Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 6: Invalid Pensions 1831-1946

Chapter 6. Records of the Claims Committees

Table of Contents

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Committee on Invalid Pensions (1831-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

6.46 The committee was created on January 10, 1831 with jurisdiction over matters relating to pensions for disabled veterans. Originally, the jurisdiction of the committee included pensions from the War of 1812. The committee had become so overburdened with pensions from the Civil War, that on March 26, 1867, jurisdiction for pensions from the War of 1812 was transferred to the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions. Subsequently, jurisdiction of the Committee on Invalid Pensions included only matters relating to pensions of the Civil War, with the committee reporting general and special bills authorizing payments of pensions and bills for relief of soldiers of that war.

6.47 In 1939 the jurisdiction of the committee was changed to include, "the pensions of all the wars of the United States and peace-time service, other than the Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Boxer Rebellion, and World War"13, while those pensions that fell in the excluded categories were tended to by the Committee on Pensions.

6.48 The committee was abolished under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 and its jurisdiction transferred, in large part, to the executive agencies.

Records of the Committee on Invalid Pensions (1831-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books23 vols.36th-55th (1859-99), 66th-70th (1919-29), 72nd (1932-33), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Docket Book172 vols.22nd-27th (1831-43), 29th (1845-47), 31st-34th (1849-57), 36th-68th (1859-1925)
Petitions & Memorials52 ft.22nd-40th (1831-69), 42nd-63rd (1871-1915), 67th (1921-23), 69th (1925-27)
Committee Papers13 ft.22nd-79th (1831-1946)
Bill Files571 ft.58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL:636 ft. and 195 vols. (33 ft.) 
Committee Records Summary Table


6.49 The minute books document attendance at meetings, the reporting of subcommittees to the full committee, and occasionally the appearance of witnesses before the committee.

6.50 The docket books provide access to information that might otherwise be very difficult to obtain. This is especially true for the period between the 39th and 55th Congresses when documents from this committee are intermixed with those from other committees in the accompanying papers files. During this period the docket books provide the names of claimants whose records were referred to the committee: names that can be searched in the alphabetical accompanying papers file.

Petition from the Woman's Relief Corps requesting a pension for war Army nurses, 03/29/1888)
Petition from the Woman's Relief Corps requesting a pension for war Army nurses, March 29, 1888 (HR50A-H12.8) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  
6.51 Before the 39th Congress (1865-67) the petitions and memorials came largely from individuals seeking pensions or private legislation to correct administrative problems. Between 1867 and 1901 the petitions and memorials that deal with private legislation were removed from the committee's petition and memorial files and incorporated into the general accompanying papers file. During this period the committee petition and memorial files contain primarily documents relating to the passage of public legislation relating to veteran's pensions. After 1901 the records relating to private claims are found in the bill files for each Congress.

6.52 The subject of the administration of the pension laws and of the amounts of benefits provided was the subject of a constant flow of petitions. Citizens of Cape May, NJ, supported passage of Senate Bill 496, 46th Congress that would provide for the appointment of an attorney and a surgeon in each congressional district to speed up the adjudication of pension claims (46A-H11.1). The preamble to their petition summarizes the sorry state of affairs in 1880:

    Your memorialists respectfully represent that there are now three hundred thousand unsettled claims for pension, on account of disabilities or death incurred in the service. New claims are coming forward at the rate of fifteen hundred per month. The unsettled claims have been accumulating from 1862 to the present time. There are more than sixty-five thousand claims which have been pending five years and upwards, and thirty thousand which have been pending ten years. This fact alone is conclusive of the inadequacy of the present system of laws for the sacrifices they have made for the Union.

6.53 One of the largest petition drives occurred during the 48th Congress (1883-85) when thousands of veterans and non-veterans alike voiced support for legislation that would provide a minimum $8.00 monthly pension for all honorably discharged Union soldiers (48A-H11.3, 2 ft.). Later petitioners (1907-11) sought passage of H.R. 7625, 60th Congress, that provided for a minimum $30 monthly pension for Civil War veterans (60A-H17.6), a dollar-a-day pension bill (61A-H14.4), and a "National Tribune" pension bill that provided for benefits graduated according to age (61A-H14.3).

6.54 Other subjects of petitions included legislation to provide pensions for special classes of veterans such as maimed soldiers (62A-H15.3); ex-prisoners (47A-H10.2, 49A-H10.5, 62A- H15.2); Army nurse volunteers (51A-H10.1, 61A-H14.1); amputees (46A-H11.2); and widows of soldiers in various wars (40A-H9.1, 45A-H17.1).

6.55 The committee papers files are generally sparse. During the earliest years they consist mainly of original manuscript copies of committee reports on private legislation. After about 1865 these files no longer contain the original reports, but may contain miscellaneous correspondence, reports, or other documents. Examples of committee papers from the 1870's include: A report from the Pension Office on the cause of delay in adjudicating the claims of black veterans from Mississippi (44A-F18.1); a report on the adequacy of the pay of U.S. pension agents (45A-F17.5); copies of various public bills and resolutions referred to the committee (42A-F13.1, 43A-F13.1); letterpress copies of outgoing committee correspondence 1879-82 (46A-F17.3), and scanty correspondence files for each Congress between 1919 and 1929.

6.56 The bill files provide evidence of the massive workload that this committee handled. They average over 25 ft. per Congress, the largest collection being those from 1927-29 (70A- D14, 61 ft.). The massive workload during that session, 1927-29, is described in an unpublished summary of the committee's history and recent activities:

    The House broke an all time record for the number of bills referred to a committee in a single day, when on the opening day of the 70th Congress 3775 private bills were referred to this committee. During the Congress, the committee reported the largest omnibus pension bill, which incidently, according to the report of the Public Printer, was the largest bill ever printed during any Congress. The bill contained 518 pages embracing 2935 private bills. During this Congress the committee considered over 9000 private bills, approximately 51% of all the bills, public and private, introduced in the House and Senate combined. (72A-F16.2)

6.57 The bill files for each Congress are arranged so that public bills and resolutions and the large omnibus private bills are filed in numerical order by bill or resolution number, and the individual private claims are filed in alphabetical order by name of claimant.

6.58 Among the private claim files are numerous forms, letters, and other documents that contain genealogical information. Preprinted forms obtained from the committee, the Veterans Administration, Pension Bureau or other Government body include: "Soldier's Affadivit"; "Physician's Affidavit"; "Widow's Affidavit" or "Widow's Petition"; "Affadivit as to Applicant's Financial Condition"; and, "Record of a Death"--a form that has more than once been accompanied by a photograph of a tombstone as supportive evidence. Other records found in these files include proofs of military service and discharge status, marriage records, notarized letters, sworn statements, and oaths attesting to a variety of conditions that qualify the claimant to benefits. These files also contain documents generated during appeals: committee bills and reports, and correspondence from the War Department, Veterans Administration, or other executive department. The 1940 claim of Timothy A. Linehan (76A-D19) even contains the veto message signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


13 U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Seventy-Eighth Congress, H. Doc. 812, 77th Cong., 2d sess., 1943, p. 319.

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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.