Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 9 1816-1901

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Chapter 9. Records of the Committee on Finance and Related Records, 1816-1988

Records of the Committee on Finance and Related Records, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Committee on Finance, 1816-1901 (14th-56th Congresses)

9.5 Nineteenth-century records of the Committee on Finance (57 ft.) consist of three series: Committee reports and papers, 1816-47 (3 ft.); committee papers, 1847-1901 (12 ft.); and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures that were referred to the committee, 1816-1901 (42 ft.). No bound volumes of committee records, such as minute books or legislative dockets, have been transferred to the National Archives.

9.6 Committee reports and papers include manuscript and printed reports on bills and petitions, and supporting papers. The supporting papers may include the original petitions or memorials, related correspondence, and, on matters relating to claims by merchants or revenue collectors, business records as evidence of the claims. Included in this series are records of the Select Committee on Finance and an Uniform National Currency (14A-D2) and communications from the Secretary of the Treasury and other Cabinet officers. Beginning with the 30th Congress (1847-49), committee reports were bound together in a separate series, and the remaining documents, the committee papers, consist largely of legislative case files, arranged for each Congress by type of bill and thereunder by bill number. By virtue of the kind of legislation referred to the committee, many of these case files prior to 1869 are for House-passed appropriation bills. Committee papers also may include miscellaneous subject files, consisting of Presidential messages and executive communications and reports, often printed as House or Senate documents, and correspondence that is unrelated to specific bills or resolutions. There are no committee papers for the 35th Congress (1857-59).

9.7 The petitions and memorials are arranged by Congress and thereunder by subject or chronologically under the heading "various subjects." Early in the 19th century, many petitions and memorials also contain supporting documents, especially in those instances when the petitioner was seeking relief or compensation. After the Civil War, such supporting papers are uncommon. Many petitions on tariffs and taxes were also tabled.

9.8 In addition to appropriation bills, which cover the widest range of subjects, several specific subjects are documented in the records of the Finance Committee. These include tariffs and duties, operations of customshouses, revenue collection and taxation, banking and currency, and the public debt. Some of these subjects are interrelated and overlapping--for example, duties collected by customs officials on imported goods were the major source of Federal Government revenue in the 19th century.

9.9 After the passage of the Tariff of 1816, the dominant subjects of the records of the committee during the century were tariffs and duties. Early records illustrate efforts to obtain exceptions to the tariff for items such as Bibles being imported by religious societies (14A-D2, 14A-G3, 15A-G4, 26A-G5.1); scientific books and apparatus (14A-G3, 29A-G5); and machinery and iron that was needed for the construction of railroads, steamboats, and other technological improvements (20A-D4, 22A-G5, 23A-G4.2, 25A-G6, 26A-G5.1). Although a number of the bills and petitions on the subject of the tariff were referred to the Finance Committee, until 1834 more were referred to the Committee on Manufactures, which was more protectionist in its attitude. Beginning with the 23d Congress (1833-35), the petitions and memorials have at least one separate subject category for tariffs and duties for nearly every Congress until the mid-1890's, when the subject so dominates the records that there are 13 categories of tariffs and duties petitions for the 53d Congress (1893-95) alone. Although tariffs were reduced during the period 1832-60, several petitions and memorials referred to the committee favored extension of protection of developing U.S. industries, such as coal (29A-G5), lumber (30A-H5), and iron (31A-H5, 32A-H6.1, 35A-H4). The committee also received a substantial number of petitions supporting the Tariff of 1842 (28A-G4), the Morrill tariff bill of 1861 (36A-H4), and the 50 percent increase in import duties in 1864 to help finance the Civil War (38A-H5.1). After the Civil War, the records include files on bills proposing minor revisions in tariffs as well as petitions and memorials advocating tariffs on specific products and general tariff revisions. For example, there are several petitions proposing remission of duties on construction material being used to rebuild Chicago after the 1871 fire (42A-H8.2, 42A-H8.3). Large-scale changes such as those proposed in the McKinley tariff bill of the 51st Congress (1889-91) and the Wilson tariff bill of the 53d Congress (1893-95) generated especially large volumes of petitions and memorials. Relative to the Wilson bill, the committee papers for the 53d Congress contain the reports summarizing the responses of many companies in both agricultural and manufacturing fields to an 1894 Treasury Department circular letter of inquiry on the tariff issue (53A-F9).

9.10 Aspects of certain operations of customshouses prior to 1850 are also documented in the records. There are petitions and related reports concerning individual claims of merchants and traders relating to wartime, pirate, and allegedly illegal seizures (15A-D4, 16A-D4, 20A-D4, 21A-G6.1); cancellation of bonds on duties when the goods were destroyed (16A-G4, 26A-G5.1), perhaps in a shipwreck (17A-G4) or a fire in a customs warehouse (24A-G4.1, 30A-H5); the licensed auction system (20A-G5, 21A-G6); and settlement of accounts of (18A-G4, 20A-D4) and increased compensation for (19A-G5, 20A-G5.1, 21A-G6.1) collectors of customs.

