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By now you’ve probably worked through most of your streaming list, so for your movie-watching inspiration we’ve put together a list of movies that will bring Congress into your living room (in a slightly more glamorous fashion than C-SPAN).

 

Before Schoolhouse Rock, many Americans learned how a bill becomes a law from Frank Capra’s 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While the film remains the granddaddy of all movies about Congress -- and includes a remarkably accurate recreation of the Senate chamber -- the story is pure fiction.

 

For movies that draw on real congressional investigations (and one real Congressman!), try watching one of these six:

 

  • Quiz Show (1994): Rob Morrow plays congressional staff investigator Richard Goodwin whose House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce delved into the world of rigged game shows in the 1950s.

 

  • The Aviator (2004): Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes testifies before Senator Owen Brewster’s Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program about Hughes’ airline, TWA.

 

  • The Notorious Bettie Page (2005): Senator Estes Kefauver’s Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency features in this tale of the 1950s pinup girl. OK, this one is here mostly just to make the list a little more fun.

 

  • Charlie Wilson’s War (2007): Tom Hanks plays Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who embarks on a mission to support the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviets in the 1980s.

 

  • Lincoln (2012): Steven Spielberg’s film culminates with the passage of the joint resolution that will become the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 

  • Trumbo (2015): Bryan Cranston plays blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo -- one of the Hollywood Ten -- whose experience with the House Un-American Activities Committee changed his life.

 

But even Hollywood can’t beat real congressional hearings for highlights. Take, for example, the exchange during a hearing on the sinking of the Titanic, when Senator William A. Smith asked the witness, Harold G. Lowe, the ship’s fifth officer, what an iceberg is made of and Lowe replied “Ice, I suppose, sir.” Classic!

 

Do you have any other movie favorites featuring Congress?

Can you tell the difference between the following citations?

 

  • H.R. 1234
  • H1234
  • 12 Stat. 34
  • H.Doc.12-34
  • H.Res. 1234

 

Each citation maps to a different type of record -- it’s easy to get confused!

 

H.R. 1234 is a bill originating in the U.S. House of Representatives -- and it’s similar to, but different from, H.Res. 1234 which is a simple resolution. Other forms of legislation include a joint resolution (H.J.Res.) and a concurrent resolution (H.Con.Res).

 

Thousands of bills are introduced each year. Congress.gov has the full text of all bills and resolutions since 1993. If you’re looking for the text of a bill introduced prior to 1993, you can search in a subscription database, such as ProQuest Congressional, or you contact an archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives -- we hold the official records of Congress.

 

12 Stat. 34 is a citation for the Statutes at Large, which is the chronological collection of laws passed by the U.S. Congress. The first number in the citation indicates the volume number, and the second number in the citation indicates the page number. Up through 1950, the Statutes at Large volumes are available online through the Library of Congress. From 1951 on, they’re available online through GovInfo.

 

H.Doc. 12-34 is a citation for a House Document which can be found in the Serial Set. The Serial Set includes both published reports from congressional committees and documents ordered printed by the House or the Senate. The citation reads as document number 34, published by the U.S. House of Representatives in the 12th Congress.

 

The best way to access the Serial Set is through a subscription database, such as ProQuest Congressional or HeinOnline. These databases are accessible via computers at National Archives research locations, and also likely through a local academic or law library. You can find the Serial Set in print or on microfilm through a regional Federal Depository Library.

 

The final citation, H1234, is a page from the daily edition of the Congressional Record. The Congressional Record is the official record of proceedings and debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. It’s published daily while the Congress is in session and can be found online either through Congress.gov or GovInfo.

 

The daily edition of the Congressional Record has four distinct sections -- the ‘H’ indicates the House section and ‘1234’ the page number. In a full citation, the page number would be preceded by a volume number or date. The Congressional Record is also published in a bound edition -- which is the permanent final edition prepared at the end of each year.

 

For more information on the Congressional Record, the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) has put together a research guide on the Congressional Record and its predecessor publications. Congress.gov also has an informative page about the Congressional Record.

 

Have you come across other legislative citations you can’t figure out? The Senate website has a useful guide to legislative citations. The LLSDC has also put together a list of common abbreviations and legal citations for selected federal government documents.

 

And you can always either post a question to History Hub or email the Center for Legislative Archives at legislative.archives@nara.gov. We’re happy to help!

The records of the U.S. House of Representatives (Record Group 233) and U.S. Senate (Record Group 46), held by the Center for Legislative Archives, shed light on the history of territories of the United States. Congress played a vital role in establishing territories and passing the acts enabling territories to become states. Congress also legislated on various matters affecting territories.

