Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 2

Records of the Agriculture Committee

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

2.1 The Committee on Agriculture was created on May 3, 1820 to provide a forum for the interests of the large agricultural population of the country. Representative Lewis Williams recognized the need for such a forum as he introduced the Resolution that established the committee:

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Petition from John Muir and other founders of Sierra Club protesting a bill to reduce the size of Yosemite National Park, 1893 (HR52A-H2.12). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

Gentlemen, say that there are, in this country, three interests, the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing. And how happens it, sir, that the agricultural, the great leading and substantial interest in this country, has no committee—no organized tribunal in this House to hear and determine on their grievances? If commercial or manufacturing interests are affected the cry resounds throughout the country; remonstrances flow in upon us; they are referred to committees appointed for the purpose of guarding them, and adequate remedies are provided. 1

2.2 The formal jurisdiction of the committee thus created was defined to include matters relating to agriculture, and, after the revision of rules of 1880 it also included those related to forestry. A wide range of subjects fell under this formal jurisdiction, and the committee reported legislation for: The establishment and regulation of the Department of Agriculture, and of the Weather Bureau; the creation and maintenance of agricultural colleges and experiment stations; the regulation of animal related industries, the eradication of animal diseases, and the inspection of livestock and meat products; the regulation of the import and export of trees, scrubs, etc.; the effects of tariffs on agriculture; the adulteration of seeds and foods, and the production of imitation dairy products; the extermination of insect pests, and the protection of birds and animals in forest reserves; improvement of horse breeds, with one objective being the improvement of cavalry horses; and other related subjects.

2.3 The Agriculture Committee reported the appropriations bills for the Department of Agriculture between 1880 and 1920, after which time this duty was returned to the Appropriations Committee.

2.4 During the 20th century, the committee's jurisdiction expanded to include new subjects related to agriculture, and it reported legislation regarding an internal revenue tax on oleomargarine and taxes on cotton and grain futures; the Farmers Home Administration and farm credit; meat inspection; commodity programs, including the sugar program; domestic food distribution; rural electrification; and foreign assistance.

2.5 Under the Legislative Reorganization of 1946 the jurisdiction of the committee was not changed significantly, but was formalized to include the following subjects:

(a) Adulteration of seeds, insect pests, and protection of birds and animals in forest reserves. (b) Agriculture generally. (c) Agricultural and industrial chemistry. (d) Agricultural colleges and experiment stations. (e) Agricultural economics and research. (f) Agricultural education extension services. (g) Agricultural production and marketing and stabilization of prices of agricultural products. (h) Animal industry and soil quarantine. (i) Crop insurance and soil conservation. (j) Dairy industry. (k) Entomology and plant quarantine. (l) Extension of farm credit and farm security. (m) Forestry in general, and forest reserves other than those created from the public domain. (n) Human nutrition and home economics. (o) Inspection of livestock and meat products. (p) Plant industry, soils, and agricultural engineering. (q) Rural electrification. 2

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Records of the Committee on Agriculture, 16th-79th Congresses (1820-1946)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 3 vols. 47th-51st (1881-91)
Docket Books 11 vols. 31st-35th (1849-59), 38th (1863-65), 45th-51st (1877-91), 54th (1895-97)
Petitions & Memorials 26 ft. 16th-27th (1820-43), 30th-36th (1847-61), 39th (1865-67), 45th-54th (1877-97), 60th-61st (1907-11), 63rd-79th (1913-46)
Committee Papers 19 ft. 16th-17th (1820-23), 19th-23rd (1825-35), 25th-27th (1837-43), 30th-31st (1847-51), 42nd-44th (1871-77), 46th (1879-81), 48th-52nd (1883-93), 54th (1895-97), 60th (1907-09), 63rd-64th (1913-17), 66th-79th (1919-46)
Bill Files 12 ft. 63d-79th (1913-46)
TOTAL: 57 ft. and 14 vols. (1 ft., 2 in.)  

