Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 21: 1793-1865

Chapter 21. Records of the Ways and Means Committee (1795-1968)

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Records of the Ways and Means Committee (1793-1988) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committee records described in this chapter:

Records of the Committee on Ways and Means, 1795-1865

Records of the Committee on Ways and Means, 1793-1865
Record Type Volume Congress (dates)
Transcribed Reports2 vols.3rd-18th (1795-1825)
Minute Books2 vols.34th-37th (1855-63)
Docket Books4 vols.35th-38th (1857-65)
Petitions & Memorials14 ft.6th-38th (1799-1865)
Committee Papers17 ft.10th-38th (1807-65)
TOTAL: 31 ft. and 8 vols. (11 in.)
Committee Records Summary Table

21.14 The earliest records of the committee are two bound volumes of transcribed reports of the select and standing Committees on Ways and Means, 3d-7th Congresses (3C-A2), and 8th-18th Congresses (8C-A2), which cover the years 1793 through 1825. Both volumes contain substantially more than their titles indicate. In addition to reports on bills, resolutions, petitions, memorials, and the portions of the President's messages that were referred to the committee, the volumes also contain transcribed letters and other statements from the Treasury Department, and committee responses to these, as well as excerpts from the House Journal that show the appointment of the committee and define its jurisdiction. The volumes contain the collected documents of the committee for the period before the publication of committee reports and documents in the Congressional Serial Set. After the 16th Congress (1819-21) reports of all committees of the House are printed in the Serial Set and are available at most depository libraries.

21.15 Although there are no minute or docket books from the first six decades the committee functioned, after 1855 there are almost complete collections of both types of document. The minute books provide insights into the activities in committee meetings, including: a record of the consideration of bills and resolutions and sometimes mark-up sessions; appointment of subcommittees and referral of subjects to them; and committee discussions about proposed hearings and witnesses, and the appearance of witnesses before the committee.

21.16 The early committee docket books contain entries for documents referred to the committee, and occasionally comments concerning the subsequent disposition or action on each document. The docket books for the 35th and 36th Congresses attempt to list the documents in alphabetical order according to subject, but are difficult to research because of the indexing format--all letters are listed under the alphabetical category "L" along with other subjects such as legislation, life-saving stations, and Peter Lammond. In the 37th and later Congresses, the docket books list the documents received by the committee in chronological order, and thus provide a day by day summary of the business before the committee. The 37th Congress volume, for example lists over 400 bills, resolutions, petitions, memorials, messages from the President, and letters from executive departments between July 8, 1861 and February 19, 1863.

21.17 A large number of petitions and memorials were referred to the Ways and Means Committee because of its jurisdiction over revenue and appropriations. There are few petitions and memorials in the committee files for the earliest years (1799-1813), but the volume increases for the remainder of the period (1813-65). The petitions and memorials reflect the three major areas of the committee's early jurisdiction: appropriations, revenue (taxes and tariffs), and certain types of claims against the government.

21.18 Petitions and memorials concerning the tariff laws and duties on specific commodities appear in the records of almost every Congress between the 7th and the 38th (1801-65). Some of the petitions ask for the amendment, repeal, or continuance of specific tariff laws; for example, over 16 inches of petitions were received between 1843 and 1851, most of which were against revision of the Tariff Acts of 1842 and 1846 (28A-G24.8, 29A-G22.3, 30A-G24.1, 31A-G24.1). These petitions include resolutions adopted at an 1846 mass meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, in which the petitioners demand that Congress not change the Tariff of 1842, which provided adequate protection for industry at home. The protectionist sentiment is expressed clearly in the following resolution adopted at the meeting:

    That if a government cannot protect the labor of its citizens, it is too weak--if it will not, it is too indifferent--and if it dare not, it is too cowardly to deserve the support of a free and enlightened people. (29A-G22.3)

21.19 A large number of the petitions are from individuals or interest groups seeking to effect changes in the duties upon specific commodities such as wool or tobacco products. The records from the 28th Congress (1843-45) include petitions on the duties on guano (28A-G24.2), objects of art (28A-G24.3), railroad iron (28A-G24.4), and salt (28A-G24.5), as well as petitions relating to the Tariff of 1842 (28A-G24.8). The 33d Congress (1853-55) records include petitions involving the tariffs on iron, coal, glass and cotton (32A-G24.10), salt, ivory, and raw silk (32A-G24.11), and a file on customhouses (32A-G24.7).

