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The Creation of Committees in the House of Representatives

Article I, Section 5, Clause 3 of the Constitution requires that both chambers of Congress keep journals of their proceedings and that the journals be periodically published. Unlike the debates of the early congresses, which were not compiled and published until some years later, the journals have always been published after the end of each congress. Although they do not provide a verbatim account of what is said on the floor of Congress, they do provide evidence of the introduction, consideration, and votes for individual legislation, in addition to more specific business of a chamber, such as seating of new members, adoption of rules, and establishment of committees.

Recently, I was looking through a very old Journal of the House of Representatives that dates from the First Session of the Fourth Congress, covering the years 1795-1796. In it, I found the record of the creation of several House committees, some of which remain in existence to this day. Since 1789, the House of Representatives has created permanent, and also ad hoc select, committees to consider business. Committees allow the House and the Senate to conduct business more efficiently by delegating legislation and other business for review and possible modification before a vote of the whole chamber. Committees also allow both chambers to perform oversight of governmental operations, and to consider nominees for federal appointments that require Senate confirmationPresident Woodrow Wilson wrote that “Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work.” (Wilson, Congressional Governmentp. 69 (1885).)

King of Jazz. Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz today urged the House Immigration Committee to report favorably the Dickstein Bill to restrict the entrance of alien stage artists into this country, Whiteman said that with the Dickstein Bill passed it would soon bring about the proper international treatment of artists. Photograph by Harris and Ewing. (Created March 16, 1937). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.22386

King of Jazz. Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz today urged the House Immigration Committee to report favorably the Dickstein Bill to restrict the entrance of alien stage artists into this country, Whiteman said that with the Dickstein Bill passed it would soon bring about the proper international treatment of artists. Photograph by Harris and Ewing. (Created March 16, 1937). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.22386

In my research, I found the record dated December 14, 1795, of the creation of four committees in the House under its standing rules: the  Committee of Elections; the Committee of Claims; the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures; and the Select Committee of Revisal and Unfinished Business. The first three committees were to have seven members each, and the last committee was to consist of three members. Two of these committees, the Committee on Claims and the Select Committee of Revisal and Unfinished Business, are no longer in existence, while the business of the Committee of Elections was absorbed by the Subcommittee of Elections of the Committee on House Administration. However, the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures, under a different name, continues to meet and conduct business to this day.

On December 21 of the same year, the standing Committee on Ways and Means was established, although a select committee had been established in the First Congress on July 24, 1789.

You can track committee business through Congress.gov several different ways, including the committee schedule link from the homepage, the Daily Digest section of the daily issues of the Congressional Record, or by selecting a committee from the committees page.

2 Comments

  1. Eric
    February 27, 2020 at 9:57 am

    Fascinating! Thank you!

  2. Jack
    March 6, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    There are many ways to be accurately informed about what’s happening in our government, this is one of them. I allow myself to be distracted by science, technology, and other interests. I try to keep my focus, politically, on things that will effect me personally or which will have national interest .on things that are of importantance,

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