Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 3

Records of the Committee on Appropriations

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

3.1 The Constitution of the United States specifies that "All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills." Over the years the prerogative of the House to originate appropriation bills (as well as other types of revenue-raising bills) has been the subject of numerous controversies, but, "while there has been dispute as to the theory, there has been no deviation from the practice that the general appropriation bills (as distinguished from special bills appropriating for single, specific purposes) originate in the House of Representatives."1

3.2 The earliest appropriations bills were written by select committees on instruction from the Committee of the Whole House, and later ones by the standing Committee on Ways and Means. As the appropriation requirements of the government became more complex, the number of separate appropriation bills prepared each year grew from one in 1789 to as many as 21 during the 1850s. By that time the Ways and Means Committee controlled all of the appropriation bills but three: general public works, lighthouses and associated expenses, and rivers and harbors. 2

3.3 With the coming of the Civil War, increased demands for revenue and appropriations combined to produce a tremendous workload for the Ways and Means Committee. Consequently, that part of the committee's jurisdiction relating to appropriations was invested in a newly created Committee on Appropriations which was charged with "the examination of the estimates of the Departments and exclusively the consideration of all appropriations."3 Thaddeus Stevens, who was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, surrendered that position in order to chair the new committee. Within a short time the Appropriations Committee itself was overburdened by a heavy workload, partly because House rules allowed the committee to add germane legislation to appropriations bills. This practice contributed to the jealousy of members of other committees, and demands for the dispersal of appropriations bills to the authorizing committees.4

3.4 Between 1877 and 1885 eight appropriations bills were transferred from the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee to the committees with legislative jurisdiction. The agriculture bill, army bill, navy bill, Indian bill, District of Columbia bill, post office bill, rivers and harbors bill, and diplomatic and consular bill were given to the appropriate authorizing committees, while the Appropriations Committee retained jurisdiction of the fortification, legislative, executive and judicial, pension, sundry civil, and deficiency bills only.5 Jurisdiction over the appropriations bills remained disbursed among the several committees until the House Rule reforms of 1920, when the responsibility for all general appropriation bills was again centralized in the Appropriations Committee.

3.5 The jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee since 1865 has been defined as including "appropriation of the revenue for the support of the government" except for the period between 1885 and 1920 when House rules specified the particular appropriation bills for which the committee was responsible.6

Back to Top

Records of the Appropriations Committee, 39th-79th Congresses (1865-1946)

Record Type Volume    Congresses (Dates)
Petitions & Memorials      10 ft. 39th-64th (1865-1917), 66th (1919-21), 73d (1933-34), 75th-76th (1937-41)
Committee Papers 172 ft. 39th-76th (1865-1941), 78th (1943-44)
Total volume 182 ft.  

3.6 The records of this committee are incomplete and archival (unpublished) documentation is missing entirely for a large part of its history. There are no minute books and docket books in the custody of the National Archives. Minute books from 1865 to the present do exist, but they are in the Appropriations Committee offices in the Capitol Building.

3.7 The petitions and memorials referred to the Appropriations Committee included the types of requests that had been referred to the Ways and Means Committee prior to 1865. The subjects they cover are numerous and varied. Although they reflect the changing interests of constituents, some kinds of requests remained fairly constant. Appeals for special appropriations for the relief of victims of disasters appear regularly among the petitions and memorials as do proposals to increase funding for specific Government programs and prayers for the appropriation of funds to finance special commemorative ceremonies and expositions, to build or improve certain Government buildings, and to provide salary increases for Government employees.

3.8 The petitions received during the early decades of the committee's existence also reflect the wide range of unique activities that the government was asked to support. Among the first petitions received by the new committee was a proposal to appropriate funds for a reward for the apprehension of the assassin John Wilkes Booth (39A-H2.2). Other early petitions include an appeal for appropriations for the removal of the wreck of the steam ship Scotland at Sandy Hook, NJ (39A-H2.2).

3.9 Some petitions received between 1865 and 1881 appeal for relief for destitute colored women and children (46A-H3.5); others demand financial aid for building projects such as the construction of a bridge across the Mississippi River at Rock Island, IL (40A-H1.2) and a signal station on Block Island, RI (44A-H1.8). Petitions for pay increases for Government employees and for the construction of buildings to house post offices and other Government functions appear repeatedly in the records of this period.

3.10 During this period also, demands for Government support for scientific research are evidenced by petitions and memorials requesting funding for such purposes as an Arctic exploring expedition to be led by Captain C. F. Hall (41A-H1.4), the free distribution of agricultural seeds by the government (44A-H1.3), the establishment of a national medical library in Washington, D.C. (44A-H1.5), the development of a scientific method of testing iron and steel (44A-H1.6, 45A-H3.2), the appointment of a committee of entomologists to study the boll weevil (46A-H3.1), and surveys of the Black Hills in Dakota Territory (46A-H3.9).

