Joseph Gales and William Seaton, used contemporary newspaper and other sources to reconstruct congressional debates from the earlier period. The Annals of Congress reproduced the speeches and debates as abstracts written in the third person. Each volume is indexed. Gales and Seaton were also publishers of the newspaper the National Intelligencer, which specialized in congressional coverage.

1.92 Register of Debates (1824-1837): Gales and Seaton published this contemporaneous abstraction of congressional floor debates. Each volume is indexed.

1.93 Congressional Globe (1833-1873): Francis P. Blair and John C. Rives, publishers of the Congressional Globe, became the authorized printer of congressional debates in 1833. In its later years the Globe reconstructed what appeared to be a verbatim transcription (done in the first person) rather than printing primarily third person abstracts.

1.94 Congressional Record (1873-present): While the Congressional Record has always looked like a verbatim transcription, members can edit their remarks and submit remarks that were not delivered on the floor. These remarks appear in the text as if they were delivered on the floor. Beginning in March 1978, remarks that were not actually delivered were indicated by a printer's "bullet" in the margin. However, Members can circumvent this device. For instance, if the first sentence of a speech is actually delivered on the floor and the rest is turned in for printing, the "bullet" does not appear in the margin. Most recently those remarks not delivered on the floor are printed in a different type face. In 1947, the Congressional Record produced a new publication: the Daily Digest. The Daily Digest records floor and committee proceedings each day. The Congressional Record is indexed by subject and by bill and resolution number.

1.95 House and Senate Journals (1789-present): The Journals are the only constitutionally mandated record of floor proceedings. The Journals record actions taken on the floor, such as the receipt of messages, the introduction of bills, the referral of petitions or bills to committees, and all roll call votes. All of these activities are also recorded in the publications noted above. The Journals reproduce none of the debates and speeches. While the House produces one Journal, the Senate publishes the Senate Legislative Journal to record its legislative proceedings and the Senate Executive Journal to record proceedings on treaties and nominations. Each volume is indexed by subject and by bill or resolution number. The Senate Executive Journal is indexed by the surnames of individuals whose names were placed in nomination. Beginning in 1829 geographical place names are also indexed. Later volumes also divide the personal names section into segments for the agencies or Departments to which the individuals had been nominated.

1.96 House and Senate Manuals: Those interested in understanding the fine points of transacting business on the floor of Congress should consult the House Manual and Senate Manual appropriate to the time period under study. The Manuals are published in the Congressional Serial Set. In addition researchers should consult the compilations of precedents listed below for information on how each Chamber was organized and how its business was conducted. These precedents were developed over time by each House of Congress through rulings from the chair and actions of the entire body.

1.97 House and Senate Precedents: In 1907, Asher C. Hinds produced the first systematic codification of House precedents. Published by the Government Printing Office as Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States, they are organized into categories such as the meeting of Congress, the presiding officer at organization, procedure and powers of the Members-elect in organization, polygamy, disqualifications, irregular credentials, and impeachment. There is also a subject index. Revisions to Hinds appeared in the 1930's and 1970's: Clarence Cannon, Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935) and Lewis Deschler, Deschler's Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, H. Doc. 94-661 (Serial 13151-1).

1.98 A similar, but much less extensive, work for the Senate was compiled by Charles Watkins and Floyd Riddick and was based on earlier editions by editors such as Henry Gilfrey (1909). The most recent version is: Senate Procedure, Precedents, and Practices, S. Doc. 97-2 (Serial 13386).

Records of Committee Actions

1.99 As Congress evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries, increasingly more of the workload was transferred from the floor of Congress to its committees and subcommittees. Published records of committee activity include hearings, both published and unpublished, reports, other documents that committees thought deserved wider circulation, and staff studies.

1.100 Congressional Serial Set: The Congressional Serial Set is a publication of United States Government documents authorized by Congress in December 1813. The set began with the 15th Congress (1815-17). It includes the Journals, committee reports, a wide variety of reports and messages from the executive branch, the Congressional Directory, and other documents Congress deemed worthy of wider distribution.

