Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 24 Legislative Proceedings

Chapter 24. General Records of the House of Representatives, 1789-1968

Table of Contents

General Records of the House of Representatives, 1789-1968 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Records described in this chapter:
Records of Legislative Proceedings, 1st-90th Congresses (1789-1968)
Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Journals and Minutes276 ft.1st-90th (1789-1968)
Original House Bills1,516 ft.1st-90th (1789-1968)
Original Senate Bills56 ft.13th-90th (1813-1968)
Original Committee Reports753 ft.37th-90th (1861-1968)
Original House Documents1,375 ft.30th-90th (1847-1968)
Messages from the President75 ft.2d-36th (1791-1861)
Reports and communications139 ft.2d-36th (1791-1861)
Committee Papers of the Committee of the Whole2 ft.18th-37th (1823-63), 54th-55th (1895-99), 61st (1901-11), 69th (1925-27), 72d (1931-33), 74th-77th (1935-42), 81st-83d (1949-54)
Petitions and Memorials of the Committee of the Whole11 ft.6th-26th (1799-1841), 28th-33d (1843-55), 45th (1877-79)
Tabled petitions and memorials57 ft.5th-39th (1797-1867), 41st (1869-71)
Election records71 ft.9th-90th (1805-1968)
Accompanying papers1,049 ft.39th-57th (1865-1903)
Other records66 ft.2d-90th (1791-1968)
TOTAL:5,446 ft. (including 12,385 vols.) 

24.5 The Constitution provides that "each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings and from time to time publish the same." The original House journals and minutes, 1789-1968, consist of 960 volumes of handwritten (or typescript after 1893) manuscripts of the published Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States in either the rough (first draft) or more often the smooth (final) version that was sent to printer. There is usually at least one volume for each session of Congress.

24.6 The Journal gives a narrative summary of the day-by-day proceedings of each session, recording all bills introduced, the committee to which they were referred, and all subsequent floor action. Also recorded are all roll call votes with the names of Representatives voting yea or nay. The Journal is well indexed by subject and serves as the basic finding aid for unpublished legislative case (bill) files. By means of the subject index, bill numbers and committees of referral can be located so that searches can be made for related records. Petitions, memorials, resolutions of State legislatures and executive communications are also recorded in the Journal and are indexed. The Journal does not record the speeches or debates on the floor, although the texts of some Presidential messages are printed.

24.7 The original House bills are preserved in 3,280 bound volumes. They include the original manuscript bills and joint, concurrent, and simple resolutions "dropped in the hopper" by the Representatives who introduced them. Beginning with the First Congress, there are bound volumes of engrossed bills, which are bills that passed the House in their final House version, signed by the Clerk of the House. From the 13th to the 56th Congresses (1813-1901) enrolled bills, which are the final drafts of engrossed bills that have passed both Houses of Congress, are bound. For some Congresses there may also be a printed series of "desk copies of House bills passed," which is generally found for the period after the Civil War.

24.8 For the period 1789-1807 only engrossed bills are available. After that time the series of original bills is mostly complete. Beginning in 1871, these original bills are in bound volumes. The series of bills that originated in the Senate, were passed and transmitted to the House, begins in 1813, and is mostly complete from the 19th Congress (1825-27), and thereafter. In the 20th century, additional subseries in this category may be found, such as desk copies of bills that failed to pass, and engrossed concurrent and simple resolutions. Printed copies of bills are often found in the records of the committees that considered them.

24.9 Closely related to the original House bills in their various versions are original Senate bills that were submitted to the House for its consideration following Senate passage.

24.10 Original committee reports consist of the original manuscripts of House committee reports that are filed numerically for each session of Congress. They comprise 2,966 volumes beginning with the 42d Congress (1861-63). Original committee reports prior to 1861 are included in the series of committee papers which are arranged by committee.

24.11 Original House documents consist of the originals of documents that were introduced on the floor of the House and ordered to be printed. They began to be maintained as a separate series in 1847 when the original manuscripts of the House miscellaneous documents were first bound by the Government printing contractors and returned to the Clerk of the House after the printed edition was issued. Originals of House executive documents were bound similarly beginning with the 37th Congress (1861-63). The two categories, executive and miscellaneous, are arranged numerically for each session and are cited in the style H. Ex. Doc. 1, 37th Cong., 1st sess., or H. Misc. Doc. 1, 30th Cong., 1st sess. Executive documents are those transmitted to the House from executive agencies, while miscellaneous documents are any other items that the House chose to have printed, except its own committee reports. Beginning in 1861, the original Presidential messages and other executive communications which had been maintained separately were bound with the other documents in this series. After 1895 the distinction between executive and miscellaneous was eliminated and there is one numerical series of House documents for each session of Congress. There are 5,175 bound volumes of original House documents.

