225th Anniversary of the First Congress: We’ll be posting documents and stories highlighting the establishment of the new government under the Constitution through March 2016.
On August 31, 1789, a bill to Provide for the Safe Keeping of Acts, Records, and the Seal of the United States was introduced in the Senate. The bill was signed into law on September 15, 1789.
The Act set precedent for record keeping as an important function of the government. The Act renamed the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State, and its leader was named the Secretary of State. The Act stated that the Secretary of State was to see that each bill, order, resolution, or vote was printed in at least three public newspapers in the United States; sent to each congressman and each state’s Executives; and that the original records would be kept with the Secretary of State. Finally, the Act established the Great Seal of the United States, and the Secretary of State as the seal’s custodian. Believe it or not, the Secretary of State still retains this responsibility!
Record keeping was a monumental task for the government. Each bill, order, resolution, and vote was kept and stored wherever space was found. This meant some legislation was stored in office basements or garages, some hidden away in file cabinets, some simply lost or destroyed, and almost all were poorly preserved. With the intention of this Act in mind, Congress established the National Archives in 1934 to properly preserve the records of the federal government.
An Act to Provide for the Safe Keeping of Acts, Records, and the Seal of the United States, and for Other Purposes, 8/31/1789, SEN 1A-C1, Records of the U.S. Senate