Guide to House Records: Chapter 1
Chapter 1. An Introduction to Research in the Records of Congress
Textual Records in the National Archives Relating to the Records of Congress
1.131 Continental and Confederation Congresses, 1774-1789: The immediate predecessors to the modern Congress were the Continental and Confederation Congresses. The First and Second Continental Congresses met from 1774 through 1781; these bodies organized resistance to the British, drafted the Declaration of Independence, and managed the war effort during the Revolution. The Articles of Confederation, approved in 1781, established a new central government, the primary feature of which was a Congress. The Confederation Congress lasted from 1781 to 1789, when the new government established by the Constitution took effect. The records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses have been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publications M247, Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 and M332, Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. The original records are part of Record Group 360.
1.132 Original Enrolled Bills: The final version of a bill or joint resolution that is signed by the President, making it an Act of Congress, is called the enrolled version. These are published in the United States Statutes at Large. The originals, 1789-present, are among the General Records of the U.S. Government, Record Group 11. Portions of these records have been microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publications M337, Enrolled Original Acts and Resolutions of the U.S. Congress, 1789-1823, and M1326, Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 53d Congress, 2d Session--84th Congress, 2d Session, 1893-1956.
Related Records and Materials Outside the National Archives
Private Papers and Newspapers
1.133 Papers of Congressmen and Senators: There is often a close relationship between the private papers of legislators, particularly those who were committee chairmen, and official congressional committee records at the National Archives. Before the end of World War II, the amount of staff available to legislators was limited to several individuals and committee staffs were also extremely small by modern standards. Because the distinction between committee and personal staff available to legislators remained unclear until the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the distinction between the committee records and personal papers the staff maintained was also ambiguous. The result is that original committee records and copies of committee records are often in the private collections of individual legislators.
1.134 By tradition the papers of Members of Congress are considered the private property of the legislator. These collections have sometimes been destroyed, retained by the family, or donated to a repository. The Senate Historical Office produced the following publication that lists the locations of the extant papers of all senators who served from 1789-1982: Kathryn Allamong Jacob, editor, Guide to Research Collections of Former United States Senators, 1789-1982 (Washington: Senate Historical Office, 1983). Copies are available free of charge from the Senate Historical Office, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510. The House Office for the Bicentennial has prepared a similar compilation for House members: Cynthia Pease Miller, editor, A Guide to Research Collections of Former Members of the House of Representatives, 1789-1987 (Washington: Office of the Bicentennial of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1988).
1.135 The greatest concentration of papers of former legislators is in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. The Library has published a listing of their congressional materials: John J. McDonough, compiler, Members of Congress: A Checklist of Their Papers in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (Washington: Library of Congress, 1980).
1.136 Newspapers: Because members of Congress have long drawn the attention of political journalists, newspapers remain an excellent source of information on the opinions and activities of members. Often information that may not appear among the official records of Congress or the private papers of legislators can be gleaned from newspaper sources because many journalists enjoyed ready access to the politicians. While excellent as sources, newspapers have to be used with caution, since many of them, in the past particularly, have been overtly partisan in their point of view.
1.137 For the 1790's, researchers should consult the National Gazette (1791-93), published by Philip Freneau; the Gazette of the United States (1789-94), published by John Fenno; and the Philadelphia Aurora (1790-1835), published by Benjamin Franklin Bache and William Duane. The National Intelligencer, ultimately published by Joseph Gales and William Seaton, is probably the most authoritative source for the period from 1800 to the 1860's. By the mid-19th century a number of new papers devoted extensive coverage to Congress: New York Tribune (New York Herald Tribune), 1841-1964; New York Times, 1851-present; Boston Journal, 1833-1903; New York World, 1860-1931; Baltimore Sun, 1837-present; and the Washington Post, 1877-present. While all of these newspapers have been microfilmed, only The New York Times has been completely indexed. The Times Index will provide the dates of episodes that can be used to search other newspapers.
1.138 Architect of the Capitol: The records of the Architect of the Capitol consist of textual, photographic, and cartographic materials concerning the Capitol Building and grounds and other related buildings. These records date from the early 19th century to the present. In addition, because the Architect has had responsibility for a number of other buildings in the Washington, DC area, there are materials on the Supreme Court; the Library of Congress; Union Station; Gallaudet University; Columbia Hospital for Women; St. Elizabeths Hospital; the Washington, DC Jail; the Botanic Garden; the Patent Office; the Post Office; the Washington Aqueduct; and statues, monuments, and memorials.
1.139 Textual Records: The Architect's textual materials amount to about 500 linear feet that date from the 1800's to the present. Important correspondents include Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Frederick Law Olmsted, Robert Mills, David Lynn, Thomas U. Walter, George Stewart, Carrere & Hastings, William Strickland, Edward Clark, Montgomery C. Meigs, Jefferson Davis, and Joseph Henry. There is also extensive correspondence with such artists as Thomas Crawford, Constantino Brumidi, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Clark Mills, Randolph Rogers, and William Rinehart.
1.140 Photographic Records: The Architect maintains a collection of approximately 70,000 original photographic negatives that date from the 1850's to the present. These photographs relate principally to the Capitol itself (particularly construction projects), works of art (both paintings and sculptures), interiors of rooms, and pictures of ceremonial events such as inaugurals, joint sessions and meetings of Congress, and the unveiling of art works.
1.141 Architectural Records: The Architect also maintains approximately 70,000 architectural drawings that relate to the Capitol Building and its grounds, and other buildings under the jurisdiction of the Architect, such as congressional office buildings, Library of Congress buildings, and the Supreme Court Building, as well as several other public buildings in Washington, DC.
1.142 For further information researchers should write to: Curator for the Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol, Washington, DC 20515.
1.143 Senate Historical Office: The Senate Historical Office has collected from a number of institutions approximately 30,000 photographic copies of images that relate to the Senate. The collection is organized into the following categories: portraits of senators; committees, caucuses, and meetings; groups of senators; special events; presidents and vice presidents; cartoon collections and graphic prints; demonstrations, rallies, parades, visitors; officers and employees of the Senate; Senate photographer's prints; Capitol/Senate buildings and grounds; Arthur Scott negatives; Senate photographic studio negatives; Democratic Party negatives; King Library contacts and negatives; unprinted Historical Office negatives and contacts.
1.144 Researchers interested in viewing or obtaining copies of these materials should write to: Senate Historical Office, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
1.145 Office of Senate Curator: The Office of the Senate Curator maintains a collection of approximately 400 original prints and cartoons that relate to the Senate. The collection dates from the 1840s to the early 20th centuries. For more information contact the Office of Senate Curator, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
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. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.