This map accompanied President James K. Polk’s annual message to Congress in December 1848. It represented Polk’s conception as a Southern Democrat of how to divide up the new territory acquired through the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It became the starting point of debates in Congress over slavery and westward expansion.
Map of the United States Including Western Territories (2127339), 12/1848, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Learn more about this map in Cartography, Politics—and Mischief: Ephraim Gilman’s 1848 Map of the United States, Now Expanded Coast to Coast from the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine.
Feast your eyes on this historic booty our mateys at congressarchives have dug up, those scurvy dogs!
'Tis Speak like a Scurvy Pirate Day, 'n what better way to celebrate than wit' some scurvy pirate documents!
Band o’ pirates from th’ Barbary States preyed on ships off Africa’s western ‘n Mediterranean coasts fer centuries. After gainin’ independence, th’ U.S. lost British protection on th’ seven seas. In th’ 1780s ‘n 1790s, band o’ pirates captured ‘n enslaved many American sailors ‘n demanded exorbitant ransoms fer their return. Wit’ diplomatic means failin’, Congress authorized th’ creation o’ th’ U.S. Navy to defend against further attacks on American commerce.
In 1802 Congress responded to years o’ attacks by Barbary band o’ pirates. Though not a declaration o’ war, it supported President Jefferson’s decision to send a U.S. Navy squadron to th’ Mediterranean ‘n to use force to protect American citizens ‘n property.
An Act for the Protection of Commerce of the U.S. in the Mediterranean, 2/1/1802, Records of the U.S. Senate
To the President of Congress
[Philadelphia, 17 September 1787]
We have now the Honor to submit to the Consideration of the United States in Congress assembled that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.
The Friends of our Country have long seen and desired that the Power of making War Peace and Treaties, that of levying Money & regulating Commerce and the correspondent executive and judicial Authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general Government of the Union. But the Impropriety of delegating such extensive Trust to one Body of Men is evident—Hence results the Necessity of a different Organization.
It is obviously impracticable in the fœderal Government Of these States to secure all Rights of independent Sovereignty to each and yet provide for the Interest and Safety of all—Individuals entering into Society must give up a Share of Liberty to preserve the Rest. The Magnitude of the Sacrifice must depend as well on Situations and Circumstances as on the Object to be obtained. It is at all Times difficult to draw with Precision the Lines between those Rights which must be surrendered and those which may be reserved. And on the present Occasion this Difficulty was encreased by a Difference among the several States as to their Situation Extent Habits and particular Interests.
In all our Deliberations on this Subject we kept steadily in our View that which appears to us the greatest Interest of every true american the Consolidation of our Union in which is involved our Prosperity Felicity Safety perhaps our national Existence. this important Consideration seriously and deeply impressed on our Minds led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on Points of inferior Magnitude than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution which we now present is the Result of a Spirit of Amity and of that mutual Deference & Concession which the Peculiarity of our political Situation rendered indispensible.
That it will meet the full and entire Approbation of every State is not perhaps to be expected. But each will doubtless consider that had her Interests been alone consulted the Consequences might have been particularly disagreable or injurious to others. That it is liable to as few Exceptions as could reasonably have been expected we hope and believe That it may promote the lasting Welfare of that Country so dear to us all and secure her Freedom and Happiness is our most ardent wish.
In honor of Independence Day, we’re sharing the story of Congress and Uncle Sam.
In response to the Cold War era anxiety over “disciplined communism,” Congress wanted to make “the symbol of ‘Uncle Sam’ official and permanent.” Acting in accordance with this desire, the Senate issued a report in 1961 chronicling the history of Uncle Sam. The report states that Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York, the model for Uncle Sam, was born in 1766. He enlisted in the Revolutionary Army at the age of 14, became a bricklayer, and later opened a slaughterhouse where he inspected beef for the Army during the War of 1812. Meat that was inspected by Wilson was stamped “EA-US.” His staff joked that the US stamp stood for Uncle Sam, Wilson’s nickname, instead of United States. Over time Uncle Sam became synonymous with the United States.
However certain the Senate was with their findings, the House of Representatives became concerned that there was another Samuel Wilson and that their identities had become crossed. This concurrent resolution, S. Con. Res. 14, was passed by the House on September 6, 1961 with a series of amendments that struck out Wilson’s birth and burial places. After a bit of back and forth, the final version of the resolution as passed by both the House and Senate states that Samuel Wilson, of Troy, New York, was indeed the progenitor of the national persona of Uncle Sam.
"Day We Celebrate" by Clifford Berryman, 7/4/1903, U.S. Senate Collection (6010432)
S Con Res 14, 9/6/1961, Records of the U.S. House of Representative
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
Congress in the Archives will feature monthly staff posts on our blog. Today’s post comes from Center archivist Kristen Wilhelm.
Forty years ago today self proclaimed “ol’ country lawyer” Senator Sam Ervin stepped onto center stage as chairman of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, better known as the Watergate Committee. Senator Ervin became a household name as an estimated 85% of U.S. households viewed at least some of the hearings broadcast that summer.
Attorney General John Mitchell, shown in the photo, was one of the high-level Nixon administration figures whose testimony was broadcast. For the committee, bringing the hearings directly to the people was vital. As stated in its Final Report: “The full import of the hearings could only be achieved observing the witnesses and hearing their testimony.”
