Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13: Pacific Railroads

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 the Pacific Railroads (1865-1911) History and Jurisdiction 13.75 On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the construction of a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and California. Construction was to be aided by land grants and Government loans. During the 1850's the Army Topological Engineers had explored various routes for such a railroad and from as early as 1855 select House committees had been responsible for legislation regarding the construction of a transcontinental railroad. On March 2, 1865, the standing Committee on Pacific Railroads was established and assigned jurisdiction over subjects relating "to the railroads and telegraph lines between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast."1 By 1911, the committee had become largely inactive, and it was terminated.

Records of the Committee on Pacific Railroads (1865-1911)

Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books10 vols.39th (1865-67), 44th-45th (1875-79), 49th-50th (1885-89), 52d-56th (1891-1901)
Docket Books14 vols.39th (1865-67), 42d (1871-73), 44th-56th (1875-1901)
Petitions and Memorials2 ft.34th (1855-57), 36th (1859-61), 38th (1863-65), 40th (1867-69), 43d-46th (1873-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th (1887-89), 53d-54th (1893-97)
Committee Papers2 ft.34th-36th (1855-61), 40th-46th (1867-81), 48th-49th (1883-87), 53d-56th (1893-1901)
TOTAL:4 ft. and 24 vols. (2 ft.) 
Committee Records Summary Table

13.76 Minute books contain the minutes of meetings held by the committee and identify the members present and the topics discussed.

13.77 Docket books list all of the bills, resolutions, petitions and memorials, and other documents that were referred to the committee. There are no indexes in the docket books and all entries are listed in the volume by the date the measure was received by the committee.

13.78 Petitions and memorials make up one half of the unpublished records of the committee that have been preserved. The petitions largely favor construction of a transcontinental railroad to be built through Government subsidy. Petitions are sparse for the first few years of the committee's existence (1855-1865), but the volume increased with public perception of the need for a railroad to service a particular geographic area. For example, in 1869 the committee received a petition from citizens of the State of Minnesota who urged speedy construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad (40A-H13.1). Pressure on Congress continued until the railroad was completed. A group of concerned citizens from New York petitioned the 43d Congress requesting that legislation to speed completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad (43A- H11.1).

13.79 The largest number of petitions, which strongly supported construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad, were received between 1875 and 1879. Among the petitions is a roll petition signed by Levi Chase and 2,300 others from the California counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Santa Barbara who support the construction of the railroad (45A-H16, 1 ft.).

13.80 By the 1890's, the committee received accusations that railroad companies had been more interested in acquiring Federal land and subsidies than in constructing and maintaining railroads. A State convention in California protested proposed legislation reducing the debt owed by the Pacific Railroad to the U.S. Government. The petition claimed the owners of the Central Pacific Railroad, in particular, had enriched themselves at the expense of the company (54A-H24.1).

13.81 Committee papers contain copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, as well as correspondence and documents concerning the subjects within its jurisdiction. As early as the 34th Congress (1855-57), the records of a Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad contain a draft of a bill "for the construction of a wagon road, a railroad, and a telegraphic line of communication from a point on the Missouri River . . . to the Pacific Ocean at, or near, the city of San Francisco" for approximately $100,000,000 (34A- D24.4). In 1860 the issue of the constitutionality of Government subsidization of railroads was debated in H. Rept. 428, which also considered other issues such as the routes, Indians, climate, terrain, and cost would affect the railroads (36A-D26.3).

13.82 There are copies of two agreements: one dated October 1, 1867, for George M. Pullman to furnish sleeping cars to the Union Pacific Railroad (40A-F18.4); the other a contract between the Union Pacific Company and Edwin D. Morgan of New York City and Oakes Ames of Massachusetts to construct the railroad (40A-F18.5).

13.83 As the Union Pacific railroad was being built, teams of commissioners examined the completed track in 20-mile increments and submitted reports commenting upon such topics as grades, alignment, road bed, bridges, and culverts. The committee papers for the late 1860's contain several of these progress reports, as well as a 53-page report written by a special commission appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to examine the railroad's construction (40A-F18.7).

13.84 The records of the 43rd Congress contain sworn statements by Charles Crocker, superintendent of the Central Pacific Railroad, disputing the testimony of James R. Rogers in 1864. Rogers' testimony, which concerns some practices of the company and certain promises made to him, is also included among the papers (43A-F19.1).

13.85 Among the records of the 46th Congress (1879-81) is a lengthy statement from the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, who was responding to a series of questions presented to him at a meeting of the committee held on April 15, 1880 (46A-F24.2). Other documents relating to the Northern Pacific Railroad can be found in 44A-F24.2 and 45A- F24.2.

13.86 A significant amount of material for the later Congresses consists of transcripts of committee hearings.

Table of Contents


1 Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 38th Cong., 2d sess., p. 387.

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.