Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 7

Records of the Commerce Committees and Its Predecessors

Committees discussed in this chapter:


7.1 The Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, established on December 1, 1795, was one of the earliest standing committees of the House of Representatives. Since that time, the House has always had a standing committee whose primary area of jurisdiction is commerce, though five different titles.

Records of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (1795-1819)

History and Jurisdiction

7.2 The standing Committee on Commerce and Manufactures was created in 1795 to "take into consideration all such petitions and matters of things touching the commerce and manufactures of the United States, as shall be presented, or shall or may come into question, and be referred to them by the House, and to report their opinion thereupon, together with such propositions for relief therein, as to them shall be expedient."1 In 1819 the committee was divided to form the Committee on Commerce and the Committee on Manufactures.

Records of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, 4th-15th Congresses (1795-1819)

Record Type Volume    Congress (dates)
Petitions & Memorials    4 ft. 5th-15th (1797-1819)
Committee Papers 1 ft. 8th-15th (1803-1819)
TOTAL: 5 ft.  

7.3 The petitions and memorials referred to the committee cover a wide variety of topics. There are a large number of petitions concerning import duties. Manufacturers, merchants, and other citizens from many areas of the country petitioned Congress for duty increases on dozens of imported products such as hats (7A-F2.2, 11A-F2.3, 11A-F2.4, 14A-F2.11), shot (6A-F2.2, 11A-F2.3, 12A- F2.2, 15A-G2.4), paper (7A-F2.2, 11A-F2.3), and cork (7A-F2.2, 8A-F2.1, 15A-G2.4). Records of the 15th Congress (1817-1819) contain the largest number of petitions relating to duties from a single Congress (15A-G2.4).

7.4 Other petitioners requested relief from paying duties on certain goods. Merchants and ship owners, for example, requested that Congress not require payment of duties on goods damaged in shipment or destroyed by fire before they were sold (7A-F2.2, 8A-F2.1, 14A-F2.8). Petitions were also referred from non-profit and educational institutions, such as the Library Company of Baltimore, the Associate Reformed Church in North America, the Saint Andrews Society of Charleston, and the Pennsylvania Hospital, asking for exemptions from paying duties on books or articles imported for their use (6A-F2.2, 8A-F2.1, 15A-G2.2). John Redman Coxe, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, petitioned in 1815 for a refund of duties he had been required to pay for imported materials necessary for his chemistry classes (14A-F2.11).

7.5 Requests for drawbacks, refunds authorized when imported goods on which duties had been paid were re-exported, were referred to the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures during nearly every Congress. Many of the petitions were received from merchants and others who had been denied drawbacks for a variety of reasons. Merchants in Philadelphia, for example, asked for a drawback on a shipment of sugar that had been destroyed before it left the port, while other petitioners, denied drawbacks because of late filing of their requests, sought relief from Congress and gave a number of reasons for the late filing, citing outbreaks of yellow fever and the receipt of incorrect information from port officials (8A-F2.1, 9A-F2.2, 11A-F2.3).

7.6 The Committee on Commerce and Manufactures received petitions requesting the creation of new ports of entry and ports of delivery during nearly every Congress. Petitioners often complained that traveling great distances to the nearest port of entry was difficult, especially in bad weather. Most requests were not controversial, but there were a few cases of disagreement among petitioners. In 1800, Petersburg and Richmond, VA, submitted rival petitions for a collector's office (6A-F2.4). Factions within Stonington, CT, submitted petitions in 1806 both favoring and opposing a port of entry in that town (9A-F2.4).

7.7 Petitions from a number of States requested that Congress appropriate funds to construct or maintain aids to navigation such as lighthouses, buoys, and piers. The town of New Bedford, MA, in 1800, asked that the United States purchase and maintain the lighthouse they had constructed by private subscription a few years before in order to protect the shipping in the area (6A-F2.1). The majority of petitions, however, asked for funds with which to build new lighthouses. Several towns, most in New England, wrote of the dangers to commerce and the need for lighthouses to prevent the great loss of life and property then taking place (7A-F2.1, 9A-F2.1, 11A-F2.1, 15A-G2.1). One of the few petitions from outside New England was from the legislature of Louisiana and requested a lighthouse at the mouth of the Mississippi River (14A-F2.4).

7.8 The committee was also involved in matters of compensation for customshouse workers. Requests for increased pay and higher fees were received from weighers and measurers (6A-F2.3, 7A- F2.4, 12A-F2.7), collectors of customs (6A-F2.4), inspectors (10A-F3.6, 11A-F2.3), and surveyors (11A- F2.8).

7.9 The committee papers consist almost exclusively of committee reports on the petitions and memorials referred to the committee and covering a wide variety of topics. Most of the reports begin with a restatement of the prayer of the petitioner, continue with a presentation of facts gathered by the committee, and conclude with a recommendation and suggested resolution. In general, reports concerning increased duties on books (8A-C2.1), paint and copper (10A-C2.1), salt and hats (11A-C3.1), and other products (15A-D2.1) offer little explanation of the committee's recommendations. Reports responding to petitions requesting drawbacks or refunds of duties paid, however, more often explain the reasoning behind the committee's decisions. Those merchants, manufacturers, and others praying for drawbacks on damaged goods or goods shipped past the deadline for receiving drawbacks were regularly denied their requests (8A-C2.1, 9A-C2.1, 13A-D3.1, 15A-D2.1). The specific reason given for some of the denials is that "negligence, forgetfulness, and misconception of the law" were not suitable excuses. Petitions pleading outbreaks of disease and mistakes of customs officials, on the other hand, sometimes received favorable treatment (10A-C2.1).

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Records of the Committee on Manufactures (1819-1911)

History and Jurisdiction

7.10 Among the records of a select committee to revise the rules of the House are two memorials from Philadelphia manufacturers, presented to the House in December 1815, asking that a standing committee be appointed "to watch over the interests of our manufacturing citizens." In pleading their case, the memorialists noted the large amount of capital invested in manufacturing, the many citizens interested in it, and its importance to the country as an independent Nation. They maintained that the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers then in existence was inadequate and denied that there was "any propriety in the reference of the subjects of Commerce and Manufactures to the same committee" (14A-F16.4).

7.11 Despite these views, the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures continued for four more years. On December 7, 1819, Peter Little of Maryland offered an amendment of the House rules in order to provide a standing Committee on Manufactures. The chairman of the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers, Thomas Newton, Jr., of Virginia, argued that commerce and manufactures were intimately connected, and noted that relief for threatened manufacturing interests was generally provided in the form of commercial duties. Representative Little, on the other hand, declared that commerce and manufactures were not necessarily connected and frequently had conflicting interests. Such arguments carried the day and, by a vote of 88 to 60, the amendment was accepted on December 8, 1819. 2

7.12 The Committee on Manufactures was assigned jurisdiction over matters relating "to the manufacturing industries." The Committee on Manufactures became inactive during the later years of its existence and was eliminated in 1911, at the beginning of the 62d Congress.

