Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13

Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Its Predecessors

Committees discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

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Land Ordinance of 1785. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

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.

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Records of the Committee on Public Lands, 9th-81st Congresses (1805-1951)

History and Jurisdiction

13.4 When it was established on December 17, 1805, the Committee on Public Lands was given jurisdiction over matters relating to "the lands of the United States."1 Throughout the 19th century, the committee was primarily concerned with the sale and settlement of public lands. Over time, however, the committee exercised jurisdiction over certain land claims, minerals and waters on public lands, irrigation, forest reserves and game living in them, national parks, conservation, land grants, foreign ownership of land, and administration of the lands of the public domain. In 1911 the Committee on Private Land Claims was abolished and the subjects in its jurisdiction were passed to the Committee on Public Lands.

13.5 Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 the Committees on Indian Affairs, Territories, Mines and Mining, Irrigation and Reclamation, and Insular Affairs were abolished and their jurisdictions were combined with those of the Committee on Public Lands. The committee's jurisdiction after the 1946 reorganization included the following subjects:

  • 1. Public lands generally, including entry, easements, and grazing thereon; 2. Mineral resources of the public lands; 3. Forfeiture of land grants and alien ownership, including alien ownership of mineral lands; 4. Forest reserves and national parks created from the public domain; 5. Military parks and battlefields, and national cemeteries; 6. Preservation of prehistoric ruins and objects of interest on the public domain; 7. Measures relating generally to Hawaii, Alaska, and the insular possessions of the United States, except those affecting the revenue and appropriations; 8. Irrigation and reclamation, including water supply for reclamation projects, and easements of public lands for irrigation projects, and acquisition of private lands when necessary to complete irrigation projects; 9. Interstate compacts relating to apportionment of waters for irrigation purposes; 10. Mining interests generally; 11. Mineral land laws and claims and entries thereunder; 12. Geological survey; 13. Mining schools and experimental stations; 14. Petroleum conservation on the public lands and conservation of the radium supply in the United States; 15. Relations of the United States with the Indians and the Indian tribes; 16. Measures relating to the care, education, and management of Indians, including the care and allotment of Indian lands and general and special measures relating to claims which are paid out of Indian funds.2

13.6 On February 2, 1951, the name of the committee was changed to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to more accurately reflect the full scope of its jurisdiction.

Records of the Committee on Public Lands, 9th-81st Congresses (1805-1951)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 20 vols. 33rd-34th (1853-57), 39th (1865-67), 43rd (1873-75), 46th-60th (1879-1909), 80th (1947-48)
Docket Books 35 vols. 19th-36th (1825-61), 39th-40th (1865-69), 42nd-61st (1871-1911)
Petitions and Memorials   28 ft. 9th-45th (1805-79), 48th-64th (1883-1917), 68th-69th (1923-27), 73rd-81st (1833-51)
Committee Papers 14 ft. 9th-45th (1805-79), 47th-57th (1881-1903), 59th-61st (1905-11), 63rd-64th (1913-17), 69th (1925-27), 74th-80th (1935-48)
Bill Files 37 ft. 58th-65th (1903-19), 67th-68th (1921-25), 70th-71st (1927-31), 73rd-81st (1933-51)
TOTAL: 79 ft. and 55 vols. (7 ft.)   

13.7 Minute books provide a record of committee meetings. Docket books record the receipt of legislation and petitions by the committee. The entries are organized by the date the committee received the material. One large docket volume contains information for the 19th through the 27th Congresses (1825-43).

13.8 Petitions and memorials exist for almost every Congress during the committee's existence. Some of the petitions ask Congress to respect the rights and dignity of Indians and blacks. One of the earliest, dated December 1806, is a plea from a group of Wyandot "Warriors and Women [who] speak with one voice to the Seventeen States—Father, we now beg of you that you will relinquish to us, the whole of the Reserve in this place... it is the place where we were born, where our ancestors were born; and where they, and many of our relations lie buried" (9A-F5.1). As late as the 62d Congress (1911-13) the committee received petitions concerning the sale of a Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, KS (62A-H26.3). Residents of Washington County, OH, petitioned the 25th Congress (1837-39) for a "homeland" for freed slaves, stating that if Congress "set off a tract of land in one of her territories to be occupied by the Free people of color as a colony... multitudes of our black population would immediately emigrate to it" (25A-G18.2).

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Resolution of the General Assembly of the Missouri Territory for the relief of the inhabitants of the County of New Madrid who have suffered by earthquake (HR13A-G11.2). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

13.9 Petitioners requested that the Federal Government grant the States public lands to sell in order to finance the establishment of schools. Files of petitions requesting land grants for various educational purposes are among the records of nearly every Congress between 1845 and 1867. One of the earliest petitions, which is among the papers of the 12th Congress (1811-13), came from the Reverend Gabriel Richard, pastor of the Catholic Society in the Territory of Michigan, who outlined his plan to educate both white and Indian children (12A- F9.1). A joint memorial submitted by the Alabama legislature in February 1830, requested "a grant of lands by the Congress of the United States for the use of a female Academy in each county of this State" for "the proper and necessary education of the females of this free and happy Republick" (21A-G18.3).

13.10 The State of Indiana applied for grants of land to establish asylums for the deaf and dumb, insane, and other "objects of Charity" (21A-G18.9). A 37-page manuscript prepared by D. L. Dix and entitled "Memorial in behalf of the Deaf-Mutes and the Blind of the United States," includes a table showing the number of deaf and blind individuals by State and how many of them were educated, and provides a brief history of the education of individuals who were sight and hearing impaired (31A-G18.7).