2.6 There are few minute books or docket books from this committee. The minute books contain a record of committee meetings for only a ten-year period of the committee's history. The docket books are useful in that they document the receipt of legislation and petitions and memorials by the committee, and often record the referral of such documents within the committee. The docket book for the 47th Congress (1881-83), for example, shows how the chairman distributed bills, resolutions, petitions, memorials, and executive communications among the following subcommittees:

  • Appropriations
  • Animals
  • Building and Grounds
  • Elevation of the Department
  • Farm Products
  • Lands and the Arid Region
  • Miscellaneous (other than appropriations)
  • Salaries and Employees
  • Seeds, Plants & Adulteration of Food
  • Statistics and Entomology

2.7 The oldest records of the committee are petitions and memorials that were referred to the committee, and original copies of the reports on these documents that were written by the committee. The earliest of these include a memorial from the United Agricultural Society of Virginia "against the use of protective tariffs except for the purpose of generating revenue" (16A-D2.1), a memorial from the New York County Agricultural Society proposing duty-free importation of seeds for use in agricultural experimentation (17A-F1.1), and petitions from the citizens of New Bedford and the inhabitants of Nantucket against a duty on imported tallow (18A-F1.1).

2.8 A large number of petitions and memorials during the early years were from individuals who proposed to introduce new crops or farming methods into the country, but who could not do so unless Congress provided financial assistance. Samuel Saunders, for example, petitioned Congress in 1825 in the interest of "the benefits to be derived to this young and growing country by the successful introduction into it of a variety of the best vines of foreign origin" and asked Congress to pass legislation to encourage the exchange of grape vines (19A-G1.1); and John Adlum offered to write a memoir describing the techniques he had developed to cultivate grapes and make wine from the vines indigenous to the Washington, DC area if Congress would appropriate funds to have the memoir published (20A-G2.2).

2.9 The cultivation of mulberry trees preparatory to the introduction of silk culture in the United States was the subject of numerous petitions during the mid-19th century. Jacob Clark (20A- G2.1) and Peter DuPoncean (21A-D1.2) both petitioned Congress to pass legislation encouraging mulberry bush culture, while Jonathan Cobb, a manufacturer of silk stockings provided documentation of the quality and desirability of the products of silk culture (22A-G2.1). The American Silk Society submitted a memorial stating its belief that silk could be produced profitably in every State in the union, and included a printed copy of the journal of its annual meeting in 1839 as supporting documentation (25A-G1.1).

2.10 Dr. Henry Perrine, the U.S. Consul to Campeche, Mexico, submitted several proposals between 1831 and 1839 for the introduction of tropical plants into the United States (22A-D2.1, 23A- G1.1, 25A-D2.1, 25A-G1.1), and Henry Lochere of Washington County, MD, petitioned for compensation for his contribution to the agriculture of the young nation, which was the introduction of the use of clover as a manure crop on high land (23A-G1.1). Other subjects of petitions and memorials included the culture of sugar beets, the distribution of seeds, and an import duty on hay (25A-G1.1)

2.11 The need for a federal agency to promote the interests of American agriculture was evident early. Before he left the Presidency in 1796, George Washington recommended that Congress authorize the creation of a national board of agriculture, but no action was taken. Many citizens agreed with him, however, and the Agriculture Committee received suggestions for the creation of a variety of agriculture-related agencies. Memorialists proposed an agricultural and mechanical department (25A-G1.1), a department of agriculture and education (26A-G1.2), agricultural schools with dairies (30A-G2.1, 35A-G1.2), and a department of agriculture (30A-G2.1, 32A-G2.1, 33A-G2.1). In 1850, memorialists waged an organized campaign; printed petitions calling for the establishment of a bureau of agriculture were received from eight states (31A-G1.1), but they proved ineffective. It was 1862 before an agricultural department was finally created. The thrust of petitions then shifted to demand that the department be raised to cabinet level (45A-H2.4, 46A-H2.3, 50A-H1.6), a goal achieved in 1889.

