Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23 Revision of Laws

Chapter 23. Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1968 (Record Group 128)

Table of Contents

Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1989 (Record Group 128) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Joint Committee on the Revision of the Laws (1907-1910)

JC.054 Beginning in 1845, Little and Brown began publishing Statutes at Large, a series containing all the laws of the United States in order of enactment from the First Congress to the present. Such an arrangement is not necessarily the most convenient format for researchers. A compilation and codification of laws, for example, groups all laws by subject, with obsolete sections deleted. Such a publication is called a code, revised code, or revised statutes. The first official codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States was issued in 1874 and revised or updated in 1878.

JC.055 No further revisions occurred during the 19th century, and so, from 1897 to 1906, a Commission to Revise and Codify the Laws labored over a new codification of the laws. The commission`s original assignment was limited to the criminal and penal laws but later expanded to include the judiciary act and its amendments as well. Eventually the commission was directed that it "shall bring together all statutes and parts of statutes relating to the same subjects, shall omit redundant and obsolete enactments, and shall make such alterations as may be necessary to reconcile the contradictions, supply the omissions, and amend the imperfections of the original text; and may propose and embody in such revision changes in the substance of existing law; but all such changes shall be clearly set forth in an accompanying report which shall briefly explain the reasons for the same" (H. Doc. 783, pt. 1, 61st Cong., 2d sess., Serial 5830).

JC.056 Three months after the commission submitted its final report, Congress established the Joint Committee on the Revision of the Laws "to examine, consider, and submit to Congress recommendations upon the revision and codification of the laws reported by the statutory revision commission." John L. Lott from the Department of Justice served as assistant to the joint committee. The committee first considered the commission's work regarding the penal code and proposed the codification and revision of the penal laws that was approved on March 4, 1909 (35 Stat. 1088). The following year, the committee presented S. 7031, 61st Cong., a bill to codify the laws relating to the judiciary. It was enacted as Public Law 61-475. The committee terminated on March 15, 1910, with its presentation of the judiciary code. 1

JC.057 The records of the joint committee consist primarily of reports and correspondence. Many of the documents were sent by executive Departments in response to commission-prepared drafts of revision of the laws. The Navy, Forest Service, Civil Service Commission, and Department of Commerce and Labor are among the agencies represented. The laws considered relate to a wide variety of subjects, such as public lands, tariffs, immigration, the administration of the Philippine Islands, and the Smithsonian Institution. There are letters sent to Lott by William White, Superintendent of the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeths Hospital). These discuss the District of Columbia's requirement of "an inquisition by jury to admit a feeble-minded person" to the hospital, as well as such topics as the admission of alcoholics as insane persons, proposed features of an insanity law for the District of Columbia, and the various State requirements for a determination of questions of insanity.

JC.058 Some materials among the records reflect the work of the commission, predating the establishment of the committee. Included are the commission's journal for the period from June 1898 to July 1901, correspondence of the commission, responses from Federal attorneys in various parts of the country to the commission's request for suggestions regarding the revision and codification of criminal and penal laws, comments of the Chicago Bar Association on the proposals for legislation, and a 1901 report of the New York Bar Association on the proposed revision of the criminal and penal laws (S.C. 61).

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


1 The revised codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States was not completed until 1925. That code is volume 44, part 1, of Statutes at Large.

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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.