9.11 Taxation was less of an issue during the 19th century than it came to be later because from 1817 to 1862 there were no internal Federal taxes. However, in August 1861, to meet the huge expenses of the Civil War, Congress passed an income tax and several excise taxes, principally on alcohol and tobacco. Records relating to the Civil War income tax include petitions, memorials, and a few legislative case files (37A-E4, 37A-H5.1, 38A-H5.2, 39A-H5.2, 40A-H7.1, 41A-E6, 41A-H7, 42A-E5, 42A-H8.1, 42A-H8.2). The income tax was also a subject of petition campaigns in the mid-1870's (45A-H7.5) and mid-1890's (53A-J9.1). There are also memorials for and against the alcohol and tobacco taxes for nearly every Congress between the Civil War and the end of the century and petitions and memorials complaining about various taxes on banking transactions (38A-H5.2, 44A-H7.3) and the Stamp Tax Act of 1898 (56A-J10.1).

9.12 The most significant banking and currency matters referred to the committee during the 1st half of the 19th century center on the Bank of the United States, which was established shortly before the standing Committee on Finance. Among the records on the subject of the Bank of the United States are a memorial of the bank's officials in 1818 seeking congressional action to amend its articles of incorporation (15A-G4), petitions (nearly 8 ft.) relating to the controversy over renewal of the bank's charter in 1836 (23A-G4), and the original report relating to removal of Treasury Department deposits from the bank (23A-D5).

9.13 Records relating to currency matters, including the establishment of U.S. Mints, are also among the records of the committee. They include correspondence and petitions concerning a law to prohibit the export of specie (14A-G3, 15A-D4); a memorial from citizens of Ohio objecting to a regulation requiring payment for public lands in notes of the Bank of the United States (15A-G4); a resolution of the General Assembly of Louisiana objecting to restrictions on the use of foreign coin (16A-GA); and a Senate resolution of December 30, 1829, to study a uniform national currency (21A-D5). There are also legislative case files on bills to authorize coinage of 5- and 10-dollar gold eagles (33A-E3) and relating to foreign coins and the coinage of cents at U.S. mints (34A-E4); the latter file, S. 190, 34th Cong., contains 13 coins (cents and half-cents) as exhibits. The discovery of gold in California in 1849 also affected the work of the committee. A Professor R. S. McCullogh proposed to the Senate a new method of refining gold (31A-H5.1), while a citizen from Georgia suggested Government ownership of all gold mines in California (31A-H5.1). Another memorial, from citizens of California protesting a new Treasury Department regulation that prohibited use of uncoined gold and silver to pay fees at U.S. assay offices (32A-H6.2), was referred to the committee, as was a petition and related bill (S. 74, 36th Cong.) of Edward N. Kent for compensation for use of his invention for separating gold from other substances (36A-E4).

9.14 Bills and petitions relating to the issuance of Treasury notes known as greenbacks during the Civil War (37A-E4, 38A-E5, 39A-H5); and postwar calls for resumption of specie payments (40A-H7.2, 43A-H8, 44A-H7.1), the remonetization of silver (45A-H7.1, 48A-H8), and free coinage of silver (49A-H9, 51A-J9.3, 52A-J10, 53A-J9, 55A-J9) are also among the records referred to the committee.

9.15 Committee records relating to redemption of the public debt are not prominent compared to the subjects mentioned above, probably because during most of the century there was little or no public debt, except during and immediately following wars and major depressions. The records include petitions and committee papers relating to the repayment of bonds issued by the Republic of Texas (32A-H6.2, 33A-E3, 33A-H6.2, 35A-H4.1) and petitions favoring the issuance of 3.65 percent bonds after the Civil War (43A-H8).

Senator William P. Fessenden
Senator William P. Fessenden, Maine, (Photograph from Records of Chief Signal Officer, U.S. Army (Mathew Brady Studio) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  

9.16 A few miscellaneous subjects of the records are noteworthy. The records include a memorial of William Brandt and Company and related records concerning that establishment's trade with Russia in the 1820's (18A-D5, 18A-G4); a legislative case file on S. 150, 31st Cong., a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase Kase's patent suction or fire pump (31A-E4); a letter from artist Francis B. Carpenter to committee chairman William P. Fessenden requesting an appropriation of $30,000 for his painting of President Lincoln's first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation (39A-E5); bills and related petitions and correspondence proposing establishment of a bureau of adulteration in the Treasury Department to suppress interstate traffic in contaminated or otherwise damaged goods, food, and drugs (46A-H7.2, 47A-H9.5, 50A-F8, 50A-J9.3, 51A-J9.3); and petitions and memorials from farmers' groups opposing futures trading in agricultural commodities, foreign ownership of land, and other issues (51A-J9, 51A-J9.1, 51A-J9.2).

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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.