Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 6: Claims 1794-1946

Chapter 6. Records of the Claims Committees

Table of Contents

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Claims (1794-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

6.15 The Committee on Claims is one of the oldest standing committees in the House of Representatives. It was established on November 13, 1794, having been preceded by select committees on claims. The committee was given the following jurisdiction:

    To take into consideration all petitions and matters or things touching claims and demands on the United States as shall be presented or shall or may come in question and be referred to them by the House, and to report their opinion thereon, together with such propositions for relief therein as to them shall seem expedient. 7

6.16 Select committees to deal with petitioners submitting claims had been appointed as early as the First Congress. The number of claims petitions soon proved sufficient to warrant the creation of a standing committee devoted solely to that subject, and soon after its establishment the committee found itself overwhelmed by the workload.

6.17 Originally the Committee on Claims had jurisdiction over Revolutionary War and land claims as well as pensions. According to congressional lore, the workload of the committee became so burdensome that the committee chairman, Stevenson Archer of Maryland, proposed that its jurisdiction be truncated, and that a Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims be established to manage that part of the case load. In the years that followed other committees were created to handle special types of claims such as war claims, pensions, and private land claims.

6.18 With the establishment of the various war claims and pension committees in the House, the jurisdiction of the Committee on Claims was restricted and certain classes of claims referred elsewhere. Under the 1880 revised House Rules subjects relating to "private and domestic claims and demands other than war claims against the United States" were to be referred to the Claims Committee. 8

6.19 Although the majority of the legislation reported by the committee was private in nature, it also reported general bills authorizing the Court of Claims to dispose of certain classes of claims, such as the French Spoilation Claims. In addition to claims for compensation for damages resulting from Government activities, the committee was responsible for the replacement of lost bonds, coupons, and checks drawn on the T reasury of the United States. It was also responsible for legislation concerning the adjustments of the accounts of the several States and Territories and the Government of the United States.

6.20 From the time of its establishment in 1794 the Claims Committee had reported appropriations of money for payment of claims it had authorized. 9 At the end of the 79th Congress the committee was abolished under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, and jurisdiction over the subjects that had formerly been referred to it was transferred either to the Judiciary Committee or the executive departments.

Records of the Committee on Claims, 3d-79th Congresses (1794-1946)


Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books22 vols.29th-57th (1845-1903)
Docket Books75 vols.19th-28th (1825-45), 30th-60th (1847-1909), 62nd-73rd (1911-34)
Bound records20 vols.3rd-39th (1794-1867)
Petitions & Memorials40 ft.4th (1793-95), 6th-40th (1799-1869), 42nd (1871-73), 45th-51st (1877-91), 54th (1895-97), 59th-61st (1905-11)
Committee Papers23 ft.3rd-7th (1793-1803), 9th-75th (1805-1938), 77th-79th (1941-46)
Bill Files272 ft.58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL:335 ft. and 117 vols. (28 ft.) 
Committee Records Summary Table


6.21 The minute books generally record the order of business in committee meetings, noting which committee member introduced a particular claim and usually the nature of the committee report on that claim--whether favorable or unfavorable. The docket books record the petitions and memorials that were referred to the committee. The earliest docket books list the claims in alphabetical order by name of claimant, but later volumes list the documents referred to the committee in chronological order by date of receipt. There are two or three docket volumes for many Congresses. Records of the 36th Congress (1859-61) include eight docket volumes containing transcribed Kansas Claims records.

6.22 Other bound records include several types of documents. Seven volumes contain transcribed committee reports covering the 3d through 21st Congresses (1794-1831). These transcribed reports are "record" copies of original reports found among the committee papers. Few of these reports have been published. There are four volumes of indexes to these reports and the original reports found in the committee papers files.

6.23 Three bound letter books contain transcribed copies of letters sent from the committee to other Government officials during the 21st through 39th Congresses (1829-67). They include letters to the Secretary of the Treasury, the Third Auditor, the Secretary of War, the Postmaster General, the Secretary of the Navy, and various military officers. Another bound volume contains an index to letters sent (1835-47).

6.24 Basically there are two types of unbound records for this committee: the petitions submitted by claimants, including documents providing evidence supporting the claims; and the documents generated by or for the committee, including reports from the Commissioners of Claims or from other Government officials, transcripts of hearings held by the committee, committee reports, and bills or resolutions reported by the committee. These types of documents exist for the entire history of the committee, although the series allocation and kind of information each type of document provides varies over time.

