Committee History

Historical Highlight

Interest in committee activity grew over the course of the 19th century, even warranting front-page illustrations. Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Interest in committee activity grew over the course of the 19th century, even warranting front-page illustrations.
In his landmark study Congressional Government (1885), future president Woodrow Wilson made the famous observation that while Congress in session was Congress on public display, the institution’s real work was completed in committee. Wilson added, “I know not how better to describe our form of government in a single phrase than by calling it a government by the chairmen of the Standing Committees of Congress.”1 Committees and their leaders continue to play a central role in the way the House operates, though that process has changed greatly in the two centuries since the First Federal Congress (1789–1791) convened.

The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives Receiving a Deputation of Female Suffragists, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Originally a temporary measure that allowed Members to discuss specific pieces of legislation on behalf of the Committee of the Whole, the committee system expanded in range and influence during the nineteenth century.2 From 1800 to 1820, many of the select committees such as Commerce and Manufactures became standing committees as the responsibilities of the federal government expanded. During the Civil War, Congress restructured the committee system and transferred the Committee on Ways and Means’s spending duties to the new Committee on Appropriations while management of the financial system went to the new Committee on Banking and Currency. In the 20th century, Congress consolidated and restructured the standing committee system with the Legislative Reorganization Acts of 1946 and 1970—reforms that also expanded subcommittees and the number of professional staff. This bibliography is a compilation of both official House histories and scholarly analyses of House committees. While not an exhaustive list, it is meant to help researchers and students gain a more sophisticated understanding of the institutional developments and personalities that have shaped the House committee system. This bibliography is organized into three sections:

  1. Standard reference volumes about committees of Congress
  2. General works on the origins and development of the committee system
  3. Bibliographic references for standing and joint committees, arranged alphabetically with corresponding histories and studies

 

Footnotes

1Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, reprint edition. (Cleveland, OH: Meridian Books, 1956): 82.

2Judy Schneider, “Committee of the Whole: An Introduction.” Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2007. Referred to as “The Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union,” the Committee of the Whole signifies that House of Representatives will operate as a committee in order to process legislation in a speedier manner. During the nineteenth century, legislative deliberations shifted from the Committee of the Whole to standing committees. Currently, the Committee of the Whole operates as a forum to foster debate between Members, offer recommendations to the full House, and expedite passage of legislation by the full House. A quorum of the Committee of the Whole is 100 members.