Photograph of Attorney General John Mitchell, 1973, Records of the U.S. Senate
The Spanish American War began 115 years ago, following a series of events including the controversial de Lôme letter and the sinking of the USS Maine and increased tensions over Cuba. These culminated in the final disintegration of diplomatic relations when Spain declared war with the United States. Congress reciprocated with this Act of April 25, 1898, Public Law 55-69, which declared that a state of war existed between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.
Many had prepared for this eventuality. Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and future Rough Rider, and future President) Theodore Roosevelt had sent coded orders 2 months earlier to the Pacific Squadron to engage the Spanish Fleet.
On March 20, 1965, Mrs. Bertram Jeffrey sent this letter to Representative Emanuel Cellar, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, advocating for the passage of the Voting Rights Act for the continuance of a true democratic system.
Letter from Mrs. Bertram Jeffert in Favor of the Voting Rights Act, 3/20/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 593573)
Let Congress Take Warning, 03/06/1909
The Inauguration Day of William Howard Taft was one of the worst Inauguration days ever due to rain, snow, sleet, slush, and chilling winds. In the cartoon, telegraph lines are shown falling over because of the strong winds and snow. Uncle Sam is bundled in winter gear while holding a resolution to change the date of Inauguration Day and telling Congress that they shouldn’t let the same thing happen again. Because of the bad weather, there was much support in changing Inauguration Day to April 30, which is when George Washington was inaugurated. The resolution was not successful until 1933 though, when Inauguration Day was changed to January 20.
Statement on Reduction of Compensation to Members of Congress, 2/25/1843
Records of the U.S. Senate
This ledger was used to clarify a proposed reduction in compensation for Congress in 1843, thus reducing the Congressional budget. Congress sets the budget for its operations, including pay for Members of Congress.
There is no such thing as Presidents Day. Or President’s Day.
There is such a thing as Washington’s Birthday, and the National Archives Research Rooms in DC (but not the museum side) will be closed on Monday, February 19, in observance of this holiday.
“Before 1971, Washington’s Birthday was one of nine federal holidays celebrated on specific dates, which fell on different days of the week (the exception being Labor Day—the original Monday holiday). Then came the tinkering of the Ninetieth Congress in 1968. Determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays, Congress voted to shift three existing holidays to Mondays and expanded the number further by creating one new Monday holiday.
Washington’s Birthday was uprooted from its fixed February 22 date and transplanted to the third Monday in February, followed by Memorial Day being relocated from the last day in May to the last Monday in May.
When a new federal law was implemented in 1971, only two days separated Abraham Lincoln’s Friday birthday of February 12 from the Washington’s Birthday holiday that fell on February 15—the third Monday in February.
For advertisers, the Monday holiday change was the goose that laid the golden “promotional” egg. Using Labor Day marketing as a guide, three-day weekend sales were expanded to include the new Monday holidays. Once the “Uniform Monday Holiday Law” was implemented, it took just under a decade to build a head of national promotional sales steam.
Local advertisers morphed both “Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday” and “George Washington’s Birthday” into the sales sound bite “President’s Day,” expanding the traditional three-day sales to begin before Lincoln’s birth date and end after Washington’s February 22 birth. In some instances, advertisers promoted the sales campaign through the entire month of February. To the unsuspecting public, the term linking both presidential birthdays seemed to explain the repositioning of the holiday between two high-profile presidential birthdays.”
For the full story, go to http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/gw-birthday-1.html
Image: S. 623, A bill to make the 22nd day of February George Washington’s Birthday, RG 46, Records of the United States Senate. Text via the Center for Legislative Archives.
Received by the U.S. House of Representatives on February 15, 1830 this petition from the Cherokee Nation, which was written in both Cherokee and English, asserted the tribe’s status as a sovereign nation in response to a bill which had been introduced to remove them from their land. Despite the petition, the legislation passed three months later, setting the stage for the eviction of the tribe in 1838 and the hardships they endured on the “Trail of Tears.”
Memorial of the Cherokees, HR 21A-H11, 2/15/1830, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 306680)
Honest Abe’s Congressional Expenses:
Researchers at the National Archives are still finding fascinating records related to President Lincoln. Our guest blogger David Gerleman of the The Papers of Abraham Lincoln just found a missing piece of Lincoln’s history—his pay and mileage records for the 30th Congress.
Congressional pay was based on a per diem basis stemming from an 1818 law by which members received $8 per day and $8 per 20 miles traveled to and from their districts. However, the legislation did not specify the shortest route, a fact later prompting investigation when former member-turned-newspaperman Horace Greeley publicly reproached members for taking less-than-direct routes home
You can read the whole story here:
The Thirteenth Amendment, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865:
The news of the Emancipation Proclamation was greeted with joy, but it did not free all the slaves. Because of the limitations of the proclamation, and because it depended on a Union military victory, President Lincoln knew the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment.
After the Senate passed a bill for an amendment in April 1864, but the House of Representatives did not, Lincoln suggested that the bill be taken up by the Republican Party in its 1864 platform for the upcoming Presidential elections.
His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 1865. On February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of Congress submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865.
The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States. It provides that ”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Image: Joint Resolution Proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 01/31/1865–01/31/1865; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789–2008; General Records of the United States Government, 1778–2006, Record Group 11; National Archives (National Archives Identifier: 1408764)