Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 22

Chapter 22. Records of the Select Committees of the House of Representatives

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Records of the Select Committees of the House of Representatives (1789-1988) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committee records described in this chapter:


22.1 The House of Representatives achieved a quorum and commenced business on Wednesday, April 1, 1789. Its first committee, a select committee assigned to prepare and report standing rules and orders for House proceedings, was appointed on April 2 and submitted its report five days later. Since that time, Congress has always relied on committees as the best means to accomplish its work in an orderly, efficient, and expeditious manner.

22.2 The committee system has grown and evolved over the years. During the earliest Congresses, select committees, created to perform a specific function and terminated when the task was completed, performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work. The third Congress (1793-95), for example, had only three standing committees 1 but approximately 350 select committees. 2 The committee system is now firmly established in both House and Senate procedure, with the rules of each House establishing a full range of permanent standing committees and assigning jurisdiction of all legislative issues among them. Nevertheless, select committees, which have been used throughout the history of Congress to respond to unique and difficult issues, continue to be established from time to time to meet special needs.

22.3 This chapter examines records of select committees among the Records of the United States House of Representatives, Record Group 233.3 These records not only contain information about the individual committees to which they pertain, but, taken as a whole, they reveal the wide-ranging jurisdictions and diverse roles of select committees in the history of the House.

22.4 The large number and wide variety of subjects addressed in the select committee records preclude the possibility of mentioning all of them in this chapter. Rather, the chapter is designed to provide a sense of the breadth of subjects and types of documents available for research in select committee records. The published preliminary inventory of RG 233 for the records from 1789 to 1946 also indicates the wide range of subjects because the inventory often segregates select committee records within each Congress by topic and assigns them separate file numbers. This is not always the case, however, and numerous additional subjects appear in the files designated "various select committees."

22.5 Because of the marked differences in the issues confronting Congress, as well as in congressional procedure and committee recordkeeping practices, the records of 18th-century select committees bear little resemblance to their 20th-century counterparts. For this reason, the chapter is divided into four chronological sections. The first section covers records of the years from 1789 to 1847, a period of governmental formation and economic and territorial growth. The second section discusses records dating from 1847 to 1909, encompassing both the Civil War and the later era of industrial expansion and social transformation. The third section runs from 1910 to 1946, the year of the seminal Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Finally, the fourth section discusses the select committee records dating from 1947 to 1968, and the fifth section provides a very brief descriptions of these records from 1969 to 1987.

22.6 The first four sections deal with the records in two different ways. The first two sections of the chapter consider the records of select committees during the time period as a whole, while the last two sections provide separate discussion of the records of each select committee. This is a reflection of the reduced number of select committees and the marked increase in the quantity of records pertaining to each committee after 1910.

22.7 The titles of some older select committees are not capitalized. This follows the guidance of the House Journal and reflects the fluid manner in which select committees in the early years were created, served their function, and went out of existence. Many committees were known by the date they were created or by a petition or other document that had been referred to them. In a number of instances, the Journal and other congressional publications do not consistently refer to an individual committee by the same title. Though such inconsistencies still appear in the twentieth century, they are less frequent.

22.8 Some 20th-century select committees are called special committees. These, however, do not differ in any substantive way from the others.

22.9 Beginning with records of the 68th Congress (1924-25), some select committee records have not been assigned file numbers. Unless otherwise indicated, these records are filed with the records of the last Congress shown in the tables. Whenever a file number is available, it is provided.

22.10 For the records of some select committees, a finding aid is available. These finding aids are mentioned in the chapter and are listed in Appendix G. For guidance on other aids to research, consult An Introduction to Research in the Records of Congress, paying particular attention to the discussion of American State Papers, the Congressional Serial Set, House Journal, and Congressional Record and its predecessors. Certain records of select committees are reproduced in National Archives microfilm publications. Consult the NAIL Microfilm Publications Search or Appendix H for information on these publications.

22.11 Finally, during each of the first four time periods, select committees were created for which there are no records in the National Archives.

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1 These were the House Committee of Elections, the House Committee on Claims, and the Joint Committee on Enrolled Bills. The Senate had no standing committees at the time.

2 George B. Galloway, Congress at the Crossroads (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1946), p. 88.

3 Some records of select committees that were immediate predecessors of House standing committees are described in other chapters of this Guide.



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.