Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 9
Committee records discussed in this chapter:
- Committee on Finance (1816-1901)
- Committee on Finance (1901-1946)
- Committee on Finance (1947-1968)
- Committee on Finance (1969-1988)
- Committee on Pensions (1816-1946)
History and Jurisdiction
9.1 The Committee on Finance was among the original standing committees established on December 10, 1816, by the Senate under the authority of a Senate resolution introduced by James Barbour of Virginia.
9.2 The Finance Committee was preceded by the Select Committee on Finance and an Uniform National Currency, which was established to consider the parts of President James Madison's message of December 5, 1815, concerning finance and currency matters. This was a customary practice of the early Senate. What was unusual was that this select committee, chaired by Senator George Campbell of Tennessee, did not cease after its responsibility was met, but rather continued throughout the 1st session of the 14th Congress. The select committee handled two very important measures, the Tariff of 1816 and creation of the Second Bank of the United States. At the beginning of the 2d session of the 14th Congress, approval of Barbour's resolution created the standing Committee on Finance, which has met during each Congress since then. Senator Campbell was its first chairman.
9.3 Originally, the Finance Committee handled legislative matters relating to the collection of revenue through collection of customs duties and taxes; regulation of customs collection and ports of entry; banking, currency, and the national debt; and appropriation bills. In 1869, appropriations matters were delegated to a separate standing Committee on Appropriations, and in 1913 jurisdiction over banking and currency matters was shifted to the new Committee on Banking and Currency. The Finance Committee also has jurisdiction over income and excise taxes, Social Security and related programs, funding aspects of welfare and related social services, unemployment compensation, and reciprocal trade and tariff legislation. During World War I, legislation relating to the war risk insurance program was referred to the Finance Committee, thus beginning a new direction for consideration of veterans benefits in the Senate. Within a few years, measures related to vocational rehabilitation and medical treatment for veterans with service-connected disabilities were also referred to the committee; after World War II, the committee handled the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the so-called GI Bill of Rights, which provided a wide range of education benefits, unemployment assistance, vocational training, housing and business loan guarantees, and other benefits. Because the Finance Committee was responsible for veterans programs from 1917 to 1946, another long-standing committee of the Senate, the Committee on Pensions gradually became unnecessary. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601) abolished the Committee on Pensions, and from 1947 to 1970, matters relating to veterans compensation and veterans measures generally were referred to the Committee on Finance, while matters relating to the vocational rehabilitation, education, medical care, civil relief, and civilian readjustment of veterans were referred to the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-510) transferred jurisdiction over all veterans matters to the standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, effective with the 92d Congress (1971-72).
9.4 The committee has published a History of the Committee on Finance as S. Doc. 5, 97th Cong., 1st sess., Serial 13389, which is an excellent summary of the activities of the committee.
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).
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).
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, totaling 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).
9.26 The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 had an impact on the jurisdiction of the Committee on Finance, chiefly because Senate Rule XXV, as provided in that act, stated explicitly that all legislation and other matters relating to "pensions of all the wars on the United States, general and specific," as well as those relating to compensation of veterans, military life insurance, and veterans measures generally should be referred to the committee. (Matters relating to the education, training, health, and civil readjustment of veterans were referred to the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.) In addition, the jurisdiction of the committee included revenue measures generally; the bonded debt of the United States; the deposit of public monies; customs, collection districts, and ports of entry and delivery; reciprocal trade agreements; revenue measures relating to insular possessions; and Social Security. In the 1960's, the rule was amended to include health care programs under the Social Security Act and those financed by a special tax or trust fund. The records of the committee for this period total 359 feet.
9.27 Legislative case files, 1947-68 (140 ft.), is one of the principal series of records documenting the activities of the committee. Arranged by Congress, thereunder by type of bill or resolution, and thereunder numerically, these records include printed copies of bills and amendments, committee reports and prints, correspondence, conference committee material, and, in rare instances, transcripts of executive session hearings or unpublished public hearings. For major tax bills and Social Security Act amendments, there may be substantial volumes of correspondence. For example, the records on the bill, H.R. 6000, 81st Cong., Social Security Act Amendments of 1949 (8 ft.), include correspondence, arranged by subject and thereunder chronologically, concerning such matters as the definition of "employee," inclusion of public employees in Social Security coverage, and the so-called Townsend Plan provisions of another pending bill (S. 2151).
9.28 Closely related to the legislative case files is the other large series of committee records, subject files, 1947-68 (150 ft.). Arranged by Congress and thereunder into major subject categories and alphabetically by subject within these categories, these records consist largely of correspondence. The major categories are revenue, Social Security, tariffs, veterans, unemployment (82d and 90th Congresses only), Medicare (89th and 90th Congresses only), and miscellaneous. The miscellaneous category includes administrative subjects, material on bills that were not referred, and crank letters. For the 85th Congress (1957-58), there are nearly 6 feet of correspondence, research material, and news clippings relating to a study of the Nation's financial condition, chiefly interest rates and the size of the public debt. Copies of outgoing letters of the committee are in the correspondence ("ABC file"), 1949-68 (33 ft.), which is arranged for each Congress alphabetically by name of correspondent.
9.29 In addition to bills and resolutions, other documents are referred to the committee from the floor. Presidential messages and executive communications, 1947-68 (12 ft.), consist chiefly of annual and other periodic reports from the Department of the Treasury and its various components, the Veterans Administration, the Foreign Trade Zones Board, the U.S. Tariff Commission, and the Renegotiation Board. Presidential messages are few and normally filed separately from the executive communications. Also filed among these records are press releases of the committee, 1956-66 (5 in.). Petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies, 1947-68 (5 ft.), contain communications from groups on subjects similar to those referred to in the subject files and arranged for each Congress chronologically by date of referral.
9.30 Records relating to a staff study of steel imports, 1967-68 (2 ft.), contain the files of Dr. Robert M. Weidenhammer, professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, who, as staff coordinator for this project, produced Steel Imports (1967), which was printed as S. Doc. 107, 90th Cong., 2d sess., Serial 12800. The records include subject files, copies of outgoing correspondence, a copy of the printed report, and its galley proofs.
9.31 A reference file on civil rights, 1964-68 (2 ft.), contains printed material, correspondence, and copies of transcripts of an administrative hearing held by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare concerning the cutoff of welfare funds in Alabama. The committee held hearings on this matter in 1967.
9.32 The Committee on Finance considers Presidential nominations for high-level executive offices in a number of Departments and agencies and judgeships on the U.S. Tax Court. Records relating to nominations, 1946-68 (5 ft.), are arranged by Congress and thereunder alphabetically by name of nominee. The files include endorsements and comments on nominations by the U.S. Senators from the nominees' State of residence, correspondence, biographical sketches, nomination reference and report forms, printed matter, and, in a few instances, transcripts of executive session hearings. Among the nominations referred to the committee either in the past or currently are those for Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Undersecretary, Assistant Secretaries, and general counsel of the Department of the Treasury; Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service; the Secretary, Assistant Secretaries, general counsel, and inspector general of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Health and Human Services); Commissioner of Social Security; Directors of the mints; collectors of customs; Administrator of the Veterans Administration; and members of the U.S. Tariff Commission and the Renegotiation Board. The records include large files on Marion J. Harron's appointment to the U.S. Tax Court (80th and 81st Congresses); a transcript of the hearing on Nelson A. Rockefeller's nomination to be Undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (83d Cong.); and substantial correspondence files relating to the nominations of Oveta Culp Hobby (83d Cong.) and Wilbur J. Cohen (87th and 90th Congresses).
9.33 The records of only one Finance Committee subcommittee have been transferred to the National Archives. The records of the Subcommittee to Investigate the Social Security Program, 1947-48 (8 ft.), are arranged alphabetically by subject. Pursuant to S. Res. 141, 80th Cong., the subcommittee named an advisory committee, directed by Robert M. Ball, to carry out the actual investigation of old-age and survivors insurance, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance programs. The records were maintained by Ball and contain information about and correspondence with advisory committee members, minutes of advisory committee meetings, correspondence with experts in the social insurance field and the general public, news clippings, subject files, and administrative records.
9.34 While most of the records described above contain correspondence of the chairman of the Committee on Finance and other records reflecting his role in the legislative process, the only separate series of records of the chairman that has been transferred to the National Archives is the speeches, statements, press releases and related material of Russell B. Long, 1964-68 (2 ft.). Senator Long of Louisiana was named chairman of the Finance Committee January 14, 1966, and therefore some of the material predates his chairmanship.
Records of the full committee include legislative case files, subject files, executive communications, nomination files, press releases, records of individual staff members (especially Chief Counsel Rod DeArment, 1983-86), and other records. Records of subcommittees include Health (3 ft.) and Trade (24 ft.)
9.35 The Committee on Pensions was established December 10, 1816, by the Senate under the authority of the same resolution that established the Committee on Finance and the other major standing committees. Two types of bills were referred to the committee: Those that established general pension rights for veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and their widows and orphans; and those that proposed new pensions, payment of pension arrearages, or increases in pension rates for individuals whose applications had been denied by executive branch authorities or who were otherwise ineligible but who believed they were deserving, due to special circumstances, of having a private act passed on their behalf. By the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Committee on Pensions was abolished and legislative matters relating to pensions were thereafter referred to the Committee on Finance.
9.36 Entitlement to pensions based on service-connected disabilities for Revolutionary War veterans and for widows and orphans of officers killed during that war had been established by the Continental Congress and continued by the first Federal Congress. However, Congress had not done anything for surviving enlisted men, who had been poorly compensated both during the war and also upon being mustered out. Beginning in 1816, an increase in tariff rates produced a large surplus in the Federal Treasury and in December 1817 President James Monroe proposed in a message to Congress that surviving Revolutionary War soldiers be provided for out of the surplus. Following this suggestion, in 1818 Congress passed such a law and thereby established two precedents: That the government would provide for its former soldiers in their old age and that such payment would be tied to high tariff rates.
9.37 Since the passage of the 1818 pension law, Congress has enacted many laws creating new benefits for veterans of succeeding wars, increasing pension rates, and generally expanding eligibility for pensions and other benefits based on military service. Most of the records of the Committee on Pensions relate to individuals who sought relief through passage of private acts. Although Congress has enacted thousands of private laws to assist such individuals, the number of claimants so affected is minuscule compared to those who applied for and received benefits through executive branch agencies. To illustrate, National Archives Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration (which includes records of the Bureau of Pensions of the Department of the Interior and predecessor agencies) has among its holdings 64,250 feet of records and over 2,800 rolls of microfilm of records relating to pensions and another closely related one-time benefit of military service, bounty lands.
9.38 Pension Committee records (61 ft.) consist of four series: Committee reports and papers, 1817-47 (3 ft.), consisting of manuscript and/or printed reports on bills, resolutions, petitions, and memorials, and related correspondence, affidavits, and medical certifications; committee papers, 1847-1929 (12 ft.), consisting of legislative case files (until 1887), related and miscellaneous correspondence, and a small number of original transcripts of hearings; petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies referred to the committee, 1817-1944 (41 ft.), including supporting papers for petitions for private laws during much of the 19th century; and legislative dockets, 1907-29 (31 vols., 5 ft.), containing entries for each private bill introduced from the 60th to the 71st Congress, which are indexed in each volume by name of claimant. Legislative case files for private bills, 1887-1901, and all bills and resolutions, 1901-46, referred to the Pensions Committee are in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions, which includes nearly all such records for all committees for the years indicated.
