Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13: Territories

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 Territories (1825- 1946)

History and Jurisdiction

13.43 The House of Representatives established the Committee on Territories on December 13, 1825, "to examine into the legislative, civil, and criminal proceedings of the Territories, and to devise and report to the House such means, as, in their opinion, may be necessary to secure the rights and privileges of residents and non-residents."1 By 1880, the House rules stated that the committee had jurisdiction over "subjects relating to Territorial legislation, the revision thereof, and affecting Territories or the admission of States."2

13.44 The committee reported legislation concerning the structure, status, and power of the Territorial governments; statehood; powers of municipalities; boundary disputes; and on matters relating to public lands and homesteading, railroads, public works, public buildings, highways, taxation, bond issues, education, Indians, prohibition, and wildlife.

Records of the Committee on Territories, 19th-79th Congresses (1825-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books17 vols.35th-46th (1857-81), 49th-53d (1885-95), 57th-61st (1901-11), 63d-68th (1913-25), 70th-75th (1927-38)
Docket Books22 vols.19th-27th (1825-43), 31st-33rd (1849-55), 35th-37th (1857-63), 39th-42d (1865-73), 46th-53d (1879-95), 55th-75th (1897-1938)
Petitions and Memorials12 ft.19th-41st (1825-71), 43d-45th (1873-79), 49th-69th (1885-1927), 72d (1931-33), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Committee Papers10 ft.20th-28th (1827-45), 30th (1847-49), 32d-39th (1852-67), 42d (1871-73), 44th-46th (1875-81), 49th-51st (1885-91), 53d-79th (1893-1946)
TOTAL:34 ft. and 39 vols (4 ft.) 

13.45 The minute books record the attendance of committee members, bills and resolutions discussed, committee and subcommittee reports on bills, and some markup sessions. The minutes of the 41st through the 43d Congresses (1869-1875) are relatively detailed, with some discussion of debates over bills. The docket books list the bills, resolutions and petitions referred to the Committee on the Territories. The volumes for the 31st through the 33d Congresses (1849-1855) contain some remarks on such topics as the establishment of boundaries between Texas and New Mexico and the question of slavery and involuntary servitude in the Territories. After the 41st Congress (1869), the docket books also include a summary of the actions taken on each measure referred to the committee.

13.46 Petitions and memorials show the broad jurisdiction of the Committee on the Territories. Many petitions emanated from the Territorial legislatures and related to the administration of the respective Territories. These petitions concern such subject as requests to organize certain regions as Territories, requests for the establishment of judicial systems, and compensation for the Territorial officials. Other petitions request that residents be allowed to elect their governing officials, complain of acts of the Territorial legislatures, and suggest divisions, annexations or surveys of the boundaries of Territories. Petitions and memorials often ask for appropriations to aid in education, or the construction and maintenance of public buildings and public works such as telephone lines, highways, harbor improvements, and sewerage systems. These types of petitions are common to all the Territories and appear in the records of the committee throughout its history.

13.47 Petitions requesting the organization of Territories and the establishment of boundary lines appear mainly in papers of the 19th through the 50th Congresses (1825-1889). Such requests came from inhabitants of Iowa (24A-G20.1); Dakota (29A-G21.4, 37A-G19.1); Minnesota (30A-G23.2); Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and western Utah (36A-G21.1); Dakota for the formation of the Territory of the Black Hills (45A-H23.2); and Oklahoma and the Indian Territory (49A-H23.2, 50A-H28.2). A petition from the citizens of Alaska protests against the organization of that district into a Territory in 1889 (50A-H28.4) and another requests organization of a Territorial government for Alaska in 1901 (57A-H26.1). The Oregon Territory attracted national attention from 1844 to 1847 over the question of the boundary between that Territory and Canada. Congress received petitions from around the country offering to organize militias and urging the United States to stand her ground against the British at the 54'40" latitude (28A-G23.2, 29A-G21.3). Other petitions and memorials regarding boundary disputes include those concerning Michigan (20A-G20.1); Missouri and Iowa (25A-G22.1, 27A-G24.1, 29A- G21.4); Arizona and Utah (39A-H24.1, 57A-H26.2, 60A-H34.1); and Arizona and New Mexico (45A-H23.2). Territories that requested, or protested division include Florida (25A-G22.1, 26A- G24.1, 28A-G23.1); Dakota (29A-G21.4, 44A-H18.1, 45A-H23.1); Oregon (33A-G24.6); and Idaho (39A-H24.1, 49A-H23.4, 50A-H28.1). In 1877, Congress received various petitions for and against the reorganization of the existing Territories into new Territories (45A-H23.2).

