Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909, Third Edition Revised and Enlarged, Volume 1, Lists of Congressional and Departmental Publications Page: VII


The 3d edition of the Checklist of United States public documents, herewith presented,
records the first systematic effort to include within the limits of one publication
an approximately complete checklist of all public documents issued by the United
States Government during the first century and a quarter of its history. It claims to
be only a checklist, not a catalogue; but it aims to be as complete and accurate a
checklist as human energy and enthusiasm could evolve for publication within the
narrow confines of a single reference work, which must be in a form both usable and
concise. To meet such conditions has been a task the difficulties of which can be
appreciated to their fullest extent by very few aside from the compilers themselves.
At the very outset it seems desirable to trace the legislative definitions of the term
"public document" and then to define its use in this Checklist, since in collecting a
library or making catalogues or lists of public documents, the ever recurring question
is, "Which are and which are not public documents?"
Since 1861, the date of the establishment of the Government Printing Office, the
decision is an easy one, for, with but few exceptions, as when the publishing office has
prevailed upon the Public Printer to omit the official imprint, or in cases of works
published but not printed by the Government, all the issues are imprinted "Washington,
Government Printing Office." For the period prior to 1861, it is more difficult to
determine just what publications should be included in the library and lists.
The term "public document" was first legally defined in sec. 13 of chapter 63, Laws
of 29th Congress, 2d session, approved Mar. 3, 1847, as follows: "Such publications or
books as have been or may be published, procured, or purchased by order of either
House of Congress, or a joint resolution of the two Houses, shall be considered as public
By act approved June 23, 1874, Laws of 43d Congress, 1st session, sec. 13 of chapter
456, this definition is abridged to the following: "The term 'public document' is
hereby defined to be all publications printed by order of Congress or either House
thereof." This definition was made in relation to postage and is certainly most
The practice of the Office of the Superintendent of Documents, officially adopted,
a$ authorized by law, in compiling its catalogues of the public documents of the
United States, and further legalized by many years of unqualified acceptance by all
branches of- the Federal Government, has been thus formulated: "Any publication
printed at Government expense or published by authority of Congress or any
Government publishing office, or of which an edition has been bought by Congress or
any Government office for division among Members of Congress or distribution to
Government officials or the public, shall be considered a public document." Thus
it will be seen that a very liberal view has been taken, and although it has been
ruled to debar any and all publications which, however closely allied to the operations
of the Government, were not found to have been printed or purchased by it,
some exceptions have been made where there was doubt as to the publisher.
Since the establishment of the Office of the Superintendent of Documents there
ha-sbeen a steadily increasing interest in all matters which pertain to the public
document question. The office was established under the printing act of Jan. 12, 1895,
sec. 62 of which provided for the publication of the Document catalogue. This is a

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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, book, 1911; Washington D.C.. ( accessed December 15, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library,; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.