Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 21: 1865-1946

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

Table of Contents

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, 1865-1946

Records of the Committee on Ways and Means, 1865-1946
Record TypeVolumeCongress (dates)
Minute Books37 vols.44th-49th (1875-87), 51st-60th (1893-1909), 62nd-79th (1911-46)
Docket Books36 vol.39th-56th (1865-1901)
Petitions & Memorials150 ft.39th-57th (1865-1903), 59th-79th (1905-46)
Committee Papers259 ft.39th-79th (1865-1946)
Bill Files36 ft.58th-79th (1903-46)
TOTAL:445 ft. and 73 vols. (6 ft., 2 in.) 
Committee Records Summary Table

21.36 The minute books are generally thorough. They record the attendance and agenda of meetings of the committee, including appointment of standing subcommittees and referral of documents to them, appointment of committee clerks, committee discussions of legislation, mark-up sessions, and preparation of committee reports.

21.37 Some minute books include roll call votes, and some include brief entries listing activities in executive sessions (60th Congress minutes). The minutes may also contain detailed records of markup sessions such as those on December 11 and 12, 1893 during which the committee marked up the Wilson-Gorman tariff bill (53A-F46.5, 17 pages).

James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (U.S. Army) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  
21.38 The minutes document numerous decisions that affected the operations of the committee; for instance, the minutes of the 46th Congress note that on April 29, 1879, James Garfield was appointed chairman of a subcommittee to inquire into the subject of what books the committee would require for its new technical library.

21.39 The docket books of the Ways and Means Committee provide an important source of documentation for a variety of types of research. They provide a continuous record of the documents referred to the committee and, in some cases, "chairman's remarks" regarding their disposition. Committee calendars continue this type of documentation after the docket book series stops. The committee "Historical Series" contains committee calendars from the 60th through the 75th Congresses (1907-38); later calendars are filed among the committee papers.

21.40 There is at least one docket book for each Congress between 1865 and 1901, and in many cases there are several docket books for different types of dockets, such as a docket book for House and Senate Bills and Resolutions, and one or more docket books for petitions. The active committee of the 53d Congress (1893-95) left four volumes of dockets--three petition docket books that list over 2,600 petitions in chronological order of receipt, and a mailing docket that contains an alphabetical list of persons who received copies of committee publications. The 2,600 entries listed in the petition dockets amount to 9 linear feet in the petition and memorial files; they include a large number of documents on Wilson Tariff bill (53A-H33.11, 45 in.) and smaller numbers on specific sections of the tariff bill, such as coal and iron ore (53A-H33.6, 8 in.), books (53A-H33.3, 1 in.), alcohol, beer, whiskey, and other distilled spirits (53A-H33.1, 1 in.), barley and flax (53A-H33.2, 2 in.), and cigars and tobacco (53A-H33.5, 29 in.). The 53d Congress records also contain petitions on the income tax (53A-H33.10, 4 in.).

21.41 Although the jurisdiction of the committee was truncated after the 38th Congress (appropriations and banking legislation having been removed), there is a marked increase in the size of the petition and memorial files after 1865. Petitions and memorials for this period average 4 feet per Congress, the main subjects being the government revenue policies regarding taxes and tariffs, the bonded debt of the United States, foreign trade, and embargoes and commercial treaty matters. Other subjects of concern during this period include the payment of special bonuses to military officers and enlisted men, and proposals for unemployment insurance and other forms of social insurance. The petitions and memorials are arranged by subject when a sufficient quantity of petitions on a subject were received, or in a catch-all "various subjects" category for miscellaneous small subjects.