1.101 The volumes of the serial set are numbered sequentially from 1815 to the present. The volumes are organized by Congress, by Senate and House publications, and for most of its history by "reports" and "documents." At times during the 19th century, the documents were divided into "executive documents" and "miscellaneous documents" the former being documents of the executive branch and the latter being other documents. During the early 20th century the serial set was divided into Journals, reports, and documents.

1.102 Although the serial set is an excellent source of information on the Congress and the entire government, its use was hindered by the poor quality of its indexes until the Congressional Information Service, Inc. (CIS), a private publisher headquartered in Bethesda, MD, published its CIS U.S. Serial Set Index, 1789-1969. The CIS Index is divided into the following sections: subjects, names and organizations for whom private relief was considered, a numerical listing of reports and documents, and a shelf list of publications contained in each serial volume. For serial set documents from 1969 to the present, consult the CIS indexes and abstracts. CIS has also produced a microfiche edition of the serial set.

1.103 The Congressional Serial Set is a key source of documentation on the activities of the Congress. Committee reports, for example, are prepared by a committee in conjunction with the presentation of the committee's version of a bill or resolution to its parent body. The committee report is the committee's argument in favor of passing the measure; it is sometimes accompanied by a minority view. In other cases the committee report is simply its version of the bill as it emerged from committee deliberations. Committee reports have, therefore, become key documents in determining the intent of Congress in its passage of legislation. In the case of investigating committees, the committee report is usually a presentation of its findings and recommendations for correcting the problems the committee was established to study.

1.104 American State Papers: The only publication comparable to the serial set for documents created before 1815 is American State Papers. From 1832 to 1861, publishers Gales and Seaton reproduced in this series a wide variety of early government documents, such as congressional committee reports, and messages and reports from the executive branch, that date roughly from 1789 to the 1830's. While American State Papers was an impressive undertaking for its day, its editors only published what they considered to be the most important reports and messages.

1.105 Gales and Seaton, the publishers, divided these documents into ten subject classes: Foreign relations, 1789-1828; Indian affairs, 1789-1827; finance, 1789-1828; commerce and navigation, 1789-1823; military affairs, 1789-1838; naval affairs, 1789-1836; Post Office Department, 1789-1833; public lands, 1789-37; claims, 1789-1823; miscellaneous, 1789-1823. Within each class, each document was assigned a sequential number which was roughly in chronological order. Each volume is indexed.

1.106 Published Congressional Hearings: During the 19th century, particularly after the Civil War, congressional committees began to hold hearings on the wide variety of issues that confronted them. For 20th century committees, hearings have become a standard mechanism for gathering information relevant to their main functions: considering legislation, investigating wrongdoing, and overseeing the activities of executive branch agencies. Congressional hearings were not published as a separate series until the 1890's. Hearings published before the 1890's were included in the Congressional Serial Set, often as a part of the committee's report. Congress did not require that its committees systematically transcribe their hearings until the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946.

1.107 Committee hearings record the comments of witnesses and legislators on different issues and, more importantly, they record interesting exchanges between them. Witnesses and legislators may edit their remarks, but any corrections are supposed to be stylistic rather than substantive. Because each committee member may question a witness, the same issues may be covered several times in response to questions posed by different legislators. Individual hearings are rarely indexed, although a table of contents is normally provided indicating the names of witnesses.

1.108 The Congressional Information Service, Inc., has produced the most complete index to the published hearings of Congress in its CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index, 1833-1969. The Hearings Index is arranged in the following sections: by subject, by names of witnesses, by committee or subcommittee holding the hearing, by the popular names of bills and laws, by titles of the hearings, by the Superintendent of Documents classification numbers, and by the report or document number (for those hearings that were published in a report or a document in the serial set). For hearings held from 1969 to the present, consult the CIS indexes and abstracts. CIS has also produced a microfiche edition of the published hearings of Congress.

1.109 Unpublished Congressional Hearings: Committees decide whether their hearing transcripts should be published. The decision not to publish usually is made because of the costs involved, the subject matter of the hearing (too controversial, too sensitive, too routine, or classified for reasons of national security), or committee idiosyncrasies. Consequently, a large body of unpublished transcripts of hearings exists principally in the National Archives and to a lesser extent in congressional committee offices. The content and format of these hearings is the same as those of hearings that were published.