13.11 Matters concerning the national parks generated a large number of petitions during the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century (64A-H22.4, 69A-H15.3, 75A-H16.2). Although a tract of public domain had been set aside in March 1872 as Yellowstone National Park, one group of petitioners complained that "Sixteen years have elapsed without the enactment of any laws for the preservation of this Yellowstone Park from injury at the hands of trespassers" (50A-H25.2). As if to highlight their concern, a petition was presented to Congress from some citizens living in Montana who wanted to construct a railroad through the park to connect their mining interests with the Northern Pacific Railroad. The New World Mining District claimed that the only practical route for railroad construction was along the courses of the Yellowstone River and Soda Butte Creek. There are also petitions that opposed the construction of a railroad through Yellowstone National Park (53A-H28.3). During the 69th Congress (1925-27), petitions strongly protested the withdrawal of 8,000 acres from the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park in order to provide grazing for cattle (69A- H15.3).

13.12 During the mid-1890's, mining and stock raising industries in California presented a petition for the repeal of the law establishing Yosemite National Park. Mining representatives claimed the park had significant potential as a mining area, while stockmen protested that they had always used the valleys of the park for grazing purposes. Restricting use of the park area, they believed, would significantly harm California's economic development (53A-H25.5). Other petitions concerning parks pertain to the National Park Service, established in 1916 (64A-H22.3); Kings Canyon National Park (76A-H22.4); and the purchase of the Daniel Freeman Homestead in Gage County, NE, to commemorate the filing of Homestead Number 1 (74A-H16.3)

13.13 The Federal Government granted more than 155 million acres of public land to various railroad companies to aid them in the construction of a nation-wide network of railroads. As early as the 26th Congress (1839-41), the committee received a petition from North Brookfield, MA, asking Congress to "make a suitable donation of [public] land to the several States through which the road would pass, to aid them in constructing it." They believed the "cost of construction would be inconsiderable in comparison to the vast beneficial results produced" (26A-G19.4). Files of petitions concerning grants of land for roads and railroads are among the files for nearly every Congress from 1843 to 1895.

13.14 Committee papers date from the creation of the committee and continue throughout its existence. A significant percentage of 19th-century committee records are claims from soldiers of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Indian wars. Claims for bounty land appear as many as 40 years after the soldier's military service. Among these records is a 297-page report on the history of boundaries and land ownership in Virginia. In addition, there is a list of Virginia military officers who had land warrants issued prior to December 31, 1784 (28A-D25.1).

13.15 Among the earliest records of the committee is correspondence from at least two men who were prominent in American history. In October 1805, George Rogers Clark petitioned Congress to confirm a land title given to him in 1779 by The Tobacco Son, chief of the "Pi-yankeshaw" Indians, which he accepted "for fear of creating dangerous suspicions on the part of the Indians" (9A-F5.1). Included with his petition is a certified copy of the original deed from "the Antient Records of Vincennes." The committee papers show that the committee reported that the prayer of the petition should not be granted because it violated the Constitution of the State of Virginia which stated that "no purchase of land shall be made from the Indian Natives, but on behalf of the public, by the General Assembly" (9A-C4.2). The second prominent American is Andrew Jackson who wrote to the committee chairman in 1824 about a land claim involving members of his wife's family (18A-C16.1).

13.16 From time to time, the Government needed to purchase private property to add to existing Federal lands. A letter of February 1831 from Secretary of War John Eaton recommends that the Government purchase additional land at Harper's Ferry, and enclosed documents from the Ordnance Department to show the necessity of making the purchase (21A- D21.7).

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Report from James W. Edmunds, Commissioner of the General Land Office, to the Chair of the House Committee on Public Lands on the proposed legislative concession to the State of California of the Yo-som-e-te [Yosemite] Gorge and the Big Oak Grove. (HR 38A-E19.1). Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

13.17 Throughout the 19th century, there are various reports regarding the distribution and sales of public lands. In the early records of the committee, there is a report dated December 30, 1813, from Edward Tiffin, Commissioner of the General Land Office, consisting in part of a statistical breakdown of the four hundred million acres in the old Northwest by Territory or State and showing how much of the land was of public or Indian ownership. The second part of the report included a narrative on "the character of the country" (13A-D13.1). Among the records of the 20th Congress (1827-29), is a manuscript report from the surveyor of the boundary line between the States of Georgia and Florida which includes the calculations involved in establishing the line (20A-D20.3). The papers of the 22d Congress (1831-33) include a report on the sale of public lands and the apportionment of the proceeds among the several States (22A-D21.4).

13.18 Periodically, the committee was charged with the responsibility of inquiring into apparent "wrong-doings" concerning subjects under its jurisdiction. During the 19th Congress (1825-27), the committee investigated charges preferred against George Graham, Commissioner of the General Land Office by John Wilson, a surveyor, who claimed that Graham was withholding several important papers belonging to other persons. Among the committee papers are transcripts of testimony and depositions relating to these charges (19A-D18.2). During the 22d Congress (1831-33), an investigation of the General Land Office was conducted, and the committee records include related correspondence, financial statements, testimony, and copies of reports from the Surveyor General (22A-D21.2).

13.19 The committee papers include correspondence, copies of bills, and other supporting documents concerning the disposition of Indian lands. The records of the 22d Congress, for example, include an extensive file (3 in.) on efforts in 1832 to determine the status of a lease authorized by a treaty concluded with the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. Among the papers are copies of the minutes of the treaty negotiations with the Chickasaws in 1830, depositions, correspondence, and other supporting materials (22A-D21.3). Another interesting file concerns charges of "fraud, corruption, violence, and murder" made against some of the Army and civil officers who managed the dramatic "run" opening 6,000,000 acres of the Cherokee Outlet to white settlement in 1893. The file documents the subsequent hearing, including copies of statements, transcripts of testimony, and newspaper clippings (53A-F38.7). The papers of the 53d Congress also include files relating to white settlements on Mille Lac Reservation in Minnesota and the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon (53A-F38.11).

13.20 The Homestead Act of May 1862 allowed the head of a household to acquire 160 acres of surveyed public lands after 5 years of continuous residence and the payment of a registration fee. There is a large body of records over an extended period on a variety of topics relating to the Homestead Act and homesteaders in both committee papers (37A-E16.9, 45A-F30.2, 48A-F31.5, 53A-F38.5) and petitions and memorials (37A-G15.4, 48A-H25.5, 62A- H26.2). Eugene L. Guthrie, for example, was granted land as a homestead by the Government, had possession of it for 3 years, and had made significant improvements on the property when, in 1864, the Government "declared [the land] to be needed and reserved for the use of the U.S." There are letters from Guthrie and others seeking compensation for his loss (38A-E19.12). Among records of the 62d Congress (1911-13) are petitions requesting the Homestead Law be amended to reduce the required residency from 5 to 3 years (62A-H26.2).

13.21 Beginning in the 1850's, the Federal Government promoted railroad construction by granting public land to railroad companies for rights-of-way. In addition to this land, the companies received alternate sections of land for each mile of track laid by the company. The companies would then sell this land to individuals for a profit. In the records of the 51st Congress (1889-91) is correspondence concerning the restoration of lands within the 40- mile limit of the land grant for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Under the Homestead Act, many individuals settled and made improvements on public land. When the Northern Pacific Railroad began laying its track, the Government granted it land that had already been settled by homesteaders. Because the railroad's claim took precedence over the farmers, Congress decided that "those persons who after August 15,1887 and before January 1, 1889" settled on land now granted to the railroad could "transfer their entries from said tracts to other vacant Government land - they may select and receive final certificates therefore" (51A-F34.1, 53A-F38.6).

13.22 Other subjects represented in the committee papers include land claims in Illinois (11A-C7.1, 14A-C14.1), Louisiana (14A-C14.1, 38A-F19.6), and Ohio (9A-C3.1, 19A-D18.3, 21A-D21.6); geological surveys in Oregon and Washington Territories (33A-F16.2); the sale of mineral lands (29A-D18.3, 38A-E19.8); forest reservations and timber lands (37A- E16.11, 53A-F38.3); and Yellowstone National Park (53A-F38.12). There are many files concerning land grants for educational and charitable institutions, and for canals and river and harbor improvements.

13.23 Bill files contain copies of published bills, resolutions, committee reports, and hearings. The volume of records found in the bill files for the various Congresses varies dramatically. For example, bill files from the 58th to the 65th Congress (1903-19), measure approximately 13 feet. The volume drops dramatically for the years 1919- 41, but from the 77th to the 81st Congresses (1941-51), there are approximately 20 feet of records in the bill files. Most of the records in the bill files consist of published material on a wide variety of topics.

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Records of the Committee on Indian Affairs, 17th-79th Congresses (1821-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

13.24 The Committee on Indian Affairs was established on December 17, 1821, with jurisdiction over subjects pertaining to the Indians. Select committees to consider Indian matters had existed for several years prior to the creation of the standing committee.

13.25 Among the matters referred to the committee were subjects relating to the care, education, and management of Indians and of their lands; the adjudication and payment of Indian depredation claims; bonds and stocks that had been part of Indian trust funds; adjudication of claims of Indians against the United States; the use and management of Indian funds; and the business and government of the Indian tribes. From 1885 until 1920, the committee exercised jurisdiction over appropriations relating to Indians.

13.26 The Committee on Indian Affairs was abolished under the provisions of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Its jurisdiction and responsibilities were transferred to the Committee on Public Lands.

Records of the Committee on Indian Affairs, and Predecessor Select Committees, 17th-79th Congresses (1821-1946)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 24 volumes 44th (1875-77), 49th-65th (1885-1919), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Docket Books 24 volumes 28th (1843-45), 42nd (1871-73), 44th-65th (1885-1919)
Petitions and Memorials   8 feet 14th-41st (1815-71), 44th (1875-77), 46th (1879-81), 48th (1883-85), 50th-69th (1887-1927), 76th-79th (1939-46)
Committee Papers 25 feet 14th-72d (1815-1933), 76th-79th (1939-46)
Bill Files 37 feet 58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL: 70 feet and 48 volumes    

13.27 Minute books document attendance at meetings, appointment of subcommittees, referral of legislation, committee discussions, and other activities. The docket books include alphabetical indexes to the bills, showing the entry numbers assigned to each bill. Each docket book is organized by entry number, and each entry includes the bill number and the subject matter of the bill, frequently with remarks by the chairman indicating the committee's action on the measure.