 

Records include petitions from settlers of territories, copies of proposed state constitutions, and drafts of the bills proposing statehood for various territories. The records help reveal the history of westward expansion, relations with Native Americans, land disputes, issues over slavery, and other challenges to creating new governments in frontier settlements.

 

Some of the House and Senate territorial papers were included in the 28-volume collection of transcribed Federal records, The Territorial Papers of the United States, consisting of documents considered the most significant for shedding light on the administration of the territories up to 1848. These are mostly the records of the Departments of State, which oversaw territories, but also include the records of other agencies such as the Departments of War, Treasury, and the Post Office. The volumes are supplemented by microfilm publications of the records. Only a small fraction of the documentation on territories has been included.

 

Senate records most pertinent to territorial history were segregated from other committee records as part of the effort to create The Territorial Papers of the United States, an effort first undertaken by the Department of State, and later the National Archives. These records form the series Senate Territorial Papers, 1789-1873, and are arranged alphabetically by territory and then chronologically. Selected territorial papers of the Senate were also microfilmed as M200, Territorial Papers of the U.S. Senate, 1789-1873. 

 

Like the Senate Territorial Papers, House records on territories were also culled out of the regular committee records to form a discrete series, House Territorial Papers, 1810-1872. These records are also arranged alphabetically by territory and then chronologically.

 

In addition to the distinct Territorial Papers series, both the House and Senate had committees on territories. The Senate Committee on Territories, 1844-1921, and the House Committee on Territories, 1825-1946, reported legislation concerning the structure, status, and power of the Territorial governments; statehood; powers of municipalities; boundary disputes; and on matters relating to public lands and homesteading, railroads, public works, public buildings, highways, taxation, bond issues, education, Native Americans, prohibition, and wildlife.

 

The holdings of other committees, such as Public Lands, Judiciary, Post Office and Post Roads, Railroads, and many others also include records on territories, as issues affecting territories fell under various committee jurisdictions. A general overview of committee records is found in the Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives and the Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate at the National Archives.  Information on legislation and petitions on territories may be gleaned from the Congressional Record and its predecessors, as well as the House and Senate Journals. For the period 1774-1875, these publications may be searched on the Library of Congress' Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website.   

 

To inquire about the territorial records at the Center for Legislative Archives, you may email us at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

Did you know that a significant proportion of the records of Congress during the 19th century consist of private claims submitted directly to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from individuals and groups? Most of these claims came from common citizens seeking pensions or payment of claims against the Government.

 

Private claims and other forms of private relief submitted to the House of Representatives from the 39th through the 57th Congresses (1865-1903) form the series House Accompanying Papers, which are part of Record Group 233 at the Center for Legislative Archives. These records are a rich source of information for genealogists and local historians.

 

Although many of the claims are for pensions, such as that of Andrew W. Jones, a private in the Oregon Volunteers, who requested a pension in the 52nd Congress (1891-1893) for his service in the Rogue River Indian War of 1855-1856 where he suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his neck, others concern a host of topics. 

 

During the 46th Congress (1879-1881), for example, the claims include that of:

 

  • Susan B. Anthony, seeking relief from political disabilities and requesting woman suffrage as a right of citizenship
  • the petition of the shareholders of the Central and South American Cable Company for a telegraph line connecting those areas with the U.S.
  • the memorial of the members of the Prairie Grove Presbyterian Church in Arkansas for compensation after their church was torn down for wood to make coffins for the soldiers who fell during the Civil War battle of Prairie Grove in 1862

 

The records consist of petitions, bills, resolutions, correspondence, committee reports, affidavits, and other supporting documentation of the claims.  There are even maps, photographs, letters patent, muster rolls, news clippings, and marriage certificates in some of the claim files.

 

The House Accompanying Papers files were bill files, mostly concerning private legislation, that were collected together from the various committees, and arranged in a single alphabetical sequence for each Congress. This series is the primary location of records relating to private legislation between the 39th and 57th Congress. Before this period, private claims are found in the committee papers or the petitions and memorials series of the appropriate committee. After this period, they are found in committee bill files.

 

The records are arranged by Congress and then alphabetically by person, organization, state, territory, or subject.

 

For many of the Congresses, particularly the early ones, the Center for Legislative Archives holds folder title lists of the claims. Claims may also be located using the House Journal and the Congressional Record -- but with the caveat that not all claims referenced in those publications are still extant in the records. Researchers need to know the name of the claimant and the Congress(es) in which the claim was submitted to the House in order for the Center's archivists to locate the original records. For assistance, please email us at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

 

For more information, check out: "A Final Appeal to Capitol Hill: The U.S. House's Accompanying Papers File, 1865–1903", Archivist John Deeben's 2007 Prologue Magazine article. Also helpful are this NARA information paper and the Guide to House Records. You might also want to watch this Know Your Records presentation on House Accompanying Papers on NARA's YouTube channel.

