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Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

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Congress did not adopt the practice of printing numbers on bills until the 19th century.  By the end of the end of the 16th Congress, both chambers assigned numbers to bills; however, neither chamber immediately assigned sequential numbers for bills throughout a congress.  The House of Representatives adopted this practice in 1818 during the second session of the 15th Congress; the Senate in 1839 with the 26th Congress.  This can lead to some confusion in researching the history of a bill or a law and a researcher must exercise care to determine the session of congress when a bill was introduced.

For instance, H.R. 2, introduced in the first session of the 10th Congress, authorized the construction of a bridge in the District of Columbia over the Potomac River, located near the site of the 14th Street Bridge.  In the second session of the 10th Congress, however, H.R. 2 was a proposed amendment to the Northwest Ordinance limiting the powers of territorial governors.  The bill for the bridge was approved by President Jefferson on February 5, 1808.  The bill concerning territorial governors did not pass.

Long Bridge, Washington, D.C. Andrew J. Russell, photographer, [1863]. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Div.
The journals for both chambers are useful for locating information about bills.  Links for the journals for this period of time can be found on the main page of the Law Library‘s A Century of Lawmaking.  Within each journal is an index with pages showing the status of bills introduced in each chamber.  The references for each bill show pages from the journal where specific actions are recorded; information about the bill’s purpose is also provided.


  1. Fascinating post! Thank you so much for the education, Mr. Martin!

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