21.20 Petitions relating to various excise and direct taxes also appear in the records of nearly every Congress prior to the Civil War. A tax imposed on distilleries and distilled spirits is the subject of numerous petitions asking for repeal of the law or seeking reimbursement for damages caused by its enforcement (7A-F3.1, 13A-G12.6, 14A-F15.6, 38A-G24.14). The petition of one distiller, Levi Bellows, asking for payment for damages done by United States tax collectors, contains a large number of documents recording his dealings with the tax collectors and the Vermont district courts in the case (16A-G20.2).

21.21 Other petitions protest against a tax on the auction system (21A-G21.1), a tax on coal (24A-G21.2), the enactment of a tax on dogs (38A-G24.4), a national income tax (38A-G24.11), a capitation tax on immigrants (32A-G24.3), a tax on the gross receipts of ships and vessels (38A-G24.13), and excise taxes on domestic manufactures (14A-F15.2).

21.22 Petitions submitting private claims appear in the records of every Congress between 1809 and 1864. The claims referred to Ways and Means covered a wide range of problems. The claims petitions from the 34th Congress (1855-57) include a prayer to be released from a contract to carry the mail; a claim for indemnification to a stockholder for losses by the Bank of the United States; a claim for refund of certain duties wrongly paid by the petitioner; a request for an appropriation to pay arrears in pensions; and, ten petitions from government employees (lighthouse keepers, customs collectors, clerks at assay offices, and clerks and watchmen at executive departments) asking increased compensation due to extraordinary circumstances (34A-G22.1).

21.23 The claims petitions referred to the committee during the 12th Congress (1811-13) provide more examples of the claims referred to the committee. They include petitions from George Lyon, an assistant clerk at the patent office, asking that a special appropriation be made to pay his salary; from Doyle Sweeney, asking for compensation for working as a clerk in the surveyor's office; from Commodore Joshua Barney, asking for himself and owners and crew of private armed vessels, to be better rewarded for their seizures of enemy property under the "Act of Non-Importation"; from several persons who thought their property had been wrongly seized by customs or revenue officers; and from Stephen Kingston, who made an appeal for enemy property seized from a vessel he helped identify (12A-F10.4).

21.24 Petitions for increases or reductions in the pay of Government employees appear in the records of many Congresses (8A-F4.2, 9A-F6.1, 10A-F8.1, 12A-F10.1, 14A-F15.3, 16A-G20.1, 21A-G21.3, 32A-G24.9). Many of the early appeals to increase government salaries were made by government employees, especially collectors of revenue. They are not classified as "claims" because they pray for pay raises rather than for special compensation due to extraordinary services rendered, or extraordinary costs incurred in the line of duty.

21.25 The subject of currency, coinage and mints appears under various headings in the petition files for each Congress between 1851 and 1865: Branch mints (32A-G24.2); opposition to the removal of a U.S. Mint from Philadelphia (33A-G25.7); mint and assay offices (35A-G25.3); copper coins (36A-G22.1); the establishment of a branch mint in New York City (37A-G20.5); national currency (37A-G20.2); and the location of a branch mint in Portland, OR (38A-G24.9). The petitions provide evidence of public opinion, and in some cases may contain unique sources of historical data. For instance, a 31st Congress (1849-51) memorial from Professor R.S. McCulloh of the College of New Jersey in Princeton, requested "an investigation and legislation in relation to a new method of refining gold" (31A-G24.3). The voluminous memorial submitted by Professor McCulloh, formerly a melter and refiner of the United States Mint, consists of a 25-page printed memorial and 70 attached exhibits. It presents McCulloh's view of some of the problems of refining, and may contain valuable information about American refining at mid-century.

21.26 A wide range of transient subjects appear in the petition files of several Congresses, such as: the embargo between 1811 and 1815 (12A-F10.3, 13A-G12.4); the charter of the Bank of the United States between 1831 and 1839 (22A-G24.1, 23A-G20.2); the debts of the Republic of Texas between 1851 and 1855 (32A-G24.5, 33A-G25.3); and the colonization of free Negroes in Liberia at mid-century (32A-G24.6). There are petitions concerning internal improvements during the decade of the 1840s: improvement of rivers and harbors (26A-G25.2); breakwaters, lighthouses, and piers (27A-G25.1); and the improvement of the Hudson River (28A-G24.6). The records from 1813-15 contain petitions from persons who had been imprisoned for debt (13A-G12.5).

21.27 The committee papers consist primarily of communications from executive agencies concerning appropriations; correspondence and documents from individuals relating to claims; correspondence relating to revenue policy; and copies of bills, resolutions, and committee reports. The records are arranged by subject, and a listing of subject categories for each Congress is contained in the Preliminary Inventory to Records of the House of Representatives, 1798-1946.

21.28 Records relating to appropriations to finance the government constitute the largest portion of the committee papers before the Civil War. After the war similar records related to appropriations are located in the committee papers of the Appropriations Committee. Appropriations records in the early committee papers (1799-1825) are not voluminous and are usually filed under a single heading as in the 12th Congress, "papers relative to the appropriations for the support of the Government in 1813" (12A-C10.1, 1 in.), or the 15th Congress file, "papers relating to estimates and appropriations" (15A-D15.1, 3 in.).

21.29 After the 18th Congress, records relating to appropriations are more voluminous and the descriptive categories used are more differentiated. The records are filed by the Department, Bureau or activity to which they relate--the records of the 35th Congress (1857-59), for example, contain appropriations records relating to the census; the consular and diplomatic service; the courts in the District of Columbia; the Houses of Congress; the Interior Department including the land office system; Indians; pensions; lighthouses; Navy shop equipment; the Northwestern Boundary Survey; the postal service; printing and binding; public buildings and property; the Smithsonian Institution; the territories; and the White House (selected files 35A-D22.1 through 35A-D22.22).

21.30 The files generally contain documents from or about the executive Departments, including estimates of appropriations, letters requesting and justifying appropriations, progress reports, documents relating to Government contracts, and documents concerning the quality of workmanship and the economical use of appropriated money. A typical estimate of appropriations file from an Agency contains copies of reports from the Agency along with charts, schedules, letters, correspondence, and other documents supporting the reports.

21.31 Some documents provide insight into the operations of the executive branch in general; for instance, the committee papers from the 10th Congress (10A-C6.1) contain a chart showing salaries of Government employees in 1808, and the 27th Congress records contain a file on "clerks and officers in the Government" that includes correspondence from the executive departments and bureaus describing the duties and pay of their employees about 1841 (27A-D24.3).

21.32 While records relating to appropriations make up the largest portion of the committee papers for most Congresses, the subjects of tariff or tax policy, collection of duties, and related revenue subjects also appear frequently. Revenue subjects appear under a variety of headings in the committee papers files: Duties (14A-C16.1), direct tax in Delaware and Georgia (14A-C16.3), comparative schedules of tariffs, imports, and exports for 1815-1819 (16A-D25.1), revenue and finance (17A-C26.3), duties on woolens (19A-D22.1), reduction of duties on imports (22A-D25.4, 34A-D23.1), collection of duties on imports (26A-D29.7, 30A-D25.1), tariff and tariff policy (29A-D22.11), income tax (37A-E20.14), tariff (37A-E20.17, 38A-E22.18), taxation policy (38A-E22.19), and commodity tariff and other taxation (38A-E22.4).

21.33 Records relating to foreign trade and tariff policy during the 19th century are sometimes located in the records of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (1795-1819), the Committee on Commerce (1819-91), and the Committee on Manufactures (1819-1911) . There are petitions and memorials and other records involving duties, drawbacks, the protection of American industry, and related subjects in the records of these committees in every Congress between 1799 and 1835.

21.34 The committee papers contain records relating to the Bank of the United States (21A-D24.1, 22A-D25.1, 23A-D22.2, 25A-D23.1); coinage and finance (35A-D22.3); currency, a national bank, and an independent treasury (25A-D26.5); foreign money (29A-D22.2); and a plan for an exchequer (27A-D24.2). Jurisdiction over these subjects was transferred to the Banking and Currency Committee after 1865.

21.35 There are claims records for almost every Congress before the Civil War. The claims records in the committee papers files are usually related to the claims petitions in the petition and memorial files. Generally, a claim petition and supporting documents submitted with it are filed in the petition and memorial files, and the material subsequently collected or generated by the committee are in the committee papers file--this usually consists of a manuscript copy of a committee report on a claim petition, and occasionally a report on a claim from an executive agency.

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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.