Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 18 1847-1921

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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, 1847-1921 (30th-66th Congresses)

18.28 Among the records of the Senate from 1847 to 1921 are two series arranged by committee that include select committee records: Committee papers (9 ft.) 2; and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and related documents (26 ft.). These records touch upon many of the political, economic, social, and diplomatic issues facing the Nation during the time period.

18.29 The Senate created several select committees to deal with issues and events relating to slavery, the Civil War, and the postwar South. There are records for several of these committees, including the select committee to investigate the invasion and seizure of the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, VA (36A-E16), the special committee of 13 that was established in response to President James Buchanan's message of December 1860 regarding the sectional strife (36A-H20), the select committee on a bill to confiscate the property and free the slaves of rebels (37A-H18), and the select committee on slavery and freedmen (38A-H20).

18.30 The majority of the records are petitions and memorials reflecting the attitude of the public on various aspects of the sectional conflict. Many antislavery petitions reflect a mass petition drive of which Susan B. Anthony was one of the chief organizers. The records of the committee on Harpers Ferry contain the widest variety of types of documents, including committee reports, transcripts of hearings, correspondence, newspapers, the committee journal, and various administrative records. Many of the documents relate to the committee's efforts to compel testimony and to obtain documents.

18.31 Some of the political and social effects of the Civil War are reflected in the records of the select committee on removal of political disabilities (41A-H27, 42A-E22, 42A-H30) that resulted from section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the provisions of that section, political disabilities were imposed on anyone who, as a legislator or officer of the Federal Government or one of the State governments, had taken an oath to support the U.S. Constitution, but who had subsequently supported the Confederacy. Such persons were barred from holding any State or Federal office. Section 3 concludes: "But Congress may by vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

18.32 In the Senate, the Committee on the Judiciary originally had jurisdiction over removal of political disabilities, but a select committee was appointed on March 20, 1869, when the task proved too burdensome for the standing committee. The records include petitions, mostly from former rebels regarding their individual cases, as well as correspondence for or against certain removals. Some applications for removal aroused considerable controversy. The application of Thomas Hardeman, Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee of Georgia, generated letters, affidavits, and petitions. Many of these refer to an incident at the polls in Macon, GA, on October 2, 1872, that resulted in the death of 7 blacks and the wounding of 30 others.

18.33 Various select committees that considered private claims are represented in the records. In February 1852, the Senate established a select committee to consider the various memorials that had been received from persons dissatisfied with decisions of the Board of Commissioners on the claims against Mexico. The Board of Commissioners, set up in 1849 in accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, considered claims of U.S. citizens against the Republic of Mexico and awarded more than $3 million to claimants. Many claimants, however, were dissatisfied with the Board's decisions and complained in memorials to Congress; 63 such memorials were referred to the select committee. The committee records include depositions, transcripts of hearings, ledgers, exhibits, correspondence, petitions, memorials, and the committee journal. There is also a journal and other documents of the commission that was sent by the select committee to Mexico to investigate the claims of George A. Gardiner and John H. Mears (32A-H24, 33A-E19). Some documents are in Spanish.

18.34 Papers of the select committee to inquire into the claims of citizens of the United States against the Government of Nicaragua include depositions and other documents regarding various complaints about incidents that occurred during the 1850's, including insults, threats, robbery, false arrest, and murder (46A-E25, 47A-E25).

18.35 Records of select committees on Indian depredations also include documents on individual cases, most notably that of Amanda M. Fletcher Cook, who had been captured by Indians in Wyoming Territory. In addition, there are petitions from groups of people asking Congress to appropriate funds to pay the claims involving Indian depredations (51A-F30, 51A-J29, 52A-F27).

18.36 During this period, the Senate established some select committees to investigate charges of impropriety on the part of Federal contractors, officials, or others. The select committee of inquiry into abuses, bribery, or fraud in the prosecution of claims, etc., established August 6, 1852, examined the construction of lighthouses on the Pacific coast, extension of the U.S. Capitol, agencies for influencing the legislation of Congress, and the census office. The select committee undertook each of these investigations in response to charges that certain persons had profited improperly from Government activities. Records of the committee include the manuscript copy of the committee report and appendixes, documents submitted to the committee, subpoenas, transcripts of interviews, correspondence, and the committee journal (32A-E17).

18.37 The select committee to investigate charges against J. R. Bartlett, U.S. Commissioner to run and mark the boundary between the United States and Mexico, was established on August 17, 1852. Bartlett was charged with using Government transportation for private purposes and with mismanagement of the public interest and funds. The transcript of committee proceedings, ledgers and payrolls relating to the subject of the investigation, and correspondence, including Bartlett's reply to the charges, are among the records (32A-E18).

