Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 18 1789-1815

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Chapter 18. Records of Senate Select Committees, 1789-1988

Records of Senate Select and Special Committees, 1789-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of Select Committees, 1789-1815 (1st-13th Congresses)

18.10 Virtually every Senate committee during the first 13 Congresses (1789-1815) was a select committee that automatically expired after completion of the specific task for which it had been appointed. A large number of committees resulted. In the second session of the Ninth Congress (1805-7), for example, 98 select committees helped the Senate accomplish its work.

18.11 During these early years, select committees assisted and advised the Senate on myriad subjects and in a variety of ways. Committees might be directed to draft an address to the President, advise the Senate on what legislation might be required in response to a Presidential message to Congress, write a bill reflecting the consensus already reached during Senate debate on a subject, initiate a bill on a particular subject, or propose a legislative agenda for the coming Senate session.

18.12 Most committee reports from this early period differ markedly from modern Senate reports that explain the process and reasoning behind committee recommendations. An early report may consist merely of a draft of a bill, a list of proposed amendments, or an unelaborated comment, such as, "in their opinion the said bill ought to pass without amendment." The manuscript report may appear on a relatively standard sheet of paper or a small scrap of paper, or it may simply be written at the bottom of the loose paper record of the order by which the matter was referred to the committee. Some committee reports were also ordered to be printed.

18.13 The records of the Senate during this period are arranged by Congress and thereunder by types of documents. Two series of records relate most directly to the work of select committees during this period: Committee reports and papers (3 ft.); and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures (5 ft.). In the latter series, the documents are filed together regardless of whether or not they were referred to committee. Therefore, while most documents in the series pertain to the work of early select committees, that is not always the case.

18.14 The committee reports include both original manuscripts and printed copies. The reports relate to a broad range of topics, including private claims, public land, post offices and post roads, admission to statehood, naturalization, canals, violation of neutrality on the high seas, and the Embargo Act of 1807.

18.15 The petitions, memorials, and resolutions are arranged in part by subject matter. Petitions regarding claims appear in every one of the first 13 Congresses. Included is a petition from Thomas Paine, for example, asking for compensation in recognition of his service during the revolutionary era (10A-G1). There are petitions, memorials, and resolutions relating to a wide variety of issues, such as duties and drawbacks, foreign relations, patents and copyrights, and public lands.

18.16 Sundry other types of documents are among the records. Included is John Adams' farewell address to the Senate on the occasion of leaving the Vice-Presidency and becoming President, as well as his personally written and signed response to the Senate's reply to his address (4A-D1). There is a report on the petition of John De Neufville from Thomas Jefferson, acting in his capacity as Secretary of State, dated November 1792 (4A-D1). A letter from Stephen Decatur, James Biddle, and Jacob Jones offers their favorable opinion after examining "the model and plans of a vessel of war submitted . . . by Robert Fulton" (13A-D1). A catalog detailing Col. William Tatham's collection of "official and original British, Spanish, and French military topographical surveys and manuscript maps of the American countries" is part of the papers accompanying the committee report on his offer to sell the collection to the Government (13A-D1).

18.17 A notable example of the variety of documents among the records is the documentation regarding the Senate's first contested election, that of Albert Gallatin. Included are the petition initiating the inquiry into his election (3A-G3), the reports from each of the two select committees to which the matter was referred, a statement of facts about the case, seven depositions, and Albert Gallatin's reply to the challenge (3A-D1).

18.18 The Legislative Archives Division has a card file listing all Senate records of the first six Congresses that are in its possession.

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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.