24.12 Messages from the President that were transmitted to the House of Representatives include the annual messages of each President (now usually called the "State of the Union" addresses) and other messages in which the President asked for particular legislation or furnished information to Congress. The latter type of message was often in response to a request; for example, a message from President Andrew Jackson of April 2, 1832, "in compliance with a resolution of the House of Representatives of the 17th of last month" sent information on "whether possession has been taken of any part of the territory of the United States on the Pacific Ocean by the subjects of any foreign power. . . ." (32A- E1).

24.13 These Presidential messages were printed as House documents and became part of the series of Congressional publications known as the Congressional Serial Set. The Jackson message previously mentioned was printed as H. Ex. Doc. 191, 22d Cong., 1st sess. After 1861, the original manuscripts of House documents were bound together after being printed and the series of Presidential messages was no longer maintained as a separate entity.

24.14 The same is true of a closely related series, reports and communications received by the House of Representatives. These are original messages received directly from heads of the executive Departments, mainly Cabinet secretaries but also from other officials such as the Director of the Mint and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. These messages were sent to request legislation or to provide information, and they were usually printed as House documents. After 1861, these messages may be found in the original House document series. Because in recent years executive agencies have been required by law to submit more reports, the reports--many now called Executive Communications--are often referred directly to the appropriate committee and are no longer printed as House documents. However, they may be issued as Committee Prints by the committees they are referred to, or printed directly by the agencies preparing them. Many annual reports are no longer formally transmitted to Congress at all.

24.15 The Committee of the Whole is unlike the standing and select committees discussed in previous chapters. The committee, which quite literally consists of the entire membership of the House, stems from a practice of the House of Commons, when the Speaker of the House of Commons was regarded as an agent of the King. The procedure allows the Speaker to remove himself from the chairmanship in order for the body to elect its own chairman and debate matters without the normal restrictions of a House of Commons session.

24.16 In the House of Representatives, the process differs from the British practice in several respects and is an important part of House floor procedure for the consideration of bills. Most important bills, such as those raising revenue, general appropriation bills, and bills of a public character directly or indirectly appropriating money or property, are listed on the Union Calendar and considered in the Committee on the Whole. In the Committee of the Whole, the Speaker does not preside, but appoints a chairman, usually a member of his own party. With a quorum of 100, the Committee of the Whole debates measures under the so-called five-minute rule rather than the hour rule, and it may amend and report bills. There are several technical parliamentary procedures associated with the Committee of the Whole, but in the end, bills considered by the Committee of the Whole must be approved by the entire House. Another function of the Committee of the Whole is to consider the "State of the Union" address of the President.

24.17 Despite the procedural importance of the Committee of the Whole, it generates little in the way of paper documentation, and few records of the committee are preserved at the National Archives. The committee papers of the Committee of the Whole include four volumes of minutes from 1833 through 1863, loose papers relating to accounts of expenditures of two diplomatic officers in the early 1840's (29A-D23.1) and files for private claims and other bills, 54th-55th Congresses (1895-99). Thereafter, the papers include only State of the Union messages and other Presidential messages.

24.18 Petitions and memorials of the Committee of the Whole are somewhat more complete. From the 6th to the 33d Congress, except for the 27th Congress, certain petitions and memorials were referred to the Committee of the Whole. The apparent reason for referral of these documents to this committee, rather than to another standing committee, is that at the time of referral, the bill to which the petition or memorial related was under consideration by the Committee of the Whole. Endorsements on several of these petitions indicate that they had been referred earlier to another standing committee, such as the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads, and the Committee on the Judiciary among others. Among the subjects of the petitions are the repeal of the alien and sedition acts, 1800 (6A-F5.1); the trade embargo and other trade restrictions during British war with France, 1808-1812 (10A-F10.1, 12A-F12.1); the patent rights of inventor Oliver Evans (12A-F12.5, 13A-G14.2); the slave trade (15A-G18.1); the removal of Indians from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, 1830-31 (21A-G23.3); the exclusion of slavery and the slave trade from the District of Columbia in the mid-1850's (33A-G26.1); opposition to passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, 1854 (33A-G26.2); and the repeal of the fugitive slave law (33A-G26.4). For many Congresses, the petitions concern the establishment of a uniform bankruptcy law, establishment of post roads and routes, various tariffs and internal improvements, and general claims legislation.

Credential of election for David Crockett, September 18, 1827 (HR20A-J1) from NARA's National Archives Catalog  

24.19 Election records consist primarily of credentials of Representatives and Delegates, arranged for each Congress alphabetically by State or Territory. The credentials are sometimes accompanied by related correspondence.

