Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 6

Records of the Claims Committees


Committees discussed in this chapter:


Introduction

6.1 This chapter describes the records of the committees of the House of Representatives that have dealt primarily with private legislation concerning claims and pensions. The committees share the distinction of being created solely to process claims and report legislation to facilitate the process. 1 They are grouped together because of the similarity of the records they generated and of the research techniques and resources that are needed to access the records. More than any other set of Congressional records, these contain information relating to the private lives of individuals, and may be especially useful to genealogical researchers. 2

6.2 Legislation enacted by Congress can be divided into two classes: public and private. Public laws are universal in nature, applying to classes of persons or legal entities, rather than to a specified individual or entity. Private laws apply to specific persons or groups of persons; they grant pensions, authorize payment of claims, provide exemption from specific legislation such as immigration laws, or afford some other form of relief to a private individual or legal entity. The committees discussed in this chapter handled most of the private legislation that passed through Congress.

6.3 The power of Congress to provide for the payment of claims derives from the first clause of Article I, section 8 of the Constitution which provides that, "The Congress shall have Power... to pay the Debts... of the United States." Throughout American history, this provision has been construed to include not only legal but also moral obligations. This position is stated in the 1895 Supreme Court in U.S. v. Realty Company:

  • "The term `debts' includes those debts or claims which rest upon a merely equitable or honorary obligation, and which would not be recoverable in a court of law if existing against an individual. The nation, broadly speaking, owes a `debt' to an individual when his claim grows out of general principles of right and justice."  3

6.4 Individual claims for pensions comprise a special class of claim. Pensions usually refer to allowances of money paid in fixed amounts at certain intervals by a government to individuals who have rendered some valuable public service, or to dependent relatives of such persons. Pensions have been granted to disabled soldiers and sailors, to the widows and orphans of those who died in the service of their country, and for service during certain specified periods such as the War of 1812.

6.5 During its first 150 years, the House created a number of standing committees to report on the merits of petitions claiming the right to relief from the Federal Government. As the 19th century progressed, the number of claims increased tremendously and by mid-century there were five committees whose sole jurisdiction consisted of private claims: the committees on Claims, Invalid Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, Revolutionary Claims, and Private Land Claims. Yet even with the proliferation of claims committees, some of them still handled a tremendous workload—Lauros McConachie notes that 40 percent of all the bills introduced in the House in 1888 were referred to the Committee on Invalid Pensions. 4

6.6 Although the Government has generally attempted to provide relief for claims that were deemed to have merit, the process of securing relief could be a long and frustrating experience. Many claims were submitted repeatedly to successive Congresses and the process often stretched on long after the life of the original claimant. The memorial of L. Madison Day (49A-H5.1) gives voice to the frustrations of recovering damages from the government:

  • "This claim has been before Congress for some time, and has been many times favorably reported upon, four times in the House and five times in the Senate, and was passed by the Senate during the forty-seventh Congress, but was not reached for consideration in the House."

6.7 The records described in this chapter abound in examples of petitioners and heirs whose pursuit of relief sometimes lasted decades. A tribute to American tenacity can be seen in the efforts of Richard W. Meade, his wife and his descendants, who labored for over 100 years to obtain satisfaction of his 1803 claim against Spain which had been assumed by the United States under a treaty. Members of the Meade family submitted claims in every Congress between the 16th and the 52d (1819-1893) except for the 17th, and 38th, and they continued to pursue settlement until at least 1911 (45A-H5.1, 61A-F5.2 and many others).

6.8 Increasing the number of claims committees was one way to expedite consideration of private claims before the House. Another means of facilitating the movement of private legislation through the House was the use of the Private Calendar. The practice of setting aside particular days for the consideration of private bills dates from as early as 1810. 5

6.9 The Court of Claims was created in 1855 (10 Stat. 612) to hear claims against the United States. It relieved the pressure on Congress by providing some claimants with an opportunity to litigate certain types of claims against the Government. Before the establishment of the court the only way to settle claims was to apply to the Treasury Department and if the claim was rejected, to petition Congress for relief. Passage of the Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887, increased the powers of the Court of Claims but it still was unable to relieve Congress of the task of examining large numbers of private bills.

6.10 During the frenzied activity of the World War II years legislators recognized the heavy demands private legislation made on their limited time. As part of the effort to streamline the post-war Congress and increase the efficiency of the institution, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 revised the procedures for handling private claims. Title IV of the Reorganization act was known as the Federal Tort Claims Act 6, and it provided for the settlement of certain claims by the executive departments and agencies. The 1946 Act set the maximum dollar amount of the agency-settled tort claims at $1,000, but this limit was raised to $25,000 by a 1966 Act. Since the passage of the 1946 act the Judiciary Committee has been the only House committee to handle private legislation.

6.11 Research involving private claims against the Government can be a complicated and time consuming procedure. In order to conduct a thorough search for records relating to the claims of an individual, it is often necessary to examine the indexes and records of both houses of Congress. Claims were brought before the House of Representatives by means of a petition or memorial from the claimant, or as a bill or resolution passed by the Senate. Petitions submitted by a claimant over many years may be found in the records of the House, the records of the Senate, or in the records of both houses of Congress. It is not unusual to find that documentation relating to a claim had been charged out of the records of one Congress to be used as supporting materials for a claim submitted by the same claimant at a later Congress. By the same token, claims petitions or other documentation that were submitted to a claims committee of the House have, on occasion, been located among the records of a Senate claims committee—evidence that records loaned between the chambers were not always returned.

6.12 A number of published sources exist, that facilitate research in the private claims submitted to Congress. Listed below are indexes to the claims presented to both the House and Senate:

House Claims Indexes

1st-31st Congresses (1789-1851) H. Misc. Doc. (unnumbered) 32nd Congress, 1st sess. (serial vols. 653-655) 3 vols.
32d-41st Congresses (1851-71) H. Misc. Doc. 109, 42nd Congress, 3rd sess. (serial vol. 1574) 526 pp.
42d-46th Congresses (1871-81) H. Misc. Doc. 53., 47th Congress., 1st sess. (serial vol. 2036) 744 pp.
47th-51st Congresses (1881-91) H. Misc. Doc. 213, 53d Congress., 2nd sess. (serial vol. 3268) 749 pp.
Southern Claims Commission, 1871-80 Consolidated Index of Claims reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880. Compiled under the supervision of J.B. Holloway and Walter H. French (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892) 262 pp.

Senate Claims Indexes

14th-46th Congresses (1815-81) S. Misc. Doc. 14, 46th Congress, 3rd sess.; 2 vols. (serial vols. 1945, 1946)
47th-51st Congresses (1881-91) S. Misc. Doc. 266, 53d Congress, 2nd sess.; 3 vols. (serial vol. 3175)
52d-55th Congresses (1891-99) S. Doc. 449, 56th Congress, 1st sess.; 2 vols. (serial vol. 3881)
56th-57th Congresses (1899-1903) S. Doc. 221, 57th Congress, 2nd sess.; (serial vol. 4433), 197 pp.
58th Congress (1903-5) S. Doc. 3, 59th Congress, 1st sess.; (serial vol. 4917) 709 pp.
59th-61st Congresses (1905-09) S. Doc. 646, 62nd Congress, 2nd sess.; (serial vol. 6165) 865 pp.

6.13 The indexes shown above were published as part of the Congressional Serial Set, and list the claims that were introduced on the floor of the House and Senate. They generally provide the name of the claimant, the nature of the claim, committee of referral, Congress and session, number and nature of report, number of bill, disposition in the other House, and date of the act or other remarks. There are no comparable indexes for 20th century claims. Several sources exist that may be helpful in locating 20th-century claims but none of them have the scope and completeness of the serial set indexes.

6.14 One of the modern sources is the CIS U.S. Serial Set Index, 1789-1969, (Bethesda, MD: Congressional Information Service, Inc., 1975). In compiling the index, the Congressional Information Service (CIS) divided the period 1789-1969 into 12 chronological segments. Each segment is indexed by two volumes arranged alphabetically by subject, subtitled "Subject Lists" and by one volume subtitled "Numerical Lists and Schedule of Volumes." The volumes of "Numerical Lists" contain a section called "Private Relief and Related Actions, Index to Names of Individuals and Organizations," that provides citations to published reports and documents. It should be emphasized that the citations are to congressional documents published in the Congressional Serial Set and not to the original petitions or claims documents found among the records of the claims committees. Many claims documents in the records were not published. Also useful to researchers are the published committee calendars of the claims committees (until the committees were abolished in 1946) and the Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee calendars list all claims legislation referred to the committee separately from other types of bills and resolutions.

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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 Treasury 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, 3rd-79th Congresses (1794-1946)

           
Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 22 vols. 29th-57th (1845-1903)
Docket Books 75 vols. 19th-28th (1825-45), 30th-60th (1847-1909), 62nd-73rd (1911-34)
Bound records 20 vols. 3rd-39th (1794-1867)
Petitions & Memorials 40 ft. 4th (1793-95), 6th-40th (1799-1869), 42nd (1871-73), 45th-51st (1877-91), 54th (1895-97), 59th-61st (1905-11)
Committee Papers 23 ft. 3rd-7th (1793-1803), 9th-75th (1805-1938), 77th-79th (1941-46)
Bill Files 272 ft. 58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL: 335 ft. and 117 vols. (28 ft.)  

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.

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).

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Records of the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary War Claims (1813-1825) and the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (1825)

History and Jurisdiction

6.33 The Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary War Claims was created on December 22, 1813, largely to alleviate the burden of the Committee on Claims. It was the duty of the committee:

  • "to take into consideration all such petitions, and matters, or things, touching military pensions; and also claims and demands originating in the Revolutionary War, or arising therefrom... and to report their opinion thereupon, together with such propositions for relief therein as to them shall seem expedient." 10

6.34 On December 9, 1825 the name of the committee was changed to the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, while its jurisdiction remained unchanged. A few days later, on December 13, 1825, the committee was abolished and its jurisdiction split between two new committees—the Committee on Military Pensions and the Committee on Revolutionary Claims.

Records of the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary War Claims, 13th-19th Congresses (1813-1825) and the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, 19th Congress (1825)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Bound Reports 2 vols. 13th-19th (1813-27)
Petitions & Memorials 5 ft. 13th-18th (1813-25)
Committee Papers 1 ft. 13th-18th (1813-25)
TOTAL: 6 ft. and 2 vols. (6 in.)  

6.35 The transcribed committee reports are bound in two volumes; one covers the 13th through 18th Congresses (1813-23), the other includes the reports of the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims, 19th Congress (1925-27), and the reports of the Committee on Revolutionary Claims, 20th and 21st Congresses (1827-31). The latter volume is incorrectly titled "Committee Reports: Pensions and Rev. Claims, 18th-21st Congresses."

6.36 The petition and memorial files provide evidence that a substantial amount of work was referred to the committee. The records from the committee's first session (1813-15) contain files on 57 petitions or memorials, and those of the 16th Congress (1819-21) contain 126 files. Many of the files contain not only the original petition or memorial referred to the committee, but also additional documentation that was submitted to substantiate the claim. An example is the claim of Griffith Jones, a Pennsylvania tanner, who in 1778, provided about 40 wagon loads of hides and leather to Col. Daniel Broadhead, an officer in the American Army. Mr. Jones' petition (14A-F9.1) asks that he be given relief even though the statute of limitations for filing such claims had run out. The papers in the file include: The original petition submitted to the House in 1807 and rejected, and resubmitted in 1815 and again rejected; a report written by Mr. William Findley in 1794 relating to an earlier petition that was submitted by Mr. Jones; a report from the Auditor's office dated 1796 questioning the validity of the Jones' claim; copies of vouchers dated 1778 from the Auditor's office; and several affidavits certifying that Jones claim was authentic and that he had attempted to file his claim before the statute of limitations had expired. Many of the files contain wide a variety of documentation dating from the revolutionary period.

6.37 Examples from the 16th Congress (1819-21) show that some of the subjects of the petitions and memorials referred to the committee include: Jane Baker, the widow of Thomas Baker who had served in the Navy during the War of the Revolution, who prayed that his disability pension be paid to her; Jonathan Brown, who asked for a pension for services in the Army of the United States from the commencement of the war with Great Britain until the battle of Bridgewater near Niagara Falls on July 25, 1814, where he was wounded in the head and hand--injuries that led to a disability discharge. James Brown, a volunteer in a company raised at Sackets Harbor, NY, in May of 1813, who petitioned Congress to overrule a decision of the Secretary of War which had deprived him of a pension for the wounds he received because he had been regularly mustered into the service of the United States; and Mary Burbridge, who asked for funds that had been due her husband, Benjamin, who served as a wagon master in the sixth Virginia regiment from 1776 until he died in 1777, before he had been paid for his services (16A-G13.1). The original committee reports relating to these claims are filed in the committee papers (16A-D17.1).

6.38 Other claims referred to the committee included a request from George Bumgardner who had been wounded during General Arthur St. Claire's ill-fated campaign in 1791 (14A-F9.1) and a plea from Newcomb Blodgett of Stratford, NH, to be placed on the pension list for his service fighting the Indians on the northern frontier, which included being a prisoner of war from 1779 until 1782 and "suffering all the hardships and deprivations usually practiced on those who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the British or Indians during the revolutionary war" (16A-G13.1).

6.39 The committee papers consist almost entirely of the original committee reports on the petitions and memorials submitted by claimants. The reports are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the claimant. In a few cases other documents are filed with the committee report. The committee papers are unusually complete and contain reports on most of the petitions and memorials that were referred to the committee.

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Committee on Military Pensions (1825-1831)

History and Jurisdiction

6.40 This committee was created in 1825 to handle part of the jurisdiction of the short-lived Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (December 9 to 12, 1825). The jurisdiction of the new Committee on Military Pensions included, "all such matters respecting pensions for military services, and also matters respecting invalid pensions." 11 In 1831 the Committee on Military Pensions was abolished and its duties split between two new committees, the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, and the Committee on Invalid Pensions. 12

Records of the Committee on Military Pensions, 19th-21st Congresses (1825-31)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Docket Book 1 vol. 19th-21st (1825-31)
Bound Reports 1 vol. 19th-21st (1825-31)
Petitions & Memorials 5 ft. 19th-21st (1825-31)
Committee Papers 1 in. 19th-21st (1825-31)
TOTAL: 6 ft. and 2 vols. (6 in.)  

6.41 The docket book lists the petitions and memorials presented to the committee during its entire six-year existence. The entries are arranged by Congress, and thereunder alphabetically by name of petitioner. Each entry includes the name of the Representative who introduced the document, the date, the name of the petitioner, and remarks regarding disposition.

6.42 A bound volume of transcribed committee reports, 19th-25th Congresses, contains the transcribed reports of the Committee on Military Pensions (1825-31) and of one of its successors, the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (1831-39). The volume includes an alphabetical index to the names of the petitioners. The completeness of this volume is questionable, and it should be consulted along with the documents found in the other series.

6.43 The petitions and memorials are similar to other early 19th-century claims petitions discussed. For each Congress they are arranged in alphabetical order, and generally contain the original petition or memorial as well as assorted supporting documents.

6.44 The bulk of the committee papers for each Congress consists of original committee reports on the petitions submitted by claimants, arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the claimant. Most of the committee reports address the merits of an individual petition, although, an original report made on April 1, 1826, lists over 250 petitioners and summarily rejects all of them (19A-D13.1).

6.45 Records relating to proposed legislation concerning the claims settlement process were referred to the committee. Examples of the draft legislation received by the committee include an 1826 act for the relief of the surviving officers of the Revolutionary Army and another from the same year for the extension of benefits under the Act of March 18, 1818, to include surviving officers from the 1775 expedition against Quebec (19A-D13.1).

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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, 22nd-79th Congresses (1831-1946)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 23 vols. 36th-55th (1859-99), 66th-70th (1919-29), 72nd (1932-33), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Docket Book 172 vols. 22nd-27th (1831-43), 29th (1845-47), 31st-34th (1849-57), 36th-68th (1859-1925)
Petitions & Memorials 52 ft. 22nd-40th (1831-69), 42nd-63rd (1871-1915), 67th (1921-23), 69th (1925-27)
Committee Papers 13 ft. 22nd-79th (1831-1946)
Bill Files 571 ft. 58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL: 636 ft. and 195 vols. (33 ft.)  

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.

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.