The Southern Claims Commission was established in 1871 under the Act of March 3, 1871 to settle the claims of Southerners who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, and who provided stores and supplies to the Union military.

 

The Commission received 22,298 claims for over $60 million dollars in damages towards which about $4.6 million was paid. These records, consisting of detailed questionnaires and affidavits from neighbors and friends, provide valuable genealogical information and a wealth of detail about the lives of southerners in the 1860's and 1870's.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives holds the barred or disallowed case files of the Southern Claims Commission -- that is, ones in which the Government made no payment -- among the records of the U.S. House of Representatives. Claims were barred if they were submitted after the Commission’s deadline. Disallowed claims were those claims the Commission denied.

 

The disallowed case files are arranged by report number and thereunder by the docket number within the report (called the “office”). Barred case files are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the claimant.

 

Researchers interested in finding an individual claim should consult the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioners of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871-1880, which is arranged alphabetically by the surname of those persons who filed claims before the Commission. The Consolidated Index gives the office and report numbers, the amount claimed, amount received, a brief description of the property involved, and whether the case was barred.

 

The Southern Claims Commission involved a number of different governmental offices in the settlement process, so the records of the Commission are divided among several record groups. Only the barred and disallowed case files are in Record Group 233 -- Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

The case files for the allowed claims are in Record Group 217 -- Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. The administrative records and correspondence files of the Commission are in Record Group 56 -- General Records of the Department of the Treasury.

 

Additionally, Congress passed the Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887, which provided for further adjudication of some disallowed cases by the Court of Claims. As a result, some of the disallowed case files can be found in Record Group 123 -- Records of the United States Court of Claims.

 

For assistance with barred and disallowed case files, you can email us at legislative.archives@nara.gov. For assistance with the allowed case files or records from the Court of Claims you can email archives1reference@nara.gov. And lastly, for assistance with general administration records of the Southern Claims Commission you can email archives2reference@nara.gov.

 

The allowed, barred and disallowed claims are also available through Ancestry.

The Constitution of the United States, in Article II, section 2, tasks the U.S. Senate with providing advice and consent for presidential nominations to a variety of federal offices, the federal judicial courts, and diplomatic personnel.

 

Senate records pertaining to executive nomination are held by the Center for Legislative Archives. These records are highlighted in a fantastic article by John P. Deeben in Prologue, a magazine published by the National Archives, titled: “Serving at the Pleasure of the President: The Nomination Papers of the United States Senate, 1789-1946.”

 

A quick overview: nomination records can vary considerably from nominee to nominee and are composed of a wide assortment of documents, including correspondence, both for and against the nominee, from individuals, the administration, and executive departments; affidavits and petitions; blue slips; resumes; committee vote tallies; hearing transcripts; newspaper clippings; and other record types.

 

From 1789 to 1946, nomination papers were organized chronologically by Congress, then alphabetically by name of nominee. Starting in 1947, nomination papers were arranged by the committee to which the nomination was referred.

 

A finding aid, Papers of the U.S. Senate relating to Presidential Nominations, 1789-1901, lists all the individuals with Senate nomination records through the 56th Congress. A supplemental publication covers 1901 to 1946.

 

A good starting point for researching nominations is the Senate Executive Journal -- a record of Senate proceedings relating to its functions of confirming presidential nominees and ratifying treaties. The Executive Journal will include the date of a nomination, the committee to which the nomination was referred, and record of any Senate action taken.

 

The Executive Journal for the 1st through 43rd Congresses is available online through A Century of Lawmaking. Additional years can be found freely available online through sources like Hathi Trust. It’s also available through subscription databases like HeinOnline, and in print through a local library or a regional Federal Depository Library.

 

Want to learn more about the nomination process? The Senate Historical Office has prepared a detailed historical overview. Or do you need assistance in finding nomination records? We’re happy to help -- send us an email at legislative.archives@nara.gov. Please note that all nomination files are closed until they are 50 years old.

How do I find the personal papers of my former Senator or Representative?

 

Good question! Personal paper collections actually aren’t held by the National Archives -- although we’re happy to help you find them.

 

Unlike the official records of congressional committees, which are held by the Center for Legislative Archives, personal papers remain the member’s property. Many members choose to donate their personal papers to an archival repository, often in a home state.

 

Personal paper collections have records of a member’s work while in office and can include campaign files, constituent correspondence, invitations, memos, briefing books, appointment calendars, speeches, district files, voting records, press releases etc. Collections can also include papers from members' pre- and post-congressional careers.

