FIRST 14 CONGRESSES
AMERICAN STATE PAPERS
(The lack of information as to the documents and reports printed by order of the first 14 Congresses, while
greatly to be deplored, is easily accounted for. The printing during the very early Congresses was done
without any general provision of law as to what should be printed. The discretion in this matter was
reposed in the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives, and the limited
editions thus ordered account for the scarcity of the original prints. Even as early as 1829, when an
-attempt was made to reprint the more important of these early papers, it was reported to Representative
Barringer by the clerk of the House, that from 1793 to 1803 not a vestige of manuscript, and only
a sdtttered few printed copies, were extant (Congressional debates, v. 5, p. 376).
The destruction of the Capitol in 1814 practically destroyed the entire reserve and heightened the interest
in a reprint of the documents in a more accessible form. Year after year attempts were made to accomplish
this end, but political feuds and personal animosities created much dissension and spirited debate,
and it was not until Mar. 2, 1831, that the following bill was presented for the third reading and passed:
Be it enacted, etc., That the clerk of the House of Representatives hereby is authorized and
directed to subscribe for 750 copies of the compilation of the Congressional documents proposed
to be made by Gales & Seaton: Provided, That the documents shall be selected under the
direction of the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House: And provided also, That
the price paid for the printing of copies shall be at the rate not exceeding that of the price
-sid to the printer of Congress for printing the documents of the two Houses.
In a speech on that date, in reply to a scathing opposing tirade on the part of Mr. Jesse Speight of North
Carolina, Mr. William Drayton of South Carolina said;
The documents referred to comprehend those state papers of the Executive and its departments,
and those reports of both branches of Congress, which are of peculiar importance
from their throwing light upon the principles of the interior and exterior policy of our Government
during the long interval which elapsed from the adoption of the Federal Constitution
to tle year 1813. The contents of these papers are known to but few. Of many of them there
are but 2 or 3 copies now extant, and others of them are only to be found in manuscript in the
possession of a small number of persons. Surely the records of the United States, upon subjects
which ought to be familiar to every Senator and Representative, should be easily attainable,
and yet the reverse is notoriously the fact.
The American state papers in 38 folio volumes which were the outcome of the above quoted act of Mar.
2, 1831 (Stat. L. v. 4, p. 471), and of the subsequent joint resolution of Mar. 2, 1833 (Stat. L. v. 4, p. 669),
and actof June 12, 1858 (Stat. L. v. 11, p. 328) were printed by Gales and Seaton as stipulated. Twentyone
volumes were prepared under the provisions of the first named act and resolution, and 17 volumes
under those of the last act. They comprise the most important executive and legislative documents
of the United States, selected by the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives
from the mass of manuscript and printed papers in the offices of the two Houses of Congress and
in the-several Executive Departments. The series covers a period commencing with 1789 and ending
with dates varying from 1823 to 1838. Each volume contains an index to the contents of that volume.
Congress had acted none too soon, for the compilers say, "The great mass of these documents were to
be found only in the archives of the two Houses. No complete set of them existed in any other place.
In addition to this, many exist only in the manuscript records of the two Houses," and it may be added
that the manuscript records of the two Houses were at that time already incomplete.
During the time that these volumes were being printed, 1832-61, there were 2 secretaries of the Senate,
Walter Lowrie and Asbury Dickins, and 10 different clerks of the House. The names of both of the
former appear as editors, while of the latter, editorship is ascribed only to Matthew St. Clair Clarke,
Walter S. Franklin, John W. Forney, and James C. Allen. The chief compiler, whose name is not
mentioned in any of the volumes, was General William Iickey who was chief clerk in the office of the
secretary of the Senate during the whole period of the compilation and publication of the series and
who was in his day an authority on the subject of United States public documents.
New sets of numbers were created for the use of the Gales and Seaton compilation. There is a set for each
of the 10 classes in which the documents are arranged, namely, Class 1, Foreign relations, 6 v.; Class 2,
Indian affairs, 2 v.; Class 3, Finance, 5 v.; Class 4, Commerce and navigation, 2 v.; Class 5, Military
affairs, 7 v.; Class 6, Naval affairs, 4 v.; Class 7, Post-Office Department, 1 v.; Class 8, Public lands
8 v.; Class 9, Claims, 1 v.; Class 10, Miscellaneous, 2 v. The documents are arranged in chronological
order and numbered, beginning with the first document in v. 1 of each class and running in consecutive
order through all the volumes of that class. For the first 12 Congresses, in which the documents
were not numbered when published, the numbers given to the reprints mattered little one way or the
other, but reprints from later Congresses, which had been originally printed in one or the other of the
Congressional numbered series, are reprinted under the new numbers only, the original numbers being
dropped and no mention made of them.
The following table shows: 1st, the serial number used as the class number in the Public Documents
Library; 2d, the classes and number of volumes in each class; 3d, the Congresses and sessions to which
were presented the papers included in each volume; 4th, the period covered-the dates being the
earliest and latest on which the documents were presented to Congress, and not necessarily the
dates as given on the title-pages.]
Serial Classes Vol. Congress and session Period
01 1. Foreign relations.. t 1 st Cong.-4th Cong...........-- June 11, 1789-Feb. 28,1797.
[v - .-.do............... 2 5th Cong.-9th Cong ............... May 19,1797-Feb. 19,1807.
03! . ..do ........--.. 3... 10th Cong.-13th Cong ............ Oct. 27,1807-Mar. 3,1815.
04 .do........ ...... 4 14th Cong.-17th Cong. 1st sess..... Dec. 5,1815-May 3,1822.
05 _...do.......-..-..-. 5 15th Cong.-19th Cong. 1st sess.... Feb. 9,1818Apr. 28,1826.
06 .....do .............. 6 19th Cong. 1stsess.-20th Cong. 1st Apr. 22,1826-May 24,1828.
tThis volume contains the speeches and messages of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and
Madison, Apr. 30, 1789-Sept. 20, 1814 (nos. 1-37). See, for references to such compilations of presidential
papers as are public documents, general note under Pr. and following notes under names of individual
:This volume contains a proclamation of President Madison dated Sept. 1, 1815 (no. 277).
United States. Superintendent of Documents. Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909, Third Edition Revised and Enlarged, Volume 1, Lists of Congressional and Departmental Publications. Washington. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1029/. Accessed August 28, 2015.