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Learn About Federal Legislative Histories
Finding Compiled Legislative Histories
Consult the following databases and websites to find completed, full-text legislative histories online. There are also print legislative histories available in our collection, such as Seidman's Legislative History of Federal Income Tax Laws. Try searching the library catalog to locate one on a specific law or topic.
Legislative Histories of Selected U.S. Laws on the Internet: Free Sources by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.
Provides access to many full-text legislative documents. Contains full legislative histories of all public laws from 1999-present, full legislative histories of major public laws from 1984-98, and abbreviated legislative histories from 1969-83. Select the "advanced" link under the search box and then select the "legislative histories" box on the left side of the screen.
On this legislative history page, you will have access to links to U.S. GAO Federal Legislative Histories (Legislative histories for most public laws enacted between 1921 and 1995), Arnold and Porter Legislative Histories (on the right side of the screen, under "Tools and Resources"), and other materials.
Other Ways to Find Full Text, Federal Legislative Histories
These resources list compiled legislative histories but do not provide full-text access. In other words, they tell a researcher if someone else has already completed a legislative history on a specific law. If one of these resources lists a relevant compiled legislative history, please contact a librarian for help finding a copy.
Congress.gov and Govinfo.gov
Congress.gov, the official website for federal legislative information, and govinfo.gov, created by the United States Government Publishing Office, provide helpful legislative information. Use the links below to find out how to best use these services and to understand their limitations.
Finding Elements of Legislative Histories
If there is no available compiled federal legislative history for the relevant law, a researcher may need to compile their own. Use the Learn About Federal Legislative Histories box on the left for assistance. Elements of legislative history can be found in print, on microfiche, and online. Some of the most useful resources are listed below.
The following federal legislative materials are available in print in the law library:
- Assorted materials from the U.S. Congressional Serial Set from 1894-1906 and 1931-1996. Please note, the materials in those date ranges are not complete.
- Assorted print hearings from 1889-1973
- Annals of Congress
- The Congressional Globe
- The Congressional Record: Volumes 1-158
- The Daily Digest is received daily
- United States Code Congressional Administrative News
- Contains some elements of legislative history from 1948-present. Some resources may be excerpted.
The following federal legislative materials are available on microfiche in the law library:
- Assorted materials from the U.S. Congressional Serial Set from 1993-2008
- CIS published hearings, House and Senate from 1833-1969
- CIS Unpublished hearings; House 1831-1964, Senate 1823-1976
- CIS Congressional Committee Prints and U.S. Senate Executive Documents & Reports not included in Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1969
- U.S. Executive Documents 1789-1932
The following resources are available online.
American State Papers
This database contains legislative and executive documents from the first fourteen U.S. Congresses.
Bills & Statutes via govinfo
Available on this page: bills, public & private laws, statute compilations, Statutes at Large, and the U.S. Code.
Congressional Hearings via govinfo
Select hearings from 1957-present.
Congressional Prints via govinfo
"Congressional Committee Prints are publications issued by Congressional Committees that include topics related to their legislative or research activities... Some basic categories of Congressional Committee Prints are: draft reports and bills, directories, statistical materials, investigative reports, historical reports, situational studies, confidential staff reports, hearings, and legislative analyses." Quote from website. Select prints are available at this site from the 94th Congress-present.
"The Congressional Research Service (CRS) serves as shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. CRS experts assist at every stage of the legislative process — from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities." Quote from website.
"HathiTrust is a partnership of academic & research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world." Quote from website. Congressional materials, such as hearings), are available on this website.
Legislative Resources (Law Library of Congress)
There are many historical resources on this page. "Century of Lawmaking" contains information from the Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress. "Congressional Hearings" contains committee hearings on selected topics. "Historical Legal Documents" includes full-text of historical Statutes at Large and U.S. Code volumes. "U.S. Congressional Web Archive" includes "...member websites of from the House of Representatives and Senate, from the end of the 107th Congress through the 112th Congress. Additional Congresses will be added in the future, as will committee websites, which are being archived monthly." Quote from website.
ProQuest Congressional contains many federal legislative resources (coverage varies), including bills, hearings, legislative histories, and member profiles of senators and representatives.
Register of Debates via Library of Congress
This set contains congressional debates from 1824-1837.
United States Code (Office of Law Revision Counsel)
This website provides free access to the current United States Code. It is searchable by key word or title/section number. It is also browsable by title.
U.S. Congressional Documents via HeinOnline
"This collection features the complete Congressional Record Bound version, as well as the daily version back to 1980. It also includes the three predecessor titles: Annals of Congress (1789-1824), Register of Debates (1824-1837) Congressional Globe (1833-1873), and Congressional Hearings (early 1900s-present), as well as other important congressional material such as hearings, CRS Reports, and much more." Quote from website.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set (Readex)
The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is a collection of legislative primary source materials from 1817-1994. It contains congressionally published reports, journals, and maps. It is searchable by publication, bill number, or keyword. Searches can also be limited to tables, maps, and/or illustrations.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set via HeinOnline
"The United States Congressional Serial Set, commonly referred to as the Serial Set, is considered the most essential publication for unveiling American history. Spanning more than two centuries with more than 17,000 bound volumes, the records in this series include House and Senate Documents, House and Senate Reports, the American State Papers, and much more. This ongoing project in HeinOnline will be released in phases and will soon contain complete coverage of the Serial Set. The Serial Set is indexed from inception to date and contains comprehensive full-text coverage from 1978-date." Quote from website.
Miscellaneous Helpful Resources
Positive Law Codification by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel
"The Code is divided into titles according to subject matter. Some are called positive law titles and the rest are called non-positive law titles. A positive law title of the Code is itself a Federal statute. A non-positive law title of the Code is an editorial compilation of Federal statutes....The distinction is legally significant. Non-positive law titles are prima facie evidence of the law, but positive law titles constitute legal evidence of the law in all Federal and State courts (1 U.S.C. 204)."
Years of the 1st through Present Congresses
This chart lists the years of each Congress. If you are only given a Congress session (such as 44th Congress), this chart will tell you what years that Congress was in session (the 44th Congress was in session from 1875-1876).