Last year, we added Statutes at Large to our Digitized Material page. Initially, each Congress from 1789-1950 had a webpage that included a large PDF file of all statutes for that congressional session. Then we began splitting the large PDF documents into smaller pieces, which meant that we had to browse each statute, add metadata to describe it, and create a chart with the links to the statute. Adding these smaller PDFs will allow for quicker downloads, easier perusal of statutes, and more refined searches on our website based on the individual statute.
With the help of many, we currently have 19 Congresses (that’s 38 years!) available by chapter: Congresses 19-24 (1826-1836) and 44-56 (1875-1901). We have many more volumes in progress and will continue adding them to the website as they are finished.
Reading through these statutes, I have to agree with Thomas Jefferson that “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” In these 19 congresses, there are a variety of subjects to which these statutes refer. A small sample includes Native Americans, telecommunication, census, statues and historical monuments, railroads, District of Columbia, postal service, highways, armed forces, food, and of course the ever-present appropriations statutes. We have also found it interesting to note how the subjects have changed and evolved throughout the years.
One of the major advantages in adding individual descriptive metadata to each statute, is that searching and using facets to find statutes is much easier.
To do a faceted search on the Law Library of Congress website, type “statutes at large” and press “GO” on the left search box. On the left, click “PDF” under “Online Formats” to narrow your results to the text of the statutes.
Under “Subjects,” click “Statutes at Large” to make sure you have all of the statutes.
Once that page refreshes, look under “Subjects” again and peruse the most popular terms for more information. Click on “More Subjects >>” to get a complete list.
Click on the subject that you are looking for (I clicked “railroads”—a major topic in these years) to get a refined list of search results.
You can further refine your search by clicking on other subjects that are related. I clicked on “More Subjects” and then “Florida” to get a more manageable list of 11 statutes that talk about both railroads and Florida.
Keep checking back for more additions to this webpage as we continue to make more laws accessible. I plan to highlight some interesting laws here as we come across them!