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.