24.20 The accompanying papers file consists of papers relating to claims, pensions, and other forms of private relief, together with papers relating to certain public matters, that are arranged for each Congress alphabetically by person, State, Territory, or subject. Although the records are filed alphabetically by the name of the individual or entity, they are essentially files of papers relating to specific bills or resolutions--what are referred to elsewhere in this guide as bill files.

24.21 The accompanying papers files for each Congress were artificially constructed by collecting together the bill files of the various committees, mostly concerning private legislation, and arranging them in a single alphabetical sequence. This practice was discontinued after the 57th Congress (1901-3) at which time the individual committees began systematically retiring the series of bill files. This series is the primary location of records relating to private legislation between the 39th and 57th Congress. Before that period the relevant records would be found in the committee papers of the appropriate committee and after that date they are among the appropriate committee's bill files.

24.22 Individual files may contain either printed bills or reports, or unprinted records such as letters or petitions. Most files contain both printed and unprinted material. There are tens of thousands of these files, but they are usually small. From the 45th to the 51st Congress, printed copies of private bills are filed at the end of the accompanying papers.

24.23 The vast majority of the accompanying papers concern common citizens seeking pensions or payment of claims against the Government. Some petitions for relief concern nonmonetary matters such as relief of political disabilities under the 14th Amendment. For example, in 1886 J. R. Eggleston, a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who resigned his commission when Mississippi seceded from the Union, successfully sought such relief (49A-D1). Occasionally, the papers concern someone of greater historical significance; for example, the series contains the petition of Susan B. Anthony for remission of a fine levelled against her for voting in the Presidential election of 1872 (43A-D1). Papers relating to States or Territories frequently concern private or public bills relating to particular projects, such as the construction of Federal buildings or improvements to rivers and harbors. Papers relating to other subjects are rare.

Petition from women of Brookline, MA, praying that the gag rule be rescinded, February 14, 1838 (HR25A-H17.1) from NARA's National Archives Catalog  

24.24 Tabled petitions and memorials are those petitions and memorials the House received but did not refer to committees for consideration, thereby disposing of them in an adverse manner without debate. Relatively few petitions and memorials, less than 1 linear foot per Congress, were tabled. For a few Congresses, however, substantially more petitions and memorials were tabled. One issue resulting in a large number of tabled memorials was the controversy over rechartering the Bank of the United States; in 1833, the House was inundated with memorials supporting renewal of the charter and restoration of public deposits in that bank (23A-H1.1). Among all subjects addressed by the tabled petitions and memorials, the most thoroughly documented is that of slavery in its various aspects. Beginning in the 23d Congress (1833-35), a growing number of petitions from abolitionists and other social reformers concerning slavery were placed before the House by Representative John Quincy Adams and others; this was a direct challenge to a long standing practice of the House. Many petitioners sought congressional action to eliminate slavery from the District of Columbia (24A-H1.3, 25A-H1.8, 26A-H1.2); others advocated abolition of the slave trade (26A-H1.1) and of slavery itself (27A-H1.7, 28A-H1.1). The House's response to abolitionist pressure was to pass a resolution on December 21, 1837, to table all memorials, petitions, and papers on slavery. This resolution became known as the "gag rule," and similar language was soon adopted as Standing Rule 21 of the House. The "gag rule" itself became a major issue, not only among abolitionists but also among others who were repelled by its fundamentally antidemocratic and unconstitutional nature (25A-H1.7, 26A-H1.3, 27A-H1.6, 28A-H1.10). In 1840, the "gag rule" was repealed, but the House continued to table many slavery-related protests, including one large roll petition favoring repeal of the act of February 12, 1793, relating to fugitive slaves (28A-H1.8); several petitions opposing the admission of Texas as a State "especially because its constitution as far as it can, supports and perpetuates slavery" (29A-H1.1); and five petitions favoring repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (33A-H1.18). Even through the 38th Congress (1863-65), the House continued to table some petitions on the subject of slavery.

24.25 Other records consist largely of records of roll call votes, beginning with the 13th Congress (1813-15). Keeping such records was and continues to be a function of the Clerk's office, which now has a bill clerk and a reading clerk for this purpose. Prior to 1813, the series consists of various papers that could not be placed in any other series; these are arranged by subject. Among later records in this series are papers relating to the reprimand of former Representative Samuel Houston for assaulting and beating William Stanbery, a Representative of Ohio, in 1832 (22A-K3); the letter of Governor-elect Nathaniel Prentice Banks of Massachusetts to the Speaker announcing his resignation from the House (35A-L2); and the original report on "Astronomical and Meteorological Observations Made at the Naval Observatory During the Year 1861" (37A-K2).

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

Table of Contents

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.