3.11 The petitions and memorials from the 1880-1900 period generally cover the same types of subjects. Numerous citizens submitted proposals in support of the development of scientific, cultural, and educational enterprises, requesting appropriations for a telegraphic cable between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, MA (47A-H3.13); for the Government Hydrographic Office (47A-H3.6, 49A-H3.3, 50A-H2.7) and the National Board of Health; for the control of contagious diseases (47A-H3.7); for education in Alaska (48A-H3.1) and education of the Indians (48A- H3.2); for the purchase of the Rand and Ordway collection of photographic negatives of the Civil War (48A-H3.10); for the organization of a steam transportation section in the National Museum (49A-H3.8); and, for the preservation and publication of the records of the Continental Congress (54A-G3.2).

3.12 During the last two decades of the century petitioners sought funding for the relief of victims of storms, floods, and droughts (48A-H3.12, 49A-H3.11, 50A-H3.5, 52A-H3.6); for payments for damages caused by improvements to the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers in Wisconsin (49A-H3.10); for the payment of a bounty to sugar producers in 1894 (53A-H3.4); for aid to various social service activities (49A-H3.2); the establishment of marine hospitals (48A-H3.4) and construction of a new building for the Government Printing Office (52A-H3.1, 53A-H3.1). Other citizens suggested that the Government support international meetings and exhibitions held in the United States by helping to defray the expenses of such events as the 1887 International Medical Congress (49A-H3.1) and the 1893 Pan American Medical Congress (52A-H3.5), both held in Washington, DC, and by appropriating funds for a Government exhibit at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition at Atlanta, GA (53A-H3.2). Some petitioners called for the enforcement of certain laws such as one regulating the sale of oleomargarine (50A-H2.2) and others protested the appropriation of funds for sectarian purposes (54A- H3.3, 55A-H1.2) and the passage of legislation endangering the preservation of forest reserves (55A-H1.1).

3.13 Between 1900 and 1921 citizens looked to the Government to finance scientific investigations to determine the working conditions of women employed in the industries of the United States (59A-H1.2), the extent of pollution of the Great Lakes (62A-H1.5), and the causes of influenza (66A-H2.5). They advocated tuberculosis research (63A-H2.10) and the establishment of a psychophysical laboratory in the Interior Department (57A-H1.2); and demanded protection for the weak in society through enforcement of such legislation as the White Slave Traffic Act (62A-H1.8, 63A-H2.11) and adequate funding for such agencies as the Children's Bureau (63A-H2.1), the U.S. Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board (66A-H2.1), and the U.S. Employment Service (66A-H2.7). Other petitioners championed the causes of persons who suffered from disasters such as the heirs of the passengers who perished when the steamer General Slocum burned in New York harbor in 1904 (60A-H3.6).

3.14 Petitioners also supported the preservation of battle monuments (56A-H1.1) and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace (61A-H2.4) and protested the abolishment of pension offices in the States and the consolidation of pension activities in the Washington, DC office (59A-H1.1, 60A-H3.2, 61A-H2.1) and the proposed fortification of the Panama Canal (63A-H2.8). Some petitioners sought funding for a veteran's encampment at Vicksburg, MS, intended to commemorate the Civil War semicentennial (63A-H2.4) and for road construction and improvement (60A-H3.7). Others favored enforcement of anti-trust laws against labor unions (63A-H2.6) and the adoption of a new national budget system (66A-H2.6).

3.15 The petition and memorial files for this committee are missing for the 67th through 79th Congresses (1921- 46) except for three Congresses: the 73d, 75th, and 76th. These three Congresses cover most of the Great Depression years, and the petitions and memorials reflect the economic conditions in the nation. Petitioners were concerned about the funding of relief agencies such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and some of its programs: The Federal Art, Theatre, and Music projects (75A-H2.6, 76A-H2.16, 76A-H2.4, 76A-2.6, and 76A-H2.7). They demanded additional aid for public works (73A-H2.1), emergency aid for public schools (73A-H2.4, 75A-H2.1), and the restoration of benefits to war-disabled veterans (73A-H2.12). They also requested funding for public health activities and research (73A-H2.9), the control of venereal diseases (76A-H2.15), flood control and flood relief (75A-H2.3), and a study of Dutch elm disease (76A-H2.3). Not all petitioners wanted to expend Federal funds, however; some advocated the reduction of federal expenditures (75A-H2.5).

3.16 There are committee papers for every Congress from the creation of the committee in 1865 until 1944, with the exception of the 77th Congress (1941-42). There are three distinct periods in the arrangement of the committee papers files of this committee: the committee papers from the 1865-87 period are a continuation of the pre-1865 Ways and Means committee papers, the 1887-1919 files are arranged by appropriation bill name, and the 1919-45 files consist primarily of committee correspondence files bound into volumes and indexed. Records from subcommittee investigations in the 76th and 78th Congresses account for 50 ft. of the committee papers (see para. 3.23). There are no unpublished records of the committee for the years between 1945 and 1977.