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Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (1831-1880)

History and Jurisdiction

6.59 This committee was created on January 10, 1831 to administer that part of the jurisdiction of the defunct Committee on Military Pensions that included all "matters respecting pensions for services in the Revolutionary War, other than invalid pensions." 14 In 1867, in order to reduce the workload of the Invalid Pensions Committee, the committee's jurisdiction was expanded to include the pension matters of soldiers who fought in the War of 1812.

6.60 The committee was abolished in 1880 and the subjects in its jurisdiction referred to the Committee on Pensions that was created in that year.

Records of the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, 21st-46th Congresses (1831-1880)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 2 vols. 43rd-46th (1873-81)
Docket Books 14 vols. 22nd-29th (1831-47), 31st-32nd (1849-53), 34th-36th (1855-61), 39th-46th (1865-81)
Bound Reports 1 vol. 21st-25th (1831-39)
Petitions & Memorials 19 ft. 22nd-45th (1831-79)
Committee Papers 3 ft. 22nd-37th (1831-63), 42nd-43rd (1871-75), 45th (1877-79)
TOTAL: 22 ft. and 16 vols. (2 ft.)  

6.61 Docket books record the petitions, memorials, legislation, and other records referred to the committee during most of its history, while minute books document only the last years of its existence. The last minute book contains the minutes of the Committee on Pensions for the 47th and 48th Congress (1881-85) as well as those of the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions for the 45th and 46th Congresses (1877-81). The last docket book contains the docket of the Pensions Committee for the 47th Congress. The early transcribed reports from this committee, 1831-39, are bound together with those of its predecessor, the Military Pensions Committee (see para. 6.45) in a volume titled "Reports: Committees on Military Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, 19th Congress, 1st session to 25th Congress, 3d session".

6.62 Like the mid-19th century records of the other claims committees, the petition and memorial files contain the original petitions of the claimants, and the committee papers files consist primarily of original committee reports on individual private claims. In many cases the petition and memorial files contain additional documentation submitted along with the petition or memorial as proof of the claim. When conducting a search for records relating to the claim of a specific individual both series should be searched because in some cases the original petition, memorial, or associated documentation is filed along with the committee report. Both the committee papers and the petitions and memorials are arranged in alphabetical order by name of the claimant.

6.63 The records from the period after the Civil War contain petitions and memorials favoring the passage of public legislation to provide for better benefits for special classes of pensioners. By 1870 many of the veterans of the War of 1812 were dead and those who were alive averaged 70 years of age. Increased benefits and more liberal qualifications for the veterans of that war, as well s for their widows, was the subject of many petitions (39A-H22.1, 40A-HK16.1, 41A-H13.1, 42A-H14.1, 45A-H22.1). A letter from H. H. Horner found in the committee papers (42A-F27.1) clearly identifies one of the problems arising from the narrowly defined qualifications of the existing legislation:

  • Lebanon, Illinois Jan. 30, 1872. Dear Sir, In the western state in the war of 1812 a great many of our Soldiers were under twenty years of age, and in fact every boy old enough to carry a musket was in the service. The great majority of the western soldiers were unmarried when the treaty of peace was made in 1814. A great many widows survive these soldiers and quite a number reside in our state, but under the pension law approved by Congress March 14, 1871, these widows can not avail themselves of the benefit of this law because their marriages do not date quite soon enough. At the request of the widows residing in this vicinity I write to you to get you to use your influence to have the above named pension law so amended that the soldiers widow can avail herself of this law regardless of the time of her marriage.

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Committee on Pensions (1880-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

6.64 The committee was created in 1880 with jurisdiction over subjects relating to the pensions of all the wars of the United States other than the Civil War. It replaced the old Committee on Revolutionary Pensions. The appropriations authorized by this committee were reported by the Committee on Appropriations rather than by the Pensions Committee.

6.65 On Jan. 3, 1939 the jurisdiction of the committee was rewritten to include, the pensions of the Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, and Boxer Rebellion, while all other pension legislation was referred to the Committee on Invalid Pensions.15 The committee was abolished under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 and its jurisdiction transferred, for the most part, to the executive agencies.

Records of the Committee on Pensions, 46th-79th Congresses (1880-1946)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 16 vols. 46th-54th (1880-97), 57th-59th (1901-07), 62nd (1911-13), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Docket Books 29 vols. 46th-63rd (1880-1915)
Petitions & Memorials 12 ft. 47th-48th (1881-85), 59th-64th (1905-17), 69th (1925-27), 74th (1935-36), 76th-79th (1939-46)
Committee Papers 3 ft. 47th-64th (1881-1917), 69th-70th (1925-29), 72nd (1931-33), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Bill Files 125 ft. 58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL: 140 ft. and 45 vols. (8 ft.)  

6.66 The earliest minutes and docket are bound together with those for the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions (see para. 6.61). The minutes for the 1935-46 period are unbound and are filed along with the committee papers.

6.67 Most of the petition and memorial files are sparse—less than 1/2 inch per Congress. Exceptions are the 48th Congress (1901-3) when the committee received the results of a petition drive supporting the Mexican Pension Bill (48A-H22.1, 9 ft.) and the 62d Congress (1911-13) when it received 2 feet of petitions supporting passage of a bill providing pensions for men and women over the age of 60 (62A-H23.1).

6.68 The committee papers are also thin, containing documents relating to various claims, copies of bills and resolutions, receipts for case files loaned to the committee by the Veterans Administration, compilations of State laws relating to veterans, and small collections of correspondence.

6.69 The bulk of the committee's records are the bill files from the 58th-79th Congresses (1903-46). As with the other claims committees, the private claims for the years before 1903 are filed in the accompanying papers files.

6.70 The bill files are arranged alphabetically by name of claimant, and they usually contain the following: the petition submitted by the claimant, the bill proposing his or her relief, soldier's or widow's affidavits, correspondence with the Bureau of Pensions, medical reports and other notarized affidavits, and charge cards indicating records loaned to the committee from the Pension Bureau. Some of these records provide rare insights into the personal lives of individuals and the conditions in which they lived. The case of William Garnett (alias Billie Hunter) is a case in point.

6.71 William Garnett was a scout, guide, interpreter and spy for the U.S. Army from October 1876 until September 1877. He was honorably discharged in 1877, but his 1920 claim for a pension was rejected because the records of the War Department indicated that he had not been enlisted in the United States military service, but had been a civilian employed as a scout.

6.72 Garnett's file (67A-D26) contains a wealth of documentation to prove that he "always took an active part in all the fighting" even though he was carried on the rolls as an interpreter and not pensionable. He was the half-blood son of Brigadier General R.B. Garnett and an Oglala Sioux woman named Looks-at-Him or Mollie Campbell. He fought in campaigns against the Sioux under Chiefs Red Cloud, and Red Leaf, and the Cheyennes under Chiefs Dull Knife, and Little Wolf and played an active roll in several other battles. His file contains supporting documents from Indians, soldiers, and Interior Department bureaucrats attesting to his activities. Among those who contributed letters and depositions are J.D. Corder, an Indian trader and dealer in general merchandise; Indians named Lone Dog, Dirt Kettle, Red Shirt, Kills A Hundred, and Painted Horse; the superintendent of the Pine Ridge Indian Agency; and various other officials involved in the administration of the Pine Ridge Agency.

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Committee on Revolutionary Claims (1825-1873)

History and Jurisdiction

6.73 This committee was created in 1825 to handle part of the jurisdiction of the Pensions and Revolutionary War Claims (1813-1825) which had been abolished.16 The committee had jurisdiction over:

  • "all such petitions and matters or things touching on claims or demands originating in the Revolutionary War or arising therefrom, as shall be presented, or shall or may come in question and be referred to them by the House; and to report their opinion thereupon, together with such propositions for relief as to them shall seem expedient." 17

6.74 The jurisdiction of the committee remained unchanged until the committee was abolished in 1873 and the jurisdiction assigned to the Committee on War Claims that was created in that year.

Records of the Committee on Revolutionary Claims, 19th-43rd Congresses (1825-1873)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 1 vol. 37th-38th (1861-65)
Docket Books 11 vols. 19th-28th (1824-45), 30th-38th (1847-65), 42nd (1871-73)
Bound Reports 1 vol. 19th-21st (1825-31)
Petitions & Memorials 13 ft. 20th-38th (1827-65)
Committee Papers 5 ft. 20th-38th (1827-65)
TOTAL: 18 ft. and 13 vols. (13 in.)  

6.75 Docket books document the petitions, memorials, legislation and other materials referred to the committee over almost its entire history. Some of the volumes include the dockets from several Congresses, and one volume contains the minutes as well as the dockets for both the 37th and 38th Congresses (1861-65). The transcribed reports of this committee from 1825 through 1831 are bound together with those of the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims from 1823 to 1825 in a volume incorrectly titled "Committee Reports Pensions and Rev. Claims, 18th-21st Congresses."

6.76 Like the mid-19th century records of the other claims committees the petition and memorial files contain the petitions presenting the claims, and the committee papers files consist primarily of original committee reports on the claims. In many cases the petition and memorial files contain additional documentation submitted along with the petition or memorial as proof of the claim. Many of these files contain Revolutionary War certificates of service which were submitted along with the petition or memorial in order to prove service dates or rank.

6.77 When conducting a search for records relating to the claim of a specific individual both series of records should be searched because in some cases the original petition, memorial, or associated documentation is filed along with the committee report. Both series are arranged in alphabetical order by name of the claimant. There are no documents concerning private bills for this committee after the 38th Congress (1863-65) because the case files for private claims would be filed in the accompanying papers file rather than as records of the committee.

6.78 Almost all of the committee reports found in the committee papers are reports on private bills or on the petitions of individuals for private relief. An exception to this is a 300-page handwritten committee report prepared in 1840 in compliance with a resolution instructing the committee "to inquire into the character and amounts of proof which is required by existing laws & regulations to establish claims on the United States for revolutionary services in the Virginia Continental & State lines" (26A-D25.2).

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Committee on War Claims (1873-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

6.79 The Committee on War Claims was created in 1873 when the name of the Committee on Revolutionary Claims (1825-1873) was changed to the Committee on War Claims, and its jurisdiction expanded to include "claims arising from any war in which the United States has been engaged." 18

6.80 The jurisdiction of the committee was defined to include claims arising from Indian hostilities such as the 1890's Indian war claims from the States of Oregon, Idaho and Washington. It also included claims for property seized for use by the U.S. Army and Navy from citizens in the Southern States who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. The major collection of records relating to these claims are those of the Southern Claims Commission.

6.81 Although most of the work of the committee involved reporting private legislation for the settlement of claims of individuals and corporations, on occasion it reported on the war claims of States and Territories against the United States. It also reported general legislation that provided for the adjudication of certain classes of claims.

6.82 This committee, like the Claims Committee, had authority to report bills making appropriations for the payment of the obligations within its jurisdiction.

6.83 Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 the committee was abolished and its jurisdiction transferred to the Judiciary Committee and the executive agencies.

Records of the Committee on War Claims, 43rd-79th Congresses (1873-1946)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 1 vol. 42nd (1871-73)
Docket Books 22 vols. 43rd-47th (1873-83), 49th-50th (1885-89), 52nd (1891-93), 74th-75th (1935-38)
Petitions & Memorials 2 ft. 44th-50th (1875-89), 58th (1903-05)
Committee Papers 5 ft. 42nd-45th (1871-79), 51st-52nd (1889-93), 54th (1895-97), 60th (1907-09), 62nd-63rd (1911-15)
Bill Files 35 ft. 58th-79th (1903-46)
Southern Claims Commission Case Files 180 ft. 42nd-46th (1871-80)
TOTAL: 222 ft. and 23 vols. (2 ft.)  

6.84 Despite the relative longevity of this committee the petition and memorial files are scanty. This is because the petitions submitting private claims were filed in other series during the entire life of the committee. From the creation of the committee in 1873 until the end of the 57th Congress (1903) the petitions submitting private claims were filed under the name of the claimant in the accompanying papers file a long with other records relating to the claim. From 1903 until the termination of the committee in 1946 the petitions submitting private claims were filed under the name of the claimant in the committee's bill files along with other documentation related to the bill generated by the claim.

6.85 The petitions and memorials include several interesting files. Examples are the disallowed Southern Claims Commission claim of David R. Godwin for commodities furnished to the Union forces during the occupation of New Orleans (45A-H24.1); and, fifty-five petitions filed by various residents of Paducah, Kentucky, for damages incurred during the Union occupation during the winter of 1864 (50A-H29.1).

6.86 The committee papers contain the original reports of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) as well as certain claims files that would be expected to appear among the disallowed case files of the Southern Claims Commission. The claims of David R. Dillon, captain of the Steamer Amazon on the Savannah River, and of Isaac Bloom, a merchant in Jackson, MS, are examples of petitioners whose claims, after being disallowed by the Commissioners, were filed among the War Claims committee papers (43A-F29.2) and remained there.

6.87 Genealogical information in these records is the most common attraction for researchers, but since many of the claims referred to this committee were from States, city governments, churches, and other organizations such as steamship lines and real estate companies, the records may offer rare insights into the important events of American history. An example of this is the file on H.R. 14529, 63d Cong. (63A-F38.1), a 1914 bill to compensate the Ursuline Order of Nuns for the destruction of their convent when much of Columbia, SC, was burned following the occupation of the city by Union soldiers in 1865. The file contains several accounts of the fire: a pamphlet by Dr. D.H. Trezevant entitled "The Burning of Columbia, S.C.: A Review of Northern Assertions and Southern Facts" printed by the South Carolinian Power Press in 1866; 18 signed affidavits; a 59-page paper "The Columbia Phoenix" written and published by Julian A. Shelby in 1865; and clippings from several contemporary newspapers.

6.88 Most of the bills and resolutions referred to the committee were for private legislation. The private bill files are arranged in alphabetical order by name of the claimant, and the public bill files are usually filed together at the beginning or end of the series of private bill files. The bill files often contain legislation for the relief of political and legal entities such as H.R. 9313 for the relief of the State of Minnesota, which sought compensation for expenses incurred in mobilizing its National Guard pursuant to the call of the President in 1916 and 1917 (65A-D20).

6.89 Another example is the file for H.R. 7647, 59th Cong., a bill to provide relief to the organization of free blacks known as the Black Brigade which was mustered out of Cincinnati, OH, in 1862 to perform labor in the construction of fortifications and military roads, and to serve as guards (59A-D29). The file consists of a small quantity of correspondence and a pamphlet containing printed versions of muster rolls, orders, and other documents relating to the brigade. The pamphlet recounts the miserable circumstances under which the members of the Black Brigade, "the first organization of the colored people of the North actually employed for military purposes," served.

Related Records

6.90 The Southern Claims Commission was established in 1871 to settle the claims of Southerners who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.19 Because a number of different governmental offices were involved in the settlement process, the records of the Commission are divided among several record groups. The barred and disallowed case files are part of RG 233, Records of the United States House of Representatives. The case files for the allowed claims are in RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. They are arranged alphabetically by State, and thereunder by county, and thereunder by surname. The administrative records and correspondence files of the Commission are among the General Records of the Department of the Treasury, RG 56. The Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887 provided for further adjudication of some disallowed cases by the Court of Claims. Records relating to those cases may be found in RG 123, Records of the United States Court of Claims and RG 205, Records of the Court of Claims Section (Justice).

6.91 Even before the close of the Civil War, Congress had provided for the payment of the debt the Federal Government owed to loyal citizens for property losses during the Civil War. The Act of July 4, 1864, applied only to those citizens in States not in rebellion. Not until 1871 did Congress pass legislation to provide remedy for the losses of the loyal Southern Unionists. The Act of March 3, 1871, provided for a special board of commissioners:

  • "to receive, examine, and consider the justice and validity of such claims as shall be brought before them, of those citizens who remained loyal adherents to the cause and the government of the United States during the war, for stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion for the use of the army (later amended to include the navy) of the United States in States proclaimed as in insurrection against the United States."

By an Act of May 11, 1872, the jurisdiction of the Commission was extended to "stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion for the use of the Navy of the United States."

6.92 The Commissioners of Claims had no final jurisdiction in the cases they considered, but were required to report their decisions, sending along the completed case files in annual increments to Congress for appropriate action. Congress retained the barred and disallowed claims, appropriated the funds to pay those allowed, and sent the allowed case files to the Treasury Department for settlement and custody.

6.93 The claims submitted to the Southern Claims Commission are listed in alphabetical order by name of claimant in the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), compiled under the supervision of J.B. Holloway and Walter H. French.20 A total of 22,298 claims seeking more than $60 million in damages were submitted to the Commissioners of Claims under the Act of March 3, 1871. The Commissioners barred 5,250 of the claims, authorized payment of $4,636,229.75 in claims, and disallowed over $55 million.

6.94 The barred and disallowed case files of the Southern Claims Commission are maintained as a segregated collection separate from the other committee papers of the Committee on War Claims. The Commission reported to Congress at the opening of each session from 1871 through 1880, a total of 10 reports identified numerically 1 through 10. The disallowed case files are arranged by report number (called "report number") and thereunder by the docket number within the report (called the "office"). Barred case files are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the claimant.

6.95 These records contain valuable genealogical information and are among the most heavily researched of all House records. A typical case file contains the following types of records: a form petition; an application to have testimony taken by a special commissioner; a deposition or testimony of the claimant or a witness; summary report of the Commissioners of Claims; and miscellaneous other papers such as oaths, memoranda and evidential documents. These give information regarding the claimant, the circumstances of the purchase or seizure of goods, and the value of each item.

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Committee on Private Land Claims (1813-1911)

History and Jurisdiction

6.96 The committee was established on April 29, 1816, on the motion of Thomas B. Robertson of Louisiana, with jurisdiction over matters relating to private land claims. The committee reported general as well as special legislation relating to the settlement of individual claims to public lands. It has reported bills to establish a land court and to provide for the judicial investigation and settlement of private land claims in certain States and Territories. The committee was abolished in 1911 along with several other committees that had suffered from diminished legislative activity.

Records of the Committee on Private Land Claims, 14th-62nd Congresses (1816-1911)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 16 vols. 44th-61st (1875-1911)
Docket Books 28 vols. 24th-27th (1835-43), 34th-61st (1855-1911)
Bound Reports 1 vol. 14th-22nd (1815-33)
Petitions & Memorials 9 ft. 14th-38th (1815-65), 42nd (1871-73), 49th-50th (1885-89), 58th-59th (1903-07)
Committee Papers 7 ft. 14th-37th (1815-63), 43rd-47th (1873-83), 56th (1899-1901), 59th-61st (1905-11)
Bill Files 6 in. 58th-61st (1903-11)
TOTAL: 17 ft. and 44 vols. (4 ft.)  

6.97 Minute books document the attendance, order of business, referral of papers to subcommittees, and the subjects of discussion at committee meetings. The docket books list, in chronological order, the receipt and disposition of petitions, memorials, bills and resolutions, and executive communications. One bound volume of transcribed committee reports from 1815 to 1833 documents early committee work.

6.98 The petition and memorial files before the 39th Congress (1865-67) contain original petitions and memorials along with supporting documents. The petitions and memorials are arranged alphabetically by name of the claimant. In some cases the claimants from particular geographical areas were grouped together and relief measures were indexed under the name of the State, Territory or city. Many of the petitions included supplemental documentation offered in support of the claim. After the 37th Congress (1861-63) the petition and memorial files are almost non-existent: the documents having been filed in the accompanying papers file from 1865 to 1905 and after that date in the committee bill files. The major exception to this is the petitions to confirm patents issued by the Governor of the Colony of New York in 1666-67 for lands on and adjacent to Manhattan Island (49A-H19.1, 3 in.).

6.99 The committee papers from 1816 through 1863 consist almost entirely of the original committee reports. Most of the committee reports are on private claims and are arranged in alphabetical order by name of claimant. In a few cases groups of reports relating to claims in particular geographical areas are filed together, such as claims for lands in Louisiana (35A-D17.2), Missouri (35A-D17.3), and New Mexico (35A-D17.4). Other geographical categories in the committee papers are land claims between the Perdido and Mississippi Rivers (25A-D19.2) and claims handled at the land office in Natchitoces Parish, Louisiana (27A-D16.2).

6.100 After the 37th Congress (1863) the committee papers files are spotty because most of the records relating to private claims are filed in the accompanying papers file. The only sizable collections of committee papers after this period are those in the 43d through 47th Congresses (1873- 83) relating to individual claims in several geographical areas: Louisiana claims (43A-F22.1) and New Mexico Territory claims (43A-F22.1); the claim of the Mission of St. James, Vancouver, Washington Territory and the Santillion Grant in California (44A-F28.1); New Mexico and Arizona claims such as the Pueblo of Zuni Grant and the Uno de Gato Grant (46A-F28.1), the Rancho San Ignacio de la Canoa (47A-F23.1); and the John Rice Jones' claims in the State of Illinois (45A-F27.1).

6.101 These claim files sometimes contain a substantial amount of legal arguments and evidence, including documentation of the origin of the claim, examination of claims and townsites, maps, testimony, notarized affidavits, decisions of the General Land Office, decisions of the Surveyor General, and, copies of House and Senate bills, committee reports, and printed documents.

6.102 Some of these private land claims involved enormously valuable parcels of land, and the claimants invested heavily in attempting to prove their claims. The New Madrid Grant of Jacques Clamorgan is an example of an arduously fought battle. Clamorgan received grants for 536,904 arpens and 448,000 arpens of land in the Louisiana Territory from the Spanish Government in 1796 and 1797, respectively. He claimed that the treaties with Spain and France in 1800 and 1803 provided protection for the lands granted him under the previous government, but his claims were never satisfied. He and his heirs petitioned Congress at least 17 times between 1817 and 1911 (59A-H22.1), but the claim was still unsettled at the end of the 61st Congress.

6.103 There are thin bill files for the 58th through 61st Congresses, but by this time the workload of the committee had deteriorated substantially. The bill files consist of little more than printed copies of the bills and resolutions.