Records of the Committee on Manufactures, 16th-61st Congresses (1819-1911)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 3 vols. 50th (1887-89), 52d-53d (1891-95)
Docket Books 11 vols. 23d-28th (1833-45), 31st-32d (1849-53), 35th (1857-59), 39th (1865-67), 43d (1873-75), 45th-46th (1877-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th (1887-89), 52d-53d (1891-95)
Petitions & Memorials 7 ft. 16th-24th (1819-36), 26th-33d (1839-55), 35th (1857-59), 43d (1873-75), 45th-46th (1877-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th (1887-89), 54th (1895-97), 61st (1909-11)
Committee Papers 2 ft. 16th-18th (1819-25), 20th-28th (1827-45), 32d (1851-53), 45th-46th (1877-81)
TOTAL: 9 ft. and 14 vols. (1 ft.)  

7.13 The three minute books of the committee record dates of meetings, attendance, appointments to subcommittees, motions, and some discussions. The volumes for the 50th (1887-1889) and 52d (1891-1893) Congresses contain entries for approximately one meeting per week, but only a few entries appear in the minute book for the 53d Congress (1893-1895). A few additional minutes, covering meetings held from December 28, 1827, to January 10, 1828, are among the committee papers (20A-D12.1).

7.14 Docket books are more numerous but contain little beyond a list of the matters referred to the committee and the names of the Members who formed the subcommittee to which the document was referred. The docket book for the 23d through 28th Congresses (1833-1845), on the other hand, contains some notes of the activities of the committee. Many of the entries in this volume appear to be in the handwriting of the committee's chairman, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts.

7.15 Many of the petitions were sent by individuals and groups interested in the duties imposed on foreign goods imported into the country. During the 16th Congress (1819-1821), for example, the committee received petitions from manufacturers and other concerned citizens in several States requesting increased duties on iron, cotton, paper, window glass, gloves, boots and shoes, coach lace, musical instruments, and other items, as well as petitions from Maine, South Carolina, and Virginia praying that no changes would be made in the duties then in force (16A-G10.2, 16A-G10.3). A large number of the petitions referred to the Committee on Manufactures during its first decade (1819-1829) sought higher duties on iron (16A-G10.2, 18A-F9.1), cotton and wool (16A-G10.2, 18A-F9.1, 18A-F9.3, 19A-G10.1), and copper (16A-G10.2, 16A-G10.3; 20A-G10.2). Other petitioners requested higher duties on cabinets (16A-G10.2), marble (17A-F8.1), hemp and flax (18A-F9.3), and ready-made clothing (20A-G10.2). From 1829 to 1839, there are considerably fewer duty-related petitions.

7.16 During the years 1839-1841, there are again a large number of duty-related petitions. Included are calls for higher duties on imported manufactures such as pins (26A-G10.3, 26A-G10.4); boots, shoes, and leather (27A-G11.1, 27A-G11.4); umbrellas (26A-G10.2, 26A-G10.4); and salt (26A-G10.4, 27A-G11.4). Some manufacturers asked not only for higher duties on manufactured goods, but also for the repeal of duties on raw materials used to make manufactured goods in the United States (27A-G11.4).

7.17 The years 1839-1843 brought several petitions for increased duties on "liquor" and "spirits," a measure intended to reduce consumption rather than increase domestic production. In addition to requesting an increased duty, citizens of Wayne County, NY, asked that liquor no longer be furnished to the Army and Navy, sold in Washington, DC, or in any other areas under Federal jurisdiction (26A-G10.4). Another petition requested both a duty on imported liquor and an excise tax on domestic production in an effort to cut consumption (27A-G11.4).

7.18 Other petitions referred to the committee between 1839 and 1843, rather than requesting a change in the duty for a particular item of manufacture, called for a general protective tariff. Petitions coming from more than a dozen States and containing thousands of signatures support such a tariff as an aid to manufacturing in the United States, preserve home markets, and improve the economy. Such petitions came from several Pennsylvania towns (26A-G10.2); as well as from the Friends of a Protective Tariff in Windsor County, VT; the State legislatures of New Jersey and Massachusetts; and the city of Cincinnati, which submitted a large number of petitions requesting a tariff that would protect "the Arts, Agriculture, and Commerce" (27A-G11.5). One of the most detailed petitions comes from New York City and includes not only signatures but also occupations and addresses (27A-G11.2).

7.19 A few petitions from the years 1839-1843 suggest that attempts to negotiate lower duties with other nations might aid the economy of the country. The General Assembly of Tennessee, for example, supported negotiations with other nations for lower tobacco duties, but, if negotiations failed, the legislature favored placing high duties on imported luxury items (27A-G11.4). Michigan farmers requested negotiations with the British to open their markets to flour and pork produced in the United States (27A-G11.4).

7.20 From 1843 to 1853, there are fewer petitions praying for changes to the duties on imports. Many of the petitions for this period came from merchants and manufacturers who either expressed their support for the protective tariff of 1842 or their displeasure with the Revenue Act of 1846, which cut back some of the 1842 rates (28A-G11.1, 29A-G9.1, 30A-G10.1, 31A-G10.1, 32A-G11.1). After 1853, there are virtually no petitions concerning duties.

7.21 Some petitions requested other types of assistance. Silk manufacturer Ephraim Cooper believed that silkworms and the mulberry trees needed to feed them would thrive in the United States and could greatly aid the poor balance of trade with Britain and the West Indies. In 1820 Cooper requested a $25,000 grant from the Government to support his efforts. Cooper even sent along some samples of silk thread he had manufactured (16A-G10.2).

7.22 The records also include a few petitions that deal with the issue of slavery. An 1820 petition from the city of Philadelphia argue against the spread of slavery into the State of Missouri (16A-G10.2). In 1828, numerous petitions called upon the Government to provide a site on the coast of Africa for blacks wishing to emigrate (20A-G10.2). In 1841, the American Free Produce Association requested that the duty on imported cotton be removed so that people in the United States could purchase foreign cotton instead of cotton produced by slaves (27A-G11.4). The only proposed constitutional amendment among the petitions is also related to the issue of slavery. Referred to the committee in February 1844, this petition from Trumball County, OH, calls for apportionment of representatives counting free inhabitants only, or, as an alternative, counting animals in free States the same as slaves in slave States (28A-G11.2).

7.23 Few petitions are among the committee's records for the years 1853-1911. From 1877 to 1881, petitions in support of legislation to prohibit the adulteration of food and drink, came from the Chicago Board of Trade, the Produce Exchange of New York, and similar groups in Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and several other States. The Committee also received petitions concerning the creation of a Federal Department of Manufactures (46A-H13.2) and the regulation of the production and sale of oleomargarine (46A-H13.3). Petitioners during the 50th Congress (1887-1889) sought legislation forbidding the formation of pools, trusts, and combinations.

7.24 The committee papers are not as numerous as the petitions, consisting mostly of reports to Congress, though they include some correspondence and a few memorials. Most of the reports submitted by the committee concerned duties, such as the one in 1820 that examined "the various Memorials praying for, and remonstrating against, an increase of the duties on imports" (16A- D13.1). Papers from the 20th Congress (1841-1843) contain manuscript transcripts of hearings held during that Congress on the wool, iron, spirits, window glass, rum, and hemp industries in the country, as well as a committee report, witness subpoenas, and an index of the transcripts by witness and topic (20A-D12.1).

7.25 During the 1830's and 1840's, there are both majority and minority committee reports on the protection of domestic manufacturing (22A-D15.1, 27A-D12.1), in addition to reports concerning the manufacturing of silk (24A-D12.1) and the decision in 1844 not to amend the 1842 tariff (28A-D16.1). No other significant records appear in the committee papers until 1888, when the committee held hearings on trusts. Accompanying the empowering resolution from Congress for the committee to investigate combinations and their effect upon prices is testimony from several witnesses involved in the distillation and sale of whiskey and the manufacturing and sale of cotton bagging (50A-F21.1). There are no committee papers after 1888 other than a list of appointments to the committee in 1895 (54A-F24.1).

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Records of the Committee on Commerce (1819-1891)

History and Jurisdiction

7.26 This section reviews the records of the Committee on Commerce that existed from 1819, when the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures was split into two standing committees, until 1891, when its name was changed to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. During this period, the committee's jurisdiction extended to "commerce, Life-Saving Service, and light-houses, other than appropriations for Life-Saving Service and light-houses."3 In practice, the committee's responsibilities encompassed regulation of both interstate and foreign commerce generally; customs collection districts, ports of entry, and ports of delivery; compensation of customhouse officials; regulations and appropriations regarding navigable waters and works affecting them, such as bridges, locks, dams, tunnels, pipes, and cribs; obstructions to navigation, such as sunken vessels; lighthouses and other aids to navigation; interoceanic canals; ocean cables; lifesaving stations; public health and the prevention of infectious diseases; purity of food and drugs; regulations regarding the exportation of livestock and foodstuffs; transportation of livestock; and the regulation of railroads. Besides the Lifesaving Service, the committee exercised jurisdiction over matters relating to such Federal agencies as the Revenue-Cutter Service; the Marine Hospital Service; and the Interstate Commerce Commission.

7.27 When the Committee on Rivers and Harbors was established on December 19, 1883, the Committee on Commerce relinquished its jurisdiction over appropriations for the improvement of rivers and harbors.

Records of the Committee on Commerce, 16th-51st Congresses (1819-1891)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Docket Books 6 vols. 19th-22d (1825-33), 28th-30th (1843-49), 34th (1855-59)
Petitions & Memorials    57 ft. 16th-51st (1819-91)
Committee Papers 16 ft. 16th-51st (1819-91)
TOTAL: 73 ft. and 6 vols. (1 ft.)     

7.28 The docket books contain a list of the bills, resolutions, petitions, and memorials that were referred to the committee. The entries note the Member of Congress who introduced or presented the item, the date of referral, and the subject. In many instances, the entries also indicate the member or members of the committee assigned as an ad hoc subcommittee to consider a given matter and make recommendations to the committee about it; frequently there is also information concerning the final disposition by the committee. The volumes for the years 1845-47 include some notes on attendance at committee meetings. Apparently in an attempt to deal with a chronic problem of members arriving late or failing to come to committee meetings, the committee resolved to assess fines against those absent 15 minutes after the meeting began.

7.29 Petitions and memorials, with resolutions of State legislatures and other groups, comprises the largest series of records of the Committee on Commerce. Other types of documents in this series include maps, sketches, vessel enrollment certificates, letters, reports of surveys of harbors, customs data, newspaper clippings, bills, and resolutions referring particular matters to the committee. Issues relating to waterborne commerce predominate, especially for the period before the Civil War. In the postwar years, railroad and telegraph issues also appear with some frequency.

7.30 This series includes for almost every Congress a subseries consisting of petitions and memorials concerning placement of lighthouses, light vessels, buoys, beacons, fog signals, and other aids to navigation at specific locations. Accompanying some of these are supporting documents, such as maps, sketches, letters, and tables of statistics on commercial activities at the harbor concerned. Most petitions were straightforward requests for a lighthouse or other conventional aids to navigation, but a wide variety of objects could serve that purpose, including structures whose primary mission was far removed from aiding navigation, at least ostensibly. The congregation of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church at New Utrecht in Kings County, NY, for example, submitted a petition in January 1822 explaining that their church and an old buttonwood tree had for years served as landmarks to ships entering New York Harbor. The tree, however, was decaying, and the church was old and had been damaged during the Revolutionary War. The petitioners were considering building a new church with a 130 foot steeple, and, in view of its beneficial effects on navigation, the petitioners asked that the Federal Government fund all but $5,000 of the $25,000 cost (17A-F 3.5).

7.31 The Committee on Commerce exercised jurisdiction over a complex network of laws designed to encourage American commercial activity, including the customs laws that established the system by which the Government raised revenue and protected native industries, the navigation acts designed to encourage American shipping, and the law providing a bounty to owners of certain fishing vessels. The committee received a large number of petitions and memorials regarding these laws, most seeking special congressional consideration of a specific case. Many petitioners sought a refund of duties paid on a shipment for a variety of reasons, such as that the goods had been destroyed by fire before they could be sold or because the shipment constituted a charitable donation for the relief of the widow of a murdered seaman (16A-G4.2). Likewise, an assortment of reasons might be offered to justify an exception to the rules limiting the coastal trade to American ships and imposing special fees on foreign vessels discharging goods at American ports. The owner of one such vessel, for example, asked for exemption because the law had not been enacted before he took on the cargo, while another asked for a refund on cargo that was in a British vessel when it arrived at an American port only because the original American vessel was lost in a storm while en route (16A-G4.2). The special privileges allowed American ships resulted in a number of petitions that sought American registry for specific vessels (35A-G3.15, 39A-H5.5). Similarly, the promise of a fishing bounty spurred a few petitioners to seek payment despite some disqualifying circumstance, such as failure to renew a license (16A-G4.3).

7.32 Some petitions and memorials, rather than seeking an exception to the laws, argued for or against a change in them, such as the 1820 memorial of the Virginia Agricultural Society of Fredericksburg against a tariff bill (16A-G4.2). There are petitions for and against repeal of acts prohibiting British vessels from bringing goods from the British colonies into U.S. ports (17A-G3.4). A petition from mackerel fishermen asked for a general change in the law to extend to them the same bounties available to cod fishermen (21A-G4.4).

7.33 Other recurring topics among the petitions and memorials concern the administrative machinery set up to enforce the customs laws. Since vessels arriving in the United States from foreign shores could not proceed to a port of delivery without first stopping at a port of entry to pay duty and complete the required paperwork, many petitions and memorials among the records request the designation of a specific location as a port of entry (numerous Congresses). Designation as a port of entry enhanced the prospects of a community vis-a-vis its neighbors and sometimes engendered rivalry, as was the case in a controversy during the 1840's over whether to confer such status on Lafayette, LA, instead of extending the recognized boundaries of the neighboring port of entry at New Orleans (28A-G4.7). Petitions also addressed such administrative issues as the assignment of steam revenue cutters to various waters (25A-G3.8, 26A-G3.10), governmental warehouses (28A-G4.8, 34A- G3.12), and pay and pensions of officials of the Government (16A-G4.5, 33A-G4.9, 46A-H6.5, 47A-H5.8, 48A-H6.3).

7.34 Steam power gradually overtook wind power as the predominant fuel of vessels during the 19th century. The new technology was not without risks, however, and tragic accidents occurred when steam boilers exploded. Concern about the safety of steamships is the subject of some of the records. In the year 1845, the committee received two printed petitions from travelers on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers who advocated the use of Evans' Safety Guard on steamship boilers in order to prevent explosions (28A-G4.13), while petitioners in 1854 asked that the Government purchase the patent rights to the invention so that use of the safety guard would be more widespread (33A-G4.8). Another petition advocated the construction of bulkheads to protect deck passengers in the event of explosion (31A-G3.8). Letters from Edward D. Tippett, newspaper clippings, and communications from executive agencies document Tippett's attempt to convince Congress of the value of his cold water safety steam engine (31A-G3.8).

7.35 Safety concerns also led to restrictions on the type of cargo that steam vessels could carry. Petitions from the year 1866 asked that the restriction on transportation of gunpowder by steamboat be eased to permit the powder to be transported in iron kegs (39A-H5.7). Another important advancement in safety was the introduction of compulsory pilotage laws and regulations for the Nation's busy harbors. Reaction to such measures was not altogether favorable, however, as shown by a number of petitions and memorials protesting the changes (16A-G4.5, 25A-G3.8, 34A-G3.10, 45A- H6.1). There are also records giving opinions on other innovations designed to safeguard passengers, including steamboat lighting, lifeboat, and inspection requirements (30A-G4.7, 31A-G3.8, 32A- G4.10).

7.36 Some petitions and memorials referred to the Committee on Commerce address social issues. The committee had jurisdiction over the Marine Hospital Service, created on July 16, 1798, to provide care for sick and disabled American merchant seamen.4 Funding for the hospitals came from fees charged to arriving seamen. There are a number of petitions and memorials regarding the hospital service. Most of these sought an expansion of the system, including establishment of hospitals on inland waterways for the temporary seamen operating canal boats on the rivers (22A-G4.3) and for emigrants and business travelers who might become ill while en route (24A-G3.6). Another petition, however, contains the signatures of thousands of married seamen who wanted to be released from the payment of the hospital tax unless the rules were changed to allow them to receive benefits (39A-H5.8). Other memorials relating to social issues reflect concern about epidemics of infectious diseases (39A-H5.4, 49A-H7.5, 50A-H6.3) and about immigration policy and its effects (32A-G4.8, 42A-H3.2, 44A-H3.4, 45A-H6.3).

7.37 There are numerous petitions and memorials regarding improvements to the Nation's water transportation system, including the removal of obstructions in rivers (numerous Congresses), the construction of canals (23A-G3.7, 45A-H6.5, 51A-H6.12), the building of bridges over navigable streams (numerous Congresses), and the creation of a St. Lawrence River waterway to the Great Lakes (37A-G2.9). In addition, a number of documents from the 1880's and 1890's support proposals to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, including Capt. James B. Eads' proposal for a ship railway in Mexico (49A-H7.3) and proposals to build a canal across Nicaragua (50A-H6.10, 51A-H6.12).

7.38 A few petitions and memorials concern communications issues. For example, a memorial favoring a survey of an overland route for a telegraph from Russian America (Alaska) to the Amoor River in Russia, is accompanied by maps and a copy of H. Ex. Doc. 98, 35th Cong., 1st sess., entitled "Explorations of Amoor River" (37A-G2.8). Other petitions that focus on communications relate to marine signal codes (24A-G3.11, 34A-G3.8, 35A-G3.12) and the telegraph industry (44A-H3.1, 45A-H6.10).

refer to caption

Map showing overland Pacific Telegraph from San Francisco to Moscow, submitted to the Committee on Commerce with a petition for a survey for a telegraphic line from the Amoor River to Russian America (HR37A-G2.8). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

7.39 Though water transportation issues dominate the records throughout the history of the Committee on Commerce, petitions and memorials dealing with railroads appear regularly during the period following the Civil War. Included are many protests against unjust discrimination in the rates charged by common carriers, calls for governmental regulation of interstate commerce, and comments regarding the effects of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 (44A-H3.3, 45A-H6.2, 46A-H6.6, 47A-H5.1, 49A-H7.10, 50A-H6.1, 51A-H6.9, 51A-H6.10). A few memorials called for governmental action to require safety devices for railroads, such as automatic couplers and air brakes (50A-H6.7, 51A-H6.14).

7.40 Numerous other issues and events are mentioned in the petitions and memorials of the Committee on Commerce, including an exploring expedition to the South Seas (22A-G4.5, 23A-G3.7), the value of foreign coins (22A-G4.6), a proposed expedition to rescue polar explorer Dr. E.K. Kane (33A-G4.2), exemptions for canal boats from certain shipping regulations (28A-G4.9), subsidies for steamship lines (35A-G3.9, 38A-G3.7, 45A-H6.9, 50A-H6.5), and regulations regarding the transportation of livestock (48A-H6.11, 49A-H7.11).

7.41 Committee papers of the Committee on Commerce consist mainly of manuscript copies of committee reports and communications from executive agencies regarding legislative proposals. There is a wide variety of other documents, however, including some petitions and memorials, letters received by the committee, and published materials, as well as occasional sketches, maps, affidavits, newspaper clippings, and copies of laws and regulations.

7.42 The committee papers relate to many of the same topics as the petitions and memorials, including navigational aids, shipping and customs regulations, private claims or requests, and internal improvements. Among the documents relating to aids to navigation are notes from an interview with Commodore James Barron regarding the use of light vessels off the coast of England and his suggestions for light vessels on the Chesapeake Bay (16A-D4.1); a list of U.S. lighthouses, their keepers, and salaries for the year 1828, prepared for the committee by the Treasury Department (20A-D4.5); a list showing appropriations in 1836 for harbor improvements in certain States (24A-D3.6); and copies of correspondence between the auditor in the Treasury Department and collectors of customs regarding the need for specific navigational aids, including estimates of the anticipated costs and statements of moneys collected in the districts involved (19A-D4.1). Papers from the year 1826 concerning the removal of wrecks remaining in Savannah harbor from the Revolutionary War include affidavits of local citizens who lived there during that historic era (19A-D4.4). There are also letters, dated 1853, from the files of the Coast Survey Office regarding the proposed removal of the remnants of the Aberdeen, which foundered on rocks near Fort Point in San Francisco Bay (33A- D2.10).

7.43 Records relating to shipping include a list of American vessels that arrived at Havre in 1819 and 1820, showing the difference in tonnage measurements between French and U.S. authorities, and other papers regarding commerce with France (16A-D4.2). There are replies to a circular sent to merchants and ship owners regarding the effect of the Shipping Act of 1872, along with other letters and affidavits of seamen recounting personal experiences (43A-F7.4). From the year 1879, there is a file, consisting mainly of correspondence, on proposals to allow American owners to obtain American registry for foreign-built ships. Included is a list, compiled from U.S. statutes, of exceptions to the registry laws from 1859 to 1879 (45A-F7.5).

7.44 Committee papers also include replies of collectors of customs to an 1821 circular of the Secretary of the Treasury regarding the act of March 2, 1819, which had eased reporting requirements for coastwise trade within the same or an adjoining State. The circular was used to determine whether the law had increased smuggling and other revenue violations and led to higher administrative costs, and to solicit suggestions on ways to remedy the situation. Most of the officials replied that smuggling had increased and recommended the repeal of the act (17A-C4.4).

7.45 There are papers regarding private claims concerning fishing bounties, drawbacks and other refunds of duty paid, compensation, contracts, wrecks, and clearances, including a bound volume of transcribed documents submitted by Solomon Hopkins and others in their case to obtain pay claimed for their work as aides in the Boston Custom House (35A-D4.2). Papers from the years 1883-84 relating to a request for a life-saving station for Chatham Bay, MA, include a map showing the sites of wrecks during the period from 1873-83, a letter from the keeper, and comments of the general superintendent of the Lifesaving Service (49A-F7.3).