Petition of Andrew Jackson for relief from the whiskey tax, 02/12/1803 (page 1 of 5) Petition of Andrew Jackson for relief from the whiskey tax, 02/12/1803 (page 4 of 5)
Petition of Andrew Jackson for relief from the whiskey tax, February 12, 1803 (HR7A-F1.1) pages 1 and 4 of 5 from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  
6.25 Petitions and memorials exist for almost every Congress from the 3d to the 38th (1794-1865). These files consist primarily of the petitions and memorials submitted by claimants, but sometimes documents supporting a claim are included. The files range in size from about 7 inches per Congress before 1813 to about 20 inches per Congress from 1813 to 1865. After the 38th Congress the files are sparse and they no longer contain the bulk of the documents submitted to the committee. At the end of the 39th Congress and thereafter for each Congress through the 57th, the records relating to private legislation were collected from the Claims Committee and all other House committees handling such matters and interfiled in a large series known as "accompanying papers." After the 57th Congress the accompanying papers series was discontinued and the records are usually filed in the committee bill files.

6.26 The committee papers files cover roughly the same period as the petition and memorial files, and for much the same reason. Before the 39th Congress these files contain, almost exclusively, the original committee reports on the petitions and memorials that are found in the petition and memorial files. In some cases, however, the committee papers may include the original petition or memorial, additional original supporting papers or other documentation. This usually happened when the additional documents were sent to the public printer as exhibits for the printed committee report. Whatever the reason for their appearance in the committee papers, the researcher should be aware that original documentation may be found in either of these series--committee papers or petitions and memorials.

6.27 From 1865 to 1903, the committee reports that comprise the bulk of the committee papers are filed along with related documentation in the accompanying papers file for the appropriate Congress, under the name of the claimant. After 1903 they are filed in the committee bill files under the name of the claimant.

6.28 Records found in the early committee papers include an 1822 claim from the State of Tennessee for horses lost in the Seminole campaign (17A-C3.1), a 1832 claim from Samuel Meeker who maintained that he was not paid for goods he supplied to Aaron Burr's 1806 expedition in the south (22A-G3.1), a claim from the State of Alabama for losses sustained in the war with the Creek Indians (25A-D3.1, 27A-G3.1), and a claim from the heirs of Robert Fulton for steam boat service (27A-D3.1, 28A-D3.1).

6.29 Documents from the second half of the century include those of Roger Jones, the commanding officer who burned the arsenal at Harpers Ferry (37A-G1.1), a claim of H. H. McColley for land the War Department appropriated in 1870 for use as a military reservation near Camp McDermott, NM (43A-F5.1), and complaints and affidavits against C.F. Benjamin, a clerk of the Southern Claims Commission (44A-F5.1).

6.30 Records found among the committee papers from 1909-13 include Thomas Hoynes' claim for depredations by the Cheyenne Indians in 1867 (61A-F5.1), Richard Meade's perennial claim for merchandising in Spain in the early 1800's (61A-F5.2), and French Spoilation claims from as early as 1797 that were to be settled under the Act of January 20, 1885 (62A-F3.2). After the 58th Congress most of the claim records are found in the bill files.

6.31 The series of bill files that begins in 1903 consists of files of documents relating to each of the claims referred to the committee. The bill files for each Congress are arranged in alphabetical order by name of claimant, and contain all the documents related to each claim. They may contain the petition or memorial that initiated the claim, correspondence, bills or resolutions, hearing transcripts or printed hearings, committee reports, Commissioner of Claims reports, and a wide variety of support documents.

6.32 Many of the claims from the 20th century are from businesses that performed contract work for the Government such as the 1905 claim from builders of torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers who claimed that they lost money trying to build this new type of vessel (58A-D4), the claim of Willie Cramp & Sons who asserted that the firm lost money building the U.S.S. Indiana (60A-D3), and the Gadsden Contracting Company who claimed that their pile driver had been damaged in 1920 (66A-D4).


7 C annon, Clarence, Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington. Government Printing Office, 1935). vol. 7, page 814, para. 1992.

8 U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Pensions, Committee Print, "History of the House Committee on Pensions," available in the CIS Committee Prints Microfiche Collection, microfiche # 10969 (hereafter cited as Microfiche # 10969).

9 C annon, p. 813, para. 1992.

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. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.