3.17 The committee papers from the first 22 years of the committee's existence (1865-87) are arranged by executive department or agency and consist primarily of documents demonstrating the work of each organization, and its need for funding. In addition to the Agency files, certain records are filed by subject such as the records relating to the 1882 yellow fever epidemic in Florida and Texas (47A-F3.20). The records are substantially an extension of those of the Ways and Means Committee prior to 1865, reflecting that committee's filing practices and the influence of Chairman Stevens.

3.18 The committee papers for most Congresses during this period include records for the executive Departments--Navy, Post Office, Treasury, State, War, Agriculture, Interior, and Justice. These Department records are sometimes further broken down and filed by bureaus or programs within the departments; the records of the Interior Department, for instance, are variously filed under the following subcategories: Indians, General Land Office, Pensions, Patent Office, personnel, public buildings, commissions, public lands, and a general category. The records consist of correspondence describing the personnel, conditions, resources, needs, programs, and other data relative to the appropriations of the Agency or Department.

3.19 In addition to records for the executive departments, files relating to claims, the District of Columbia, the Smithsonian Institution, federal courts including the Court of Claims, the House of Representatives, the Office of the Public Printer, and the Library of Congress are found regularly among the records between 1865 and 1887. During this period, committee correspondence is documented in two letterpress copy books which contain copies of the outgoing correspondence of the committee between the 40th and 51st Congresses, 1867-91 (40A-G2.21, 46A- F3.23).

3.20 Between the 50th and 65th Congresses (1887-1919) the committee papers consist primarily of correspondence and other documents arranged by the appropriation bill to which they relate. These records can be difficult to search because they are arranged by the appropriation bill name rather than number, and the bills from both legislative sessions may be filed under the same heading. The sundry civil expenses appropriation bills for 1887 and for 1888, for instance, were filed together under the heading "sundry civil expenses bill (50A-F3.5)". It was during this period that the appropriations bills were dispersed among the authorizing committees, and the Appropriations Committee controlled only six of the bills. The records for this period generally consist of files on the following: the District of Columbia bill, the fortifications bill, the deficiency bill, the pension bill, the sundry civil expenses bill, and the legislative, executive and judicial bill.

3.21 Beginning in the 66th Congress (1919-21) the committee papers consist largely of bound volumes of incoming letters received. The letters are arranged chronologically and are numbered and indexed. The index cards are preserved along with the correspondence in most cases. These correspondence files may be quite voluminous; for instance, the correspondence file for 1921-23 (67A-F2.2) includes 801 letters (18 in.) and a card file indexing the letters (9 in.).

3.22 Approximately 45 feet of records document the work of the Subcommittee On The Works Progress Administration (WPA) during 78th Congress (1939-40). The subcommittee was established in response to a House Resolution submitted by Eugene Cox authorizing the investigation of the WPA. The final report of the subcommittee described the results as follow: ". . . the investigation has had a very wholesome effect upon the administration of the work program under the direction of the W.P.A. . . . There has been a noticeable trend of better administration commencing with the authorization for the investigation and continuing on a rising curve." 7

3.23 The records of the subcommittee (76A-F2.2, 45 ft.) include a general correspondence file (8 ft.); administrative records of the subcommittee (2 ft.); reports of subcommittee investigators (3 ft.); transcripts of hearings, including exhibits and material submitted but not incorporated into the transcripts (4 ft.); payrolls of WPA employees (1 ft.); records of J.O. Roberts, the subcommittee counsel (2 ft.); and various records of investigations (28 ft.). National Archives Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives: Subcommittee on the Works Progress Administration provides detailed lists of the folder titles for these records.

3.24 The Appropriations Committee Subcommittee To Investigate Subversive Activities was appointed to investigate the charges made on the floor of the House by Martin Dies on February 1, 1943 against 39 named employees of the Federal Government. The records of the subcommittee (78A-F3.2, 5 ft.) include administrative records (4 in.); transcripts of executive session hearings (3 in.); and investigative records relating to certain government employees including staff memoranda, investigative reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, transcripts of testimony taken by the House Un-American Activities Committee and other documents (4 ft., 6 in.).

Back to Top

Records of the Appropriations Committee, 79th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

3.25 There are no unpublished records from this committee from the 1947-68 period.

Back to Top


1. Asher C. Hinds, Hind's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907) vol. 2, p. 973. See also "The Supply Bills" by Hon. John Sharp Williams printed as S. Doc. 872, 62d Cong., 2d sess, 1912. [Back to text]

2. Walter Kravitz, "A Brief History of Appropriation Committees and Procedure in Congress Before 1867," [April 18, 1983], Legislative Reference Service Report, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., p. 29. [Back to text]

3. Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 2d sess., Mar. 2, 1865, p.1312. [Back to text]

4. Congressional Record, 89th Cong., 1st sess., Mar. 2, 1965,p. 3960. [Back to text]

5. Clarence Cannon, Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935) vol.7 , p. 717. [Back to text]

6. See for example Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 52d Cong., 1st sess., Appendix p. ii. [Back to text]

7. U.S. Congress, House, H. Rept. 2187, 76th Cong., 3d sess., 1940, p. 6. [Back 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 (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.

Return to the Table of Contents for the Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives