Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13: Insular Affairs

Chapter 13. Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Its Predecessors

Table of Contents

Records of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and Its Predecessors, 1805-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Insular Affairs (1899-1946) History and Jurisdiction

13.95 The Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898, officially concluded the Spanish-American War. According to the provisions of the treaty, Spain ceded the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, and relinquished her sovereignty over Cuba. On January 1, 1899, the Spanish evacuated Cuba, and control of the island was assumed by a military governor who represented the United States. On December 8, 1899, the House established the Committee on Insular Affairs to consider "all matters (excepting those affecting the revenue and appropriations) pertaining to the islands which came to the United States through the treaty of 1899 with Spain, and to Cuba." 1 Just 6 days earlier, on December 6, 1899, the United States had acquired exclusive rights to certain islands in Samoa through an agreement with England and Germany. Subsequently, matters relating to American Samoa also came within the committee's jurisdiction. In 1902 the Republic of Cuba was established, and jurisdiction over matters concerning Cuba was transferred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1906. Eventually, the jurisdiction of the Committee on Insular Affairs was expanded to cover the Virgin Islands of the United States which were purchased from Denmark by the treaty in 1916. In 1946 the committee was abolished and its responsibilities transferred to the Committee on Public Lands.

13.96 The Committee on Insular Affairs reported legislation concerning civil governments for each of the insular possessions. The committee also reported legislation concerning the clarification of citizenship status of inhabitants of the islands, ratification and confirmation of actions of the Philippine and Puerto Rican legislatures, matters relating to public works, harbor improvements, wharves, roads, railways, telephone and telegraph cables, electricity, trade and tariff laws, prohibition, education, taxes, bond issues, and relief from hurricanes and the depression. The committee also issued reports on the social, economic, and political conditions in the insular possessions.

Records of the Committee on Insular Affairs (1899-1946)


Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books9 vols.56th-64th (1899-1917), 78th-79th (1943-46)
Docket Books8 vols.57th-58th (1899-1901), 60th-64th (1903-17)
Petitions and Memorials2 ft.57th-59th (1901-07), 62d-64th (1911-17), 68th-74th (1923-36), 76th (1939-41)
Committee Papers7 ft.56th-60th (1899-1909), 62d-64th (1911-17), 66th (1919-21), 68th-79th (1923-46)
Bill Files2 ft.58th-60th (1903-09), 62d (1911-13), 66th-68th (1919-25), 70th-71st (1927-31), 73d-79th (1933-46)
TOTAL:11 ft. and 17 vols. (1 ft.) 

13.97 The minutes of committee meetings document the attendance of committee members, the topics discussed, individuals who testified before the committee, and some markup sessions. The docket books list, in the order received, all bills and resolutions referred to the committee and record actions related to each bill or resolution. The minute and docket books provide an excellent chronicle of the committee's activities for the years in which these records exist.

13.98 Petitions and memorials span a wide variety of issues. The majority of the petitions from 1911 to 1941 concern the question of Philippine independence (62A-H13.3, 63A-H11.1, 64A-H10.1, 69A-H5.1, 70A-H4.1, 71A-H6.1, 72A-H5.1, 73A-H7.1, 74A-H5.2, 76A-H11.1). Nearly all petitions received from Filipinos favored independence (69A-H5.1,71A-H6.1, 72A-H5.1, 73A-H7.1, 74A-H5.2, 76A-H11.1), one petition (1935) from Muslim Filipinos in 1935 opposed independence because they feared Christian rule and oppression (74A-H5.2). Although petitions relating to independence are distributed throughout the records, most of them are in the records for the 71st through 73d Congresses (1929-1934), when Congress was considering legislation regarding the political status of the Philippine Islands. After Franklin Roosevelt approved the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 which provided for independence for the Philippines on July 4, 1946, petitions concerning the Philippines requested immediate independence (74A-H5.2, 76A-H11.1).

13.99 The effect of Philippine independence on business concerns was a closely related issue. Between 1915 and 1917, the Cotton Manufactures Association, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and the Philippine Railway Company all expressed fears of the economic effects of Philippine independence. They requested that, if the Philippines were freed, "adequate provision be made for the protection of all securities issued and obligations entered upon by the Philippine government" (64A-H10.1).

13.100 The political status of Puerto Rico was also a popular concern of petitioners (58A-H9.1, 59A-H10.1, 62A-H13.1, 64A-H10.3, 70A-H4.1, 71A-H6.2, 73A-H7.1, 74A-H5.3, 76A-H11.2). Many wished that Puerto Ricans be given U.S. citizenship (59A-H10.1, 62A-H13.1, 64A-H10.3). The years between the Foraker Act of 1900, which established a colonial government, and the Organic Act of 1917, which made Puerto Rico a U.S. Territory, saw petitions requesting the separation of the executive and legislative branches of the Puerto Rican government (58A-H9.1, 59A-H10.10). Petitions from the 70th to 74th Congresses (1927- 1936) favor an elected Governor rather than one appointed by the President of the United States (70A-H4.1, 71A-H6.2, 73A-H7.1, 74A-H5.3). Many other petitions request an investigation of social, economic and political conditions in Puerto Rico and ask for relief for the island (69A- H5.1, 71A-H6.2, 74A-H5.1, 74A-H5.3, 76A-H11.2). The 74th Congress (1935-1936) received several petitions concerning relief and aid to Puerto Rico, including a request from the Decatur Milling Company that Puerto Rico be given aid because the company was suffering from a decrease in trade with the island, and a request to investigate the Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration (74A-H5.3). During the 76th Congress, the Insular Association of Social Workers of Puerto Rico sent a resolution declaring a state of emergency due to dire social and economic conditions on the island (76A-H11.2).

13.101 Although the Committee on Insular Affairs had jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands and Guam, there are few petitions pertaining to these possessions. Between 1929 and 1933, after the control of the Virgin Islands passed from the Navy to the Department of the Interior, the Committee on Insular Affairs received two petitions requesting that the Navy remain in the islands (71A-H6.2, 72A-H5.1). The Congress of Guam sent a resolution during the 72d Congress expressing continued allegiance to the United States (72A-H5.1).

13.102 Among the petitions and memorials are also several petitions that pertain to matters outside the committee's jurisdiction. During the 64th Congress (1915-1917), the committee received petitions and resolutions regarding wages and bonuses for employees in the Panama Canal Zone, and others commending the work of the Alaska Road Commission (64A-H10.3). The committee also received a petition from the Chamber of Commerce of Seward, AK protesting the conditions at a sanitarium in Portland, OR and requesting that Congress make provision for a hospital to care for Alaska's insane (64A-H10.3).

13.103 The committee papers from the 56th through 72d Congresses (1899-1933) contain the same type of material found in the bill files of later years, that is printed bills, transcripts of hearings, and committee reports. Also included in the committee papers are reports made by individuals and by investigative commissions on conditions in the Philippine Islands (64A-F16.1), the Virgin Islands (66A-F21.1) and the Samoan Islands (71A-F18.3), as well as annual reports for the Virgin Islands (71A-F18.4) and Puerto Rico (71A-F18.2).

13.104 Throughout the committee papers are original letters from the Presidents of the United States transferring copies of laws and ordinances approved by the insular governments. Certified copies of franchises granted by the Puerto Rican Public Service Commission also appear throughout the records. The committee papers include transmittal letters, the printed laws of the Philippine and Puerto Rican legislatures, communications between the insular governments and the committee, and copies of Puerto Rican Public Service franchises.

13.105 Some committee papers concern Phillipine independence. The papers of the 72d Congress include the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Bill, an act "to enable the people of the Philippine Islands to adopt a constitution and form a government for the Philippine Islands and to provide for the independence of the same," along with President Herbert Hoover's message vetoing the bill (72A-F14.1).

13.106 The bill files for the earlier Congresses are sparse. Those of the 73d through 79th Congresses (1933-1946) include files of bills and accompanying copies of hearings and public laws. The bills concern the same topics as the petitions, that is, Philippine independence (66A-D13, 68A-D14, 71A-D12, 73A-D13), forms of government and the question of citizenship for inhabitants of the insular possessions (59A-D, 60A-D, 71A-D, 73A-D, 74A-D, 75A-D, 76A-D, 78A-D), economic and social relief (59A-D, 73A-D, 74A-D, 75A-D, 76A-D, 79A-D), and prohibition of liquor and drugs (73A-D). There is also a file on H. Res. 159 which authorized the committee to investigate the political, social, and economic conditions in Puerto Rico, an investigation that spanned the 78th and 79th Congresses.

Table of Contents


1. Asher C. Hinds. Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), vol. 4, p. 789. [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.