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Archive for 'U.S. House'

Setting the Records Straight

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Records and Seals Act, as introduced in the Senate on August 31, 1789. It was signed into law on September 15, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Today’s post comes from Dan Ruprecht, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 

From its earliest days, the Federal Government has been concerned with preserving its records.

During its very first session, the First Congress under the new Constitution in 1789 passed the Records and Seals Act, setting the expectation that government records were to be preserved for future generations.

The Records and Seals Act holds a special place in the heart of the National Archives and Records Administration.

During the formative years of the Republic, the act established the importance of recordkeeping and provided that copies of government records would be made available to the public via newspapers.

With the act’s passage, the Founding Fathers attempted to archive the nation’s documents and set a precedent to record, preserve, and report national history—a reflection of their belief that the American public ought to be a well-informed citizenry. Many of the nation’s founders shared the belief that it was imperative for the people of the young nation to be educated and informed in order for the government to properly function.

The act changed the name of the Department of Foreign … [ Read all ]

Featured Document: Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, page 1, 9/9/1789. (National Archives Identifier 3535588)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying a draft of the Bill of Rights from August 12 to September 11, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery.

During the 1787–1788 Constitutional ratification process, opponents criticized the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights. They argued that the Constitution should include one, because without it a strong central government would trample individuals’ liberties and freedoms.

As states debated whether to ratify the Constitution or not, two kinds of amendments emerged: rights-related amendments (amendments intended to protect individuals) and structural amendments (amendments intended to fundamentally alter the structure of the new government).

In the end, enough states supported the Constitution without amendments that it was ratified without changes. However, the effort to amend the Constitution carried over into the first Federal elections. Anti-Federalists—those who opposed the Constitution—pushed to elect pro-amendment members to the First Federal Congress.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

This was especially true in Virginia, a state whose ratification convention proposed 20 amendments and a separate bill of rights to the Constitution.

In one Virginia House race, James Madison—who opposed amendments—faced James Monroe—who supported them. Because Virginia had such strong anti-Federalist sentiments, Madison softened his stand against Constitutional amendments, which … [ Read all ]

Now On Display: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Today’s post comes from David Steinbach, intern in the National Archives History Office.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

On July 2, 1964, with Martin Luther King, Jr., directly behind him, President Lyndon Johnson scrawled his signature on a document years in the making—the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

The first and the signature pages of the act will be on display at the National Archives Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, until September 17, 2014. These 50-year-old sheets of paper represent years of struggle and society’s journey toward justice.

The most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Right Act finally gave the Federal Government the means to enforce the promises of the 13th,  14th, and 15th Amendments. The act prohibited discrimination in public places, allowed the integration of public facilities and schools, and forbade discrimination in employment.

But such a landmark congressional enactment was by no means achieved easily. Indeed, developments within the civil rights movement were critical in motivating the bill’s movement through Congress. The push for legislation accelerated in May 1963, when nightly news broadcasts displayed footage of Eugene “Bull” Connor cracking down on demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama.

In this atmosphere, President … [ Read all ]

The Oath of Office: The First Act of the First Congress

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, Archives Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

When the First Congress met in New York City in March of 1789, they faced an enormous undertaking. The new Constitution had just been ratified, and Congress was the first part of the new Federal government to meet and take shape. Ahead of them lay numerous important and urgent tasks: they needed to create the Treasury, War, and Foreign Affairs departments; the Federal judiciary; and a system of taxation and collection. They also needed to determine patent and copyright laws, rules for naturalization, the location of a new capital city, administration of the census, amendments to the Constitution, and much more.

But before the members of Congress could get to all of this pressing business, there was something more important they needed to do—so important that it was the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives, and the first act signed into law by President George Washington.

An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

“An Act … [ Read all ]

On display: The Senate Journal of the First Congress

The first Senate Journal is on display from April 1 to April 16, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building. Today’s post comes from Martha Grove, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives.

“Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same . . .” U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 5

This year marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress. On March 4, 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time. It was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand new system of government, defining the rules and procedures of the House and Senate, and establishing the precedents that set constitutional government in motion.

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The journal on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building.

The First Congress opened on March 4, 1789, in New York City. However, when the Representatives and Senators gathered that day, not enough members of either body were present to constitute a quorum. Elected members were delayed by bad roads and harsh weather. Some states had not yet held elections, while others had not yet determined the winning candidates when the First Congress convened. The House finally reached a … [ Read all ]