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Library of Congress Manuscripts: An Illustrated Guide


Thomas Jefferson. Draft Manuals and Notes on Parliamentary Rules. No date. Thomas Jefferson Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Thomas Jefferson wrote "A Manual of Parliamentary Practice" while he presided as vice-president over the Senate. This page is from his preliminary draft. First published in 1801, Jefferson's manual is still considered part of the rules of the House of Representatives.

As befits the Library of Congress, the papers of members of Congress also occupy a special place in its collections. More than nine hundred members are represented, from Patrick Henry and George Washington, delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774, to John H. Glenn and Daniel P. Moynihan, members of the 102d Congress. The entire sweep of American history is covered in these collections, from the dawning of our independent political existence to the space age.

The course of the American Revolution and the creation of the nation that followed may be investigated in the papers of our earliest lawmakers, among them, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James McHenry, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, and Roger Sherman. William Maclay, although less renowned, having served only two years (1789-91) as a senator from Pennsylvania, compiled a three- volume diary that chronicles the First Federal Congress; it is a classic document of the highest importance.

The papers of many senators and representatives reflect the formative roles they played in the great events before the Civil War. Their concerns included the War of 1812 and the war with Mexico, the Louisiana Purchase and territorial expansion that extended the nation's boundaries to the Pacific Ocean, the rise of an implacable slavery question, and the beginnings of a transportation and industrial revolution. Divisiveness attended all these issues and movements, leading to political, social, and economic upheaval that brought forth every shade of opinion in the halls of Congress. The papers of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun--the Great Triumvirate--are especially illuminating for this era. Other members, all later to be elected to the presidency and represented by collections of various sizes and complexion, include Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Also contributing significantly to the understanding of these times are large collections of the papers of William Plumer, Samuel Smith, John J. Crittenden, William C. Rives, Levi Woodbury, Caleb Cushing, Thomas Ewing, James H. Hammond, Benjamin Tappan, Alexander H. Stephens, and Salmon P. Chase.


Daniel Webster. Notes for speech to the United States Senate favoring the Compromise of 1850. 7 March 1850. Daniel Webster Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Daniel Webster recorded here his opening remarks for his famous "Seventh of March" speech. Delivered in support of Henry Clay's Compromise of 1850, Webster's address is considered one of the most notable and controversial speeches ever delivered in the Senate.

Just as the Civil War divided the nation, it tore apart Congress, with many southern seats staying vacant for several years after the war's end. The members who remained in Washington introduced and passed the legislation needed to raise armies, make the financial arrangements crucial to the war's prosecution, and cope with emergency situations as they arose. A special Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was also formed. Its dominant members were Benjamin F. Wade, Thaddeus Stevens, and Zachariah Chandler, all of whose papers are in the Manuscript Division.

In the aftermath of the war, as the nation attempted to right itself, Congress faced problems involving the freed slaves, the formulation and passage of amendments affecting civil rights, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and the restoration of order in the South. Members whose papers illustrate the influential roles they played in clarifying and resolving these and related questions include Nathaniel P. Banks, James G. Blaine, Henry L. Dawes, William Pitt Fessenden, James A. Garfield, Justin S. Morrill, John Sherman, Benjamin F. Butler, Simon Cameron, John A. Logan, Elihu B. Washburne, Thomas F. Bayard, Joseph R. Hawley, and Carl Schurz. Some continued in office through the end of the century, acting on legislation concerned with monetary policies, the tariff, the rise of great corporations, labor, agriculture, immigration, and natural resources and were joined by other members—William McKinley, Benjamin Harrison, John Tyler Morgan, William M. Evarts, John Coit Spooner, William E. Chandler, Matthew S. Quay, Nelson W. Aldrich, and William Jennings Bryan—whose papers show how Congress contended with these matters.

E. Sachse & Co.. The House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. .1866. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Library of Congress Photographs Division.
An 1866 lithograph by E. Sachse & Co. shows the "new" House of Representatives chamber, first occupied in December 1857 and still in use today.

The swift conclusion of the Spanish-American War toward the end of the nineteenth century dramatized the elevation of the United States to the status of a world power. Twentieth-century Congresses were required to meet the challenges of this new internationalism while also addressing increasingly complex domestic demands. Trust busting, regulatory legislation, conservation, the waging of a world war, and the making of peace are revealed in the papers of Albert J. Beveridge, John Sharp Williams, Victor Murdock, Nicholas Longworth, Elihu Root, Robert M. La Follette, and Thomas J. Walsh. George W. Norris and William E. Borah were noteworthy as long-term legislators whose papers extend from the early twentieth century into the era of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the onset of World War II. Sharing in the legislative battles during the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman administrations were Tom Connally, Emanuel Celler, Theodore Francis Green, Robert A. Taft, and James W. Wadsworth.

The papers of members of Congress clearly constitute an essential element in the ever-accumulating record of the American past. In recent times the character of these collections has changed considerably, notably in terms of size and completeness. Some of their intimacy may have been lost, however, as large congressional staffs necessarily assumed tasks and duties that a Daniel Webster would have undertaken himself, or with the help of a single secretary. Nevertheless, a member's papers will always possess that special character or quality that makes it possible to understand the individual and evaluate his or her work in the larger context of the ongoing legislative history of the United States.