Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 12 Territories 1844-1921

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Chapter 12. Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Predecessor Committees, 1816-1968

Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Predecessor Committees, 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 Territories, 1844-1921

12.51 The Committee on Territories was established on March 28, 1844, following approval of a Senate resolution that Arthur P. Bagby had introduced 2 weeks earlier, in the midst of the heated debate over Oregon and the United States' dispute with Great Britain. Bagby's reason for introducing the resolution is not explicit in the debates of the Senate, but the mid-1840's were marked by intense congressional interest in westward expansion and the establishment of civil government in the Territories. As the Territories became States, the committee's real areas of interest diminished until the only non-island Territory remaining under its jurisdiction was Alaska. Other committees oversaw legislative matters in other U.S. territories. In 1921, many committees were eliminated by the Senate; among them were Committees on the Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico and on the Philippines, whose areas of jurisdiction were combined with those of the Committee on Territories to form the Committee on Territories and Insular Possessions, soon to be renamed the Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs.

12.52 The records of the committee (7 ft.) consist of committee reports, 1844-47 (¼ in.); committee papers, 1849-1920 (2 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State and Territorial legislatures referred to the committee, 1844-1919 (5 ft.); and minutes, 1874-75 (1 vol., ½ in.). Legislative case files, 1901-21, are in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions.

Constitution of the proposed state of Deseret, page 1.  
Constitution of the proposed state of Deseret, last page. 
First and last pages of the Constitution of the State of Deseret, March 27, 1856 (Territorial Papers Collection) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  

12.53 There are very few committee reports and committee papers from the Civil War period and earlier. Legislative case files on S. 239, 35th Cong., and S. 365, 37th Cong., however, contain printed material on bills proposing to admit Oregon and West Virginia, respectively, to statehood (35A-E14, 37A-E13). Petitions and memorials referred to the committee during this period are more numerous and cover a broader range of subjects, including the colonization of Oregon (29A-G23, 30A-H20); the extension of slavery into the Territories and the enforcement of fugitive slave laws (31A-H22); the creation of Territories (Nebraska: 32A-H23; Dakota: 35A-H19; Arizona: 35A-H19; Jefferson: 36A-H18) and admission of new States (Utah or Deseret: 32A-H23, 35A-H19, 36A-H18, 37A-H17; California: 31A-H22; Kansas: 34A-H23); and changes in boundaries, such as extending the boundary of Iowa westward to the Missouri River at the expense of the Minnesota Territory (34A-H23).

12.54 The post-Civil War committee papers are also fragmentary, consisting of legislative case files on bills referred to the committee, executive communications, printed materials, and correspondence on various subjects. Included is correspondence of Selucius Garfielde, the delegate to Congress from Washington Territory, concerning a political dispute within the Republican Party, 1869-70 (41A-E20), and correspondence relating to the New Mexico election and referendum on statehood, 1911 (61A-F29). There also are several noteworthy items or files relating to Alaska. Among these are papers relating to a bill on the courts, S. 153, 47th Cong., which include correspondence and a report from Henry W. Elliott of the Smithsonian Institution entitled "A Synopsis of the Status of Alaska in 1880-81," and to S. 360, 47th Cong., which includes a War Department recommendation about a proposed scientific exploration of the Territory (47A-E24); numerous legislative case files referred during the 55th Congress; copies of 2 issues of a newspaper, The Alaska Miner for 1897 (55A-F29); and an unprinted report of the Alaskan Engineering Commission, 1918-19, containing over 30 photographic illustrations (66A-F23).

Petition on statehood for Oklahoma.
Petition from Iowa regarding Oklahoma statehood, December 14, 1904 (SEN58A-J76) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  

12.55 The post-Civil War petitions and memorials referred to the Committee on Territories most frequently concern the following subjects: The establishment of Territorial government; matters such as road construction and boundary changes; and the admission of new States. Statehood for Utah was an especially controversial issue that generated petitions dating from the late 1850's until 1896 when Utah finally was admitted to the Union (35A-H19, 37A-H17, 42A-H27, 44A-H24, 47A-H28, 48A-H27, 50A-J27.2, 51A-J28, 53A-J43). Because of the tie between suffrage and statehood, several petitions and memorials related to woman suffrage. One of the more interesting documents is a petition from women residents of Utah and members of the Mormon Church, objecting to the admission of Utah as a State, because they opposed Brigham Young and the workings of the Mormon priesthood. The petition cited the "personal and very bitter experience of the practical workings of polygamy" (42A-H27). Other petitioners opposed statehood bills that limited suffrage in new Territories or proposed States (43A-H26, 47A-H28, 50A-J27.3, 58A-J76).

12.56 The records of the committee also include petitions, memorials, and resolutions concerning statehood for Idaho (51A-J28), Oklahoma (57A-J68, 58A-J76), and New Mexico and Arizona (58A-J77, 59A-J105, 59A-J106, 60A-J125). One particularly interesting document is a memorial from the Ex-Slave Association of Ardmore, Indian Territory, dated January 22, 1903, in which the signers expressed their fear that statehood for Oklahoma would cost them their liberties (57A-J68). Numerous petitions and memorials concerning the government, settlement, and development of the Alaska Territory are also among the records of the Committee on Territories (41A-H24, 44A-H24, 47A-H28, 49A-H25.1, 50A-J27, 52A-J25.1, 55A-J33, 57A-J67, 59A-J104, 63A-J84, 65A-J55).

12.57 There is only one volume of minutes of committee meetings, February 1874-January 1875, and the informational content is slight. For some unknown reason, this volume also contains minutes of the Select Committee to Investigate the Memorial of Davis Hatch, January 8-24, 1870. An American agent for a salt mining company, Hatch was caught up in a revolution and imprisoned in the Dominican Republic in 1869, and he subsequently memorialized Congress to obtain his release.

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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.