Commons:National Archives and Records Administration/Record Group 233/Petitions and Memorials, compiled 1813 - 1968 (Judiciary)
This page organizes all content on the Wikimedia Commons created by the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary in the series Petitions and Memorials, compiled 1813 - 1968 (National Archives Identifier 559822). This is part of the National Archives and Records Administration's Record Group 233: Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789 - 2006 (National Archives Identifier 560).
During the earliest period (1813-69), a number of subjects appear regularly: an improved system of bankruptcy law, revisions in patent laws, revisions in immigration and naturalization laws, congressional action creating or changing judicial districts in States or Territories or increasing the pay of judicial officers, claims of individuals for relief, prayers for release from judicial judgments, and petitions relating to specific patents.
Throughout the period before the Civil War, petitions and memorials relating to the slavery question appear in many records of Congress. Between 1836 and 1844, the House Rule 21 (the so-called gag rule) provided that no petition relating to the abolition of slavery would be entertained in any way; therefore, all such petitions and memorials received during that period were tabled. During this period, hundreds of petitions (5 ft.) relating to the abolition of slavery, slavery in the District of Columbia, fugitive slave laws and fugitive slaves, the admission of slave states, slavery in the Territories, African colonization, and repeal of Rule 21 were tabled.
From the early 1840's until the end of the Civil War, petitions relating to the slavery issue appear in the records of the Judiciary Committee. The earliest petitions referred to the committee toward the end of the era of the gag rule protest the rule itself.
After the issue of slavery was laid to rest, the civil and legal rights of African Americans became the subject of another set of petitions beginning around 1900. Anti-lynching petitions begin to appear in the 56th Congress (1899-1900) and continue through the 78th (1943- 44).
After the Civil War, the subjects of woman suffrage and prohibition replaced slavery as major national issues.
The problems associated with the adoption of a national policy regarding alcoholic liquor constituted a continuing subject of petitions both before and after the passage of the 18th Amendment.
Petitions for a constitutional amendment to recognize God as the Supreme Authority appeared during the period between the 39th (1865) and 45th (1878) Congresses. Other subjects that elicited large numbers of petitions were the direct election of senators, Sunday rest laws, various ways to regulate and restrict immigration and the activities of aliens, anti-injunction legislation, and interstate gambling over telephone lines.
After 1920 petitioner's concerns again shifted and new subjects begin to appear: unemployment, fair employment, fair trade, birth control, communism and propaganda, sedition and aliens, the Hatch Act, antitrust laws and the investigation of monopolies, poll taxes, an equal rights amendment to the Constitution, conscription and conscientious objection.
The petition and memorial files from the period covering the 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968) document public opinion and concern over civil rights, displaced persons, income tax, the electoral vote for the District of Columbia, school prayer, the Bricker Amendment, anti-trust legislation, submerged lands, and the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act. Also included are recommendations for the impeachment of certain public officials.
Petitions and memorials
Petitions and memorials make up a large proportion of the early committee documentation--over 65 percent of the pre-1900 records. For the most part, they consist of four types of documents:
The first type of petition sought to present a case to Congress in order to obtain legislation of a private nature. Some petitions, particularly those stating claims against the Government, requesting action on a patent, or concerning immigration or naturalization, include an inch or more of records that present explanation and evidence supporting the prayer of the petitioner. This type of petition often resulted in private bills or resolutions. The petition and memorial files of most Congresses until after the Civil War contain petitions for claims. Most of the claims concern routine reimbursement of persons harmed by Government activities; however, the records also contain extraordinary documents, such as the claim of Liliuokalani for the restitution of certain crown property in Hawaii.
The second type consists of documents submitted by an individual or a group from a common location or sharing common interests praying for congressional action to resolve a local or otherwise narrow public problem, such as a complaint about a local official or a request for the creation of a judicial district.
The third type of petition prays for action to resolve problems of national scope by means of legislation or constitutional amendment. Some national subjects, such as slavery and woman suffrage, elicited large numbers of petitions from groups of citizens in various parts of the country. Organized movements to collect signatures often made use of printed petition blanks on which signatures were collected. Large numbers of these signed petition forms were subsequently brought together and glued end-to-end, forming impressive roll petitions to be presented to Congress. Nineteenth-century roll petitions in Judiciary Committee records may be as large as 6 inches in diameter and contain more than 50,000 signatures.
The fourth type of document is the memorial, a resolution from a State legislature that indicates a preference on certain national issue, such as immigration policy, and prays for legislation to facilitate the preferred policy.
The petition and memorial files and constituent mail on popular issues often do not contain all of the material received by Congress. Many topics, such as school busing, school prayer, and Constitutional amendments, generated huge amounts of mail, much of it on pre-printed postcards or form letters. In some cases these were measured and sampled to provide documentation of citizen interest and opinion. A massive public opinion campaign was waged over the issue of prayer in public schools. The records of the 88th Congress (1963-64) include over 25 feet of petitions and memorials and letters on this emotional subject. The records are arranged by type and opinion: petitions supporting the right to have prayer in school (7 ft.) and against school prayer (6 in.); and correspondence for (12 feet) and against prayer in school (7 ft.).