1.110 Until recently no bibliographic control over these hearings transcripts existed. The Congressional Information Service, Inc., made an extensive search of the holdings of the National Archives, congressional committee offices, and a number of other repositories to locate all unpublished Senate hearings through 1964. The results are published as CIS Index to Unpublished U.S. Senate Committee Hearings, 1823-1964. This Index is organized in the same way as the CIS index to published congressional hearings. CIS has also produced a microfiche edition of the unpublished hearings of the Senate. CIS is currently searching for all unpublished hearings of the House through 1937 and it plans to publish an index and microfiche edition of these hearings as well. The cutoff dates of the CIS publications are dictated by access rules: unpublished records of the Senate are closed for 20 years and unpublished records of the House are closed for 50 years.

1.111 Committee Prints: Unlike the hearings, reports, and documents, committee prints are a heterogeneous category of publications intended primarily for the use of congressional committees. They often are printed in small quantities (less than 100 copies) and, unlike published hearings and serial set documents, they are not always preserved or distributed in any systematic way. Committee prints usually fall into one of the following categories: Monographs, investigative field reports, analyses of bills, confidential staff memoranda and reports, executive branch comments on legislation, reference materials, statistical compilations, hearings publications, and drafts of bills and reports.

1.112 The Congressional Information Service, Inc., conducted a major survey of congressional records at the National Archives, Library of Congress, Senate and House libraries, and large Government depository libraries throughout the country to prepare a collection of congressional committee prints. The CIS published its work as CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index, from the Earliest Publications through 1969. CIS has also produced a microfiche edition of the these committee prints. For more recent prints, see the CIS indexes described below.

1.113 CIS Indexes, 1970-present: Since 1969, CIS has published a single index to most of the different forms of congressional publications (reports, documents, hearings, prints, executive reports and documents, and public laws) but not to the Congressional Record. CIS produces a monthly index that permits users to access documents by subject; by names of witnesses; by titles of publications; by bill, report, hearing, print and Superintendent of Documents numbers; and by committee or subcommittee name. Citations in the index direct researchers to the CIS Annual Abstracts, which summarize each congressional committee publication. In addition to providing full bibliographic information, the abstractions of hearings lists all witnesses who testified, summarizes their testimony, and notes any supporting material they submitted for inclusion in the record. The index is published monthly and issued in a single volume every four years, while the Abstracts for a year are published annually in a single volume. The indexing database is also available on-line through DIALOG Information Services, Inc. The documents themselves are available in microfiche from CIS.

1.114 Bills and Resolutions: The Center for Legislative Archives has approximately 1,000 linear feet of the printed versions of House and Senate bills and resolutions from 1807 to 1954. A more complete collection is in the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Portions of the bills and resolutions have been microfiched by the Congressional Information Service, Inc.: CIS Congressional Bills, Resolutions, and Laws, 1943-84.

1.115 Acts of Congress: Acts of Congress, both private and public, treaties and conventions before 1950, proclamations, reorganization plans, and concurrent resolutions are published in the United States Statutes at Large. Each volume of the Statutes, except the first, is indexed alphabetically by subject.

1.116 The Statutes have been indexed in the following publications: A Synoptical Index to the Laws and Treaties of the United States of America from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1851 (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1852); George Winfield Scott and Middleton G. Beaman, Index Analysis of the Federal Statutes, 1873-1907 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1908); Walter H. McClenon and Wilfred C. Gilbert, Index to the Federal Statutes, 1874-1931 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1933).

1.117 Periodically the laws of the United States are codified. The first such codification took place in 1873 and was published in the Statutes at Large, but other codifications have been published in the United States Code. The Code is arranged by major subject areas of the law, called titles, such as agriculture (title 7), patents (title 35), and veterans benefits (title 38). The most recent version of the Code shows laws in force through the date of the publication of the Code. To find out if the Code is current for the particular subject of interest, researchers should consult volumes of the Statutes that postdate the Code.

1.118 A helpful version of the Code is the United States Code Annotated (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1973). This publication contains extensive notes for each section of the Code, indicating any previous laws that were changed. This is particularly useful in tracing the evolution of Federal law in a given subject area.

