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Associate Historian, on his own time, produced a book for young readers on the history of the House: Bruce A. Ragsdale, The House of Representatives, Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. The Office has also worked closely since its inception with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. The Historian addressed the Society’s annual meeting in 1986, and has frequently acted in an advisory capacity on Society projects and publications including their bibliography of Speakers of the House and most recently the Ways and Means Committee history and preparation of text on the First Congress for

the Society's 1989 medal.

The Office also has been a regular consultant and historical adviser to the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. The Historian has regularly attended the meetings of the Bicentennial Commission since its inception in 1984. The Historian has, at the request of Congresswoman Boggs, attended regularly the meetings of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission since 1987. Congresswoman Boggs serves as a commissioner on both the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and the National Historical Publications and

Records Commission.

THE DOCUMENTARY HISTORY
OF THE
UniTED STATES CONGRESS

A PROPOSAL
Abstract

This project, to be conducted by the House and
Senate historical offices, would collect and publish
documents explaining the institutional development of
the Congress from its origins in 1789 to the present.
By surveying the vast and scattered sources of
congressional history and presenting key documents in a
series of twenty volumes, the project would offer
Members, staff and researchers the essential record
necessary for understanding the structure and operation
of Congress throughout its two-hundred year history.

A knowledge of the institutional development of the House of Representatives and the Senate contributes to the effective operation of Congress and is a prerequisite for any scholarly study of the national legislature. The work of the present-day Congress reflects the often complex and imperfectly-understood evolution of institutional traditions and forms. The ability to retrace that institutional growth makes the legislative process more accessible and more responsive. Historians seeking to determine the origins of legislation or the role of an individual member, political scientists attempting to explain the operation of the modern Congress, and all students of the legislative branch must be aware of the changing institutional structure of Congress over the past 200 years.

Any individual working to reconstruct the history of institutional development confronts a formidable challenge. The records of Congress are scattered among a bewildering array of documentary sources. The official record of floor debates, committee business, and legislative action is so vast as to discourage short-term research. Furthermore, these printed sources convey only part of the story. A comprehensive account of institutional growth would encompass personal correspondence and diaries, manuscript committee records, newspaper accounts, and records from the executive and judicial branches of government as well as printed records.

In order to provide Members, staff and the public with an essential reference source, it is appropriate at the opening of Congress' third century to consider a long-term project to collect and publish the fundamental records of the institutional development of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

1

A FEDERAL TRADITION OF DOCUMENTARY
PUBLICATIONS

The practice of selecting and publishing key government documents is nearly as old as the nation. In 1799 the federal government printed the journals of the Continental Congress. When John Quincy Adams served as secretary of state, he edited the journals of the Constitutional Convention, published in 1819. In 1832 the State Department initiated its Diplomatic Correspondence which continues today as Foreign Relations of the United States. That same year Congress funded American State Papers, a thirty-eight volume collection of early government documents that remains an invaluable source for historical research.

In the twentieth century the federal government has continued to publish documentary series such as The Territorial Papers of the United States and the Public Papers of the Presidents.

SCOPE OF THE DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF CONGRESS

The search for documents and the published volumes of the Documentary History would focus closely on the institutional development of Congress. In order to explore the full dimension of institutional change and Congress' relation to the broader course of American history, documents would be selected from the widest possible range of sources. The volumes would present documents from the official record of institutional growth interspersed with the personal comments of members, contemporary accounts from newspapers and periodicals, and various manuscript records of members, staff and committees.

During the initial stage of the project, the editorial staff would survey the complete range of documents relating to congressional history and select those records to be included in the search process. The greater part of the search would be accomplished in the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the libraries of the House and Senate. The search would also cover the collection of various members located at repositories across the country. Special attention would be given to collections not only of congressional leaders but also those who were perceptive observers of the legislative process and the structure of Congress.

ORGANIZATION OF THE PROJECT The Documentary History would be published in twenty volumes divided into three series: the Senate, the House of Representatives and Joint Congressional. The Joint series would

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feature volumes on constitutional origins, investigations, oversight functions, appropriations and revenue, impeachment, war powers and bicameral relations. The series for each body would include: election procedures, party organization and leadership, committee organization, rules, and officers and administration as well as a House volume on reapportionment and redistricting and Senate volumes on treaty making and confirmation of nominations.

Each volume would contain approximately 600 pages. Topics would be examined chronologically from the Constitutional Convention and the early congresses to the present day. Documents would be reproduced accurately and with sufficient annotation to explain the historical context and the relevance for the volume. Each volume would include an introductory essay, a thorough subject index and a bibliography for further study of the topic. A comprehensive index would follow the twenty volumes.

STAFFING AND PLAN OF WORK

An editorial advisory board consisting of members and officers of the House and Senate, and distinguished scholars would provide general oversight of the project.

The House and Senate historical offices would conduct the project. The directors of these offices would serve as general editors of the series and would be responsible for the research and editorial process. An associate editor in each office would conduct the day-to-day work of the project. The Library of Congress' Manuscripts Division and the National Archives' Center for Legislative Archives would each designate a full-time professional staff member to assist the project during the search process.

A systematic search for documents in the Library of Congress, the National Archives and major repositories around the country will require five years of work. An initial volume on the constitutional origins of Congress would be published in the third year of the project. Publication of the remaining volumes would begin in the sixth year at the rate of two a year.

SUMMARY

The Documentary History would build on the scholarly foundation established during the bicentennial of Congress. The House and Senate historical offices jointly produced a new edition of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, and each office has issued a guide to the research collections of former members from the respective bodies. The National Archives, as part of its bicentennial observance,

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recently published guides to the House and Senate records housed at the National Archives. These reference works would be essential resources for the Documentary History project. The initial work of the Documentary History would also benefit from association with the "Encyclopedia of Congress Project" (recently funded through the Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution), which will complete a two-volume reference work by 1993.

The completed documentary series would be the first systematic effort to outline the institutional development of Congress over the past 200 years and establish the historical context of changes within the two bodies of the legislative branch of government. A joint project of the House and Senate historical offices, drawing on the expertise of staff at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, would be able to complete a comprehensive research project that no individual could achieve in a lifetime. The volumes would make available for a wide audience the essential records for understanding the workings of Congress today and throughout its history.

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