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Petition from Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins for Land Rights for Piute Indians and for the Reunion of that Portion of the Tribe Forcibly Separated during the Bannock War from 1884 (HR48A-H10.2). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

13.28 Although petitions and memorials are available for the early years of the committee, their number increases significantly after the Government became involved with the removal of the Indians to areas west of the Mississippi River. Petitions, primarily from the Northeastern section of the United States, strongly opposed any removal of the Indians from their lands. Typical is an 1831 document from citizens from Pennsylvania who claimed that it was "with pain that your Memorialists have observed the introduction of propositions before Congress, contemplating the removal of these Indians contrary to their consent... from the lands which they have received as an inheritance from their ancestors" (21A-G8.2). During the same period, Indian tribes petitioned Congress for protection (22A-G8.2).

13.29 Supporters of Indian removal also submitted petitions, but these petitions are not nearly as numerous as those opposed to removal. Such petitions were received repeatedly, as the various Indian tribes faced removal beyond the Mississippi River. About 60 years later, another petition campaign was waged concerning the removal of the Southern Utes from Colorado (50A-H11.2, 51A-H9.4, 53A-H13.4).

13.30 During the mid-19th century, the Federal Government was primarily concerned with pacifying the Indian tribes and establishing the reservation system. After the Indians were subdued and settled on reservations, agricultural education efforts were initiated, though largely without success. Many tribes became totally dependent upon the Federal Government for support, prompting friends of the Indians to contact the Government on their behalf. In 1861, for example, J. B. Chapman sent a petition to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William P. Dole, and wrote that "I now See those Tribes in Kansas that I have known for forty years & more,- they appear to have depreciated in their mental energy and physical capacity" (37A-G5.1). The Indian agent for the Delaware Indians claimed that the "Delaware are now in greater need of mony than at any time heretofore in Consequence of the total failure of their crops" (37A-G5.2).

13.31 Various Indian rights groups, primarily from the Northeastern States, wished to see the Indians assimilated into the mainstream of American society. In December 1883, for example, the Women's Auxiliary Indian Association of Montgomery County, PA, presented a petition with 873 names "praying for, the abolition of the reservation system, of citizenship, and equal rights for all Indians" (48A-H10.2). Many reformers believed their goal of citizenship for the Indian could be achieved by passage of the Dawes Act, which provided for allotments of land to heads of households, unmarried adults, and orphans, and granted citizenship to each Indian whose allotment was approved and patented. Many petitions received during the 1880's supported the Dawes Act. Among the petitioners were Westerners, who envisioned tracts of surplus reservation land being freed for white settlement.

13.32 Petitions from the 1890's and into the 20th century primarily concern the education of young Indians and call for the reorganization of the Government's less-than- successful efforts to provide services to the Indian tribes. In 1927, the chief of the Miami Indians petitioned for immediate relief stating that "We were once a rich and proud Nation... Now we are destitute and have become paupers among you and are left to starve, by those we trusted in solemn conclave" (69A-H4.1). The number of petitions among the records of the committee diminishes dramatically after the late 1920's, and, for some Congresses, no petitions are present.

13.33 Committee papers primarily consist of original copies of committee reports and various supporting documents concerning proposed legislation. From 1795 until 1822, the Federal Government operated a system of trading "factories," or posts, that was designed to foster and strengthen trade alliances with the United States Government. The committee, which drafted bills regulating this trade, often received correspondence from agents. In the early 1820's, the factory agent at Green Bay wrote that "the Indians here are excellent judges of goods; and have been accustomed to receive those of the best quality, and generally refuse those that are not of the first quality" (17A-C12.1). Also, letters from missionaries attempting to "Christianize and civilize" the Indians are among early committee papers. John Gambold, a Moravian missionary working among the Cherokee Indians, asserted that the Indians are "endowed with the same mental Capacities, which we possess" (14A-C5.1).

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Survey Map of the Oklahoma and Indian Territory showing Distances, Municipal Towns and Post Offices, published by George Cram in 1905 (HR58A-F14.4). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

13.34 Conflicts between the Indians and whites were inevitable as white settlers moved onto Indian lands. From the late 1820's until the early 1840's, there was a significant increase in the number of claims filed by white settlers against the Federal Government for loss of property at the hands of Indians and, at the same time, Eastern Indian tribes claimed losses from encroachment upon their lands (20A-D10.l, 21A-D11.l, 22A-D11.l, 23A-D8.l, 24A-D9.2, 25A-D11.l, and 27A-D9.2). Files of claims-related materials are found among the committee papers for many of the Congresses prior to 1900.

13.35 In the 1830's, the committee was actively involved in the removal of the Cherokee Indians to the west of the Mississippi River, and there is a significant amount of correspondence concerning the logistics of providing food and shelter, as well as protection for the Indians being transported. The Government spent "sixteen cents a day for the subsistence of each person, and forty cents a day for the subsistence of each horse" (27A-D9.3). Problems and claims connected with the removal of the various Indian tribes were a concern of the committee for a number of years thereafter. Much of the material connected with the Indian removals was published in the Congressional Serial Set.

13.36 As the Federal Government's dealings with the Indians became increasingly complex, licensed traders, interpreters, Indian agents, educators, and others were required to minister to the needs of Indians placed on "reserved" lands. Despite the increased Federal bureaucracy, attempts to transform Indian warriors into independent farmers often failed, leaving the Government responsible for providing the Indians with food and clothing rations needed for survival. For example, in the early 1870's, the Red Cloud Agency received 1,109,500 pounds of beef cattle, 336,000 pounds of bacon, 1,916,250 pounds of flour, and 102,200 pounds of coffee from the Federal Government because the Sioux Indians were unable to provide food for themselves (42A-F12.5). During the 1870's and 1880's the papers include a considerable number of letters from agents regarding the condition of the Indian tribes located on their reservations, as well as financial statements for some agencies.