Other Publications of Congressional Materials

1.119 The Territorial Papers of the United States: Pursuant to several acts of Congress passed in the 1920's, the Department of State was directed to collect, edit, and publish the official papers of Territories of the United States. In the 1930's, the National Archives assumed this responsibility. As of this writing, the papers of all of those territories east of the Mississippi River, plus Arkansas and Missouri, have been published in a letterpress version, supplemented in many cases by microfilm editions; only a microfilm edition exists for Iowa.

1.120 Because Congress played such a vital role in establishing Territories by legislating on a wide range of pertinent issues, and passing the acts admitting Territories to statehood, the records of Congress are an important source of territorial history. Numerous records of Congress relating to the Territories were therefore published in this series. Included, for example, are petitions from territorial residents, as well as various versions of the bills that eventually became acts granting statehood, and versions of proposed State constitutions. In addition many records of the Senate that related to the Territories were microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M200, Territorial Papers of the United States Senate, 1789-1873.

1.121 The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791: Since the mid-1960's, this project has sought to locate and publish all documents that relate to the First Congress. The First Federal Congress project has performed a comprehensive search of all extant materials, at the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and private or public repositories with collections in the 1789-1791 time span.

1.122 To date, the project has published the most authoritative versions of the Senate Legislative and Executive Journals, and the House Journal for the First Congress, as well as three volumes of legislative histories of all bills and resolutions introduced during the First Congress. In forthcoming volumes the project will reproduce petitions, the debates of Congress, the diary of Senator William Maclay (1789-1791), and other letters and papers of members of the First Congress.

1.123 This project is one of more than 250 historical documentary editions sponsored by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

1.124 The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788-1790: The NHPRC also sponsors this project which anticipates the publication of a four-volume edition of documents and correspondence concerning the first congressional elections. The editors have selected for publication official records of the States as well as private correspondence and newspaper sources. The first two volumes have been published.

1.125 Other NHPRC Projects: In addition to the above NHPRC sponsored publications projects, congressional documents have been published in such projects as the Papers of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Gallatin, Joseph Henry, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, James K. Polk, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, and Andrew Johnson. Some congressional documents also are reproduced in the National Archives Federal Documentary Microfilm Edition No. 1, Papers Relating to the Administration of the U.S. Patent Office During the Superintendency of William Thornton, 1802-1828.

1.126 National Archives Microfilm Publications: The Legislative Archives Division is filming the records of the first 14 Congresses, 1789-1817. The documentary record for this period is slight, but the extant records are of unusually high intrinsic value. The records after 1817 have been more systematically published in the Congressional Serial Set. The records will be filmed in two series: records that are bound and records that are unbound. In addition the barred and disallowed claims files of the Southern Claims Commission have been microfiched. See Appendix H for a complete listing of these microfilm publications.

Citing Published Congressional Materials

1.127 Because the unpublished records of Congress bear such a close relationship to published congressional materials, a section on how to cite them is also included. This is based on The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th edition. Note: These are all fictitious documents.

1.128 Floor Proceedings:

  • Senate Journal, 14th Cong., 1st sess., 7 Dec. 1819, 9-19.
  • Annals of Congress, 2d Cong., 1st sess., 215.
  • Congressional Globe, 39th Cong., 2d sess., 1867, 39, pt.9:9505.
  • Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 1st sess., 1930, 72, pt.10:10828-30.
1.129 Published Committee Documents:

  • American State Papers, Class V-Military Affairs, 2:558.
  • Malcolm to Calhoun, 2 Nov. 1818, Report of the Secretary of War Relative to Roads and Canals (7 Jan. 1819), 15th Cong., 2d sess., H. Doc. 87.
  • Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, The Mutual Security Act of 1956, 84th Cong., 2d sess., 1956, S. Rept. 2273, 5.
  • House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Background Materials on Mutual Defense and Development Programs: Fiscal Year 1965, 88th Cong., 2d sess., 1964, Committee Print, 24.
1.130 Published Congressional Hearings:

  • Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings on the Situation in China, 80th Cong., 1st sess., July 19, 1947, 57-68.

Table of Contents

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W