Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 9 1901-1946

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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, 1901-46 (57th-79th Congresses)

9.17 Records of the Committee on Finance during this period (96 ft.) in the custody of the National Archives consist of committee papers (59 ft.) and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies that were referred to the committee (37 ft.). Legislative case files on bills and resolutions referred to the committee are in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions.

9.18 Prior to the 72d Congress, the committee papers are meager, totalling less than 13 feet. Three-quarters of this series is correspondence concerning various subjects, including specific provisions of the Tariff of 1922, a proposal for a Federal sales tax, the soldiers' bonus, allied debts, and relief for Armenia and the Near East (67A-F8, 10 ft.). The remaining papers are largely copies of annual reports of the Secretary of the Treasury on the state of the Nation's finances; reports of the Veterans' Bureau, the U.S. Tariff Commission, the War Finance Corporation, and the Comptroller of the Currency; original Presidential messages and executive communications that were printed as House or Senate documents, and a very small amount of miscellaneous correspondence. There are no papers for the 60th (1907-09), 63d (1913-15), 65th (1917-19), and 68th Congresses (1923-25).

9.19 Beginning in 1931, the files are more complete. In addition to the Presidential messages (e.g., message of January 17, 1935, on Social Security, accompanied by a carbon copy of the report of the President's Committee on Economic Security, 74A-F8) and executive communications and reports (periodic reports and legislative proposals), the records also include correspondence files arranged by subject and files relating to investigations. Although Reed Smoot of Utah was chairman during the 72d Congress (1931-33), most of the correspondence for that Congress is that of the ranking minority member, Pat Harrison of Mississippi, who in 1933 succeeded Smoot as chairman. Harrison remained chairman until his death in 1941. Beginning in 1939, the practice of maintaining subject files that were subdivided into major categories (revenue, Social Security, tariffs, and veterans programs) was established and is still evident in records through 1968. Earlier correspondence, 1931-1938, not only concerns constituent issues, especially relief in Mississippi (73A-F9) and even Civil War claims of Mississippians (74A-F8), but also substantive policy matters, such as tariffs, taxation, and veterans legislation. There is substantial correspondence about the revenue bill of 1938 and undistributed profits taxes on corporations (75A-F9) and other revenue bills of the mid-1930's through the mid-1940's. Correspondence for the 1931-33 period is also in the committee papers of the 73d Congress (1933-35). Under Harrison's successor, Walter F. George of Georgia (chairman, 1941-46 and 1949-54), and committee clerk Felton Johnston, this recordkeeping practice was refined and continued.

9.20 In addition to correspondence, the committee papers include a draft report by Professor Irving Fisher of Yale University entitled "Some First Principles of Booms and Depressions" (72A-F9); records relating to an investigation of the "present economic condition," pursuant to S. Res. 315, 72d Cong. (73A-F9); a file, including an unprinted hearing transcript, on H.R. 7260, 74th Cong., relating to a joint congressional (Senate Finance Committee-House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Senator William H. King of Utah) study of private pension systems, 1936 (74A-F9); and notes of minutes of executive sessions of the committee, August 24-September 10, 1942 (77A-F10).

9.21 Petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee (34 ft.) document organized public opinion on a variety of predominantly economic issues. These issues include tariffs, both on specific items or in general; income and excise taxes; trade reciprocity; veterans legislation; currency legislation; and Social Security and old-age pension legislation. The records are arranged by Congress, thereunder alphabetically by subject or chronologically by date of referral.

9.22 Tariffs continue to be the most frequent subject of petitions and memorials until the early 1930's. Specific regions as well as certain industries used petitions to advocate their support or opposition to high protective tariffs. For many Congresses, the petitions and memorials relating to tariffs are arranged by commodity or product. For example, farmers of the North Central States in the mid-1900's opposed reduction of the tariff on Canadian wheat (58A-J18), and thousands of steel workers at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company in the greater Pittsburgh area signed a 1912 petition opposing the lower iron and steel duties proposed in the Underwood bill (62A-J30). Several aspects of the Underwood-Simmons tariff bill spawned petition campaigns (63A-J21, 63A-J22, 63A-J23). Some groups petitioned the Senate to stress the need for a nonpartisan tariff commission (60A-J42, 61A-J27, 64A-J26), which in 1916 was established as the United States Tariff Commission. Others advocated or opposed a reciprocal trade agreement with Canada (61A-J23, 62A-J27). After passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1931, the volume of petitions referred to the committee relating to tariffs decreased substantially.

9.23 Taxation is also a major subject of these records. Numerous petitions and memorials complained about excise taxes on a variety of products and services. Some so-called nuisance taxes (e.g., on movie theater admissions, automobiles, fuels, bank deposits, real estate transactions, and various luxuries) were passed in order to generate revenue to pay for World War I (63A-J24, 64A-J30, 65A-J16, 66A-J14, 68A-J20), while those on alcohol (57A-J13, 58A-J20, 59A-J30, 60A-J46, 64A-J30) and tobacco (57A-J14, 59A-J31, 60A-J44) had been long-standing sources of revenue. In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which empowered the Congress to pass an income tax, was ratified. The committee did not receive a significant number of petitions either against or in favor of the proposed amendment. However, sections of corporation income tax law, passed in 1909, stirred the business community. For example, section 38 of the act of August 5, 1909, the so-called publicity clause, stated that corporate tax returns were public records. This section was strongly opposed because it would lead to the release of proprietary business information to competitors (61A-J24, 61A-J26). Another prominent tax issue that resulted in a number of petitions was the controversy over the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the cotton processing tax in 1935 (74A-J10).

9.24 Veterans issues, such as the payment of adjusted compensation certificates or bonuses (66A-J15, 68A-J21, 70A-J11, 71A-J26, 72A-J27, 73A-J18, 74A-J10), establishment of a medical corps for the Veterans' Bureau and medical benefits for veterans (68A-J23, 69A-J15, 70A-J11, 71A-J24), and fears that veterans benefits would be cut because of the economic hardship of the depression (72A-J27, 73A-J18), are also documented in the petitions and memorials.

9.25 Other subjects of petitions and memorials include prohibition of the use of premium coupons by tobacco companies (58A-J17, 62A-J34); banking and currency legislation (59A-J32, 60A-J37, 60A-J38, 60A-J39, 60A-J40, 61A-J31, 62A-J35); a bill to outlaw the manufacture of white phosphorus matches because the process was hazardous to workers (61A-J31, 62A-J29); general relief legislation (73A-J16); and old age pensions, general welfare, and Social Security legislation (74A-J10, 75A-12, 76A-J10, 79A-J8).

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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.