7.46 In 1890 the committee received numerous letters, as well as newspaper clippings, from Kentucky residents complaining of plundering by persons living in shanty boats on the Ohio River. The letters favor legislation that would require residents of boats on inland waterways to obtain licenses (51A-F7.8).

7.47 Among the committee papers relating to canals and internal improvements is a copy of a blank questionnaire, dated 1870, used by the Canadian Office of Canal Commissioners on proposals for new canals or canal improvements in Canada (41A-F6.4). Papers regarding a proposed Mississippi River Bridge at New Orleans include a promotional pamphlet of the New Orleans Terminal Railway and Bridge Company, two issues of the Picayune, blueprints, copies of bills, and materials related to subcommittee hearings on the issue (51A-F7.4).

7.48 Committee papers concerning railroads include materials relative to an investigation authorized on May 24, 1876, of alleged collusion among railroad companies to control commerce. The records include a copy of the resolution referring the matter to the committee, as well as letters and telegrams received, lists of railroad rates, and newspaper clippings (44A-F6.2). Among committee papers of the 45th Congress is a letter from railroad magnate C.P. Huntington refuting a memorial of January 21, 1879 from the Nevada legislature that charged the Central Pacific Railroad with discrimination in rates (45A-F7.2). Other railroad related papers include copies of an 1886 diplomatic dispatch from the U.S. minister at the Hague regarding the railway system of the Netherlands (49A-F7.5) and a partial manuscript report of the 1888 investigation by the House Select Committee on Existing Labor Troubles in Pennsylvania created to consider circumstances surrounding the ongoing Reading Railroad strike (50A-F7.2).

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Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (1892-1968)

History and Jurisdiction

7.49 The Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce came into existence in 1892 when the name of the Committee on Commerce was changed "apparently in order to placate a losing candidate for Speaker of the House who was to become its chairman, by providing a more dignified sounding name."5 Though the name change was not due to a change in jurisdiction, the committee did experience some jurisdictional changes during the 1880's and 1890's.

7.50 During most of the 19th century, there had been some inconsistency in the referral of certain customs-related matters. After 1895, however, the jurisdiction over customs districts, ports of entry and delivery, the transportation of dutiable goods, and officers and employees in the customs service passed to the Committee on Ways and Means. Similarly, for many years after the establishment of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee in December 1887, the division of jurisdiction over various matters relating to water transportation between the new committee and the Committee on Commerce (later, the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee) was inconsistently applied, but progressively more of these issues were referred to the Merchant Marine Committee. In 1935 the House rule that defined committee jurisdictions finally dropped the phrase that referred matters relating to the Lifesaving Service and lighthouses to the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. That same year, however, the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce acquired jurisdiction over radio-related matters from the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.

7.51 After passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the House rules defined the jurisdiction of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee as follows: Interstate and foreign commerce generally; regulation of interstate and foreign transportation, except transportation by water not subject to the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission; regulation of interstate and foreign communications; civil aeronautics; weather bureau; interstate oil compacts; petroleum and natural gas, except on the public lands; securities and exchanges; regulation of interstate transmission of power, except the installation of connections between Government water power projects; railroad labor and railroad retirement and unemployment, except revenue measures relating thereto; public health and quarantine; inland waterways; the Bureau of Standards and the standardization of weights and measures and the metric system.

7.52 Because of the pervasive influence of commercial activity in American life, it was perhaps inevitable that the jurisdiction of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee frequently overlapped with that of other committees. A committee print from 1974 stated that the committee's jurisdiction overlapped with the jurisdiction of over half of the House committees.

Records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 52nd-79th Congresses (1892-1946)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 23 vols. 53d-56th (1893-1901), 60th-78th (1907-44)
Docket Books 45 vols. 53d-78th (1893-1944)
Petitions & Memorials 49 ft. 52d-69th (1891-1927), 71st-79th (1929-46)
Committee Papers 74 ft. 58th-79th (1903-46)
Bill files 81 ft. 16th-51st (1819-91)
TOTAL: 204 ft. and 68 vols. (7 ft.)  

7.53 The records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce include a nearly complete set of bound minutes and docket volumes for this time period. The entries in the minute books include information on dates of committee hearings and witnesses who testified, as well as minutes of other committee meetings. Minutes of subcommittee meetings also appear in the volumes for the 67th Congress (1921-23) and the 72d-78th Congresses (1931-44). Roll call votes of the committee are also recorded in the minute books beginning with the 67th Congress.

7.54 Docket books list the bills, petitions, and other documents referred to the committee. From the 53d to 59th Congresses (1893-1907), entries for those matters that were referred to the executive branch for comment include brief notes regarding the executive agency position on the proposal. Two docket volumes are available for some time periods. For the 60th to 64th Congresses (1907-17), separate docket volumes were created to track bills the committee received that had originated in the Senate. From the 70th to 78th Congresses (1927-44), there are volumes containing entries on all subjects referred to the committee but also separate volumes that track only bills relating to bridges.

7.55 Petitions and memorials, with resolutions of State legislatures and other groups, are occasionally accompanied by a number of other types of documents, such as trade association newsletters, maps, and reports and communications from Federal agencies. The petitions and memorials themselves take several forms. They may be manuscript, typewritten, or printed. Many of the documents are letters, telegrams, or postcards, rather than petitions and memorials in the more formal sense. As is the case during other time periods, the committee sometimes received numerous copies of identical petitions, memorials, or letters from different persons or groups. There are also some rolled petitions. Besides State legislatures and private individuals, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, trade associations, labor unions, farm groups, church congregations and other religious groups, and women's clubs appear as petitioners and memorialists.

7.56 Transportation issues continue to be the focus of many memorials referred to the retitled committee, although the focus is no longer on water but on land transportation, reflecting the enormous expansion of railroads and the development of motor vehicles during the period from 1892 to 1946. During the 1870's, the Midwestern States became the first to enact regulatory legislation in response to charges by farmers and businessmen of unjust discrimination in railroad rates, but in 1886 the Supreme Court, in Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway Company v. Illinois, severely restricted the ability of the States to enact laws that affected interstate commerce. In response, on February 4, 1887, the Federal Government enacted the Interstate Commerce Act. The act, which originated in the Senate but was referred to the Committee on Commerce in the House, prohibited railroads from engaging in such practices as rebates, long and short haul rate discrimination, and pools involving ratefixing and profitsharing agreements among railroad companies. A permanent board, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), was appointed to supervise administration of the new law. The Interstate Commerce Act set the stage for an explosive increase in governmental regulation of commerce in which the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce would play a leading role. This activity is a dominant topic among the petitions and memorials.