 

Since these collections are geographically dispersed around the country, the best way to locate them is through the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Each entry will include a short biography, information on personal paper collections, and a bibliography.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives also maintains a congressional collection index. The index is arranged by state, and then by the name of the holding institution or organization, followed by the name of the member of Congress.

 

There is also the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, a group of repositories that promote the preservation and use of congressional personal papers and research materials. Many member institutions house collections of members papers and other related research collections.

 

For more background, the Office of History, Art & Archives of the House of Representatives has written a post on the personal papers of members of Congress. Likewise, you can read more about Senators' papers and archives from the Senate Historical Office.

Did you know that the first televised congressional hearing was in 1948? The Senate Committee on Armed Services was the first committee to broadcast a hearing, followed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (see CRS report).

 

However, even though there were these few early broadcasts, the practice of filming wasn't formalized until the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (PL 91-510). The Act allowed hearings to be filmed, but didn't require it -- and certainly not all hearings were recorded.

 

Today between the House Recording Studio, the Senate Recording Studio, and C-SPAN it's easy to watch live footage of the House and the Senate in session. Congressional committees frequently stream hearings and business meetings. And YouTube has a House Hub and a Senate Hub to bring together channels from individual member offices.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives is regularly asked for audio and video clips of congressional hearings. Unfortunately, copies of footage from C-SPAN and the news media very rarely end up in the official records of congressional committees.

 

We usually recommend researchers check with C-SPAN and other film and television archival repositories -- such as the UCLA Film & Television Archive or Vanderbilt University's Television New Archive, with the network archives -- like the NBC Universal Archive, or with library collections -- such as the television collections of the Library of Congress.

 

One exception are our holdings from the Senate Recording Studio from the 108th to 111th Congresses. Information on these records is available through the National Archives Catalog. You can reach us with further questions at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

 

Also, a more general search of the National Archives Catalog will show other hearing videos in the holdings of the National Archives. After a Catalog search, look to the menu down the left side of the page. Under 'Refine By: Type of Materials', select 'Sound Recordings' and 'Moving Pictures' -- this will narrow your search results to audiovisual materials.

 

For more background on video recordings of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, see the Congressional Research Service report: Video Broadcasting of Congressional Proceedings (April 2017).

 

The Smithsonian Magazine also has an article on the topic: "How Watching Congressional Hearings Became an American Pastime" (June 8, 2017).

As far as we’re aware at the Center for Legislative Archives, there is not a single, compiled list of all the unanimous votes cast by either the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

However, there are several ways to find information on recorded votes online.

 

Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, has links to roll call votes from the 101st Congress (1989) to today. Congress.gov also offers a resource guide on recorded votes.

 

If you’re looking for video, C-SPAN has made it easy to find votes by Congress.

 

There are also several resources available to locate voting records pre-1989. The first is GovTrack, which pulls data from a variety of published sources and has a section of their website dedicated to voting records. Another resource is Congressional Quarterly, a print publication likely available through a local library.

 

And there is always the Congressional Record -- the official record of debate and proceedings on the floor of the House and the Senate. The Congressional Record is published each day Congress is in session. The Congressional Record is freely available online through GovInfo. To find voting information, we recommend starting with the Index published at the end of each session. The predecessor publications to the Congressional Record are also available online through A Century of Lawmaking.

 

For more information on the congressional voting process, Parliamentarian’s of the House and Senate have written guides on the legislative process for each chamber -- see How Our Laws Are Made and Enactment of a Law.

 

Additionally, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a number of reports on the legislative process. CRS reports are authoritative, objective, nonpartisan, and cover a wide range of topics. As an example, see the 2008 report: The Rise of Senate Unanimous Consent Agreements.

At the Center for Legislative Archives, we hold the official records of congressional committees and the records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate as a whole. This means that we hold records covering the entire legislative process -- drafts of bills, amendments, hearing and markup transcripts, committee correspondence and reports, staff working files, petitions and memorials, meeting minutes, executive communications etc.

 

What we don’t have are the original, signed copies of enrolled bills -- sometimes referred to as the red line copy. An enrolled bill is a bill that’s been signed by the presiding officers of the House and the Senate and sent to the President of the United States.

 

Once the bill is signed by the President and becomes law, it is held by a different unit within the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). Red line copies are part of Record Group 11 -- General Records of the U.S. Government. For assistance with RG 11, or to request a copy of a signed law, please email archives1reference@nara.gov.

 

If you have any other legislative questions, please either post in the Legislative Community here on History Hub, or you can email the Center for Legislative Archives at legislative.archives@nara.gov. We’d love to hear from you!

 

For more information on how Congress works, or on engrossed and enrolled bills, Congress.gov has a great resource on the legislative process.