In our most recent activity on DocsTeach, students analyze a petition signed by over 50% of the native Hawaiian population against it becoming a part of the United States. The activity challenges students to use context clues within this petition to figure out which specific territorial acquisition this petition relates to in US History. Learn more about using this document in your classroom on Education Updates.
On January 6, 1838 Samuel Morse demonstrated the telegraph system for the first time. Congress funded the construction of the first telegraph line from Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD in 1843, and over the next decade telegraph lines were built across the United States. This petition from citizens in Minnesota petitioned Congress for a grant of land to establish a telegraph in St. Paul to connect to telegraph lines to the south and east on May 21, 1850.
Petition of citizens of Minnesota praying for a grant of land for the establishment of a telegraph from St. Paul to the telegraphic lines south and east (306499), 5/21/1850, Records of the U.S. Senate
On December 20, 1893, this petition for the establishment of a department of roads was rolled out onto the Senate floor and referred to the Committee on Interstate Commerce for consideration. The petition is over 6 feet high, one of the largest petitions in the holdings of the National Archives. The printed sheets of approximately 150,000 signatures are attached and wound around two gigantic wooden spools, reminiscent of bicycle wheels. The petition was organized and funded by Colonel Albert Pope, known as the father of the American bicycle.
The petition prompted the creation and funding of an office to conduct road research. The office would later become the Federal Highways Administration.
Petition for the Establishment of a Roads Department, Referred to the Committee on Interstate Commerce (2600933), 12/20/1893, Records of the U.S. Senate
Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. June’s post comes from Center archivist, Judy Adkins.
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride month. It commemorates events that occurred in June, 1969, when patrons and supporters of New York City’s Stonewall Inn resisted police harassment, sparking the modern LGBT rights movement. Five years after Stonewall, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced H.R. 14752, the first federal legislation aimed at protecting the rights of gay citizens. Intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and sexual orientation, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Although its Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Constitutional Rights chose to take no further action, the bill was a forerunner of similar legislation introduced repeatedly in the years since.
The subcommittee’s file for H.R. 14752 contains a small amount of incoming correspondence, all in favor. Included is one letter from a serviceman discharged for being gay, one from Virginia bar owner weary of harassment, and another from a group of California Quakers. The group saw gay rights as a continuation of their longstanding social justice mission. The letter says, “We of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) have for over three hundred years advocated equality and justice for all people. We strive for equality and human dignity between and among women and men in the relationships they choose. As a part of this concern we seek total equality for homosexual people.”
Printed bill and letter of 11/17/1974 “on behalf of the Southern California Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends,” Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
In 1836, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to suspend the rules and table all incoming petitions regarding slavery. This resolution became known as the “gag rule,” and was passed for 5 consecutive congresses until its repeal in 1844.
Resolution That All Petitions, Memorials, and Papers Relating to Slavery Be Laid Upon the Table without Being Debated, Printed, Read or Referred , 12/21/1837, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 306601)
I hold the resolution to be in direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the Rules of this House, and the rights of my Constituents and gave his reservations in writing to the chair.
Motion offered by John Quincy Adams to amend the “gag rule”, 5/27/1836, HR24A-B3, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 306599)
Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. March’s post comes from Center reference archivist Rod Ross.
This blog highlights an 1845 petition to Congress from members of the Illinois bar which serves as a great teaching tool for those doing research in the records at the Center for Legislative Archives. The petitioners asked the Federal Government to purchase and distribute copies of the privately-printed work Reports and Decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Among the signers were Abraham Lincoln and state Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood.
The petition has been tri-folded with annotated summary written on its middle fold. In the 19th century clerks tied such documents into bundles with red ribbon - the original “red tape.” The annotation on the back of the petition indicates that Senate Sidney Breese (D-IL) introduced it on the Senate floor, where the presiding officer referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary. On February 6, 1845, that committee came up with a bill (S. 119) which met the request of the petitioners.
Through A Center of Lawmaking for a New Nation researchers can view the text of S. 119 for the 28th Congress, 2nd session, as well as see entries on the bill in the Senate Legislative Journal of that session (pages 137, 161, 168) and in the House Journal (pages 377, 396, 466, 561). However, neither the House nor the Senate Journal record debate. By learning the dates from the journals, a researcher can then seek out debate information as recorded in the Congressional Globe, a predecessor of the Congressional Records.
If you are wondering what ever happened to S. 119, the bill passed the Senate but, sadly for the petitions, died in the House.
Petition from members of the Illinois state bar, 1845, Sen 28A-G7.1, Records of the U.S. Senate
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed H.R. 16 into law, creating Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was our young nation’s first national park. In 1888 there was a nationwide movement to further preserve Yellowstone. The Center for Legislative Archives has numerous petitions, like the one shown above, from citizens across the U.S. asking Congress to protect the park against trespassers and developers, as well as to preserve the wildlife and other natural wonders that exist within the park. In 1916, Congress created, with the approval of President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior to oversee the preservation of national parks and monuments “for the enjoyment of future generations.”
An Act to Create Yellowstone National Park,3/1/1872, General Records of the U.S. Government (ARC 596351)
Petition from citizens praying for the protection of Yellowstone National Park, 3/1888, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. November’s post comes from Center archives specialist, Christine Blackerby.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. By the 1968 election, areas covered by the Voting Rights Act averaged a 25% increase in the number of registered African American voters. The new voters caused a shift in the political base of the entire nation, realigning the political parties and sending large numbers of African American representatives to Congress for the first time.
When the Voting Rights Act was under consideration in Congress in March and April of 1965, Americans vigorously exercised their First Amendment right to petition their government. Citizens’ petitions, witness testimony, statistical data, and other information came before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which solicited many points of view during consideration of the bill. The two documents on display here are letters from citizens received by the committee—one is in favor of voting rights legislation and the other is against.
Several documents from the records of the Committee, which reflect multiple perspectives, are part of a lesson plan created by the Outreach staff of the Center for Legislative Archives. The lesson puts students in the shoes of members of the Committee as they deliberated the bill, and asks them to evaluate the evidence which led to the Voting Rights Act.
The education programs at the Center aim to make the historical records of Congress available to help teachers integrate the history and workings of Congress into American history and government classes. More lessons are available in the lesson plan section of our website.
Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson, 03/08/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 2173239)
Letter from George Neu, 03/26/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 2173238)
As the nation’s record keeper, we are passionate about the opportunity to support research and scholarship at the National Archives. As part of this commitment to research and inquiry, we recently awarded the first National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship to Dr. Peter Shulman, Assistant Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University. Learn more about Peter Shulman’s fellowship on the AOTUS blog.
Yesterday, the Archivist of the United States featured Dr. Peter Shulman, Assistant Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University, on his blog. Dr. Shulman was recently awarded the first National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship. Follow AOTUS on Tumblr and/or check out his blog to learn more!