Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7. Records of the Committee on Commerce and Related Committees, 1816-1968

Records of Committees Relating to Commerce, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Commerce and Related Committees, 1816-1968 (1,677 ft.)

7.1 This chapter describes the records of the Committee on Commerce, its predecessors, and other standing committees that have had jurisdiction over matters that eventually were consolidated under the Commerce Committee. The chapter also describes the records of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, which was a separate standing committee until 1977.

7.2 The committee originated as the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, established December 10, 1816, as one of the original standing committees of the Senate. It was split into separate committees--the Committee on Commerce and the Committee on Manufactures--in 1825 as the result of sectionalism and economic differences over revision of the tariff. The committees developed their own jurisdictional interests and constituencies, with the Commerce Committee being the more active and important of the two, focusing largely on river and harbor improvements. In the late 19th century, the Committee on Interstate Commerce was established and developed for itself a large role in economic regulation, beginning with the railroads and later branching out into communications and other areas. Several smaller committees (often beginning as select committees) --concerning railroads, fisheries, interoceanic canals, waterway transportation and river improvements, industrial expositions, and standards, weights, and measures--originally were established to deal with particular legislative matters, but survived in order to provide clerical support to their chairmen. Many of these minor committees were abolished in 1921 in the first wave of committee reform. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601) further consolidated the committees by creating a single Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. In 1961, pursuant to S. Res. 117, 87th Cong., the committee was renamed the Committee on Commerce. In 1977, another major reorganization of the committee system, authorized by S. Res. 4, 95th Cong., led to the creation of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which acquired jurisdiction over nonmilitary aspects of the space program from the abolished Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, and relinquished jurisdiction over river and harbor improvements to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

7.3 The committee has published two brief histories of its activities. Covering the formative years of the committee is History, Membership, and Jurisdiction of the Committee on Commerce, 1816-1966 (S. Doc. 100, 89th Cong., 2d sess., Serial 12716-1), which summarizes the histories of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, the separate Committees on Commerce and on Manufactures following the jurisdictional split in 1825, and the Committees on Interstate Commerce and on Interoceanic Canals. The volume is largely a list of members of these committees throughout their existence. More recent activities of the committee, especially its key legislative accomplishments, are described in A Brief History of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and its Activities Since 1947 (S. Doc. 93, 95th Cong., 2d sess., Serial 13205-1). This volume not only contains information on the establishment of the earlier committees, but also focuses on the committee's legislative accomplishments in the areas of transportation, communications, consumer protection, oceans policy, and science. A history of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences has also been published.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.