21.42 During the first half of this period the bulk of the petitions referred to the committee pertain to taxation and the tariff. Tariff petitions drop off markedly after the 64th Congress when the U.S. Tariff Commission was created (1916). As in the earlier files, petitions and memorials relating to tariffs on specific commodities appear consistently in the records of every Congress and are arranged by commodity or commodity groups. The grouping of like commodities makes possible a certain level of description, but it also makes the searches for particular subjects more complex than simple alphabetical subject searches. For example, the files for the 46th Congress (1879-81) cover the following subject groups: cattle, sheep, and horses (46A-H24.4); chrome, iron ore, and bichromate of potash (46A-H24.5); cigarettes, cigars, and tobacco (46A-H24.6); medicine, perfumes, and cosmetics (46A-H24.19); and wine, distilled and fermented liquors, and beer (46A-H24.34). The commodity subject groups are arranged alphabetically by the first commodity to appear in the group.

21.43 One of the largest petitions was received by the committee during the 52d Congress (1891-93) from tailors opposed to the free entry of wearing apparel and other personal effects belonging to immigrants arriving in the country (52A-H24.16, 5 ft.). The petition forms, which were printed in the May 1892 issue of The Sartorial Arts Journal, express the displeasure of merchant tailors with the construction of section 2 of the Free List of the Tariff Act of October 1, 1890.

21.44 In addition to those petitions and memorials suggesting alterations in the tax or tariff on specific commodities, there are others favoring more general changes in the revenue laws. Examples include petitions for the creation of a Tariff Commission (46A-H24.3, 47A-H22.17, 60A-H36.1, 61A-H34.2), petitions on the general reduction of tariffs (44A-H20.31, 45A-H25.31, 47A-H22.9, 49A-H25.15, 51A-H23.9, 52A-H24.11), and petitions on income tax and other tax laws (40A-H19.11, 41A-H15.7, 45A-H25.1, 53A-H33.10, 63A-H30.2, and every Congress between 1919 and 1933).

21.45 The petitions on taxes fall into various categories: a national income tax (38A-G24.11, 40A-H27.19, 46A-H24.14, 53A-H33.10, 63A-H30.2, 71A-H18.6), a tax on corporations (61A-H34.21, 62A-H31.1), tax reduction (40A-H19.14), tax law repeal (42A-H15.10), and others. There are also petitions on taxes on specific commodities and activities such as fire insurance company premiums (39A-H25.19), medicinal preparations (42A-H15.11), bologna sausage (44A-H20.3), and legacy and succession taxes (41A-H15.11). A tax on bank deposits and checks generated over 4 feet of petitions between 1875 and 1883 (44A-H29.2, 45A-H25.37, 46A-24.30, 47A-H22.26).

21.46 Other subjects which appear in the petition and memorial files include the funding of the national debt (41A-H15.6, 46A-H24.22, 48A-H30.8); repeal of the Specie Resumption Act (45A-H25.29); banking and currency (39A-H25.2, 43A-H19.1, 45A-H25.12); trusts, combines, and monopolies (51A-H23.13); adulteration of pure food (55A-H29.2); a commission to study the alcoholic liquor traffic (44A-H20.1, 45A-H25.1); a commission to study prohibition (63A-H30.4); Government wages and hours (46A-H24.33, 70A-H15.3, 72A-H16.17); and a plan for a subtreasury (51A-H23.11).

21.47 The apparent importance of a subject did not necessarily determine the volume of petitions it would generate. For example, during the 64th Congress (1915-17) there were petitions: asking Congress to prohibit the sale of arms and ammunition to the belligerents in Europe (64A-H26.15); praying for passage of legislation to levy a tax on corporate profits in excess of 8 percent (64A-H26.17) and for passage of H.J. Res. 127, a resolution to call upon the Allied Powers to allow Germany and Austria to import milk for the relief of babies (64A-H26.7); proposing an embargo on the exportation of foodstuffs (64A-H26.7); protesting the taxes imposed under the Emergency Revenue Act (64A-H26.8), and numerous other subjects. The largest number of petitions were concerned with a tax on mail-order houses (46A-H26.14, 2 ft.).

21.48 Just after the end of World War I the subjects in the petition and memorial files begin to change. Large numbers of petitions and memorials concerning various forms of adjusted compensation and loans for veterans, and bonuses for officers and enlisted men are among the records of every Congress between 1919 and 1936 (66A-H21.1, 67A-H23.4, 68A-H21.1, 69A-H18.1, 70A-H15.5, 71A-H18.2, 72A-H16.1, 73A-H21.1, 74A-H20.1). During this period, veterans also petitioned for better hospital facilities (66A-H21.2).

21.49 Beginning about 1933 the records from every Congress contain petitions and memorials requesting some form of national social security legislation. The files for the 74th Congress (1935-36) contain over 11 feet of petitions and memorials demanding some type of old age and unemployment insurance (74A-H20.12), or favoring the Townsend plan (74A-H20.11) or the Will Rogers pension plan (74A-H20.11). In addition to records in the petition and memorial files, the committee records for the years following 1933 contain voluminous committee papers files and bill files on the subject of social insurance (see paragraphs 21.59-60.).

21.50 Committee papers average 2 feet per Congress before the 60th Congress (1907), and 11 feet per Congress from the 61st through 79th Congresses. The records are arranged by subject and reflect the important changes in the issues that affected the committee during the 82 year period between the Civil War and World War II.

21.51 During this period the committee papers from almost every Congress contain files on tariff policy, tax policy, and the tariffs and taxes on various commodities. These files make up a large proportion of the total committee papers files throughout most of the period. For example, about half of the committee papers from the 61st through 71st Congresses (1909-31) relate to taxes or tariffs. The records include correspondence on: The Revenue Acts of 1924 (68A-F39.1), 1926 (69A-F41.7), 1928 (70A-F32.3), 1937 (75A-F38.1), and 1943 (78A-F38.19); tariff "free-list" correspondence (61A-F48.2, 62A-F37.2, 63A-F39.3); the Emergency Tariff Act of 1921 (67A-F39.4 and F39.5), and the Tariff Act of 1922 (67A-F39.8 and F39.9); and various other tariff acts (61A-F48.1, 62A-F37.1, 63A-F39.2, 66A-F38.2, 70A-F32.4, 71A-F36.5). The correspondence that is concerned with the tariff or tax on a particular commodity is usually arranged alphabetically by the name of the commodity or by the schedule that applies to it.

21.52 Other tax-related records include Internal Revenue Service lists of adjustments paid for taxes illegally or erroneously collected between 1924 and 1927 (67A-F39.7, 68A-F39.1, 69A-F41.6, 11 ft.).

21.53 Committee papers also contain records of investigations conducted by the committee on subjects such as whiskey revenue frauds (40A-F27.12) and other revenue frauds (40A-F27.13); the transfer of gold and other transactions of the subtreasury at San Francisco with the Bank of California (41A-F27.14); a subsidy to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (42A-F30.9, 43A-F30.4); and the New York Customhouse (45A-F36.5).

21.54 The records include files on subjects related to commercial treaty relations of the United States with other nations, such as reciprocity treaties and reciprocal trade agreements (39A-F27.8, 40A-F27.4, 54A-F43.9, 79A-F37.2); violation of the United States-Russian treaty of 1833 with respect to hemp (41A-F27.2); trade with Brazil (42A-F30.12); a duty on fish caught in Canadian waters (46A-F36.2); a treaty of commerce with Mexico (48A-F36.11); commercial treaties and trade information (51A-F41.2); and the Mexican "Free Zone" (53A-F46.3).

21.55 Records relating to claims form a less significant part of the records of the committee, but there are separate claims files for the 47th, 48th and 51st Congresses (47A-F30.2, 48A-F36.3, 51A-F41.1). Additional claims records may be found in the "various subjects" headings, or in various locations in the alphabetical subject files.

21.56 Other subjects that appear in the committee papers include the World's Columbian Exposition (53A-F46.2); the condition of national finances (54A-F43.5, 59A-F36.2); adulteration of food and drink such as cheese and butter (47A-F30.1) and beer (54A-F43.2); drawbacks on exports (many Congresses); banking and currency, including greenback inflation and resumption of specie payment (40A-F27.32); the Customs Service (67A-F39.3); alien property (69A-F41.4); birth control (72A-F29.2); Federal aid to States (75A-F38.2); and the National Firearms Registration Act (75A-F38.4, 4 feet).

21.57 The committee papers files after the 60th Congress (1907-09) contain large correspondence files expressing the opinions of lawyers, businessmen, and a wide variety of other citizens on public policy issues. During this period correspondence in the committee papers files replace the petitions and memorials as the primary source of documentation of public opinion. The records relating to the proposed veteran's bonus provide an example of the dispersal of subject-related records in the committee files.

21.58 The subject of bonuses or "adjusted compensation" for veterans appears in both petition and memorial and committee papers files of most Congresses between the 66th and 74th (1919-36). The records of the 66th Congress (1919-21) contain over 3 feet of correspondence in the committee papers file (66A-F38.2), and 1 foot of petitions and memorials (66A-H21.1) on the subject. The 67th Congress records contain 2 feet of correspondence on the veteran's bonus in the committee papers (67A-F39.1), as well as petitions and memorials (67A-H23.1), and a bill file (67A-D36) for H.R. 10874, the veteran's bonus bill, which contains President Warren G. Harding's original veto message.

21.59 The dispersal of communications from citizens concerned about the need for national social insurance provides another example of the distribution of subject related documents throughout the committee's files. After the 73d Congress, records relating to some type of social insurance appear in the bill files, petitions and memorials, and committee papers of every Congress until at least the 83d (1954). The Ways and Means Committee records relating to this subject in the 73d Congress (1933-34) are slight, consisting of a bill file on the Wagner-Lewis unemployment insurance bill (73A-D33), and a few petitions on unemployment insurance (73A-H21.20). During the 74th Congress (1935-36) the committee was flooded with over 11 feet of communications on the subject: there are petitions on the Townsend plan (74A-H20.11), unemployment and old-age insurance (74A-H20.12), and the Will Rogers' pension plan (74A-H20.13); there are bill files on H.R. 7260, the Social Security Act (74A-D38) and H.R. 4120, the Economic Security Act (74A-D38); and there is correspondence filed alphabetically under "Social Security" (74A-F39.1) in the committee papers correspondence file. After 1933 the committee records for every Congress contain correspondence and/or petitions relating to the subject.

21.60 The 75th Congress file contains over 5 feet of material in a bill file on H.R. 4199, the Townsend recovery act or general welfare act of 1937, as well as petitions on the subject. The 76th Congress committee papers file contains over 7 feet of correspondence on the Townsend plan, 6 feet on the Social Security Act, 6 feet of consolidated printed hearings on social security along with index cards to the hearings, and almost 5 feet of petitions and memorials on social security, welfare and relief.

21.61 The committee papers files also contain several types of administrative records. The records from 1865 through 1871 contain lists that may have been used in the appointment of House Members to membership on various House Committees (39A-F27.1, 40A-F27.2, 41A-F27.4). The records of numerous Congresses contain mailing lists and "request correspondence" files that provide evidence of the numbers and types of persons who requested and received prints of the committee hearings, reports, and bills, and who may have testified on the important finance issues. These records may be buried in alphabetical subject files (sometimes filed under "R" for "request correspondence"), but they are sometimes broken out as separate categories. Some of the "request correspondence" files between 1909 and 1941 (61A-F48.5, 68A-F39.1, 69A-F41.8, 71A-F36.3, 72A-F29.14, and 76A-F41.1) are voluminous, averaging over 1 foot per Congress.

21.62 There are bill files for every Congress between the 58th and 79th. The files generally contain the same types of records that are found in the committee papers files, except that they are arranged by bill or resolution number, instead of by subject. In most cases, the bill files should be used in conjunction with the correspondence files in the committee papers because some documents may be filed by subject while others are filed by bill. The bill files average less than 2 feet per Congress with the exception of the 75th Congress file which contains 6 feet of correspondence on HR 3134, a tax on fuel oil, and 6 feet of correspondence on HR 4199, the 1937 Townsend recovery act.

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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.