Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 18

Records of the Committee on Rules

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

18.1 The Rules Committee is one of the oldest committees in the House. It was established as a select committee in 1789 and was reappointed as a select committee in nearly every Congress until 1880, when it was made a standing committee.

18.2 The original jurisdiction of the committee was to establish and revise the rules of the House, an activity that required little attention after the first Congress because the rules of the previous Congress were usually adopted with few changes at the beginning of each new Congress. Because of its limited and little-used jurisdiction, the select committee had little influence during its first century, and its members complained that little attention was paid to its reports. In fact, so little attention was paid to the select committee that during several Congresses between 1817 and 1831 no members were appointed to it.

refer to caption

Resolution That All Petitions, Memorials, and Papers Relating to Slavery Be Laid Upon the Table without Being Debated, Printed, Read or Referred, also known as the "Gag Rule" Resolution. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives.

18.3 Since those early days the committee has greatly increased its power, and in addition to the original jurisdiction over the House rules, it has acquired control over the order of business on the floor of the House through the issuance of special orders or rules.

18.4 The ascent of the committee to a position of power and prestige began slowly but was a steady, cumulative process after the mid-19th century. In 1849, as a result of a difficult contest for the speakership, the Rules Committee was made a standing committee, but only retained that status until 1851 when it was reduced to the status of a select committee again. In 1858 the Speaker of the House (who had never been a member of any committee) was designated as a member of the committee and was the chairman of the committee from that time until 1910. In 1880 the select committee became a standing committee with jurisdiction over "all proposed action touching the rules and joint rules" and has been a standing committee since that time.

18.5 In practice, the part of the jurisdiction affecting changes in the rules and joint rules of Congress is rarely used extensively. There are usually several very limited changes made in the rules during each Congress, but major revisions are infrequent. Also included in the original jurisdiction of the committee is responsibility for resolutions creating special committees and resolutions directing committees to conduct investigations.

18.6 The committee is best known today for its jurisdiction over the order of business on the House floor, the activity that regularly influences the passage of legislation and consumes the majority of the committee's time. Beginning in 1886, the jurisdiction of the committee was expanded to allow it to fix the days for consideration of particular bills, and by 1887 the House rules provided that all special orders providing for consideration of a particular bill or class of bills must pass through the Rules Committee. By 1889 the House rules defined the jurisdiction of the committee to include "all proposed action touching the rules, joint rules, and order of business."

18.7 Special orders, or rules, are needed because of the tremendous amount of legislation that is proposed by the 435 Representatives during each Congress—much more than could be processed without the aid of shortcuts and limitations on debate. Under the rules of the House, legislation reported out by committees is placed on the appropriate calendar of the House, where it is disposed of in the order in which it was placed on the calendar. However, increasing amounts of activity and large legislative workloads have required an adjustment to this procedure in order to consider important legislation. There has been a need to make special scheduling arrangements so that particular bills will get priority for consideration on the floor of the House. This is the role of the Rules Committee: legislative traffic cop. Most major bills pass through the Rules Committee on their way to the floor. The special orders, or rules, granted by the committee generally (1) set the amount of time for general debate, (2) make the legislation open to amendment or not, and (3) waive or do not waive points of order.

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Rules, 31st Congress (1849-1851) and 46th-79th Congresses (1880-1946)

Minute Books 22 vols. 53rd (1893-95), 56th-70th (1899-1929), 74th-75th (1935-38)
Docket Books 19 vols. 48th-49th (1883-87), 51st (1889-91), 53rd (1893-95), 56th-65th (1899-1919), 68th (1923-25), 74th-79th (1933-46)
Petitions & Memorials    4 in. 31st (1849-51), 55th-57th (1897-1903), 62nd-63rd (1911-15)
Committee Papers 8 ft. 48th-50th (1883-89), 57th (1901-03), 61st (1909-11), 72nd-79th (1931-46)
Bill Files 22 ft. 69th-73rd (1925-34)
TOTAL: 30 ft., 4 in. and 41 vols. (3 ft., 6 in.)     

