Federal Legislative Petitions, Part 2

Guest blogger Nancy Maxwell’s series on Federal Legislative Petitions continues today with Part 2.

Nancy Maxwell


From the beginning, Congress has been very good at forming committees. Fortunately for us, some committees dealt directly with claims or petitions of individuals. They were called the Claims, Invalid Pensions, Revolutionary Pensions, Revolutionary Claims, and Private Land Claims Committees.


Established on November 13, 1794, this committee’s job was to consider all petitions and matters or things touching claims and demands on the U.S. that were referred to them by the House, and to report their opinion on the validity of the claim and how relief should be given to the petitioner. Here is an example of Margaret Stevens’s claim on behalf of her late husband:

Library of Congress, American Memory, A Century of Lawmaking, Senate Journal 55:91, Petition for Committee on Indian Affairs, Senate Journal, 9 January 1863

A petition is always referred to, but is not reproduced, in these federal documents. Petition references appear in House and Senate Journals and petitions referred to appropriate committees. In this petition, we can see that Margaret was a busy person, petitioning for compensation of services provided by her late husband. Once the petition was granted, the Committee presented a bill for her relief:

Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, Bills and Resolutions, House of Representatives, 38th Congress, 1st Session, Bill 195Top of Form


If you find a petition reference, look for the bill that allowed the petitioner’s claim.


The committee was created on January 10, 1831 with jurisdiction over matters relating to pensions for disabled veterans. Originally, it included pensions from the War of 1812. It was so overburdened with Civil War pensions that on March 26, 1867, jurisdiction for pensions from the War of 1812 was transferred to the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions. After that, jurisdiction of the Committee on Invalid Pensions included only matters relating to pensions of the Civil War, with the committee reporting general and special bills authorizing payments of pensions and bills for relief of soldiers of that war. Below are some examples of invalid pension petitions:

Library of Congress, American Memory, A Century of Lawmaking, House Journal 54:968


The Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary War Claims was created on December 22, 1813, largely to alleviate the burden of the Committee on Claims. Its job was to consider all such petitions, and matters, or things, touching military pensions, as well as claims and demands originating in, or arising from, the Revolutionary War. On December 9, 1825 the committee name was changed to the Committee on Revolutionary Pensions, while its jurisdiction remained unchanged. A few days later, on December 13, 1825, the committee was abolished and its jurisdiction split between two new committees–the Committee on Military Pensions and the Committee on Revolutionary Claims. Below are examples of Revolutionary War pension and claims petitions:

Library of Congress, American Memory, A Century of Lawmaking, House Journal 12: 213

Library of Congress, American Memory, A Century of Lawmaking, House Journal 54: 948


This committee was established on April 29, 1816, with jurisdiction over matters relating to private land claims. The committee reported general as well as special legislation relating to the settlement of individual claims to public lands. It reported bills to establish a land court and to provide for judicial investigation and settlement of private land claims in certain states and territories. It was abolished in 1911 after several years of diminished legislative activity. Below is an example of a petitioner from Louisiana:

Library of Congress, American Memory, A Century of Lawmaking, Senate Journal 9: 168


Committee papers may include original petitions or memorials. Researchers should check for both petitions and memorials when examining papers of these committees. They are kept in a file known as the Accompanying Papers File.

According to the National Archives, the Accompanying Papers File documents several forms of private relief claims submitted directly to Congress and is part of Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (Record Group 233). The series is under the subgroup Records of Legislative Proceedings, and forms part of the private claims records of Congress.

Types of Claims

The records consist of a specific series of bill files and supporting documentation related to private claims and other forms of private relief petitions submitted directly to the House for the 39th through 57th Congresses (1865–1903). Before 1865, these records were filed among House committee papers; after 1903 they were filed more systematically in a collection of legislative bill files. The records may include petitions, affidavits, letters, copies of House resolutions, and other documentation that support or oppose claims for relief for which a private bill was introduced. These claims included:

Claims for property damage caused by the military
Indian depredation claims
Pension claims for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Old Indian Wars, the Civil War, and miscellaneous peacetime pensions for military service
Claims for services rendered to the government
Claims for patent extensions or violations
Civil War–related courts-martial and amnesty petitions

The Accompanying Papers File is arranged chronologically by Congress, then alphabetically by person, state, territory, or subject. The finding aid is a title list containing approximately 10,000 files with a brief description of each claim available for each of the first six Congresses in the series (39th Congress through 44th Congress), which cover Reconstruction (1865–1877). The file title list is available in the National Archives Building’s Research Center and in the Center for Legislative Archives.

In the last post on Federal legislative petitions, I’ll discuss the genealogical value of petitions in the Territorial Papers of the U.S., American State Papers: Claims, and the U.S. Serial Set.

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