9.39 A turning point for the Committee on Pensions was World War I. In 1917 veterans benefits programs took a new direction when the Committee on Finance assumed responsibility for the war risk insurance program. This measure and others that followed represented a fundamental shift away from pensions as gratuities to benefits, such as low-cost Government insurance, as compensation. Other elements of veterans benefits came to include vocational rehabilitation and medical care for service-connected disabilities. Thereafter the Committee on Finance exercised authority over matters about which the Committee on Pensions had been concerned, and with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Pensions Committee was abolished along with several minor standing committees.
9.40 A number of printed sources may be useful to researchers using these records. For example, volume six of the U.S. Statutes at Large comprises all private laws enacted from 1789 through March 3, 1845 (1st-28th Congresses). In the 19th century, the Congress also published occasionally, either as House or Senate documents in the Congressional Serial Set, lists of persons on the pension rolls, with related information. Most comprehensive are five volumes published in 1883 as serial volumes 2078-2082, which give name of pensioner, reason for the pension, post office address, rate of pension per month, and date of original allowance. For an excellent summary of pension records at the National Archives, see the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (Washington, DC: 1982).
9.41 Nineteenth-century records of the Committee on Pensions (41 ft.) consist of committee reports and papers, 1817-47 (3 ft.); committee papers, 1847-1901 (11 ft.); and petitions, memorials, resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies referred to the committee, 1817-1901 (27 ft.). There are no committee papers for the 37th and 39th Congresses (1861-63 and 1865-67).
9.42 The subject matter of the records is largely personal for most of the 19th century. Both the committee reports and committee papers contain documentary evidence of congressional action in response to petitions of individuals seeking passage of private laws on their behalf. Many of the petitions and memorials referred to the committee also contain documents, such as affidavits and doctors' statements, and a few contain original military commissions or discharge certificates. The records also contain document withdrawal notices, indicating that in certain instances, the records were transferred to the Pension Office. The petitioners include Revolutionary War veterans, such as Samuel Nowell, who claimed to have participated in the Boston Tea Party (21A-D12, 21A-G14), as well as widows, such as Mehitable Smith, who lost her husband, Lt. Jesse Smith, in 1829 when the sloop Hornet disappeared in the Gulf of Mexico (21A-D12). Pension claims based on service during the War of 1812 and the Indian wars are also documented among these records. A few petitioners requested the establishment of pension agencies in their towns or areas.
9.43 From the 14th to the 29th Congresses (1816-47), the committee reports and papers, which are arranged by Congress and thereunder chronologically by date of report, consist of manuscript and/or printed reports, most of which were written in response to personal petitions. In some instances, the files also include papers obtained by the committee as evidence, such as copies of papers on file with the office of the Commissioner of Pensions or other offices to support their disposition of the petition. Records relating to the pension claim of Isaac Phinney, for example, include certified copies of his 1820 and 1823 schedules of personal property (land, tools, housewares, livestock) and a description of his family (21A-D12). Other files contain personal appeals to Senators for relief, copies of surgeons' certifications of disability, and affidavits submitted by the petitioners supporting various facts in their cases. The petitions on which the committee reported may be with the reports or in the series of petitions and memorials. In many instances, the committee did not report on petitions; in others, bills may have been introduced.
9.44 Committee papers for the 30th Congress (1847-49) are not arranged but thereafter, from the 31st Congress (1849-51) through the 49th Congress (1885-87), most of the records are legislative case files that are arranged either alphabetically by name of claimant or by type of bill and thereunder numerically. A typical case file concerning personal relief measures may include copies of the printed bill, petitions, correspondence, affidavits, medical certifications, and other corroborative evidence supporting the bill. Most of these after 1867 concern Civil War veterans. Beginning with the 50th Congress (1887-89), legislative case files for private bills are located in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions, and the committee papers are much less voluminous. For the 50th and 54th Congresses (1887-89 and 1895-97), the committee papers include Presidential veto messages of private bills. Case files on general pension legislation continue to be part of the committee papers until 1901.
9.45 Committee papers also include original copies of transcripts of certain hearings. These include hearings on S. 496, to provide for examination and adjudication of pension claims, February 6-May 3, 1880 (46A-E16); testimony to the Committee on Pensions of the Grand Army of the Republic, March 3, 1884, and January 19, 1886 (48A-E16, 49A-E19); and hearings of the House Select Committee on Pensions, Bounty, and Back Pay, April 7-June 12, 1880 (46A-E16). It is unclear how the transcript of this House select committee came to the Senate Pensions Committee.
9.46 Petitions and memorials referred to the committee also concern primarily personal matters. Until the late 1860's, most of these records have been arranged for each Congress alphabetically by person or place (i.e., petitioner, proposed beneficiary, State, or town); the remainder are arranged chronologically by date of referral. Petitioners for private acts include Mary Chase Barney, sole daughter and survivor of Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (36A-H12), and Evelina Porter, widow of famed U.S. Navy Commodore David Porter (38A-H14, 39A-H15). Aged War of 1812 veterans and their widows sought passage of a law to afford them treatment comparable to Revolutionary War veterans (35A-H12, 40A-H17, 41A-H16), and, somewhat later, veterans of the Mexican War formed groups, such as the National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, and petitioned for pension legislation for their group (43A-H16, 44A-H15.1, 45A-H16.2, 46A-H16). A smaller but otherwise similar petition campaign was waged by Civil War prisoners of war (47A-H19.2, 48A-H18.1, 54A-J27). Other petitioners protested a proposal to allow pensions to Confederate veterans (55A-J26) and supported a per diem pension bill, which would allow pensions on the basis of length of service, not extent of disability or survivorship alone (50A-J19, 53A-J25.1, 56A-J29). Many petitions and memorials related to pensions were also tabled.
9.47 The records of the Pensions Committee for this period (20 ft.) include committee papers, 1905-31 (1 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies, 1901-44 (14 ft.); and legislative dockets, 1907-29 (21 vol., 5 ft.). Among the committee papers, only the 67th, 69th, and 70th Congresses (1921-23, 1925-29) have measurable amounts of unprinted records, mostly correspondence or executive communications. The legislative dockets contain information on legislative case files on bills referred to the committee that are in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions.
9.48 The petitions and memorials are arranged for each Congress into specific subject categories or a general category ("various subjects") and thereunder chronologically. There are few personal petitions among these, which to the extent they are present, are usually filed under "various subjects." Rather, the petitions demonstrate lobbying efforts by veterans groups such as the Grand Army of the Republic in support of extending coverage of pension laws to Spanish-American War veterans and their widows and orphans (62A-J65, 63A-J65, 64A-J65, 67A-J49, 69A-J33, 71A-52) or advocating passage of any one of a number of bills to equalize or increase pension rates and to reduce the age of eligibility (66A-J47, 67A-J49, 68A-J48). Some advocated the per diem pension described above (60A-J103, 61A-J73), or the plan proposed by the periodical National Tribune to raise pension rates for Civil War veterans and widows (61A-J74, 69A-J31, 70A-J36), among others. Other veteran-related subjects of petitions referred to the committee include abolition of pension agencies (59A-J81, 60A-J99, 62A-J62) and passage of a law to award pensions to Civil War veterans of the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps (60A-J101, 63A-J66). Nonmilitary pension matters were rarely referred to the committee, but among these is a petition from former slaves and their descendants of Bullock County, AL, in favor of a bill to grant pensions to freedmen. Each petitioner listed his name, his age, name of master, State and county, and post office as of 1909 (61A-J76). Several petitions supported Representative Victor Berger's bill for old-age pensions beginning at age 60 (62A-J63), and others related to old-age pension legislation prior to the New Deal (71A-J51, 72A-J51). There are no petitions and memorials for the 76th, 77th, or 79th Congresses (1939-42, 1945-46).
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.
This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.