March 18, 1998 "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation" Debuts On-line

Records of First Two Federal Congresses Document the Nation's Founding

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Emily Lind Baker (202) 707-4523

A look at the first Congresses of the United States, which began meeting in 1789, will soon be available from a new on-line collection from the Library of Congress.

Beginning March 16, "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873" will provide unprecedented easy access to these historic records at Using a combination of images and searchable text, Americans will be able to explore the development of the nation in the words of the first members of Congress.

March 16 is Freedom of Information Day and the birthday of James Madison, who is memorialized in the Library of Congress's Madison Building. The new Web site is a project of the Library of Congress's Law Library and National Digital Library Program.

"The Law Library is proud to present these seminal documents to the American people in a form that anyone with access to the Internet can use," said Rubens Medina, Law Librarian of Congress. "We hope that users of our Web site enjoy researching these documents that will bring them closer to the early days of America."

The first part of the collection, containing approximately 4,400 items, covers the years 1789-1793. Additional years will be made available until the entire collection is on-line through 1873, the 42nd Congress. The site will also offer documents of the Continental Congress and constitutional debates, as well as links to related sites and will contain more than 355,000 items.

Currently, visitors to the site can learn, for example, that although the House first met on March 5, 1789, sufficient members for a quorum were not present to conduct business until April 1. Similarly, the Senate first met March 4, but a quorum was not attained until April 6. On March 18, those senators present agreed that a "circular letter should be written to eight of the absent members, urging their immediate attendance, [as] ... your presence is indispensably necessary."

The Law Library of the Library of Congress houses one of the most complete collections of U.S. congressional documents in their original format. Plans for the second on-line release include the Journals of the Continental Congress, the records of the Constitutional Convention and the subsequent debates over the adoption of the Constitution. Further releases will bring the records of the U.S. Congress up to 1873, the year in which the Government Printing Office assumed the publication of the proceedings of Congress in the Congressional Record. In addition, the final collection will include the United States Statutes at Large from 1789 to 1873 and the American State Papers, 1789-1838, legislative and executive documents published by Congress.

The National Digital Library Program will make millions of items relating to American history freely available on the Internet by the year 2000, the Bicentennial of the Library of Congress. Among the more than two dozen "American Memory" collections available are " The George Washington Papers," "African American Perspectives," "Votes for Women Suffrage Pictures," "Early Motion Pictures" and "Panoramic Maps." More than 40 million transactions monthly are handled by the Library's Internet services.


PR 98-038
ISSN 0731-3527