Finding Aids for Official House Records
“The chief monument of the history of a nation is its
— Waldo Gifford Leland, “The National Archives: A Programme,” The American Historical Review, 1912
The U.S. House of Representatives produced records immediately on its creation in 1789. Recordkeeping practices and policies have evolved, but the historical importance of House Records remains the same.
In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt created the National Archives Establishment. (The National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] was created in 1985.) The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 required that House Records be deposited there. Before the passage of the law, the records of the House were stored in eight different locations between the Capitol building, House office buildings, and the Library of Congress. The Clerk of the House was authorized to transfer the 1st through the 76th Congresses (7,500 cubic feet) of records. This system of transferring records to the National Archives was added to the House Rules that were adopted at the beginning of the 83rd Congress in January 1953.
Also in 1953, the House adopted a resolution that specified that records would not be made available to the public until 50 years after the date of their creation; this did not apply to records that had previously been made public. Access to House Records by the public also required prior written permission from the Clerk.
A push for increased transparency in congressional activity in the mid-1970s and early 1980s resulted in more open committee sessions and wider publication of hearing transcripts and other committee materials led to discussion of revising access policies for House Records.
In 1988, the Rules Committee reported Resolution 419 to the House; it reduced the time House Records were closed to the public from 50 years to 30 years and did away with the requirement for the public to obtain the Clerk’s permission to access the records. Investigative or other sensitive records are closed for a total of 50 years. Although the resolution was not considered during the 100th Congress (1987–1989), it was included among the House Rules approved at the outset of the 101st Congress (1989–1991), and it remains in effect today as Rule VII of the House Rules.