13.48 Petitions and memorials relating to statehood for the various territories appear in almost every Congress from the 24th through the 79th (1835-1946). Although many petitions sought admission to the Union, others objected to the admission of certain States. The latter highlight some of the major concerns of the Nation during the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the most crucial issues concerned slavery in the Territories and prospective States. Petitions against slavery appear as early as the 20th Congress (20A-G20.1) when the American Convention for Promoting Abolition of Slavery requested that Congress prohibit by law further introduction of slaves into Florida (1827). The stream of anti-slavery petitions is constant from the 26th Congress through the 35th, but the majority of such petitions appears in the papers of the 33d Congress and concerns the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (33A-G24.1 through 33A-G24.5). Typical is a standard petition from citizens of 13 Northern and Midwestern States stating: "The undersigned protest against any repeal of the prohibition of Slavery, or the addition of Slave territory to the Union, immediate or prospective, such as proposed by the Nebraska Bill of Senator Douglass" (33A-G24.2).

13.49 A standard petition sent by residents of various counties in Ohio supported the Democratic party's endorsement of congressional non-intervention and typified the petitions that advocated the Kansas-Nebraska bill. These petitions stated:

    That Congress has no power under the Constitution to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the proper and sole judges of every thing appertaining to their own affairs not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts of the Abolitionists and others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanence of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions. (33A- G24.3)

13.50 Petitions concerning the slavery issue sometimes offered suggestions for resolving the problem. One such petition suggests that Congress set aside public lands in the "National Territorial Domain" to colonize the free Negroes of the United States and to consider purchasing Negroes still in bondage and settling them there as well (33A-G24.6).

13.51 Another issue which captured the Nation's attention was the practice of polygamy in Utah. Petitions protested the admission to the Union of Utah until that Territory's constitution expressly prohibited polygamy. The question of polygamy appeared as early as 1850 when Utah sought admission the Union as the State of Deseret (31A-G23.2). In 1879, the women of Colorado Springs, CO, requested that Congress enforce the anti-polygamy law of 1862, and a petition from citizens of Massachusetts echoed this sentiment (45A-H23.4). In 1886, the Committee on Territories received several petitions concerning a bill that would disfranchise Mormons still practicing polygamy and would change the form of government of Utah from a legislative council to a commission. Mormons protested the bill, and women objected to a clause that would disfranchise the women of Utah. The proposed disfranchisement of the Mormons would have been accomplished through the use of a test oath, as described in a petition from Idaho citizens:

    You do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you are a male citizen of the United States, over the age of twenty one years; that you have actually resided in this Territory for four months last past, and in this county thirty days; that you are not a bigamist or polygamist; that you are not a member of any order, organization or association which teaches, advises, counsels or encourages its members, devotees or any other persons to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, as a duty arising or resulting from membership in such order, organization or association, or which practices bigamy or polygamy or plural or celestial marriage as a doctrinal rite of such organization. (49A-H23.3)

In 1889, 13,000 citizens of Missouri protested the admission of Utah as a State (50A-H28.3) because polygamy had not been expressly prohibited in Utah's proposed State constitution.

13.52 Many petitions relating to the entrance of Oklahoma and the Indian Territory to the Union raised questions regarding Indian rights and issues of homesteading and public lands. Petitions from whites requested the opening of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories to settlement. Between the 49th and 56th Congresses (1885-1901), petitions received from the Five Civilized Tribes concern the status of Indian Territory and request protection of their lands (49A-H23.2, 51A-H22.4, 52A-H23.1, 56A-H29.4).

13.53 Another issue of national interest was that of woman's suffrage. In 1886, the American Woman Suffrage Association sent Congress its resolutions for suffrage in the Territories (49A-H23.3). In 1900, the Woman Suffrage Association of New Mexico protested against the word "male" in suffrage clauses of forms of government recommended for Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and "other new territories" (56A-H29.2). Women also protested against the restriction of suffrage in the proposed new States of Arizona and Oklahoma (58A-H24.2, 58A- H24.6). Other petitions focused on prohibition in the Territories, 1893-1917 (53A-H32.2, 55A- H28.1-5, 56A-H29.1-4, 58A-H24.5, 61A-H33.2, 63A-H29.1, 64A-H25.1) and conservation of wildlife, particularly in Alaska and Hawaii, 1893-1946 (53A-H32.2, 57A-H26.1, 58A-H24.1, 63A-H29.1, 64A-H25.1, 66A-H20.1, 68A-H20.1, 74A-H19.1, 75A-H18.1, 79A-H20.1). Westward expansion prompted petitions concerning roads, trails, and railroads, and the availability of public lands for homesteading. Petitions requesting the construction of roads and railroads to facilitate trade and emigration appear throughout the records of the committee and were an important consideration to each Territory.

Memorial of Queen Liliuokalani in relation to the Crown lands of Hawaii, 12/19/1898
Memorial of Queen Liliuokalani in relation to the Crown lands of Hawaii, December 19, 1898 (HR55A-H28.3), from NARA's National Archives Catalog  

13.54 The Committee on Territories also received petitions from private citizens about personal matters that serve to highlight historical events. In 1861, Elias S. Dennis petitioned for compensation and credit for performing his executive duties as marshal of Kansas during the period when "the said Territory was in a state of Anarchy" (36A-G21.1). In his petition, Dennis briefly describes his actions in Kansas in the spring of 1857, a time when the Territory was popularly known as "Bleeding Kansas." Members of the Hawaiian royal family sent several petitions concerning the return of the "crown lands." Edward K. Lilikalani included a copy of the last will and testament of King Kamehameha II in his first petition (58A-H24.3), and he followed this up with a second petition sent in 1911 (62A-H30.2). A Concurrent Resolution of the Hawaiian Territorial Legislature in 1908 requested that Congress pay all of Queen Liliuokalani's claims against the U.S. Government (60A-H34.2).

13.55 Petitions of the 62d through 79th Congresses (1911-46) relate almost exclusively to Alaska and Hawaii. Those relating to Alaska concern issues of self-government, transportation, coal, fisheries, forest reserves, interstate commerce, wagon roads and trails, new land districts, disposition of public moneys from sales of public lands for road and school funds, health regulations, aid for destitute whites, medical and sanitary relief for Alaskan Indians and natives, aids to navigation, land surveys, railways and conservation. Requests for statehood and for distribution of public lands dominate the petitions concerning Hawaii.

13.56 Several petitions pertaining to insular affairs are included in this committee's papers. The committee received petitions between 1899 and 1917 relating to the acquisition of the Philippine Islands and Puerto Rico and to conditions on those islands (55A- H28.6-9, 63A-H29.1, 64A-H25.1).

13.57 Committee papers include bills, resolutions, reports, hearings, and administrative papers of the Committee on Territories. No separate bill files were maintained by the Committee on Territories, but the committee papers of most Congresses contain copies of the bills and resolutions referred to the committee. Correspondence appears in the papers of all Congresses, and petitions are occasionally included. Measures passed by the Territorial legislatures are also included, along with official reports and copies of proceedings of constitutional conventions.

13.58 An act passed February 7, 1859, required the U. S. Government to pay claims "for the loss of property taken or destroyed, and damages resulting therefrom, during the disorder which prevailed in the [Kansas] Territory from November 1st, 1855, to December 1st, 1856." Approximately 300 claims of citizens against are filed in the committee papers for such losses (35A-D21.1).

13.59 The decision to open the Indian Territory to white settlement is well documented in the committee papers from 1875 to 1897. The papers of the 44th Congress include a remonstrance from the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole delegations in 1876 against the organization of the Indian Territory as a United States Territory (44A-F36.6). Other papers relating to the topic include a list of precedents for placing the Territory under United States jurisdiction, and a report on the disposition of lands of the Territory according to tribe, number of acres cultivated and unimproved, and the population. The papers of the Dawes Commission, appointed to negotiate with the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, include protests, memorials, and transcripts of hearings pertaining to H.R. 3606 which provided for an extension of the boundary of Oklahoma Territory to include Indian Territory and for the admission of the combined Territory to the Union (53A-F44.4). Copies of treaties concluded between the Five Civilized Tribes and the United States are included in the papers of the 58th Congress, 1903-4 (58A-F35.4).

13.60 Bills and reports concerning Alaska natives and Indians, 1905-46 (59A- F35.2, 60A-F48.3, 71A-F35.2, 74A-F37.2, 79A-F36.1), and racial tensions in Hawaii, 1921-46 (67A-F38.5, 74A-F37.2, and 79A-F36.2) are also included in the committee papers.

13.61 Petitions and letters supporting prohibition in the Territories are found between 1903 and 1909 (58A-F35.2, 59A-F35.5, and 60A-F48.2) and letters and petitions for and against the repeal of prohibition are in the papers from 1931 to 1934 (72A-F28.1, 73A- F27.1).

A bill to provide a temporary government for the territory of Idaho, 05/01/1860
A bill to provide a temporary government for the territory of Idaho, May 1, 1860 (HR36A-D24.2), from NARA's National Archives Catalog  

13.62 Committee papers cover the same subjects as those of the petitions and include bills, correspondence, and reports on matters concerning statehood, boundaries, public buildings, public works, taxation, issuance of bonds, conservation, lands, roads, and railroads. The Alaska Railroad, a project of the Government, figured prominently in the papers from 1921 through 1931 (66A-F37.2, 67A-F38.2, 69A-F40.1, 71A-F35.1).

13.63 Although the jurisdiction of the Committee on Territories did not include matters pertaining to insular affairs, some records relating to insular possessions of the United States are among the committee papers from 1933 through 1946. They concern a constitution and state government for Puerto Rico (73A-F27.2, 75A-F36.2, 78A-G36.3), a civil government for the Virgin Islands (74A-F37.2), and independence for both the Philippine Islands and Puerto Rico (75A-F36.2). Also included are petitions from various groups in Puerto Rico regarding political, economic and social conditions on the island (78A-F36.3, 79A-F36.3).

13.64 Additional records concerning the Territories are located in the Territorial Papers Collection (12 ft.). The Territorial Papers Collection is an artificial collection arranged by Territory and contains material relating to all the Territories except Hawaii. The collection includes papers from the 10th through 42d Congresses (1808-1873).

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[1] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 19th Cong., 1st sess., p. 46.

[2] Asher C. Hinds, Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), vol. 4, p. 768.

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.