Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13

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:

13.1 Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War, the United States acquired from England all land east of the Mississippi River between the borders of Canada and Spanish Florida. One of the most important accomplishments of the national government under the Articles of Confederation was the formulation of a policy outlined in the ordinances of 1785 and 1787, by which this unsettled land could be surveyed and settled in an orderly manner and organized as new States that would function on an equal basis with the original States. This policy was extended to the 828,000 square miles of land acquired by the United States under the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, a transaction that established the Rocky Mountains as the western border of the young Nation.

13.2 Implementation of public land policy was a significant responsibility of the new Federal Government that began functioning in 1789, but the House of Representatives did not create a standing committee to consider public land matters during the early Congresses. Instead, the House dealt with land issues in the Committee of the Whole. Finally, on December 17, 1805, at the beginning of the 9th Congress, the House established a standing Committee on Public Lands.

13.3 As the Nation acquired new Territories and internal development progressed during the 19th century, new standing committees were created to deal with specific issues. These included the Committees on Indian Affairs, Territories, Mines and Mining, Pacific Railroads, Irrigation and Reclamation, and Insular Affairs. With the exception of the Committee on Pacific Railroads (which was abolished in 1911 after it had served its purpose), these committees continued until they were abolished under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 and their jurisdictions transferred to the Public Lands Committee. In 1951 the Public Lands Committee's name was changed to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.