Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 18 1815-1847

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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, 1815-47 (14th-29th Congresses)

18.19 The practice of committing several bills involving one general subject to the same committee developed early in Senate history. In 1801, this practice was formalized in a standing rule: "When any subject or matter shall have been referred to a select committee, any other subject of a similar nature may, on motion, be referred to such committee." 1 This practice led in 1816 to the adoption of a rule providing for the appointment of 11 standing committees each session, though the Senate continued to rely on select committees to accomplish much of its work.

18.20 The records of select committees of the Senate from 1815 to 1847 are found within two series: Committee reports and papers (3 ft.); and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and related documents (3 ft.). Though many select committees of the period are not documented in these series, the records do reflect a representative cross section of the committees.

18.21 The records contain examples of many of the types of documents received or created by select committees of the period. Both manuscript and printed versions of committee reports appear among the records. Sometimes these have markings that reveal changes made during or after committee consideration. For example, the file of a select committee on proposed Senate rules contains both a manuscript copy of its report of December 27, 1827, and a printed copy of the proposed Senate rules that has been altered by hand to reflect subsequent debate on the Senate floor (20A-D14).

18.23 Many of the select committee documents were received from sources outside the Federal Government. These include petitions, in either manuscript or printed form, sent by a private individual (16A-G15), an organization (15A-G12), or a group of people (19A-G16). There are also memorials of State legislatures and others among the records (20A-G18, 21A-G20). Letters from artist Rembrandt Peale seeking a congressional commission for an equestrian portrait of George Washington (18A-D14) and letters from local Washington printers Blair & Rives, Jonathan Elliott, and Joseph Gales, Jr., commenting on a proposal that the Senate undertake publication of a complete transcript of its proceedings (27A-D20), are examples of the correspondence from private citizens that is distributed throughout the records.

18.23 Indications of the various ways in which select committees gathered data are provided by such documents as the sworn deposition of Charles Bulfinch of Boston, formerly Architect of the Capitol, regarding the privately funded expeditions in 1787 and 1792 that led to discovery of the Columbia River (25A-D19); a report from the Department of the Treasury regarding repairs of the Cumberland Road (17A-D14); annual reports of the Louisville and Portland Canal Company (20A-D14); and copies of newspapers relating to the contested Senate election in New Jersey in 1828 (20A-D14). Journals document the proceedings of the 1838 select committee to investigate corruption charges against Senator John Ruggles of Maine relating to a patent application (25A-D19) and of the 1830-31 Select Committee on the Condition of the Post Office Department. There are also transcripts of hearings of the latter committee (21A-D17).

18.24 The assorted papers of the Select Committee on Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, filed under the date January 9, 1824, document various procedural matters, since they include the resolution creating the committee, the order referring the question to the committee, an order to add two additional members, and a call for a committee meeting. There is also a document that apparently includes the tally of committee votes regarding a constitutional amendment on the elections of President and Vice President, responding to such questions as whether a President should be able to serve a third term (18A-D14).

18.25 The records concern a wide variety of the issues dealt with by select committees of the day. Some relate to such Federal Government activities as apportionment (22A-D17), operating expenses (16A-D13), salaries (14A-D9), and patronage (19A-D16, 23A-D18). Others concern specific Government agencies or officials, such as the papers regarding losses sustained when the Patent Office burned in December 1836 (24A-D18), the papers about and a color drawing of a proposed reporters' gallery for the Senate (27A-D20), and the papers of an investigation of corruption charges against certain Senators in connection with the Oregon boundary dispute (29A-D19).

18.26 Documents of some select committees of the period deal with issues relating to the States, such as the western boundary of Arkansas (18A-D14), the 1833 census of Arkansas (23A-D18), and the assumption of State debts by the Federal Government (26A-D18). Various select committees considered admission of territories to statehood, and the constitution that Alabama submitted with its petition for statehood is among the records (16A-G15).

18.27 Numerous documents concern canals (18A-D14, 18A-G14), the Cumberland Road (19A-D16, 20A-G18), sale of public lands (24A-D18), and other matters pertaining to the internal development of the country. Developments in commerce and industry are reflected in documents of select committees dealing with such issues as duties (21A-D19, 20A-G18), copyrights and patents (25A-D19, 29A-G25), and the Bank of the United States (22A-D17, 27A-G23). An example is the 1837 petition from American authors regarding copyright laws that includes the signatures of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Samuel F.B. Morse (24A-G18). Miscellaneous other topics include French spoliation claims that arose from injuries to American commerce during the 1790's (20A-D14, 22A-D17, 19A-G16), an assassination attempt on President Andrew Jackson (23A-D18), claims for restitution for losses suffered by persons convicted under the Sedition Act (16A-D13, 16A-G15, 18A-D14, 18A-G15), and a special land grant for Martha Randolph, daughter of Thomas Jefferson (22A-D17).

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1 U.S. Congress, Senate, "The United States Senate, 1787-1801: A Dissertation on the First Fourteen Years of the Upper Legislative Body," by Roy Swanstrom. S. Doc. 19, 99th Cong., 1st sess., 1985, p. 226.

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.