7.57 The original Interstate Commerce Act did not fare well in the Supreme Court, and by 1897 the ICC had become virtually powerless. Legislation enacted during the first decade of the 20th century, however, did much to reinvigorate it. Petitions referred to the committee from 1891 to 1913 called for strengthening of the ICC's powers in general (52A-H9.1, 55A. H9.2, 56A-H10.1, 57A-H11.1, 62A-H14.7) and the power to set reasonable rates in particular (55A-H9.6, 58A-H10.5, 58A-H10.12, 58A- H10.13, 59A-H11.1, 60A-H16.17). Other petitions deal with specific grievances against the railroads, such as difficulties obtaining railroad cars for shipments and slow delivery time (59A-H11.7, 60A- H16.16, 65A-H6.3).

refer to caption

Resolution from the San Bernardino County Fruit Exchange on December 12, 1905 (HR59A-H11.1). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

7.58 Some of the petitions and memorials object to the restrictions on railroads. There are, for example, memorials calling for legalization of pooling under certain limited circumstances (53A-H14.7, 60A-H16.3), as well as memorials against such a change (55A-H9.11). Newspapermen who had received free railroad passes in exchange for publishing railroad schedules in their newspapers sought an exemption to the provision of the Hepburn Act of 1906 that prohibited free passes to anyone but railroad employees (62A-H14.10). From the 71st to 78th Congress (1929-44), there are petitions for a rollback of some of the regulations that had been enacted, such as the requirement that the ICC approve mergers and prohibitions against certain ratemaking procedures (71A-H7.1, 74A-H6.6, 76A-H12.5, 78A-H8.5). Other petitions, dating from 1925 to 1933, call for regulation of motor buses and trucks as a matter of fairness to the railroads (69A-H6.11, 71A-H7.3, 72A-H6.4).

7.59 Regulation of railroad labor practices were the subject of petitions from railroad employees, their unions, and other interested persons during the early 20th century. These pertain to such issues as employment qualifications, passes for employees and their families, the number of hours that employees could work, strikes, retirement, and other issues (58A-H10.10, 59A-H11.5, 63A-H12.12, 64A-H11.9, 65A-H6.5, 73A-H8.8, 74A-H6.3, 76A-H12.8, 79A-H8.13). Railroad safety appliances and procedures, such as automatic couplers, air brakes, electric signals, accident reporting, automatic cleaning of ash pans, and punishment of trainwreckers and robbers, received the support of numerous memorialists and petitioners (52A-H9.11, 53A-H14.8, 57A-H11.11, 59A-H11.8, 60A-H16.15, 63A-H12.18).

7.60 The railroads were the first industry to come under strong Federal regulations, but others soon followed. Calls for regulation of the food processing and drug industries led to the enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 and subsequent legislation, though not without protest from business interests. Numerous petitions and memorials, dating from 1897 to 1915, concern such issues as the mixture of flour, imitation dairy products, ingredients in baking powder, labeling and standardization of product ingredients and weights and measures, grain inspection, food preservatives, and cold storage requirements (55A-H9.15, 56A-H10.5, 57A-H11.9, 58A-H10.7, 59A-H11.6, 60A-H16.14, 62A- H14.6, 63A-H12.3).

7.61 Petitions and memorials, dating mostly from before 1920, address issues relating to the regulation of numerous other industries, including the telephone and telegraph (53A-H14.6, 54a- H14.6, 60A-H16.19, 63A-H12.10, 65A-H6.13), coal (63A-H12.2; 65A-H6.3; 66A-H10.4, 66A-H10.12; 72A- H6.2), paint (60A-H16.12), and clothing industries (62A-H14.11, 63A-H12.13, 66A-H10.18, 69A-H6.19), and later the airline (75A-H7.2, 78A-H8.1) and petroleum industries (76A-H12.7).

7.62 Clearly the new governmental activism was not viewed by everyone as an improvement. Several memorials from the 60th Congress (1907-09) call for a friendlier legislative attitude toward corporations so that business might have a chance to recover from the economic slump (60A-H16.2). Letters from paint manufacturers in 1908 counsel Congress that, while "each Congressman's constituency apparently expects him to prove his stewardship by the introduction of legislative bills, nevertheless we take the liberty of suggesting to you that the present is an excellent opportunity for letting well enough alone." (60A-H16.12) Some small businessmen, on the other hand, led the call for certain restrictions on commerce, calling for taxation of the interstate mail order business (63A-H12.22, 64A- H11.18) and price maintenance legislation to prevent the price cutting associated with the developing chain stores (63A-H12.16, 69A-H6.12, 71A-H7.1, 74A-H6.5). As World War I was raging in Europe, the committee received petitions asking Congress to impose embargoes on exports of food, petroleum, and munitions in order to keep prices from escalating at home, while a few farmers wrote to object to an embargo (63A-H12.4, 64A-H11.4, 64A-H11.10, 64A-H11.12).

7.63 Americans turned to the Federal Government with its exclusive power over interstate commerce to resolve a host of perceived imperfections in society. Petitions from the years 1893 to 1921 called for laws to suppress interstate traffic relating to lotteries and gambling (53A-H14.11, 60A-H16.5, 66A-H10.8), smoking (55A-H9.13), liquor (58A-H10.8, 60A-H16.11, 61A-H13.6), obscene material (54A-H14.10), pictures of suicides (55A-H9.14), and pictures or descriptions of prize fights (55A-H9.19). During the 1930's, the committee received numerous petitions deploring the moral standards of Hollywood movies and asking the Federal Government to require licenses for films intended for interstate and foreign distribution and to prohibit the film studios from imposing block booking requirements on local movie theaters (71A-H7.2, 72A-H6.3, 74A-H6.4, 75A-H7.7, 76A-H12.6).

7.64 Another substantial section of the petitions and memorials concerns water transportation issues. Even though most of the committee's jurisdiction over these subjects had passed to either the Committee on Rivers and Harbors or the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries long before 1946, there remains a considerable body of records referred to the committee on these issues. They cover the entire period, 1892 to 1946, but most date from before 1925. Included are documents regarding proposed bridges and dams (52A-H9.1, 53A-H14.1, 54A-H14.3, 56A-H10.1, 57A-H11.2, 58A-H10.1, 62A-H14.2, 63A-H12.7, 65A-H7.1, 67A-H7.5); the interoceanic canal (52A-H9.2, 53A-H14.1, 54A-H14.7, 55A-H9.9, 56A-H10.3, 62A-H14.13, 63A-H12.8); lighthouses and other aids to navigation (52A- H9.7, 53A-H14.5, 55A-H9.1, 56A-H10.8, 58A-H10.3, 60A-H16.10); registry laws, subsidies, and other issues relating to American shipping (52A-G9.6, 55A-H9.12, 58A-H10.11, 60A-H16.20, 63A-H12.19, 65A- H6.14); the Lifesaving Service, Revenue-Cutter Service, Marine Hospital Service, and Coast Guard (52A- H9.4, 56A-H10.11, 57A-H11.6, 58A-H10.9, 60A-H16.9, 61A-H13.5, 62A-H14.16, 63A-H12.20, 66A-H10.3, 67A- H7.8); and, from 1931 to 1946, proposals for a waterway from the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes (72A-H6.8, 73A-H8.1, 76A-H12.9, 77A-H7.5, 79A-H8.7).

7.65 Two-thirds of the committee papers for the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce from 1892 to 1946 consists of records relating to the committee's investigation during the 73d Congress (1933-35) of the ownership and control of communications companies. Most of the records of the investigation are arranged by company and consist of company responses to the committee questionnaire, with organization charts, annual reports and other printed materials relating to the companies, historical background and statistical information, notes, charts, analyses of information collected, and drafts of the sections of the committee report pertaining to the companies. There are also investigative work papers; memorandums; data provided by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Department of Commerce, and the Federal Radio Commission; lists; an abstract of the Communications Act of 1934; magazine articles and newspaper clippings; correspondence with companies and Federal agencies; and a card file containing information regarding licensed radio stations. Drafts and published copies of the committee's preliminary and final reports on the investigation are also included (73A-F15.2, 51 ft.).

7.66 The remainder of the committee papers for the period from 1892 to 1946 consists of a variety of documents. A large percentage is annual reports and other communications from executive agencies, many of which include proposals for legislation or comments on bills pending before the committee. Fewer in number, but closely related, are Presidential messages that were referred to the committee. These include Presidential messages of Theodore Roosevelt regarding plans for the Panama Canal (57A-F16.1, 59A-F18.5). There are also copies of bills and resolutions, committee reports, congressional publications and, from the period before 1927, letters received from interested citizens regarding legislative issues, newspaper clippings, and privately published materials.

7.67 The papers generally parallel the petitions and memorials in terms of subject matter. There are, for example, committee papers relating to amendments to the Interstate Commerce Act and other matters involving regulation of interstate and foreign commerce (52A-F20.5, 53A-F19.2, 59A-F18.4). Records regarding railroad issues include correspondence of November 1919 between former Member of Congress William Jennings Bryan and the president of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway System concerning the distribution of railroad passes to legislators (66A-F22.4). There is a letter from the Department of the Navy containing information about its high-powered radio transmitting stations (65A-F14.1). Transcripts of hearings are included on such matters as establishment of a Department of Commerce and Industries, national quarantine policy, the Commerce Court, and aeronautics (55A-F16.2, 55A-F16.8, 62A-F19.1, 69A-F23.1). There are numerous documents concerning aids to navigation, bridges and dams over navigable waters, life saving stations, ports of entry, and other subjects relating to water transportation, including a copy of an 1896 letter of former Member of Congress William A. Newell of New Jersey regarding the role he played in the founding of the Lifesaving Service in 1848. Accompanying it is an 83-page typewritten response from the General Superintendent of the Lifesaving Service, dated May 17, 1898 (55A-F16.3). The numerous documents relating to the interoceanic canal include letters received; the draft of a proposed treaty with Nicaragua; the February 16, 1899, statement to the committee by the American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company, with related material; hearing transcripts; messages from President Roosevelt regarding the report of the Isthmian Canal Commission on the proposal of the New Panama Canal Company to sell its rights and property and unfinished work to the United States, the need for a canal with locks, and his visit to the Canal Zone; and annual reports of the Isthmian Canal Commission (55A- F16.5, 55A-F16.7, 57A-F16.1, 59A-F18.5, 59A-F18.6, 60A-F27.6).

7.68 Executive agencies whose annual reports or other communications to Congress are among the committee papers include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor, the Navy, and State; the Interstate Commerce Commission; the Federal Trade Commission; the Federal Power Commission; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Lifesaving Service; the Isthmian Canal Commission; the Lighthouse Commission; the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics; the Civilian Aviation Administration; the U.S. Railroad Labor Board; the National Mediation Board; the Federal Works Agency; the Board of War Communications; and the U.S. Public Health Service (numerous Congresses).

7.69 Legislative bill files consist of copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, executive agency comments on the proposals, and committee reports. Some of the files also contain letters and telegrams from persons and groups interested in the legislation. Other types of documents appear occasionally among the records, including transcripts of hearings, memorandums, maps, surveys, photographs, proposed amendments, petitions, printed copies of laws, nongovernmental publications, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles.

7.70 A few examples may serve to convey a sense of the variety of documents available among the bill files. The bill file on H.R. 9123, 60th Cong., to establish a Tuberculosis Commission includes a letter from Capt. Paul C. Hutton, surgeon at Fort William H. Seward in Haines, AK, with a report of the U.S. Grand Jury for the District of Alaska, dated December 1907, concerning tuberculosis among native Alaskans (60A-D13). Also from the 60th Congress, the file on H.R. 17707 concerning a power dam across the James River in Stone County, MO, includes the enrolled bill returned by the President and his veto message of January 15, 1909, as well as a report to the President, dated the previous day, from the Commissioner of Corporations in the Department of Commerce and Labor regarding the concentration of the control of water power (60A-D13). One very unusual file includes an enrolled bill with the signatures of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate lined through. The bill is H.R. 12197, 64th Cong., concerning a bridge across Bayou Bartholomew in Ashley County, AR. Accompanying it is the transmittal letter from the President stating that he was returning the bill in compliance with H.Con.Res. 46, as well as a letter from the Secretary of War informing President Woodrow Wilson that the bill contained an error in the description of the location where the bridge was to be built (64A-D8). For S. 2009, 76th Cong., the Transportation Act of 1940, there are copies of the Senate, House, and conference reports; copies of the bill; agency comments; a committee print that compares the proposal with existing law; and copies of statements made during the House-Senate conference on the bill (76A-D18).

7.71 The bill files cover the entire range of topics referred to the committee.

Records of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 12 vols. 79th-90th (1947-68)
Docket Books 18 vols. 79th-90th (1947-68)
Petitions & Memorials    6 ft. 79th-90th (1947-68)
Committee Papers 36 ft. 79th-90th (1947-68)
TOTAL: 126 ft. and 30 vols. (5 ft.)     

7.72 The Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce is unique among all standing committees of the House in that the National Archives holds full sets of committee minute books and docket books for the period from 1947 to 1968. The minute books contain typed pages pasted into the volumes which give the following basic information on meetings: Date, time of day, presiding official, subjects discussed, witnesses heard, and amendments approved or rejected. In addition, copies of committee prints with proposed text changes and mimeographed copies of amendments occasionally can be found pasted into a volume.

refer to caption

Minutes of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce on July 10-11, 1947. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

7.73 The docket books have entries arranged in chronological order by type of measure: House bills, House Joint Resolutions, House Concurrent Resolutions, House Resolutions, Senate bills, and Senate Joint Resolutions. Generally each docket entry includes the measure's date of introduction, the bill number and name of Representative introducing it, the bill's purpose and whether it was superseded by another measure, and a full account—with dates—of what happened to the measure (comments from agencies and departments, subcommittee and full committee meetings, committee disposition, passage by House, and enactment into public law).

7.74 In quantity, two-thirds of the total amount of petitions and memorials are petitions which call for an end to alcoholic beverage advertisements on radio and television (80A- H7.3, 81A-H7.3, 82A-H9.1, 83A-H7.3, 84A-H8.3, 85A-H9.4). Other subjects that generated considerable numbers of petitions included amendments to the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937 (80A-H7.2, 81A-H7.1, 83A-H7.1, 84A-H8.2, and 85A-H9.1), amendments to the Natural Gas Act of 1938 relative to the Federal Power Commission having the right to regulate well-head prices of field producers (84A-H8.1, 85A- H9.1), the establishment of national compulsory health insurance (81A-H7.2, 82A-H9.1), and the possibility of governmental approval for pay-television (85A-H9.3, 87A-H7.1).

7.75 For a typical Congress such as the 87th Congress (1961-62), memorials came from the legislatures of Idaho, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Arizona, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Alaska. Subjects covered included freight rates for the lumber industry, a fish sanctuary for the Salmon River, regulation of hydro-electric facilities by the Federal Power Commission, water pollution controls, representation on the Travel Advisory Board, Federal Communications Commission regulations regarding evening broadcasts, efforts to eradicate narcotic drug addiction, drug distribution controls, the establishment of a Federal narcotics hospital, the establishment of a Federal medical school, automotive safety, and air service (87A- H7.2).

7.76 Committee papers consist primarily of numerically arranged executive communications, messages from the President, copies of printed hearings and reports, final editions of committee calendars, and 1958-63 executive session transcripts for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Approximately 23 feet, nearly two-thirds of the committee papers, consist of executive communications. For the most part these are letters and publications sent to the Speaker of the House and then referred to the committee. They include draft proposals of legislation, reports submitted in compliance with U.S. law, and governmental publications and reports. These executive communications came from a variety of entities including the Federal Aviation Agency; the Civil Aeronautics Board; the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Power Commission; the Federal Trade Commission; the Interstate Commerce Commission; the National Mediation Board; the Department of Commerce; the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and the Government of the District of Columbia.

7.77 Presidential messages generally are nothing more than brief transmittal statements. Among those of substantive significance are letters from Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning national health insurance policies (83A-F10.1).

7.78 Printed hearings comprise approximately 9 feet of the total amount of committee papers (80A-F9.1, 88A IFC.3, 89 IFC.2, 90 IFC.5). These hearings exist for the 80th (1947-48) and 88- 90th (1963-68) Congresses. Topics focus on a wide variety of subjects, including matters relating to aviation, communications, the Federal Trade Commission, public health, railroad retirement provisions, and surface and water transportation.

>7.79 Final editions of committee calendars are present in committee papers for the 88th-90th Congresses (1963-68).

7.80 The two and a half feet of executive session transcripts from the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, 1958-63, are filed with committee papers for the 91st Congress. The main subjects discussed were television quiz shows, "payola" and related deceptive methods in the broadcast field, and broadcast ratings.

7.81 The heart of the committee's unbound records for this period are its bill files, which make up two-thirds of the total quantity. Bill files are arranged by type of legislation and thereunder in numerical order. The main set of bill files contains copies of bills and committee reports. Occasionally bill files are several inches thick, as is the case with files from the 80th Congress for both H.R. 2185 on proposed amendments to the Natural Gas Act and H.R. 2298 on amending the Interstate Commerce Act (80A-D6). In these cases the files also include background correspondence, proposed amendments, and/or transcripts of hearings.

7.82 For the 83d (1953-54), 85th-87th(1957-62), and 89th-90th (1965-68) Congresses, sets of "legislative files" ranging in size from 5 to 20 inches per Congress follow the main bill files. The "legislative files" for the 83rd Congress contain files on S. 2846 (Securities Exchange Act amendments), H.R. 5069 (Flammable Fabrics Act), and H.R. 5976 (Natural Gas Act amendment); those for the other Congresses are arranged by subject categories of health, transportation, consumer legislation, and/or energy with files thereunder in numerical public law order. These "legislative files" contain full documentation on the measure in question, including relevant pages from the Congressional Record.

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Records of the Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions (1903-1927)

History and Jurisdiction

7.83 The committee's origin can be traced to the select committee by the same name established in 1901 at the beginning of the 57th Congress with "jurisdiction on all matters (excepting those relating to the revenue and appropriations) referring to the centennial of the Louisiana purchase and to proposed expositions."66 On November 9, 1903, its status was changed to that of a standing committee, but its jurisdiction remained unchanged. In 1911 its jurisdiction statement was changed to eliminate the reference to the centennial of the Louisiana purchase. On December 5, 1927, as part of H.Res. 7 the House voted not to reauthorize the committee. In the 1930's Clarence Cannon reported that the committee's former jurisdiction was "now largely exercised" by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. 7

Records of the Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions, 58th-69th Congresses (1903-1927)

Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Minute Books 5 vols. 59th-63d (1905-15)
Docket Books 5 vols. 59th-63d (1905-15)
Petitions & Memorials    6 in. 60th-63d (1907-09), 66th (1919-21)
Committee Papers 7 in. 58th-61st (1903-11), 63d (1913-15), 66th-68th (1919-25)
Bill files 10 in. 58th-60th (1903-09), 62d-63d (1911-15), 66th-69th (1919-27)
TOTAL: 2 ft. and 10 vols. ( 1 ft.)     

7.84 Minute books exist for five Congresses only. The most complete entries are for meetings of the 59th Congress held in 1906. The volume for the 60th Congress (1907-9) contains full copies of bills pasted into the book. Docket books exist for the same five Congresses. The number of entries per book range from a high of 16 for the 59th Congress (1905-7) to a low of 3 for the 61st Congress (1909-11). Entries are arranged in chronological order.

7.85 The subject emphasis of petitions and memorials shifted from Congress to Congress. The great majority of petitions and memorials relate to one of the following: Requests from the 60th and 63d Congresses (1907-9 and 1913-15) that exposition fair grounds be closed on Sundays (60A-H14.1, 63A-H10.1); the rivalry between partisans of San Francisco, San Diego, and New Orleans for the site of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (61A-H12.3); appeals for Federal sponsorship of an Negro-oriented exposition commemorating the semi-centennial of the end of American slavery (60A-H14.3, 61A-H12.2); endorsements of American participation in Italian expositions (61A- H12.1); opposition to the appointment of a commission and the appropriation of $7,500,000 for celebration of a century of Anglo-American peace (62A-H12.1); and support for the erection of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, as opposed to building a commemorative highway in his name (62A- H12.1).

7.86 In quantity, nearly half of the committee papers consist of the prepublication composite copy of pamphlets for U.S. Government exhibits at the Brazilian Centennial Exposition, 1922-23, as well as background papers relating to the printing of the document (68A- F20.1). Another file consists of the manuscript copy of the final report on the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (59A-F37.2). Other files include copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee (59A-F37.1, 61A-F23.5, 66A-F20.1), printed hearings from 1911 on the Olympic games (61A- F23.2) and on the proposed 1915 Panama Canal commemorative exposition (61A-F23.4), and presidential transmittals of documents concerning the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company (58A-F38.1) and the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (61A-F23.1).

7.87 Although bill files exist for nine Congresses, they generally consist of nothing more than printed bills, resolutions, and reports. Files for the 68th and 69th Congresses (1923-27) also contain of both manuscript and printed copies of reports as well as background correspondence (68A-D13, 69A-D13). The bill file for the 63d Congress (1913-15) primarily concerns efforts by R. R. Wright, president of the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youths, and others to secure Federal backing for an exposition to celebrate the semi-centennial of emancipation; the file includes brief notes on the subject from President Woodrow Wilson (63A-D9).

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1 Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 3d and 4th Congresses, Dec. 14, 1795, p. 376.

2 Annals of Congress of the United States, 16th Cong., 1st sess., 8 Dec. 1819, pp. 708-10.

3 Asher C. Hind's, Hind's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907) Vol. 4, p. 736.

4 The Marine Hospital Service is the predecessor of the Public Health Service.

5 U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee on Committees, Monographs on the Committees of the House of Representatives, Committee Print, 93d Cong., 2d sess., 1974, p. 98. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1974. See also H. Doc. 234, 85th Cong., 1st sess., "Historical Data Regarding the Creation and Jurisdiction of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce."

6 Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 57th Cong., 1st sess., Dec. 2, 1901, p. 8.

7 Clarence Cannon, Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935), vol. 7, p. 840.

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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