18.8 The records of the committee before 1947 are incomplete, but they documentation significant aspects of the committee's history. The minute books provide short accounts of the activity in committee meetings during that period, including the dates and attendance at full committee meetings, the appointment of subcommittees, the referral of bills and resolutions to subcommittees, consideration of legislation, the hearing of witnesses, and the preparation of reports. The docket books provide summaries of the legislation and documents referred to the committee. Each book generally includes a list of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, along with entries showing committee action, such as referral to subcommittees, hearings held, reports prepared, and references to full committee discussions. The docket books include much of the same material that is found in the modern committee calendars.

18.9 Although petitions and memorials for most of the pre-1947 Congresses are missing, the few that have been preserved provide some insight into the types of documents that were generally referred to the committee. The records include petitions and memorials requesting that changes be made in certain House rules, suggesting the initiation of a variety of special investigations, and requesting that special orders, or rules, be granted to facilitate the consideration of particular legislation on the House floor.

18.10 Two petitions that were referred to the first standing Committee on Rules (1849-51) have been preserved. Benjamin B. French, after 15 years of employment in the House of Representatives, recognized the need for a parliamentary manual and, during his retirement, submitted a petition asking to be commissioned to write such a manual for the use of Congress. The file on his petition (31A-G22.1) includes several letters from French to David Kauffman, Chairman of the Rules Committee, and two resolutions drafted by French at the chairman's request. The second petition was from James W. Stone and 2,226 others from Massachusetts asking Congress to pass a law requiring that the speeches and reports of both Houses be printed in phonotype, a system of printing by sound (31A-G22.1). The document, a small roll petition, contains the signatures of the petitioners but does not explain the nature of the phonotype process.

18.11 The petitions from the 55th through the 57th Congresses (1897-1903) provide a sample of the types of subjects referred to the Rules Committee around the turn of the century. The records of each of the three Congresses contain petitions from numerous posts of the Grand Army of the Republic demanding that Congress authorize an investigation of the Pension Office (55A-H32.1, 56A-H28.1, 57A-H25.1). Other records include a petition from the Colored Republican Club of Chicago and a petition from citizens of Boston, both asking for better enforcement of the 14th Amendment (57A-H25.1), and a petition from citizens of Ottumwa, IA, supporting the appointment of a commission to investigate compliance with the equal suffrage law (57A- H25.1).

18.12 The records include several petitions requesting favorable rules for the consideration of particular legislation. Examples are the petitions from the R.B. Hawkins Division of the Order of Railway Conductors from Pittsburgh and the Bradford Lodge of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen from McKean County, PA, both of which passed resolutions favoring passage of H.R. 11060, a bill to define the meaning of the word "conspiracy" and regulate the use of restraining orders and injunctions in certain cases. These two petitions were referred to the Rules Committee because they were written after the bill had been reported out of the Judiciary Committee, and the authors note that their union members were aware that the only thing that could stop passage of the bill was the Rules Committee itself. Similar petitions favoring H.R. 11060, but submitted earlier in the legislative process, may be found in the petition and memorial files (57A-H19.1) and committee papers (57A-F19.1, 1 in.) of the Judiciary Committee.

18.13 Some of the petitions referred to the committee originated within the Congress and demonstrate the power of the committee. Among the records are a 1900 petition signed by 251 Members of the House requesting a favorable rule for the consideration of H.R. 2538, a bill to provide for the construction of a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at Nicaragua (56A-H28.1), and an undated petition from Members of the House who "respectfully ask that time and an opportunity be given for the consideration of the bill favorably reported by the committee on Agriculture for the establishment of the National Appalachian Forest Reserve in the Southern Appalachian Mountains" (57A-H25.1). A petition from the U.S. Senate dated March 2, 1900, and signed by the President pro tempore and the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the Senate, requests that the Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the Senate be granted privilege to go on the floor of the House of Representatives, a privilege that the Senate had already granted to the Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the House (56A-H28.1).

18.14 The records from the 62d Congress (1911-13) contain dozens of petitions from citizens and resolutions from organizations demanding that Congress initiate investigations of various social problems. The largest number of documents demand an investigation of a strike at the textile mills at Lawrence, KS. The records include petitions and resolutions from the council of the city of Cincinnati, the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, the B&O Railroad System Division 33, Trenton Lodge #398 of the International Association of Machinists, and the San Francisco Labor Council. There is also a typewritten report from a committee of Lawrence citizens named to investigate the strike (62A-H29.1).

18.15 During the same Congress there are over a dozen petitions protesting the indictment of, and demanding an investigation of the charges against, the editor of The Appeal to Reason for sending a publication through the mails that exposed the "obscene" conditions at the prison at Leavenworth. Among the petitioners on this subject are 300 voters from Monet, MO; the citizens of Whittemore, MI; the local lodge of the Socialist Party of Ouray, CO; and the taxpayers and voters of El Paso, TX (62A-H29.1).

18.16 Also during the 62d Congress, the Barre, VT, branch of the Granite Cutter's International Association, the city council of Boston, and W. R. Benton and 11 other persons from Martin County, MN, demanded an investigation of the "production, transportation, and sale of coal"; they believed that the laboring man had been forced to spend an inordinately large portion of his wages on fuel because of illegal combinations in the coal industry that had kept the prices unnaturally high (62A-H29.1).

18.17 The records from 1911-13 also contain petitions favoring passage of S. 5546 or H.R. 21094, the Hughes-Borah bills, to create an industrial commission to study industrial problems and provide Congress with the knowledge necessary to write needed industrial legislation, and H. Res. 396, a bill to provide for the investigation of the working conditions in the industrial states of the Midwest. In addition to the demands for investigations, mainly of labor conditions, the records include suggestions for the establishment of a standing committee on public health in the House (there was already a standing committee on public health in the Senate), and a standing committee on peace (62A-H29.1).

18.18 The petitions and memorials from the 63d Congress (1913-15) contain documents on one subject only--prohibition. There are petitions supporting the adoption of a constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture, transportation, and sale of beverage alcohol, as well as petitions defending the right of citizens to exercise personal choice on the question of drinking.

18.19 The bill files and committee papers before 1947 include unpublished hearing transcripts from several Congresses, but very little correspondence or other unpublished material has been preserved in the records. The committee papers consist almost entirely of copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee and copies of the committee reports before 1931 and transcripts of hearings after that date. Although the printed materials are not unique record copies of documents, they constitute a valuable research collection of documents that are not available in this accessible form anywhere else.

18.20 During most of its history, the Rules Committee did not publish a committee calendar, and the collections of printed documents provide an overview of legislation that passed through the committee. Printed documents are arranged in two collections. One collection includes copies of each kind of legislation arranged in numerical order: The simple House resolutions that are used to provide the scheduling rules; the House joint resolutions that are used to create special commissions or authorize special investigations; and the House concurrent resolutions that are used to create joint committees of Congress and to create certain types of commissions. The second collection brings together all the printed records relating to each particular piece of legislation that passed through the committee. The records of the scheduling resolutions consist of a copy of the bill or resolution that is to be scheduled, a copy of the House and Senate committee reports on the legislation, a copy of the scheduling resolution (the special order) that was referred to the Rules Committee, and a copy of the Rules Committee report on the scheduling resolution. The documents for most of the period between the 61st and 83d Congresses (1909-54) are bound into volumes for permanent retention and easy reference.

18.21 There are transcripts of unpublished hearings for the 68th through 73d (1923-34) and 76th-78th Congresses (1939-46)--a total of over 300 transcripts. Most of the transcripts are of short hearings on requests for rules for the consideration of legislation. The transcripts generally include brief summaries of the legislation given by a member of the committee that reported it, questions from the members of the Rules Committee regarding the unanimity of the reporting committee on the passage of the legislation, and, occasionally, questions concerning why the passage of the legislation is important or urgent. A few transcripts include prepared statements from the reporting committee and letters or statements from representatives of interested lobby groups.

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Rules, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

Minutes 2 ft. 85th-90th (1957-68)
Dockets 3 in. 80th-82nd (1947-52)
Petitions & Memorials    1 ft. 83rd-90th (1953-68)
Committee Papers 11 ft. 80th-90th (1947-68)
Bill Files 5 ft. 80th (1947-48), 83rd-85th (1953-58)
TOTAL: 19 ft., 3 in.     

18.22 After the passage of the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act, the records of the committee are thin and irregular. Minutes of committee meetings, unpublished hearing transcripts, and original petitions, memorials, and resolutions constitute the unpublished resources.

18.23 The minutes of meetings from 1957 through 1968 are unbound and filed in folders in the committee papers collections for the 85th through 90th Congresses. The minutes are extensive and provide a record of activity at every meeting of the committee. Some of the minutes, such as those for organizational meetings at the beginning of a Congress, are so detailed that they read more like transcripts than minutes. They include drafts of resolutions and drafts of committee rules, written statements and summaries of oral statements of members supporting or opposing legislation, copies of bills and resolutions, and copies of printed hearings. The minutes are indexed for each session.

18.24 The docket books from the 80th-82d Congresses contain lists of bills, resolutions, and petitions referred to the committee as well as other statistical and administrative recordkeeping aids. After the 82d Congress (1951-52), the records contain a variety of typed, looseleaf lists, index card files, jurisdictional breakdowns, membership lists, and statistical and other types of analyses of the work done by the committee. These serve the function of dockets from earlier periods as well as some of the functions of committee calendars, which were not published by the committee during this period.

18.25 The most frequent subject of petitions and memorials referred to the Rules Committee during the 1950's and 1960's was congressional investigations and investigating committees. The records from the 1950's contain petitions and memorials suggesting more formal delineation of rules and procedure for investigating committees (83A-H11.1). Toward the end of the decade (1957-58), the petitions and memorials are more pointedly concerned with the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), particularly the HUAC investigations of civil rights movements (90A-H16), and with efforts from various groups to eliminate the committee (85A-H13.1, 88A-H13.1, 89A-H16).

18.26 Other petitions asked Congress to authorize Federal investigations to study the high retail prices of coffee (83A-H11), to study and recommend ways to revive the gold mining industry in Montana (83A-H11), and to study federal taxation policy and call a constitutional convention to reform it (84A-H12). A 1965 petition from the Federation of Homemakers, a nationwide group of public-spirited housewives, requested the creation of a standing committee on health and safety in the House (89A-H16).

18.27 After 1946 the committee papers for each Congress include a complete set of bills, resolutions, and other documents referred to the committee and reports and resolutions produced by the committee. Committee papers for most of this period include index cards on all measures referred to the committee and typewritten lists of bills, resolutions, and other documents referred as well as the committee action and floor response to each item. These documents provide an overview of the work of the committee during the period before the Rules Committee published a committee calendar.

18.28 During the latter half of the 1950s, the committee papers contain unpublished hearing transcripts on such subjects as H. Res. 85, 85th Congress, a resolution authorizing the Committee on Banking and Currency to investigate the operation of the monetary and credit structure of the United States (85A- F15); H.R. 12068, a bill to provide for a temporary emergency extension of unemployment insurance (85A-F15); H.R. 10765, amendments to the Longshoreman's and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act (84A-F15); H.R. 7535, which became the School Construction Assistance Act of 1955 (84A-F15); legislation to create the St. Lawrence Seaway (85A-F15) and to increase the public debt limit (83A-F15); and two bills on the subject of statehood for Hawaii and Alaska, H.R. 2535, 84th Congress, and H.R. 7999, 85th Congress. The subjects of unprinted hearings during the middle 1960s include H.R. 6400, 89th Congress, a bill to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution; H. Con. Res. 4, 89th Congress, a resolution to establish a committee on the organization of Congress; and S. 355, 90th Congress, a bill to reorganize the legislative branch in 1967.

18.29 The bill files from the 80th Congress (1947-48) provide what is probably the fullest documentation of the activity of the Rules Committee for any period in its history. Three feet of bill files, arranged by bill or resolution number, contain transcripts of hearings held on most pieces of legislation that were referred to the committee.

18.30 The bill files before 1958, except for those from 1947-48, consist only of copies of printed bills and resolutions along with copies of associated documents. After the 85th Congress bill files are not filed separately, but are included in the records filed under committee papers.

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Rules, 91st-99th Congresses (1969-1986)

18.31 The unpublished records of the Rules Committee are comparatively sparse, averaging less than 12 feet per Congress. They consist of files of House bills referred directly to the committee, original jurisdiction measures reported, and rules granted, along with transcripts of hearings, minutes of meetings, and small files relating to the administration of the committee. The records of this committee sometimes contain bill files from subcommittees or transcripts of subcommittee meetings, such as the 91st Congress Subcommittee on Legislative Reorganization or the 97th Congress Subcommittee on Rules. Also occasionally included are records relating to other specially created bodies such as the Task Force on the Budget Process (97th Congress, 2 ft.).

Back to Top

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