Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23

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

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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

Introduction to the Records of the Joint Committees of Congress

23.1 This chapter describes the records comprising Record Group 128, Records of Joint Committees of Congress. Joint committees are committees whose membership is drawn from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. When the records of the House of Representatives and the Senate were initially transferred to the National Archives, the decision was made to unite the identifiable records of joint committees in a single, distinct record group but to maintain the records in two collections within the record group.

23.2 The House collection includes those records of joint committees that were transferred to the National Archives by the House of Representatives, and the Senate collection contains those transferred by the Senate. Certain joint committees are represented in only one of the collections, while records of other committees may be found in both the House and Senate collections. Sometimes copies of the same document are found in both collections. There is no general rule that can be applied to explain these discrepancies. Neither is there any clear distinction between the collections regarding types of documents or subjects considered. For these reasons, this chapter considers the records of joint committees as a whole. Researchers should note, however, that access to the House collection is governed by the standard rules governing access to House records, while the Senate access provisions apply to the Senate collection. Information regarding access is provided in An Introduction to Research in the Records of Congress.

23.3 There are no assigned file numbers for the committees. The lack of file numbers for the records of individual and distinctive modern joint committees does not constitute any particular difficulty. The records are arranged by committee, and the relatively large quantity of material ensures that they are identifiable. Earlier committees, however, may be represented by only one document found in records that are arranged by Congress and only thereunder by committee. For these earlier committees, the chapter uses reference notations that designate either the House collection (H.C.) or the Senate collection (S.C.), followed by the number of the Congress under which the records can be found. "H.C. 45," for example, indicates the records may be found in the House collection for the 45th Congress.

23.4 There is a tremendous range in the amount and type of documentation available regarding individual joint committees. Records from over 160 joint committees1 are available for the entire period from 1789 to the Civil War in both the House and Senate collections, but they comprise less than 4 feet. The records of the 20th-century Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, on the other hand, total 406 feet. Because of the discrepancy in the amount and kinds of material relating to individual joint committees, this chapter describes the records in two parts. The first part of the chapter presents an overview of the records of joint committees whose records are very sparse, dating generally from the 18th and 19th centuries. In the second part of the chapter, committees with more substantial records, most of which date from the 20th century, are discussed individually in chronological order by date of creation.

23.5 The two Houses have relied on joint committees to undertake a wide variety of assignments involving representational, administrative, investigative, oversight, and legislative duties. For many of these committees, no unpublished records remain. Records of relatively perfunctory representational joint committees, as well as conference committees, appear among records of the 18th and 19th-century Congresses. Though these types of committees continue to be used today, no records exist for them among 20th-century joint committee records.

23.6 Certain records of RG 233 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives) and RG 46 (Records of the U.S. Senate) are closely related to records described in this chapter. There are various reasons for this, which a few examples may explain. Many 20th-century joint committees drew their members exclusively from the membership of certain standing committees. An example is the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation, which was composed of members of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance. In contrast, sometimes (especially in the 18th and 19th centuries) the House members and Senate members of a joint committee would function autonomously as committees in their own chambers for certain purposes. For many years, for example, this was true of the Joint Committee on the Library, but that is by no means an isolated example. The committee system in Congress is now defined quite clearly, but that is a relatively recent development. Because of the more fluid committee system and because the records of joint committees were previously interspersed among the records of the House and the Senate, the separation of the records to form RG 128 was sometimes inexact. Original manuscripts of several of the reports of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, for example, are among Senate records (Sen 37A-D1, Sen 38A-D1). Certain records of the House Select Committee on Reconstruction that was appointed on July 3, 1867, on the other hand, are among the joint committee records (H.C. 40, 41).

23.7 Some of the records described in this chapter are published in American State Papers, the Congressional Serial Set, or as printed hearings or committee prints. For information on such publications and available indexes, see "An Introduction to Research in the Records of Congress.

23.8 The Joint Commission on the Ford`s Theater Disaster and the Congressional Aviation Policy Board, while they were not called joint committees, nevertheless drew their membership entirely from Congress and reported to it. For this reason, their records are in RG 128 and are described here.

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1 This figure includes 73 conference committees.

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.