2.12 Plagues and diseases of plants and animals were the common and persistent problems addressed by petitioners. Beginning in 1848 potato rot disease was the subject of numerous petitions, many of them from researchers claiming to have discovered cures for the disease and asking for remuneration (30A-G2.1, 31A-G1.2). The records of the 31st Congress (1849-51) contain a copy of a 91-page treatise by Charles Richardson on the subject of "Potato Rot and Marsh Miasma." Contagious diseases such as pleuropneumonia or "lung plague" in cattle was the subject of much concern during the late 19th century (36A-G1.1, 45A-H2.3, 46A-H2.2, 47A-H2.1, 48A-H2.4, 49A-H2.5). Other petitions and memorials concerned extermination of the gypsy moth (54A-H1.1) and control of various plant diseases (52A-H2.1).

2.13 Other 19th-century petitions discuss a homestead bill granting land only to persons who would settle on it and make improvements (32A-G2.1, 33A-G2.3); the use of Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury's system of meteorological observation for the benefit of agriculture (34A-G1.1); the adulteration of food and drugs (45A-H2.1, 46A-H2.1, 50A-H1.9, 51A-H1.4, 52A-H2.6); the transmission of bees in the mails (45A-H2.7); the manufacture, sale and taxation of oleomargarine or "compound lard" (46A-H2.4, 49A-H2.3, 49A-H2.8, 51A-H1.4 and H1.5); speculation in agricultural commodities (46A-H2.5, 51A-H1.6, 52A-H2.8); forest lands (45A-H2.5, 50A-H1.3); the investigation of wheat price fixing by millers, railroads, and elevators (52A-H2.3); appropriations for the extermination of the gypsy moth (54A-H1.1); and many other subjects.

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Map from John Muir and other founders of Sierra Club protesting a bill to reduce the size of Yosemite National Park (HR52A-H2.12). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

2.14 From the turn of the century until 1913 (56th-63d Congresses) few petitions or memorials have been preserved. Between 1913 and 1946 the subjects of petitions and memorials include cucumber diseases (63A-H1.6), bird protection (63A-H1.2, 64A-H1.1), vocational education (63A-H1.8, 64A-H1.7), foot-and-mouth disease (63A-H1.10), food prices (63A-H1.9), pure food and drugs (64A- H1.14), rural credits (64A-H1.15, 65A-H1.16), the cost of living (66A-H1.2), daylight-savings time (66A-H1.3), prohibition and the repeal of prohibition (64, 66A), price stabilization (66), food speculation (65A-H1.9), the fertilizer shortage (65A-H1.7), filled or imitation milk (67A-H1.3), increased appropriations for agricultural experimentation stations (68A-H1.5), and other subjects.

2.15 Following the World War I the subject of farm relief began to appear among the petitions and memorials, 1925-36 (69A-H1.6, 70A-H1.4, 71A-H1.1, 73A-H1.7, 74A-H1.5). Farmers petitioned Congress to provide legislative solutions for the severe postwar depression that hit American agriculture when wartime markets vanished and prices for agricultural commodities plummeted. The "Hurry-up" petition of 1920 (66A-H1.9), signed by 6,711 northwestern farmers demanding government action to alleviate economic hardship is an example of these. Memorialists demanded farm production profit guarantees (65A-H1.6), guaranteed prices for wheat (66A-H1.4) and corn (65A-H1.3), price stabilization (67A-H1.8), and the establishment of the Federal Farm Board to aid in the marketing and control of farm products (69A-H1.4).

2.16 The 1924 McNary-Haugen bill which sought to prevent glutted markets by controlling surplus commodities and stabilizing prices was the subject of hundreds of memorials (68A-H1.2, 4 in.) most of them favoring the bill. The 1924 memorial of the Kittson County Export League is characteristic of many:

When the economic conditions of the country become so unbalanced that a large percentage of the people who are engaged in agriculture cannot get enough returns from the products of their labor to enable them to continue in business we believe it is self evident that a national emergency exists that calls for Congressional action to restore the purchasing power of the products of the farm to parity with the products of industry and labor... We respectfully ask that our representatives in Congress and in the U.S. Senate do everything in their power to secure the enactment of legislation such as is embodied in the McNary-Haugen bill (68A-H1.2).

Other organizations, such as the International Farm Congress of America, opposed the legislation because it constituted an indirect method of fixing the prices of farm products.

2.17 Later memorialists demanded passage of the Frazier-Lemke farm mortgage refinancing bill in 1935-38 (75A-H1.3, 76A-H1.4) and suggested legislation concerning loans (76A-H1.7), interest rates (76A-H1.6), parity prices for agricultural products (77A-H1.3), crop insurance (78A-H1.3), cooperatives (76A-H1.1), farm credit (76A-H1.4, 78A-H1.5), incentive payments (78A-H1.10), funding of school lunch programs (78A-H1.17, 79A-H1.4) and, a roll back of farm prices (78A-H1.15). The Agricultural Adjustment Acts of 1933 and 1938 and their amendments prompted memorials for many years (74A-H1.1, 77A-H1.1, 78A-H1.1); these acts were intended to establish parity between farm income and the national income.

2.18 The committee papers from the earliest years of the committee (1820-48) consist primarily of the original copies of committee reports on petitions and memorials. In some cases they contain supporting documents that were submitted to the committee to accompany petitions or memorials. For example, Peter DuPoncean, mentioned earlier as a petitioner (see para. 2.9), was a Philadelphia lawyer and horticulturist who was so concerned about the failure of the "mulberry bill" to pass during the 20th Congress (1827-29) that he made additional scientific observations, corresponded with a French expert, and submitted his findings to the committee (21A-D1.1).

2.19 After the 48th Congress (1883-85) the committee papers files consist of copies of the bills and resolutions that were referred to the committee and a correspondence file that is usually arranged by subject. The correspondence subjects are often closely related to the subjects of pending legislation. Beginning in the 76th Congress the committee papers contain a series of executive communications that consists primarily of correspondence and reports from the Department of Agriculture.

2.20 Numerous transcripts of unprinted hearings are among the records. Testimony taken at committee hearings may be filed under the appropriate subject heading in the correspondence subject files, or testimony from several hearings may be filed under the heading "hearings" in the correspondence file. After 1903 transcripts of testimony may also be found in the bill files. The records include transcripts of some very early hearings before the committee, such as a May 5, 1886 hearing on H.R. 2318 and H.R. 2506, "Extending the benefits of the U.S. Signal Corps for the relief of farmers" (49A-F2.3) and a May 1888 hearing on "The development of arid regions of the west by irrigation" (50A-F2.2).

2.21 Transcripts of six hearings that were never published are in the bill files from 1933-34 (73A-D1), filed along with correspondence and other records relating to specific bills or resolutions. The committee papers of 1943-46 (78A-F2.2, 79A-F2.2) contain unpublished hearing transcripts, filed together under the heading "hearings." In order to locate all of the records that relate to a given subject, bill or resolution, a researcher must search both the committee papers file and the bill files.

2.22 The bill files are uneven in the amount of documentation they provide. In some cases they contain copies of printed bills, resolutions, committee reports and hearings; transcripts of unprinted hearings; correspondence; and related petitions and memorials. In other cases the files contain no unpublished material. Much of the correspondence consists of comments on legislation from the Department of Agriculture. The subjects of the unprinted transcripts of hearings include the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1934 (73A-D1), a 1944 investigation into the tobacco and cigarette shortage (78A-D2), and 1920 cold storage legislation (66A-D1).

2.23 The bill file for H.R. 3157, 66th Congress, the Agriculture Department appropriations bill, contains the engrossed bill as well as Woodrow Wilson's message of July 11, 1919 vetoing the legislation because of a rider repealing a daylight-savings law (66A-D1).

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Records of the Committee on Agriculture, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minutes 3 ft. 84th-90th (1955-68)
Petitions & Memorials 3 ft. 80th-88th (1947-64), 90th (1967-68)
Committee Papers 53 ft. 80th-90th (1947-68)
Bill Files 9 ft. 80th-85th (1947-58)
TOTAL: 68 ft.  

2.24 The minutes from the 80th-83d Congresses (1947-53) are not among the records in the National Archives, but those for the 84th through 90th Congresses contain an unusually thorough record of the activities of the full committee and its subcommittees. The minutes of the full committee and subcommittees are recorded on loose-leaf pages and arranged in chronological order, so that all the subcommittee and full committee meetings for a given day are filed together. They contain records of executive as well as open sessions, and usually contain an outline of the business covered at each meeting, as well as the counts from roll-call votes. Other than the minutes, there are no records of the subcommittees in the National Archives.

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Minutes from the Committee on Agriculture on January 29, 1975. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

2.25 Small numbers of petitions and memorials document the opinions of individuals, agricultural organizations, and State legislatures regarding subjects such as foot and mouth disease, forestry, parity pricing, agricultural research, rural electrification, soil conservation, the Steagall Amendment to the Commodity Credit Act, and the sale of submarginal lands (80A-H1); oleomargarine, price supports, the Federal Farm Loan Act, and the fruit fly (81A-H1); sugar quotas, surplus farm commodities, weed control on federally owned land, and wheat for Pakistan (83A-H1); the humane slaughter of livestock and poultry (85A-H1); a stamp plan for the distribution of surplus food, and the amendment and extension of the Sugar Act of 1948 (87A-H1), and various other subjects.

2.26 Over half of the committee papers consist of executive communications (31 ft.), most of which are letters from the Secretary of Agriculture transmitting a wide variety of reports, recommendations, and legislation. The executive communications transmitted by the Secretary in 1955 and 1956, for instance, included: Reports from the Farm Credit Administration, the Federal Extension Service, the Administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, and the Mexican-U.S. Commission for the Prevention of Foot-and-Mouth Disease; drafts of legislation to amend the Federal Farm Loan Act, the Commodity Exchange Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, and the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act; and a variety of other communications. The executive communications for the 88th-90th Congresses are segregated with papers dealing with watershed projects are all filed together as a readily identifiable segment of the series.

2.27 The records of the 81st, 82d, and 84th through 86th Congresses contain transcripts of unprinted hearings. They are on such subjects as: Anthrax (1952), the importation of certain giant snails into the country (1950), watershed policies (1960), tobacco marketing quotas and acreage allotments (1951), a Mexican labor agreement (1949), floricultural products (1952), the use of MH-30 to eliminate the problem of suckers (1960), chicken respiratory diseases (1952), foot-and-mouth disease (1949) and a foot-and-mouth disease laboratory (1952). The committee paper files usually contain copies of the committee calendar for most Congresses and copies of all the printed hearings and committee prints produced by the committee during that Congress. Also included for most Congresses are the original Messages from the President that were referred to the committee; an example is Harry S. Truman's message of April 3, 1950 on Agricultural Adjustment Act Amendments and price supports for potatoes (81A-F1.3).

2.28 Bill files for the 80th through 85th Congresses consist primarily of copies of all bills and resolutions referred to the committee, accompanied by copies of the printed committee reports and printed hearings. Some of the bill files for the 80th, 83d, and 87th Congresses contain communications from the Department of Agriculture regarding the legislation. The bill files from the 82d Congress contain several transcripts of unprinted hearings.

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Records of the Committee on Agriculture, 91st-99th Congresses (1969-1986)

2.29 The records of this committee consist of about 8 feet of records per Congress from the 91st-93rd Congresses (1969-75), and over 20 feet per Congress for the years after 1975.

The records from each Congress include bill files, executive communications, and petitions and memorials that were referred to the committee; minutes of meetings; copies of committee prints and printed hearings; committee calendars; and watershed project files. Beginning with the 94th Congress, the full committee and subcommittee general correspondence files are preserved. These files are extensive, totaling over 20 feet for the 97th Congress (1981-1982).

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1 Annals of the Congress of the United States, 16th Cong., 1st sess., April 29, 1820, p. 2142. [Return to text]

2 U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Ninetieth Congress, H. Doc. 529, 89th Cong., 2d sess., 1967, p. 329. [Return to text]

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 (House Document 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.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

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