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Committee on the Judiciary (1813-1968)

History and Jurisdiction Relative to Claims

6.104 Since its creation in 1813 the Judiciary Committee has handled a wide variety of claims against the Government. There are substantial numbers of claims petitions among the records of every Congress before the Civil War, and lesser numbers from that time until World War II. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, while the specialized claims committees were created to handle particular types of claims, the Judiciary Committee continued to deal with those claims that fell within its jurisdiction.

6.105 Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 the specialized claims committees that were in existence at that time were abolished and the claims that had been referred to them were to be referred to the Judiciary Committee or were dealt with by the executive agencies or the courts. Under the 1946 reorganization the already broad jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee was expanded to include the subjects that had formerly been referred to the Committees on Patents, Immigration and Naturalization, Revision of Laws, Claims, and War Claims. In order to accommodate the broadened area of responsibility, the committee established standing subcommittees with specialized jurisdictions to deal with the new subject areas. During the early years after the 1946 reorganization, special jurisdiction over claims was given to subcommittee number 3.

Primary Locations of Claims Records of the Committee on the Judiciary, 13th-90th Congresses (1813-1968).

6.106 During the earliest period of the committee's history (1813-65) the records relating to claims are found primarily among the petition and memorial files. Between the 39th and 57th Congresses (1865-1903) the Judiciary Committee claims files may be found in either the committee papers or the petitions and memorials files, but in most cases they were removed from the records of the Judiciary Committee and included in the large alphabetical accompanying papers files. After the 57th Congress the accompanying papers file was abandoned and each committee established a series of "bill files" in which the records relating to each specific bill or resolution was filed. After 1903 most of the claims related records may be found in the bill files. The bill files for this period are arranged numerically by bill number.

6.107 After the 1946 reorganization greatly increased the workload of the Judiciary Committee, the committee's bill files are arranged in three categories to facilitate access by the subcommittees charged with the three major types of bills handled by the committee: public bills, immigration bills, and claims bills. This separation into categories facilitates research in these massive bill collections. There were, for example, 228 feet of bill files in the 84th Congress (1955- 56) covering 1,214 public bills, 2,847 immigration and naturalization bills, and 966 claims bills.

6.108 After 1947 the claims bill files of the Judiciary Committee are arranged separately from the public bill files and the immigration and naturalization bill files. The claims bill files are arranged alphabetically by name of claimant. There are 242 feet of claims bill files for the 80th through 90th Congresses (1947-68). An aid to research in these records is the Judiciary Committee calendars which list the private claims bills separately from the immigration and naturalization bills, and the public bills.

6.109 The table below shows the Judiciary Committee record series in which claims records will most likely be found during each period of the committee's existence.

Where to look for claims petitions that were referred to the Judiciary Committee:

Congresses (dates) Primary Location of Claims Records
13th-38th (1813-65) Petitions and Memorials
39th-58th (1865-1903) Accompanying Papers
59th-79th (1903-46) Bill Files, general
80th-90th (1947-68) Bill Files, Claims Subcommittee

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Notes

1 Many of the committees discussed in other chapters have reported claims and other types of private legislation relating to the subjects that are under their jurisdictions. The committees on Immigration and Naturalization, Patents, Judiciary, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Indian Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Post Office and Post Roads, each disposed of large numbers of claims. But the settlement of claims was not the principle subject of the jurisdiction of those committees.  [Back to text]

2 For other genealogical records at the National Archives see Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives, (Washington: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1983). [Back to text]

3 Congressional Quarterly's Guide to Congress, 2d ed. (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1976) p. 302. [Back to text]

4 McConachie, Lauros G., Congressional Committees: A Study of the Origins and Development of Our National and Local Legislative Methods. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1898). Reprinted. (New York: Burt Franklin Reprints, 1973) p. 73. [Back to text]

5 McConachie, ibid., p. 76f. In 1810 Fridays were set aside for legislation introduced by petition. By the second session of the 19th Congress (1826-27) House Rule 19 specified that "Friday and Saturday in every week shall be set apart for the consideration of private bills and private business."  [Back to text]

6 This was replaced by the Tort Claims Act of June 25, 1948 (62 Stat. 1008) as amended.  [Back to text]

7 Cannon, 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. [Back to text]

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). [Back to text]

9 Cannon, p. 813, para. 1992. [Back to text]

10 Annals of the Congress of the United States, Thirteenth Congress, First Session. (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1854) p. 796. [Back to text]

11 Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 20th Cong., 1st sess., Standing Rules and Orders, p. 1030. [Back to text]

12 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, p. 2. [Back to text]

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. [Back to text]

14 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, p. 2. [Back to text]

15 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, p. 2. [Back to text]

16 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, p. 1. It is possible to argue that the Committee on Revolutionary Claims is the direct descendant of the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims, and that the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions was created anew in 1825. This analysis is concerned mainly with the genealogy of the jurisdictions of committees, and for that reason we emphasize the jurisdictional split that produced the two committees, rather than other factors (such as chairmanship roles) that might suggest that one or the other descended directly from the parent committee. [Back to text]

17 Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 19th Cong., 2d sess., p. 485. [Back to text]

18 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. 320. [Back to text]

19 See Frank W. Klingberg, The Southern Claims Commission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951). [Back to text]

20 This 262 page index and the Commissioner's administrative and correspondence files are reproduced on microfilm on National Archives Microfilm Publication M87, "Records of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) 1871-1880." The index is also available on microfiche on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1407, "Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission 1871-1880." Another useful index is Gary B. Mills compilation, Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War damage claims filed before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880. (Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1980) which lists claimants by State and thereunder alphabetically by name. [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.

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