13.37 Shortly after the passage of the Dawes Severalty Act in 1887, one writer proudly proclaimed, "Over 16,000 Indians have now become citizens of the United States; and more than 4,000 others, through application for land in severalty, have declared their intentions to become citizens" (51A-F16.2). As individual Indians applied for their allotments, the tribes were to be financially compensated by the Government for the loss of "surplus" reservation land that could then be opened to white settlement. There is a large amount of material dealing with the allotment system. For example, in the early 1890's, an agreement was signed with the Yuma Indians "for the cession of their surplus lands" and during the same time, compensation was given to the Wichita Indians after they lost a significant amount of reservation land (53A-F18.4). By the turn of the 20th century, many persons in the white community thought it was "of the highest importance that the allotment of lands be completed at the earliest possible moment" (57A-F14.2) so land could be available for white settlement as quickly as possible.

13.38 Various committee records also document the Government's changing role in Indian education from the 1820's, when the United States only allowed certain private individuals or groups to educate Indians, until the 1880's when the Federal Government established an educational system of off-reservation boarding schools, as well as day schools located on the reservations. During the 1820's, missionary societies often requested permission to instruct the Indians "in science, morals, husbandry and the mechanic arts" (20A-G8.1). But, the committee received complaints, like one received in the early 1850's, which stated that religious societies were spending Government money for "teaching and preaching," rather than "school knowing" (33A-G8.3). The passage of the Dawes Act made educating young Indians a top priority, but Indian schools experienced many problems. Complaints reached the committee that Indian children spent more time laboring in the schools' fields and kitchens than they did in the classroom. On the other hand, school administrators complained they did not receive adequate funding to administer their schools. Records include narratives on the conditions of various Indian schools and financial statements (70A-F15.2).

13.39 Beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and continuing until the committee ceased to exist, the Committee on Indian Affairs was concerned with problems associated with reservation land. For example, fishery rights were negotiated with the Yakima Indians (53A-F18.4); white settlement on land reserved for the Indians was permitted (55A- F15.5); rights-of-way for railroads on reservation land were granted (50A-F16.3, 51A-F16.2, 53A-F18.3, 55A-F15.3); and rights-of-way for irrigation ditches, canals, and dams across Indian Territory also were granted (53A-F18.2, 58A-F14.4).

13.40 For a number of years, the committee received many complaints about the Government's role in managing Indian affairs. There were charges that Federal mismanagement, fraud, and cheating, left the Indians completely destitute. Hearings were held during the 68th Congress (1923-25) and a considerable amount of testimony was gathered regarding the condition of the Indians (68A-F19.2). This resulted in approximately 2 feet of material, much of it published, on Government mismanagement and the plight of the Indian.

13.41 The committee papers include files on numerous other subjects. Among these are relief for destitute Choctaw and Seminole Indians who were driven from Indian Territory during the Civil War because they were loyal to the Union (37A-E7.5); an inquiry concerning the plates used to publish Henry R. Schoolcraft's Indian history (35A-D8.7) and an estimate of the cost of completing the publication (38A-E8.1); a survey of the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico (41A-F11.3); and a proposed transfer of the Office of Indian Affairs from the Interior Department to the War Department (45A-F16.5). The records of the 38th and 39th Congresses (1863-67) include files relating to the concerns of certain tribes such as the Apache (38A-E8.6); Cherokee (38A-E8.7); Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi (38A-D8.8); and Shawnee (38A-E8.10); and files relating to tribal matters in the Territories of Montana (38A- E8.3, 39A-F11.10); New Mexico and Utah (38A-E8.4, 38A-E8.5, 39A-F11.11); as well as California (39A-F11.7), and the Upper Missouri River Country (39A-F11.3).

13.42 Bill files, which are arranged by Congress and bill number, begin in the records of the 58th Congress in 1903 and continue throughout the remainder of the committee's existence. They usually contain copies of published bills, resolutions, committee reports, and hearings. In addition, some files include transcripts of unpublished hearings and correspondence offering opinions on proposed legislation. Subjects covered in the bill files include irrigation projects, various rights-of-way proposals, social legislation, and some private bills.

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Records of the Committee on Territories, 19th-79th Congresses (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 Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 17 vols. 35th-46th (1857-81), 49th-53d (1885-95), 57th-61st (1901-11), 63d-68th (1913-25), 70th-75th (1927-38)
Docket Books 22 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 Memorials 12 ft. 19th-41st (1825-71), 43d-45th (1873-79), 49th-69th (1885-1927), 72d (1931-33), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Committee Papers 10 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).

refer to caption

Petition of citizens of St. Joseph County, Michigan against the Nebraska bill from 1854 (HR33A-G24.2). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

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.

refer to caption

Memorial of Queen Liliuokalani in relation to the Crown lands of Hawaii in Petitions and Memorials Referred to the Committee on the Territories of the 55th Congress Regarding Hawaii. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

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).

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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Records of the Committee on Mines and Mining, 39th-79th Congresses (1865-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

13.65 The Committee on Mines and Mining was created on December 19, 1865, for consideration of subjects relating to mining interests. It exercised jurisdiction over the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Mines, the establishment of mining schools and mining experimental stations, mineral land laws, the welfare of men working in mines, mining debris, relief in cases of mineral contracts connected with the prosecution of war, the mining of radium ore, and the Government's fuel yards in the District of Columbia.

