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Tag: Congress

Congress Counts: History of the US Census

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every ten years to determine the representation of each state in the  House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first congressional districts varied dramatically. A Massachusetts congressman represented 96,550 people, while one from Georgia represented only 16,250.

To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census. The size of the United States made the task rather daunting. The Senate census committee worked for eight months before they decided to start from scratch in January of 1790.

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

Regional interests dominated the debate over the census. Northern representatives pushed for a rapid enumeration, but southerners insisted on more time, so that census-takers could canvas their large, rural states. On February 4, 1790, Congressman Theodore Sedgwick implied that Georgia’s population did not merit three representatives. A South Carolinian retorted that Sedgwick “would not be content until there were 24 members” … [ Read all ]

The Father of Flag Day

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. June 14 marks the annual celebration known as Flag Day. 

On June 14, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in a bottle on his desk at the Stony Hill School in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The 19-year-old teacher then asked his students to write essays on the flag and its significance to them. This small observance marked the beginning of a long and devoted campaign by Cigrand to bring about national recognition for Flag Day.

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

While many communities celebrated June 14 as Flag Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the day was not nationally recognized until 1916. In that year, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for the first nationwide observance of Flag Day.

Later, in 1949, President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day. The act also requested that the President issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of … [ Read all ]

On display: GI Bill of Rights

The GI Bill is on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building from June 6 through July 14. Today’s post comes from education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey.

“With the signing of this bill a well-rounded program of special veterans’ benefits is nearly completed. It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.” President Franklin Roosevelt’s Statement on Signing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, June 22, 1944

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-day invasion of Normandy.

Also known as the GI Bill of Rights, it offered World War II veterans grants and loans for college and vocational education, unemployment insurance, and low interest loans for housing. The bill had unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944.

The act put higher education, job training, and home ownership within the reach of millions of World War II veterans. By 1951, nearly 8 million veterans had received educational and training benefits, and 2.4 million had received $13 billion in Federal loans for homes, farms, and businesses.

Page one of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (Public Law 78-346), approved July 22, 1944. National Archives, General Records of the United States Government.

Page one of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (Public Law 78-346), approved July 22, 1944. National Archives, General Records of the United States Government.

Last page of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (Public Law 78-346), approved July 22, 1944. National Archives, General Records of the United States Government.

Last page of

[ 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 ]