Historical Highlights

The Committee on Ways and Means

July 24, 1789
The Committee on Ways and Means Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Known as the “Great Leveler,” Thaddeus Stevens fought for the rights of the under-represented. He served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee during the 37th and 38th Congresses.
On this date, during the 1st Congress (1789–1791) the House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Ways and Means. Becoming a standing committee in the 4th Congress (1795–1797), the Committee on Ways and Means is the oldest standing committee in the House. Thomas Fitzsimmons of Pennsylvania was the first chairman of the select committee. Although the committee was originally conceived to review matters of taxation and finance, the committee’s jurisdiction also covered revenue and spending bills and eventually extended to oversight of social welfare programs. The committee’s power expanded greatly during the Civil War, as it legislated the creation of the first national income tax and a national paper currency. Due to the committee's heavy workload, Chairman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania delegated the new responsibilities to the subcommittees on revenue and banking and currency. According to The Committee on Ways and Means, A Bicentennial History, Stevens pioneered the technique of parceling out committee business by jurisdiction and assigning Members with expertise on particular subjects to chair specific subcommittees. By 1865, the growing committee workload spurred the creation of two new standing committees: Appropriations and Banking and Currency.

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