13.66 In 1947, the committee was abolished and its duties were transferred to the Committee on Public Lands.

Records of the Committee on Mines and Mining, 39th-79th Congresses (1865-1946)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 12 vols. 51st-54th (1889-97), 56th-62d (1899-1913), 64th (1915-17), 77th (1941-42)
Docket Books 14 vols. 46th (1879-81), 49th-50th (1885-89), 52d-53rd (1891-95), 55th-62d (1897-1913), 64th (1915-17)
Petitions and Memorials 1 ft. 39th (1865-67), 50th (1887-89), 53d-57th (1893-1903), 60th-65th (1907-19), 67th (1921-23), 73d (1933-34), 75th-77th (1937-42)
Committee Papers 10 ft. 50th (1887-89), 52d-54th (1891-97), 56th-57th (1899-1903), 61st (1909-11), 63d-69th (1913-27), 73d-78th (1933-44)
Bill Files 1 ft. 58th-60th (1903-09), 62d (1911-13), 64th (1915-17), 66th-71st (1919-31), 73d-78th (1933-44)
TOTAL: 12 ft. and 26 vols. (2 ft.)  

13.67 Minute books contain the minutes of meetings held by the committee. They document the attendance of committee members and the topics discussed. There are unbound minutes for 1939, as well as for part of 1943-44.

13.68 Entries in docket books produced by the committee are organized by the date the bill or petition was received by the committee. The entries show the actions taken on each measure.

13.69 A few petitions and memorials exist for the 39th Congress (1865-67) but there are none for the years 1867 to 1887. Only a small number of petitions, ranging from a few pages to one inch, are present for any of the Congresses after that. A 50 foot long petition in the 50th Congress contains 1,350 signatures and requests the investigation of mining debris in California (50A-H18.1).

13.70 Many petitions were received requesting a Federal agency to regulate mining operations (57A-H18.1, 60A-H25.1, 61A-H21.1, 65A-H25.3). Typical of these petitions is one from the Cripple Creek District Trades and Labor Association which petitioned the 57th Congress (1901-03) for the creation of a Department of Mines and Mining with cabinet status (57A-H18.1) and a resolution from the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin recommending the establishment of mining schools in land grant colleges (57A-H18.2). Nearly 10 years later petitions among the papers of the 62d Congress (1911-13) reveal similar support for legislation to establish and maintain mining schools in the several States (62A-H21.4). Petitioners also were concerned about mining experiment stations (62A-H21.2, 62A-H21.3) and mine safety stations (63A-H20.1).

13.71 In 1908, the Woonsocket Central Labor Union, as well as several other groups, petitioned in support of the McHenry Bill, a bill that would have levied a 1-percent tax per ton of coal produced in the United States to provide relief for miners injured in the mines (60A-H25.2).

13.72 In 1914, several locals of the United Mine Workers petitioned Congress for Government intervention in the coal miners' strike in Colorado. The local in Panther Creek Valley, PA, was especially vocal complaining that the mine owners were "hastening the time when the united and invincible working class will demand reparation for all the misery undergone, the bloodshed and tears spent by our class in the agony of our awful slavery" (63A- H20.2). Volume Two of hearings on the conditions of coal mines can be found among the petitions for the 62d Congress, while Volume One of the hearings is located in the committee papers of the same Congress.

13.73 Committee papers contain copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, as well as correspondence, published hearings, and other documents relating to mines and mining. Most of the total footage of the committee papers consists of published bills and hearings. One of the publications provides information on mineral production in the United States from 1880-94 by State and type of mineral (54A-F28.2). In addition, the same publication provides information on the University of Michigan Mining School.

13.74 Bill files are organized by bill number and usually contain a copy of the bill, plus any supporting materials. Like the committee papers, most of the information is published.

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Records of the Committee on the Pacific Railroads, 39th-62nd Congresses (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."5 By 1911, the committee had become largely inactive, and it was terminated.

Records of the Committee on Pacific Railroads, 39th-62nd (1865-1911)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 10 vols. 39th (1865-67), 44th-45th (1875-79), 49th-50th (1885-89), 52d-56th (1891-1901)
Docket Books 14 vols. 39th (1865-67), 42d (1871-73), 44th-56th (1875-1901)
Petitions and Memorials 2 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 Papers 2 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.)  

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.

refer to caption

A Petition for a Pacific Railroad from Residents of Tennessee (HR34A-G23.1). RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

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.

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Records of the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands, 53rd-68th Congresses (1893-1924)
Records of the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, 68th-79th Congresses (1924-1946)

History and Jurisdiction 13.87 The standing Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands was created in 1893 but select committees on that subject had existed for several years prior to that date. The committee exercised jurisdiction over irrigation projects generally, including the preemption and disposition of lands on reclaimed and irrigated projects; authorization of interstate compacts and agreements regarding irrigation projects; and disposal of drainage waters from irrigation projects. In 1924, the committee's jurisdiction was formally expanded to include subjects pertaining to the reclamation of lands and the committee's name was changed to the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. In 1946, the committee was abolished and its duties were transferred to the Committee on Public Lands.

