Where can one read proceedings of past US governments?

Say I wanted to read the transcripts of what transpired in the US senate on 11th May, 1909 or the hearings associated with a particular (old) law, how would I go about it?

Is it in a basement somewhere? Scanned and online? FOIA route?

Suppose I didn’t know the specific document I wanted, but rather all that was discussed on 11th May, 1909, or all documents of hearings associated with a certain law. On a tangent, and not to get too conspiratorial, but how would I know I am getting all the documents?

If you’re talking about Congress’s deliberations, there’s the Congressional Record, which is the official transcript of Congress. The web site only has about 10 years of deliberations, but most university libraries should have back issues on microfilm, dating back to 1873.

Here are some early issues online: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwcr.html

Here are some starting in 1989:

Also useful is West’s Unites States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN). It has full text of laws as well as the committee reports supporting them and other legislative history. It’s arranged chronologically. I don’t believe it contains floor statements and stuff like that as does the Congressional Record, so you’d need them both to be truly comprehensive. USCCAN doesn’t go back that far, though – mid-century, I think.


One general note – tracking of this stuff has gotten more and more systematic over time, so the older a law is, the harder it is going to be to track stuff down. A law librarian can give you some assistance.


Transcripts of hearings and markups are generally published as official government documents, which would be stored at a Federal depository library. More recent ones can be found at gpoaccess.gov, like here. There are lots of Federal depository libraries, and there’s a good chance that the biggest city or university library near you is one. Maps. These libraries should have the documents you are looking for.

Also, Congress is not subject to FOIA requests. You will have to do your own research to dig up these documents, whereas Executive Branch agencies will have people working these sorts of requests for you. (But be prepared to wait a loooong time.)

Working at Distributed Proofreading http://www.pgdp.net/ (where volunteers proofread public-domain books for Project Gutenberg, a page at a time), I was working on a big series of books called “Messages & Papers of the President: <name of President>”. Author/Editor was James D Richardson. It consisted of all the correspondence from the President; lots of notes & letters to Congress, responses to foreign governments & ambassadores, presidential proclamations, Commander-in-Chief letters to the armed forces ordering flags to fly at half-mast, etc. I found these quite interesting.

It was up to about President Teddy Roosevelt as I last remember.

While not actual Congressional Records, it might be an interesting additional source. The correspondence is in date order, so you could look up the Presidential correspondence of May 11, 1909 (William Howard Taft) and see what letters the Predident wrote that day.

This would be available at Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org.

Actually, the Messages and Papers series that James Richardson began editing in 1897 was updated through President Coolidge. But the series doesn’t contain all presidential correspondence, only communications to Congress and certain diplomatic papers. The series ended when the National Archives & Records Administration began publishing the current series, Public Papers of the Presidents, starting with the Hoover administration:

Thanks for all the replies.

But what about declassified documents of secret/closed hearings? Are they also in the Depositories?

I’ve never specifically looked into this, but my assumption is that these could be found in the National Archives in Adelphi, Maryland, and not likely anywhere else. Unfortunately, NARA’s website is not cooperating with me right now to verify what declassified legislative records are available.

Congress does not routinely publish transcripts of classified hearings and such in the same manner that it publishes other hearings. There are a few exceptions, such as one or two years ago, the overwhelming majority – if not every page – of the secret portions of Senator McCarthy’s hearings were published. They should be available on GPOaccess.gov.

I have never seen any shipments of declassified Congressional hearings sent to a GPO Depository. They almost certainly wouldn’t be sent now since so little is on paper. GPOaccess would be the place to check.

I just looked, and the National Archives does indeed have significant holdings of formerly classified material.

For example: