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2021

Do you have a legislative research topic? Great! We’d love to help you.

 

The Center for Legislative Archives is a small unit within the National Archives and Records Administration based in Washington, DC. We hold the official records of the U.S. Congress, which means we have the working papers of congressional committees starting from 1789.

 

The best overview of our holdings is found in the Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives 1789-1989 and the Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate at the National Archives 1789-1989. Both of these volumes are available on our website and discuss committee jurisdiction, history, and records. The first chapter of each Guide provides an excellent introduction to research in the records of Congress.

 

Not all series are arranged the same way or require the same information to locate pertinent files, however generally the more information you can provide when submitting your request, the more clues we have to help us track down the most relevant records.

 

What do you need to know?

 

Date — Our records are arranged first by chamber (House or Senate) and then by Congress. You need to know at least which Congress took action on the bill, held the hearing, etc. If you are looking for congressional testimony, the more specific a date you can provide, the better. You can find a list of dates and their corresponding Congresses on the Senate website.

 

Committee — After chamber and Congress, our records are then arranged by congressional committee. Which committee took up action on your subject? And which form did that action take? Was a hearing held, a bill taken up, a report produced, etc.

 

Bill Number — Legislative files are arranged by bill number rather than title, so you need to know the bill number to locate a specific bill. The most reliable way to locate a bill number is through the Congressional Record, but you can also start with Congress.gov, which lists popular and short titles with bill numbers back to the 93rd Congress. Another easy way to find bill numbers, especially for major legislation, is to start with Wikipedia — there’s frequently a box with a brief legislative history (see, for example, the entry for the Voting Rights Act of 1965).

 

Names — If you are looking for testimony, a nomination file, or an investigative file on a particular person, you still need the three bits of data noted above so we know where to look for that name. There is not a comprehensive index to all congressional records arranged by name. If you're looking for a petition, please note that petitions may have dozens — or even thousands — of signatures. Petitions with many names are usually indexed under the name of the first signatory or by a designation for the group.

 

How do you find this information?

 

There are several sources, a mix of both freely available and subscription databases, that we regularly use to track down legislative information. To access the subscription databases, you can either visit a National Archives research facility or check with a local academic library.

 

Some of our favorite sources include:

 

  • Congressional Record — the record of proceedings and debates on the floor of the House and the Senate. Daily editions are published each day Congress is in session. At the end of each session of Congress a permanent, bound edition is produced. Both the Index to the Proceedings and the History of Bills and Resolutions sections in the Bound Edition are useful starting points for legislative research.

 

  • ProQuest Congressional — this subscription database contains the full text of the Serial Set, which includes both published reports from congressional committees and documents ordered printed by the House or the Senate.

 

  • HeinOnline — this subscription database has the full text of the Congressional Record and its predecessor publications, as well as the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, Statutes at Large, and compiled legislative histories.

 

 

 

  • Congress.gov — the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. It’s presented by the Library of Congress using data from a variety of official sources. Congress.gov has information on legislation back to the 93rd Congress, and also has information on congressional committees and Members.

 

Do you know which committee and in which Congress took up your topic? Awesome! We’d love to hear from you. You can reach archivists at the Center for Legislative Archives via email at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

Locating Information on Historical Treaties in Senate Records

 

Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution grants the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on treaties, which are agreements between the United States and other nations that have been negotiated by the Executive Branch. The Senate approves, by a two-thirds vote, a resolution of ratification for most treaties presented to them, but has the power to disapprove treaties or approve them with conditions.

 

Not all international agreements are treaties -- only those that are submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent. Executive Agreements are agreements between the United States and other nations that are not treaties and not submitted to the Senate. However, Executive Agreements are treated as treaties in the sense that they are binding under international law. Confusing, yes?

 

In this post, we are strictly looking at Senate records on treaties held by the Center for Legislative Archives in Record Group 46 -- Records of the United States Senate.

 

Senate treaty files may include a copy of the proposed treaty, a message from the President, a copy of the Committee on Foreign Relation's report, transcripts of hearings, committee prints, correspondence of committee chairpersons, correspondence indicating the administration's position, internal staff communications and analyses, tally sheets of committee votes, and, for treaties relating to taxation, a statement from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Department of the Treasury. Treaty files that postdate the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which authorized the creation of professional staff for committees, are more likely to contain fuller documentation.

 

In order to locate records on a particular treaty, researchers need to know the Congress in which the treaty was disposed of by the Senate and the parties to the treaty. This means that if the President submitted a treaty before one Congress and it was neither accepted nor rejected until the next Congress, records pertaining to the treaty are in the latter Congress. This disposition information can be located in either the Congressional Record and its antecedents, or in the Senate Executive Journal.

 

The Congressional Record is the record of proceedings and debate on the floor of the House and Senate, while the Senate Executive Journal (which is separate from the Senate's legislative journal) is a record of the Senate's executive proceedings relating to its function of confirming executive nominations and consenting to the making of treaties.

 

To give you a flavor of treaty documentation in Senate records, check out these documents available in the National Archives Catalog:

 

Published and Online Sources of Treaty Information

 

The texts of treaties were published in the United States Statutes at Large until 1948. The Library of Congress's Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website has the Statutes at Large through 1875. Later volumes of the Statutes at Large may be accessed from another Library of Congress website.

 

Information on treaties from the 94th Congress (1975-1976) onward is available via Congress.gov -- the official website for United States federal legislative information.

 

Treaties in Force is an annual publication of the Department of State to provide information on treaties and other international agreements to which the United States has become a party and which are carried on the records of the Department of State as being in force as of its stated publication date.

 

For further reading, we suggest the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report Senate Consideration of Treaties (2017) and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations committee print Treaties and Other International Agreements: the Role of the United States Senate (S.Prt.106-71, 2001).

 

We also recommend researchers consult Record Group 59 -- General Records of the Department of State (start either with the U.S. Foreign Affairs Research portal or a search of the National Archives Catalog) and Record Group 11 -- General Records of the United States Government (see section 11.4 International Treaties and Related Records and the National Archives Catalog search results for RG 11 Series related to treaties).

 

If you have a specific question about Senate records on treaties, please email us at legislative.archives@nara.gov. We'd love to help!