Records of the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands, 53rd-68th Congresses (1893-1924) and the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, 68th-79th Congresses (1924-1946)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 12 vols. 51st-52d (1889-93), 55th-58th (1897-1905), 60th-65th (1907-19)
Docket Books 10 vols. 51st-53rd (1889-95), 55th-56th (1897-1901), 61st-65th (1909-19)
Petitions and Memorials 1 ft. 55th-57th (1897-1903), 58th-65th (1905-19), 67th (1921-23), 69th (1925-27), 71st-74th (1929-37), 77th (1941-42)
Committee Papers 2 ft. 55th-65th (1897-1919), 67th-74th (1921-37), 76th-77th (1939-42), 79th (1945-46)
Bill Files 8 ft. 58th-60th (1903-09), 62d-65th (1911-19), 67th-77th (1921-42), 79th (1945-46)
TOTAL: 11 ft. and 22 vols. (2 ft.)  

13.88 Minute books document meetings held by the committee. In the early years the committee frequently was unable convene a quorum in order to conduct business. The minutes for the 77th Congress (1941-42) are unbound. The bill files for the 76th-79th Congresses (1939-46) contain unbound minutes of hearings conducted on specific bills.

13.89 Entries in the docket books are organized by the date of the bill or petition. Some volumes contain additional comments in the "Chairman's Remarks" section.

13.90 Petitions referred to the committee usually were presented by either joint resolutions of State legislatures or by business and civic groups, rather than by large numbers of individuals. During the first years of the committee's existence Grange associations in the Eastern States strongly opposed irrigation projects. The Grange association in Beach Haven, PA was "opposed to irrigation of the arid lands of the West at the National Exspence" because there was "Plenty of land in the Eastern being Deserded and left to grow up with weeds" and that it was "not Nissary to Reclaim more Lands to come in Competition with that already being Cualtiveted" (57A-H13.1). The Grange appears to have presented the only organized opposition to Federal irrigation projects, since most of the petitions strongly favored involvement of the Government. For example, a resolution from the General Assembly of Colorado expressed the belief that the "continued material growth of the western states and the productiveness of the public and private lands thereof, are dependent in a large degree upon systematic irrigation of the same" (57A-H13.1).

13.91 In 1902, Congress passed the Newlands Reclamation Act, also known as the National Reclamation Act, which authorized Federal construction of irrigation projects. Proceeds from the sale of public lands in the Western States were to finance the construction and maintenance of the projects. In the early 1920's, Oregon had 1,250,000 acres in projects and it was estimated that an additional 1,000,000 acres of land could be irrigated (67A-H9.1).

13.92 Due to the combination of the Great Depression and the dust bowl, representatives from farm associations, drainage districts, and businessmen petitioned Congress to seek financial relief through loans to drainage and levee districts (71A-H8.1). Representatives from Ordway, CO, complained that during the past year they had experienced a tremendous deflation of prices of farm products, cattle and other livestock, and that their locality had experienced almost a total crop failure (72A-H7.1).

13.93 Committee papers contain copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, as well as correspondence, published hearings, and other documents relating to the subjects in its jurisdiction. Records for the 62d Congress (1911-13) include approximately 6 inches of 3-by-5 inch cards containing abstracts of correspondence or transcripts of the contents of telegrams. Each card is stamped with "U.S. Reclamation Service" at the bottom (62A-F21.1). For 1913-15, inspection reports of irrigation projects under construction provide information on the status of the projects, as well as any problems associated with them. Cost overruns, inefficiency, and waste appear to have been the major complaints (63A-F21.1). Thereafter, most of the material found in the committee papers seems to have been published.

13.94 Bill files are organized by bill number and usually contain a printed copy of the bill, plus supporting materials. The papers for H.R. 25141, 60th Congress (1907-9), include a suggestion from a resident of Hawaii that the coverage of the National Reclamation Act of 1902 be extended to the islands. Most public lands were on the leeward, or dry side, of the islands and for strategic purposes, he wished to keep the "citizenship of the Territory thoroughly American" by developing the land so it could "be disposed of to active and intelligent Americans of the same type as those attracted to the reclaimed public lands in the western states" (60A-D15). Letters from Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior under Calvin Coolidge, discuss water rights between the United States and Mexico, and offer insights and suggestions regarding H.R. 9826, a bill on the Colorado River Basin (69A-D16). Among the bill files for the 74th Congress (1935-37), is a 28-page, typed summary of individual projects, which gives the name of the irrigation district, date and amount of payments, and size of the area, and includes a narrative on the status of the project (H.R. 1423).

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Records of the Committee on Insular Affairs, 56th-79th Congresses (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." 6 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, 56th-79th Congresses (1899-1946)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 9 vols. 56th-64th (1899-1917), 78th-79th (1943-46)
Docket Books 8 vols. 57th-58th (1899-1901), 60th-64th (1903-17)
Petitions and Memorials 2 ft. 57th-59th (1901-07), 62d-64th (1911-17), 68th-74th (1923-36), 76th (1939-41)
Committee Papers 7 ft. 56th-60th (1899-1909), 62d-64th (1911-17), 66th (1919-21), 68th-79th (1923-46)
Bill Files 2 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.

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Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 82nd-90th Congresses (1951-1968)

History and Jurisdiction

13.107 Under the 1946 Reorganization Act, six standing committees—Public Lands, Indian Affairs, Territories, Mines and Mining, Irrigation and Reclamation, and Insular Affairs—were merged to form a new committee. At the time of the merger, the committee assumed the name of Committee on Public Lands, but during the 82nd Congress (1951-52), the name was changed to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to reflect more accurately the responsibilities of the committee. In 1993 the name was changed briefly to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in 1995 it was renamed the Committee on Resources.

