Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 12: Committee on Elections

Chapter 12. Records of the Administration Committee and Its Predecessors

Table of Contents

Records of the House Administration Committee and Its Predecessors from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of Committee on Elections (1789-1895) andCommittees #1, #2, and #3 on Elections (1895-1946)

Jurisdiction and History

12.7 Article 1, section 5, of the Constitution of the United States specifies: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members." The Committee on Elections was established as the first standing committee of the House to perform this function on April 13, 1789, just two weeks after the first quorum allowed the House of Representatives to organize itself. Rule number 7 of the first rules adopted by the House of Representatives specifies the character and jurisdiction of the committee:

    7. A standing Committee on Elections shall be appointed, to consist of seven members, it shall be the duty of the said committee to examine and report upon the certificates of election, or other credentials of the members returned to serve in this House, and to take into their consideration all such matters as shall or may come in question, and be referred to them by the House, touching returns and elections, and to report their proceedings, with their opinion thereupon, to the House.1
12.8 From 1789 until the mid-19th century the number of contested election cases remained stable at an average of three per Congress. After the 34th Congress (1855-57) the number of contested seats rose sporadically to a peak of 38 during the 54th Congress (1895-97). In 1895, due to the increase in workload, the committee was split into three separate committees: Elections #1, Elections #2, and Elections #3. After 1935 the number of contested elections returned to an average of three per Congress, and in l947 the three Elections Committees were abolished and their jurisdiction included in that of the new House Administration Committee.

Records of the four committees on Elections, 1st-79th Congresses (1789-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books 38 volumes 29th-31st (1845-51), 34th-40th (1855-69), 42d-47th (1871-83), 50th-51st (1887-91), 53d-62d (1893-1913), 66th-76th (1919-41)
Docket Books 20 volumes47th (1881-83), 50th-55th (1887-99), 58th-62d (1903-13), 66th-67th (1919-23)
Petitions and Memorials 7 inches 9th (1805-07), 11th (1809-11), 17th (1821-23), 27th-29th (1841-47), 31st-36th (1849-61), 38th-39th (1863-67), 44th (1875-77), 47th (1881-83), 53d-54th (1893-97), 66th (1919-21)
274 feet 3d-5th (1793-99), 8th (1803-05), 10th-31st (1807-51), 33d-79th (1853-1946)
Bill Files 1 inch 67th-68th (1921-25), 71st (1929-31), 74th (1935-36)
Total274 feet, 8 inches and 58 volumes (5 feet) 
Committee Records Summary Table

12.9 The minute books provide documentation of the dates, attendance, and business conducted, at committee meetings. Several of the early minute volumes contain the minutes of several Congresses--the minute book for the 34th through 39th Congresses (1856-67), and the minute book for the 42d through 45th Congresses (1871-79), each contain over 300 handwritten pages. The docket books record the receipt of petitions, memorials, bills, resolutions, and various other papers. After 1895 when the single Elections Committee was split into three Elections Committees, there are separate minute and docket books for each of the committees.

12.10 The petitions and memorials relate primarily to the initiation of contested election cases, but they also include such documents as the credentials of election of delegates from New Mexico Territory and Deseret for 1849-51 (31A-G5), a large roll petition from citizens of California in 1857 demanding the expulsion of P.T. Herbert (34A-G5), and an appeal from citizens of South Carolina for a speedy decision on a contested seat for 1895-97 (54A-H10). Other petitions and memorials referred to the committee may be found in the committee papers files, as well as the petition and memorial files listed on the table above.

12.11 Committee papers, consisting primarily of evidence submitted in contested election cases, constitute the bulk of the documentation. Many of the case files, especially from the early Congresses, consist of an inch or less of loose papers. After the mid- 19th century, as the number of cases increased, the volume of material submitted as evidence also increased. This is reflected in the records of the period; for example, the 22 contest cases preserved from the 55th Congress (36 ft.) include over 7 feet on the case of Thorne v. Epes alone. The volume of records increases over time: 1st-40th Congresses (1789- 1869), 8 ft.; 41st-53d Congresses (1869-1895), 57 ft.; 54th-79th Congresses (1896-1946), 209 ft.

12.12 The Preliminary Inventory to the Records of the House of Representatives, 1798-1947, contains a detailed list of the records of case files from each Congress that are held by National Archives.

Table of Contents


1. Annals of the Congress of the United States, 1st Cong., 1st sess., April 13, 1789, p. 122. [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.