18.38 The select committee to investigate the accounts, books, and statements of the Treasury Department was established November 19, 1877, to investigate discrepancies in the annual statements of expenditures, revenue collected, and the public debt. The records include correspondence between the committee and various Federal agencies, reports of examiners sent to review books and accounts of U.S. Assistant Treasurers outside of Washington, ledgers, a register of correspondence with executive departments, notes, transcriptions of certain relevant historical documents, and minutes of committee meetings (46A-E29).

18.39 Senate resolutions, the committee report, subpoenas, correspondence, affidavits, photographs, copies of newspapers, court transcripts, and other documents are among the records of the select committee appointed to investigate corruption charges against Nebraska Senator Charles H. Dietrich in connection with the new post office at Hastings, NE, and the appointment of its postmaster (58A-F31).

18.40 Many of the select committee records of the period pertain to social issues or events. Concern about epidemic diseases, especially yellow fever, is reflected in records of certain select committees dating from 1853 to 1885. The earliest such select committee for which there are records was established in December 1853 at the urging of New York Senator Hamilton Fish to consider the causes and extent of sickness on board emigrant ships. Its records touch upon such issues as the relationship between cholera and the drinking of rain water, the proposal to require the presence of physicians on board the vessels, and the measurements of the ships (33A-H24).

18.41 In the late 1870's, the select committee to investigate and report the best means of preventing the introduction and spread of epidemic diseases sent a circular letter to practicing physicians to ascertain their views on the subject. The replies are among the records (46A-E24). A number of select committee documents pertain to the establishment, funding, and activities of the National Board of Health. They come from a variety of sources, including the Board itself, State and local boards of health, medical societies, and private citizens (45A-H26, 46A-H27, 48A-E25). Geographical patterns of disease in the District of Columbia and proposals for alleviating them are considered in the records of the select committee to investigate and report on the condition of the Potomac riverfront in Washington (47A-E29).

18.42 The records of the select committee on woman suffrage date from 1881 to 1909. The documents include some letters, memorials, and printed materials, but most are petitions in favor of a constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote. Many States are represented. Occasionally there are petitions or cover letters from such leaders in the movement as Lucy Stone (47A-H31), Susan B. Anthony, Belva Lockwood (first woman candidate for President), and Frances E. Willard and other officers of the National Women's Christian Temperance Union (48A-H29). A letter from Rev. B. Lounsbury outlines reasons for his opposition to woman suffrage (50A-F30). Narrower topics, such as provisions of the proposed territorial constitution for Hawaii (55A-J36), are discussed in a few of the documents.

An 1893 petition of Thomas A. Edison and 49 others for the repeal of an act closing the World's Columbian Exposition on Sundays. p.1 An 1893 petition of Thomas A. Edison and 49 others for the repeal of an act closing the World's Columbian Exposition on Sundays.p.2
Petition signed by Thomas A. Edison and 49 others of Orange, New Jersey, praying for the repeal of the act closing the World's Columbian Exposition on Sundays Unrestricted, January 28, 1893 (SEN52A-J27.1)  
18.43 Celebrations and expositions commemorating historic events, such as the discovery of America (50A-F27, 50A-J29, 52A-F28) and the founding of Jamestown (59A-J108), or promoting geographic regions, such as the trans-Mississippi (54A-J38) and Alaska (60A-J126), became popular in the late 19th century. Select committee records dating from 1887 to 1909 document congressional involvement in these events. Senate bills and resolutions, reports from organizing commissions, resolutions submitted to Congress by various private groups, petitions, memorials, and correspondence attest to the effort and interest invested in these celebrations. The petitions sometimes promote a particular city as the site of a future exposition (51A-J33). Frequently, however, petitioners were concerned with other matters, such as Sunday closing of expositions, prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor to "prevent our nation from becoming a rumseller to the world," and managing the art department at the World's Columbian Exposition "according to the American standard of purity in art" (52A-J27). Frances E. Willard and Susan B. Anthony are among the petitioners who sought the appointment of women to the Board of Managers of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892 (51A-J33).

18.44 Certain select committees during this period dealt with transportation or agricultural issues. The records of these committees are generally very sparse, but they include printed bills and committee reports, transcripts of hearings, petitions, and memorials. Levees on the Mississippi River (39A-H24, 43A-H27), Pacific railroads (33A-H25, 50A-F29, 50A-J30), a Nicaraguan canal (54A-J37, 55A-F31, 55A-J35), and the promotion of irrigation and reclamation of arid lands (51A-F31, 51A-J30) are among the subjects covered. The records of the select committee on transportation routes to the seaboard include testimony by the noted civil engineer James B. Eads regarding jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi and a proposed ship canal to connect the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays (45A-E22, 46A-E28), as well as a variety of petitions and memorials on water or land transportation issues (43A-H28, 44A-H28).

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2 Beginning with the records of the 30th Congress, committee reports, which are found with committee papers for earlier Congresses, constitute their own series and are arranged numerically or, when unnumbered, chronologically.

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.