13.108 The jurisdiction of the committee includes the following subjects:

  • (a) Forest reserves and national parks created from the public domain; (b) Forfeiture of land grants and alien ownership, including alien ownership of mineral lands; (c) Geological Survey; (d) Interstate compacts relating to apportionment of waters for irrigation purposes; (e) Irrigation and reclamation projects, and easements of public lands for irrigation projects, and acquisition of private lands when necessary to complete irrigation projects; (f) Measures relating to the care, education, and management of Indians, including the care and allotment of Indian lands and general and special measures relating to claims which are paid out of Indian funds; (g) Measures relating generally to Hawaii, Alaska, and the insular possessions of the United States, except those affecting the revenue and appropriations; (h) Military parks and battlefields, and national cemeteries; (i) Mineral land laws and claims and entries thereunder; (j) Mineral resources of the public lands; (k) Mineral interests generally; (l) Mining schools and experimental stations; (m) Petroleum conservation on the public lands and conservation of the radium supply in the United States; (n) Preservation of prehistoric ruins and objects of interest on the public domain; (o) Public lands generally, including entry, easements, and grazing thereon; (p) Relations of the United States with the Indians and the Indian tribes.7

13.109 The committee functioned through subcommittees that essentially mirrored the old standing committees that had existed before the 1946 merger. There were subcommittees on Indian affairs, irrigation and reclamation, mines and mining, public lands, and territories and insular affairs. During the 87th Congress (1961-62) a new subcommittee on the national park system was created to handle matters in that increasingly complex area.

Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 82nd-90th Congresses (1951-1968)

Record Type Volume    Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 5 ft. 82d-90th (1951-68)
Petitions and Memorials    4 ft. 82d-90th (1951-68)
Committee Papers 57 ft. 82d-90th (1951-68)
Bill Files 204 ft. 82d-90th (1951-68)
TOTAL: 270 ft.  

13.110 The Committee produced approximately 5 feet of unbound minutes that provide a record of committee and subcommittee meetings. From the 82nd to the 85th Congresses (1951-58), the minutes cover the full committee; from the 86th to the 90th Congresses (1959-68) separate minutes were maintained for the full committee and subcommittees.

13.111 Legislative calendars furnish essentially the same information as docket books did for earlier Congresses; they document the receipt and disposition of legislation and petitions by the committee. There is at least one copy of a legislative calendar for each Congress from 1951-68.

13.112 Most of the petitions and memorials referred to the committee were on preprinted forms and focused upon a single issue. Perhaps the most interesting petition was from the students of Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, HI. This petition, which supported Hawaiian statehood, was hand-printed by a calligrapher and apparently signed by almost all of the students at the school (86A-H7.1).

13.113 Committee papers include resolutions, reports, published and unpublished hearings, executive communications, prints of bills, and other administrative papers necessary for the committee to conduct its business. Among the papers of the 82nd Congress (1951-52), there is a report on synthetic liquid fuels written by Secretary of the Interior, Oscar Chapman, in February 1951. In his report he states that:

  • In view of the ever-increasing need for petroleum in the United States, [and] the critical international situation that may result in loss of important foreign supplies... the prompt development of a synthetic oil industry is not only requisite to safeguarding our oil supply, but it is also an economically sound course for the foreseeable future (82A- F9.1).

More information on synthetic fuels is among the committee papers of the 83rd Congress (83A-F9.1).

13.114 The committee papers also include a bound volume containing a structural engineer's report on the Ford's Theatre Building. It contains 50 photographs, primarily of the interior; floor plans of the building from the basement to the attic; and the outside measurements of the building (85A-F9.1).

13.115 Bill files are organized by bill number and usually contain a printed copy of the bill, plus supporting materials. The committee dealt with a number of bills relating to Indians. Among the bill files of the 86th Congress (1959-60) are published hearings, photographs, a map, and other evidence relating to an investigation by the Secretary of the Interior regarding the advisability of the establishment of Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, KS as a national shrine and monument (H.R. 2334). This two-acre plot of land was used by the Wyandot Indians as a burial ground as early as 1844 (85A-D8). In the 87th Congress, H.R. 3534 proposed to donate to certain Indian tribes some submarginal lands of the United States and make such lands part of their reservations (87A-D7).

13.116 During the 1950's and 1960's the committee dealt with important legislation relating to the Territories of the United States. A bill introduced during the 87th Congress provided that the unincorporated territories of the Virgin Islands and Guam would each be represented in Congress by a territorial deputy to the House of Representatives (87A-D7, H.R. 4752). The 85th Congress (1957-58) saw the introduction of two bills proposing statehood for Alaska and Hawaii: H.R. 49 provided for the admission of the State of Hawaii into the Union, while H.R. 50 concerned statehood for Alaska (85A-D8).

13.117 The massive Central Valley Water Project of California occupied a significant amount of the committee's time. The project's goal was to provide an adequate water supply from northern California to the more populous southern portion of the state by building a system of reservoirs and canals to save and transport water to the south. Information on this project can be found among the committee papers and bill files of several Congresses. The committee papers for the 85th Congress, for example, include two volumes of published documents (85A-F9.3), while the bill files for the 87th Congress also contain information on the project (87A-D7, H.R. 980).

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1 Annals of the Congress of the United States, 9th Cong., 1st sess., p. 286.

2 U.S. Congress, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Eightieth Congress, H. Doc. 769, 79th Cong., 2d sess., 1947, p. 324.

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

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

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

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

7 U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Ninetieth Congress, H. Doc. 529, 89th Cong., 2d sess., 1967, p. 343.

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.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

Return to the Table of Contents for the Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives