A More Perfect Union

For more than two hundred years, the Capitol has been the place where representatives of the American people have debated how best to achieve the nation's ideals. This exhibit displays some of our most important documents, drawn primarily from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives, to illustrate the role of Congress in defining and helping to realize national goals and aspirations.

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The Congress shall have Power To ... promote ... useful Arts

Knowing that democracy flourishes best in an open environment with an educated citizenry, Congress has promoted public education, supported the arts and sciences, and funded extensive research, as illustrated in these documents. In that same spirit, it established the Library of Congress, now the world's largest library, with unparalleled collections in every field of human endeavor.

Educating the Emancipated

In 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, to provide for the needs of former slaves. Operating under the War Department, the Freedmen’s Bureau assisted with food, medical care, employment and education. To meet the tremendous demand among the newly emancipated for schools and instruction the Bureau found buildings suitable for classrooms and worked with other aid organizations to recruit teachers. By 1866, more than 100,000 African Americans throughout the South attended Freedmen’s Bureau schools.

Establishing a Library for Congress - 2

The Library of Congress was established in the act that provided for relocating the federal government to Washington, D.C. That act also authorized purchasing $5,000 worth of books “. . . as necessary for the use of Congress.” Most of these books were destroyed when British troops burned the Capitol in 1814. To replenish its holdings, Thomas Jefferson sold to the government his personal library of more than 6,000 volumes. The Library of Congress was housed in the Capitol until 1897, when the Library moved to its own building.

The Burning of the Capitol, 1814

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain. On the evening of August 24, 1814, British troops entered a largely abandoned Washington and set fire to many government buildings, including the Capitol. The following month, Congress returned to the city and ordered an investigation “. . . into the causes of the success of the Enemy.”

Promoting Progress

The First Congress recognized the importance of progress in science, technology and the arts for the nation’s development. To give incentive for creativity in “the useful arts,” Congress enacted laws in 1790 protecting new inventions and works by giving their creators exclusive rights to profit from them for a limited time. These laws would benefit society as a whole by encouraging the creation of new technologies and ideas.

Knowledge from Past Exhibitions

    Gelatin-silver photographic prints, interviewees of the Slave Narratives Project, Texas, 1937-1938

    The elderly informants of the Slave Narratives Project were children or young adults in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Some posed for portraits to accompany their oral histories, giving a face as well as a voice to their memories of life in bondage before the Civil War and their experiences after emancipation.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Gelatin-silver Photographic Prints, Interviewees of the Slave Narratives Project, Texas, 1937-1938

    The elderly informants of the Slave Narratives Project were children or young adults in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Some posed for portraits to accompany their oral histories, giving a face as well as a voice to their memories of life in bondage before the Civil War and their experiences after emancipation.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Representative Justin S. Morrill’s speech delivered in the House of Representatives, April 20, 1858

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    The state and the citizen of the state, by Reverend Jeremiah Eames Rankin, 1883

    Prominent Congregational minister Jeremiah E. Rankin made the U.S. Constitution and the law the topic of his 1883 Thanksgiving Day sermon. In his address, he criticized both Congress and the Supreme Court for failing to protect the civil rights of African Americans. Rankin, who was white, later served as president of Howard University.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Jim Berryman cartoon, "Anybody Working?" October 6,1957

    In a deft drawing of an observatory that resembled both the U.S. Capitol and Sputnik, political cartoonist Jim Berryman captured America’s anxious response to the successful launch of the Soviet satellite. The “men watching” sign emphasized the United States’ position of witness as the Soviet Union surpassed it in the space race.

    U.S. Senate Collection, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Soldiers in Vietnam, photographs from the Walter Lewis Kudlacik Collection, Veterans' History Project, ca. 1970

    These snapshots taken by an American soldier who served in Vietnam show the region’s dense jungle growth that provided cover for North Vietnamese forces––and the barren aftermath of spraying Agent Orange. Congress sought to understand the impact of exposure to the herbicide on veterans’ health.

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    A Bill Entitled “An act to provide for the safe keeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States,” signed into law September 15, 1789

    Only months after convening, the First Congress made the secretary of state responsible for the safekeeping of and access to the government’s official records. Congress transferred this authority to the National Archives when it was established in 1934.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Northwest Ordinance, 1787

    The authors of the Northwest Ordinance believed educated citizens were critical to the success of self-government. Article 3 declared, “...education shall forever be encouraged.” The Northwest Ordinance, together with the earlier Land Ordinance of 1785, set aside a section of each new township’s land for the support of public schools.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Books Purchased From Cadell & Davies/Bingham & Waln of London, November 1800

    London booksellers were required for the “purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of the Congress.” One order included Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, Gibbon’s histories of the Roman Empire and Greece and various histories of European nations and America.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    James Madison’s Notes of Debate in Congress, January 23, 1783

    Madison supported establishing a library for Congress so that its members could be well informed. He also felt it was crucial to gather and preserve knowledge that had been written about the nation and the rest of the world.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Draft agreement between Samuel Otis and John Beckley regarding the printers for Congress, June 29, 1789

    Senate Secretary Samuel Otis and House Clerk John Beckley established many procedures for the First Congress. They agreed to hire separate printers for the journals of their respective chambers, but to employ jointly Childs and Swain to print acts and Thomas Greenleaf to print bills.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • W.K.L. Dickson's copyright registration for "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze," January 9, 1894

    Congress passed the first copyright law covering motion pictures in 1912. Previously movies were registered and deposited for copyright as photographic prints, not as film. This print is the earliest surviving record for a copyrighted motion picture. W.K.L. Dickson created it to demonstrate the new Kinetoscope. Fred Ott, an Edison laboratory employee, performed the comic sneeze.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

     

     

    Library of Congress Loan Receipt Register (1863-1867)

    While located in the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress kept handwritten records of book loans. These pages list titles borrowed in the Civil War era by Senators Daniel Clark of New Hampshire and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. Their reading ranged from The Arabian Nights to studies of butterflies and botany.

    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • S.1171, An Act to establish and operate a National Institute of Health, April 3, 1930

    In 1930, largely through the efforts of Senator Joseph Ransdell of Louisiana, Congress expanded federal support for scientific medical research. This act renamed the Hygienic Laboratory as the National Institute of Health (NIH) under the Public Health Service. It authorized the NIH to study health and disease, and funded NIH facilities and research fellowships.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Transcript of meeting between President Richard M. Nixon and H.R. Haldeman on April 26, 1973

    Transcripts of President Nixon’s taped Oval Office conversations with Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and others raised questions of the President’s involvement in the Watergate break-in, the attempted cover-up, and other abuses of executive power. Facing impeachment, President Nixon resigned from office in August 1974—the first president to ever do so.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …I don’t think it should ever get out that we taped this office, Bob.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • S. 1767, Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, “GI Bill of Rights”

    The GI Bill provided millions of World War II veterans with numerous benefits, including funds for college and vocational education. Along with successor legislation extending benefits to veterans of other wars, it is considered one of the farthest-reaching acts of Congress in the 20th century.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Bird's Eye View of Grounds of the Great Columbian Exposition at Chicago, 1892-3

    Chicago vied with New York to become the site of the Exposition and won the approval of Congress. Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham headed a team of the nation’s leading designers to create the fairgrounds in record time. Though it featured displays of international cultures and presentations about American Indians, the Exposition had limited representation of African-American achievements.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from John Silva Meehan, Librarian of Congress, to Senator James Alfred Pearce of Maryland, January 7, 1852

    John Silva Meehan, head of the Library of Congress from 1829 to 1861, reported on the extent of the damage from the 1851 fire to Senator James Alfred Pearce, chair of the Joint Committee on the Library. Meehan cited items that were destroyed or saved. The titles represent knowledge in diverse fields, reflecting Congress’s broad collecting philosophy for its library.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The books that are saved, belong to Chapter 1, Ancient History…Chapter 5, Ecclesiastical History.—Chapter 8, Chemistry… Chapter 16, Ethics; section 1, Moral Philosophy…Chapter 17, Religion…

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Loan Receipt Book "M" (1863-1867), Loans to Senator Charles Sumner from Library of Congress

    While located in the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress kept handwritten records of book loans. These pages list books that Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner borrowed in the 1860s. Sumner read widely--his borrowings included Homer's Odyssey, works by Voltaire, and Battle-fields of the South.

    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Gelatin-silver Photographic Print and Narrative of Adeline Cunningham, Texas, ca. 1937–1938

    Adeline Cunningham was born in 1852 and held in bondage by Washington Greenlee Foley on his vast Texas corn and cotton plantation. She described to the interviewer the horrendous, inhumane conditions of life on Foley’s large farm, where slaves were treated as if they were animals and brutally punished for trying to escape.

    Prints and Photographs Division; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    dey’s afraid iffen de slaves learns to read dey learns how to run away. One of de slaves runs away and dey ketches him and puts his eyes out.

  • Library of Congress Loan Receipt Book, page "G" (1846-1865)

    In the 19th century the Library of Congress kept hand-written records of book loans. This page shows loans to members of Congress before the Civil War. It includes Senators Jefferson Davis and Judah Benjamin, who left Congress and became leaders of the Confederacy; and Andrew Johnson, a loyal Unionist who was elected Vice President under President Abraham Lincoln.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • “Battle-field at Antietam…,” by Alexander Gardner, September 1862

    At his studio, Mathew Brady displayed staff photographer Alexander Gardner’s images of Antietam, where the bloodiest one-day battle in U.S. history left 23,000 casualties.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Copyright deposit of the Rinehart Studio for Plains Indians photographs, 1898-1899

    Frank A. Rinehart was the official photographer of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska. During the fair, his studio photographed more than five hundred Native Americans representing various Indian nations. In December 1898, Rinehart submitted this claim with eighteen photographic prints to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress; copyright was granted in January 1899.

    Copyright Office, Library of Congress

  • "Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Title IX!" Dear Colleague Letter, ca. June 23, 1997

    By the 25th anniversary of Title IX, its effects were evident. Medical and professional schools produced more female graduates, and a new generation of women participated and excelled in college sports. Women’s advanced athleticism led to the founding of female professional sports leagues and greater achievements for the U.S. in the Olympics.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Title IX…has improved graduation rates among girls and young women at the secondary and post-secondary level, opened the doors of our colleges, graduate and professional schools, increased opportunities for women in non-traditional fields of study… and helped to fight sexual harassment in our schools.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • “Mission San Xavier del Bac” (Arizona), WPA Federal Writers’ Project American Guide Series, 1941

    Arizona was one of the 48 states included in the American Guide series. The Arizona office of the Federal Writers’ Project also produced a guide to San Xavier del Bac, an 18th-century Spanish colonial mission near Tucson. In a separate program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed artists to make posters advertising the guides.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • "Congressional Library Building, view of Great Hall,” Smithmeyer and Pelz, architects, ink on paper, 1888

    Designed in the Italian Renaissance style by the Washington, D.C., firm of Smithmeyer and Pelz, the new congressional library included a grand entrance hall, richly decorated galleries, a domed reading room and ample space for books, maps, music, graphic arts, and other collections. It immediately became an acclaimed Washington attraction.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Memorial from the citizens of South Carolina praying for the establishment of an agricultural college, January 4, 1859

    In the 1840s citizens around the country, including some from the South, began petitioning Congress for support of improved agricultural education. Passed during the Civil War, the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 barred land grants to states in rebellion. Benefits were eventually extended to states from the former Confederacy, including South Carolina.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

    Trade of Puerto Rico . . . speeches of Hon. George H. White, February 5 and 23,1900

    Representative George H. White of North Carolina was the only African American member of the 55th and 56th Congresses (1897–1901) and the last in Congress for nearly 30 years. In a speech about trade, White protested the disenfranchisement and lynching of blacks in the South. He introduced a bill for federal enforcement of civil rights.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

    Student Reactions to Sputnik

    Sputnik, drawing by Ginger Carol Burrus, sixth grade, East Clinton School, Huntsville, Alabama, October 14, 1957 and

    Essay about Sputnik by a girl, fifth-sixth grade, in a school on Wheeler Air Force Base, Oahu, Hawai'i Territory, October 1957

    At the time of Sputnik’s launch, Congress was concerned about the state of science and math education in the United States. Columbia University anthropologist Rhoda B. Metraux studied attitudes of fifth- and sixth-grade students towards the Soviet satellite by asking them to write or make drawings about Sputnik. Several expressed excitement and optimism about Sputnik’s space-age potential.

    Rhoda Bubendey Metraux Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Click here to view an excerpt.

  • Testimony of Representative Thomas J. Downey before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, July 22, 1980

    In 1980, while Congress was seeking to understand the effects of Agent Orange, Representative Thomas J. Downey of New York testified before Congress that he had been deluged with calls and letters from veterans on the Agent Orange issue. Many reported abnormal health conditions, which they attributed to exposure to the herbicide during the Vietnam War.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate Select committee on Presidential Campaign Activities interview with Alexander Butterfield, July 13, 1973

    Senate Select committee on Presidential Campaign Activities interview with Alexander Butterfield, July 13, 1973

    Alexander Butterfield, a former Nixon aide, revealed the existence of a secret White House taping system in an interview with the Ervin Committee. Given a copy of the interview notes, Butterfield added handwritten comments disputing or clarifying certain points. A few days later, the Ervin Committee called Butterfield to testify and questioned him about the tapes.

    Click here to see excerpt:

    Butterfield then stated, “There is tape in the Oval Office. This tape is maintained by the Secret Service…”

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Act Making the National Archives and Records Administration an Independent Agency, October 19, 1984

    Congress created the National Archives in 1934 as an independent agency to house, maintain and make available records created by the federal government. In 1949, it was incorporated into the General Services Administration, where it remained for 35 years. The National Archives regained status as an independent agency in 1984.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Thomas Jefferson's letter to Samuel Harrison Smith, September 21, 1814

    On learning of the burning of the Capitol and the 3,000-volume Library of Congress, Jefferson wrote to his political ally Samuel Smith offering Congress his own personal library as a replacement. Jefferson promised to accept any price set by Congress, commenting that "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection...there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Act Concerning the Library of Congress, January 26, 1802

    Establishing a Congressional library became a priority when the government moved to the new federal city of Washington, D.C., in November 1800. During the time Congress had been meeting in New York City and Philadelphia, it had relied upon private libraries in these well-established cities. President Jefferson appointed John Beckley, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the first Librarian of Congress.

    General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

  • An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory, North-West of the River Ohio, July 21, 1789, printed by Thomas Greenleaf

    Congress printed documents for both internal use and external distribution. For example, in 1789 Congress adapted provisions of the Northwest Ordinance—originally passed by the Continental Congress—to fit the new Constitution. The House passed this bill first, and New York publisher Thomas Greenleaf printed a clean version of the bill for the Senate’s deliberations.

    rds of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Index cards with list of Dickson-Edison copyrights, cards 1 and 2

    W.K.L. Dickson, an assistant to Thomas A. Edison, helped Edison develop his first patented motion picture machines: the Kinetograph for recording moving images and the Kinetoscope for viewing them. These cards list some of Dickson’s copyright applications for moving pictures, including the “Edison Kinetoscopic record of sneeze,” number 2887 (card 2).

     

    Copyright Office, Library of Congress

  • H.R. 4624, An Act to consolidate and revise the laws relating to the Public Health Service, May 23, 1944

    Congress reorganized the Public Health Service in 1944, making the NIH one of its four main bureaus. The legislation provided for an extensive grant program and authorized the NIH to conduct advanced clinical research. Today the NIH operates independently under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Three envelopes with watercolor drawings, by Sergeant Samuel Lionel Boylston in the South Pacific, 1944

    "Camp’s Big Office" 6/19/1944

    "Guard the Egg" 9/30/1944

    "Where are the Ships?" n.d.

    Sam Boylston served in the South Pacific during World War II. An amateur artist, he illustrated envelopes for letters he and a buddy, Gerald Duquette, sent to loved ones. Boylston returned home in 1945 and attended college on the G. I. Bill. Gerald and Lillian Duquette donated sixty works by Boylston to the Veterans History Project.

    Veteran’s History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Official invitation to the ceremonies dedicating the buildings of the World's Columbian Exposition, sent to Frederick Douglass

    The renowned African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former ambassador to Haiti, served as manager of the Haitian pavilion at the request of its government. Douglass and other black intellectuals, including anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells Barnett, objected to the Exposition’s poor treatment of African Americans. The Haitian pavilion became a focus for black representation at the fair.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Saurotherinae, color lithograph

    This natural history print is believed to be among the items that survived the 1851 fire, which broke out in faulty chimney flues of the Capitol and spread to the Library of Congress. Valued volumes of John James Audubon’s Birds of America were among the books that escaped damage from the smoke and flames.

    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Battle-fields of the South from Bull Run to Fredericksburg...by An English Combatant, London: Smith, Elder and co., Volume 2, 1863

    Senator Charles Sumner borrowed Battle-fields of the South in 1864, soon after its publication. Written by an English soldier, the book expressed a behind-the-scenes confederate perspective on the war. This volume includes a map of the confederate victory at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

    General Collection, Library of Congress

    Gelatin-silver photographic print and narrative of Zek Brown, Ft. Worth, Texas, June 14, 1937

    Eighty-year-old Zek Brown of Fort Worth, Texas, recalled his childhood on a Tennessee farm where his family was enslaved. He vividly remembered the day his former master announced emancipation. Brown came to Texas as an accidental stowaway on a covered wagon. In his interview he described the difficulties emancipated African Americans faced after the Civil War.

    Prints and Photographs Division; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    I don’t ‘member when de war start but I ‘member when it stop and massa call all us together and tell us we’s no more slaves. Him talk lots ‘bout what It mean and how it am diff’rent….He say if us stay dere’ll be wages or we can share crop and everybody stay.

    Robert Greenhow, Map from The History of Oregon…,1844, and The Geography of Oregon and California and the Other Territories…, New York: Newman, 1845

    This map and volume on Oregon and California represent works Senator Judah P. Benjamin borrowed from the Library of Congress in the mid-1850s, when the possible expansion of slavery into western territories was a burning issue. The Senate commissioned this study by State Department historian Robert Greenhow. His wife Rose Greenhow later became a Confederate spy.

    Geography and Map Division; Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

    Photograph, “Battle-field at Gettysburg…,” by Timothy O'Sullivan, July 1863

    This photo of a Confederate sharpshooter killed at Gettysburg is one of the best-known images of the Civil War, although it was later proven to have been staged. Though Mathew Brady sent his photographers to chronicle the war, the technical requirements of glass-plate negatives made combat photography extremely difficult. Instead, photographers documented troops before engagements, or the aftermath of battles.

    Reproduction from original glass plate negative. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Plains Indians photographs by Adolf F. Muhr, Rinehart Studio, 1898-1899

    Portrait of Freckled [Freckle] Face (Hannah Little Bird) (Arapahoe)

    Portrait of Henry Wilson and wife (Mojave Apache)

    Portrait of Sac [Sauk] Family

    Portrait of Nasuteus [Nasuteas] (Kichai woman) (Wichita)

    About 36 American Indian nations participated in a congress held in conjunction with the 1898 Omaha fair. Frank A. Rinehart’s assistant Adolf F. Muhr photographed members of the Crow, Sioux, Kiowa, Tonkawa, Pueblo, Wichita, Winnebago, Arapahoe, Mojave Apache and Sac [Sauk] nations.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • "Women in Charge," Outlook Magazine, American Association of University Women, vol, 96, no, 1 (Spring-Summer 2002)

    Patsy Mink (center), the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress, overcame both racial and sexual discrimination in her education and career. Her Title IX legislation ensured younger generations of women access, equal with men, to academic and athletic training. Upon her death in 2002, Congress renamed Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Puerto Rico, American Guide Series volume, 1940

    Each American Guide to a state or territory, such as this one for Puerto Rico, covered the region’s history, geography, economy and culture. The books included maps, drawings, photographs and tour itineraries. The goal of the project was not just to employ writers, but also to stimulate local economies by encouraging tourism.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • “Congressional Library, the entrance pavilion,” by L.C. Handy, ca. 1898

    In 1897, when the Library of Congress relocated to its new home—now the Thomas Jefferson Building—its collections comprised 840,000 books as well as maps, music, graphic arts, and other works. Today the Library of Congress has multiple buildings, and its holdings number more than 135 million items.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • S. 3187, National Defense Education Act, bill version, February 5, 1958 S. 3187, National Defense Education Act, bill version, February 5, 1958

    Senator Lister Hill of Alabama chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, which was responsible for education legislation. He and Representative Carl A. Elliott, also of Alabama, authored the National Defense Education Act and were the driving forces behind its passage. Under this act, Congress greatly increased federal influence on public education.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Agent Orange Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, December 1980

    In December 1980 the Veterans Administration (VA) inaugurated a bulletin to inform medical professionals of research and policies concerning Agent Orange. The first issue featured a photo of Max Cleland and other VA officials testifying at a congressional hearing. Cleland later served as a U.S. senator from Georgia, from 1997 to 2003.

    Selection of Books from Thomas Jefferson’s Library

    M. David Ramsay, Histoire de la Revolution d' Amerique, vol. 1, 1787

    Herodotus, Herodoti Historiarum Liber Tetius, Book 3, 1761

    John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Vol. 1, 1787

    Stefano Arteaga, Le Rivoluzioni del Teatro Musicale Italiano, Vol. 1, 1785

     

    Thomas Jefferson had a passion for books and assembled the finest private library in America. After the Capitol burned in 1814, he sold his library to Congress, providing it with a collection that covered a wide range of knowledge, from history to science to the arts.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • H.R. 5, 28th Congress, Bill to Establish the Smithsonian Institution, 1846

    In 1835, the United States received a bequest from an Englishman, James Smithson, “to found at Washington...an establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge.” For the next 11 years, Congressman John Quincy Adams led the search for the best way to honor Smithson’s bequest. In 1846, this bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution was enacted.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Marshall W. Nirenberg's genetic code chart, January 18, 1965

    Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg is among several NIH scientists awarded the Nobel Prize. Nirenberg led a team that deciphered the genetic code contained in DNA. They discovered how short sequences of DNA—"triplets"—direct the assembly of amino acids into the structural and functional proteins essential to life.

    Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

    Gelatin-silver photographic print and narrative of Mary Armstrong, Houston, Texas, 1937

    Mary Armstrong, 91, was born on a farm in Missouri. She described the extreme cruelty of her original masters, William and Polly Cleveland, but kinder treatment by their daughter Olivia and son-in-law Will Adams. Once freed, 17-year-old Armstrong sought her mother, from whom she’d been separated. Traveling alone, carrying freedom papers, she found her mother in Texas.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    I stayed with Mis’ Olivia ‘til in ’63 when Mr. Will set all his slaves free. He said we had a right to freedom an’ read a proclamation…Mis’ Olivia she ask me what I want to do an’ I tell her I want to find my mamma.

    Prints and Photographs Division and Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Photograph, "Old Congressional Library, main hall, looking south," by Jarvis e. Wilkins, 1897

    While located in the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress kept handwritten records of book loans. These pages list titles borrowed in the Civil War era by Senators Daniel Clark of New Hampshire and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. Their reading ranged from The Arabian Nights to studies of butterflies and botany.

    Library of Congress Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Frederick Grimké, Considerations Upon the Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions, 1856 Edition

    Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi borrowed an earlier edition of this title from the Library of Congress in 1851. A tome on political institutions, including slavery, it reflected the prejudices of the era regarding race. Members of Congress, like other Americans, held vastly differing beliefs and opinions on race and slavery, from ardent abolitionists to slavery’s vehement defenders.

    General Collections, Library of Congress

  • Manuscript page, draft for a book of Civil War photographs (Battle of Gettysburg), by Alexander Gardner, 1885

    Alexander Gardner left Mathew Brady’s studio in 1863 to work independently and became an official photographer of the Union Army. In 1885 Gardner prepared a manuscript for a publication of his photos of the Gettysburg Campaign. This page describes the 1863 Union rout of Confederates at Little Round Top, a decisive turning point in the war.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

     

    The valley between the two hills is aptly called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. At the close of the struggle twenty-five dead bodies were found behind one rock, and the whole valley was strewn with dead and wounded.

  • Photograph of Nevada Guide Exhibit (Federal Writers Project), Nevada State Fair, ca. 1938

    Sandwiched between exhibits of homemade jam and local produce, the Federal Writers’ Project advertised its American Guide series at the 1938 Nevada State Fair. The Women’s and Professional Division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) featured the series in its booth, making the guide to Nevada the centerpiece of its display.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • “Great Hall, Library of Congress,” by Carol Highsmith, 2007

    In 1984 Congress authorized rehabilitation and modernization of the 1897 Thomas Jefferson Building. The restoration, completed in 1997, revitalized the allegorical art and decorations of the Great Hall.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Portrait of Carl A. Elliott, photograph, ca. 1962

    Representative Carl A. Elliott of Alabama, who grew up in poverty and worked his way through college and law school, was committed to extending educational opportunities to all Americans.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    H.R. 1961, Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act as first introduced, March 8, 1983

    Representative Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, a Vietnam-era veteran, introduced the first Agent Orange legislation in 1983. Through amendments and other acts, Congress required the Veterans Administration to continue research on herbicide exposure, treat and compensate disabled veterans, and establish an advisory committee on environmental hazards of military service.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Marshall W. Nirenberg receiving Nobel Prize from King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, December 1968

    Marshall W. Nirenberg (right), the first Nobel laureate from the NIH, shared a 1968 Nobel Prize with two other U.S. scientists for their groundbreaking work on the genetic code.

    Scanpix/Sipa Press

    Gelatin-silver photographic print and narrative of Martin Jackson, San Antonio, Texas, 1937

    Born in bondage on a Texas ranch in 1847, Martin Jackson constantly thought about escaping, but heeded his father’s advice to not run away. He recalled accompanying his master in the Confederacy’s First Texas Cavalry (though hoping the Yankees would win the Civil War) and enlisting as a cook in World War I.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Lots of old slaves closes the door before they tell the truth about their days of slavery. When the door is open, they tell how kind their masters was and how rosy it all was…However, I can tell you the life of the average slave was not rosy. They were dealt out plenty of cruel suffering.

    Prints and Photographs Division and Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • “The Congressional Library, Capitol, Washington,” Harper’s Weekly, January 21, 1871

    The Library of Congress, established in 1800, was located in the U.S. Capitol until 1897. At the close of the Civil War, its book collection contained some eighty thousand volumes.

    Collection of the U.S. Senate

  • Photograph, “Battle-field at Gettysburg, or ‘Harvest of Death,’" by Timothy O'Sullivan, July 1, 1863

    Timothy O’Sullivan made this photograph of the bodies of four young soldiers killed at Gettysburg, and Alexander Gardner later published it in his multivolume Photographic Sketchbook of the War. Haunting images like this one prompted some members of Congress to advocate acquisition of Brady’s collection as a resource for the nation.

    Reproduction from original glass plate negative. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    "Utah Indian Archaeology," report of Elmer R. Smith, Curator, Museum, Snow College, Ephraim, Utah, May 19, 1936

    American Guide books combined the work of many writers, whose contributions were reviewed and honed, and sometimes rejected, by state and regional editors. Writers worked on topical assignments in different ways—some interviewed scholarly authorities, such as archaeologist Elmer R. Smith of Utah; others did field work or reported on local sites and folkways.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Old Congressional Library in the U.S. Capitol, photograph by Jarvis E. Wilkins, 1897

    By the late 19th century, materials overflowed the shelves of the Library of Congress in its old quarters in the U.S. Capitol.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Albumen photograph, Brady's Incidents of the War, Fort Richardson, Arlington, Virginia, 1861-1862

    Mathew Brady published and sold a series of photographs title Brady's Incidents of the War. He included this image of soldiers and artillery at Fort Richardson. The fort, constructed in 1861, was part of a ring of Union fortifications protecting the nation's capital.

    Prints and Photographs division, Library of Congress

  • Memorial of Matthew [Mathew] Brady regarding the purchase of his collection of photographs, February 17, 1869

    Mathew Brady, short of funds and wanting his Civil War photos preserved, petitioned Congress in 1869 to purchase his collection. congress declined his request, but through efforts of Representatives James Garfield of Ohio and Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts bought part of Brady's archive in 1875. congress acquired additional Brady photos over the next eighty years.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Photograph, portrait of Mathew Brady, ca. 1875

    Mathew Brady's studios produced stellar portraits of both notable and little-known Americans. during the civil War, with failing eyesight, Brady directed a corps of skilled photographers to cover events in the field. He financed their work and published it under his name. Brady's business declined into bankruptcy after the war when public interest in wartime images diminished.

    Reproduction from original glass negative. Prints and Photograhs Division, Library of Congress

  • The U.S. Capitol after Burning by the British (detail), ink and watercolor on paper by George Munger, ca. 1814

    Artist George Munger documented the ruins of the U.S. Capitol shortly after the British burned it. His watercolor drawing shows the sooty walls of the House and Senate wings and the brick shell of the gutted vestibule.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to enquire into the causes of the successes of the Enemy, September 23, 1814

    Congress reconvened on September 19, 1814, called into an early session by President James Madison. With the Capitol destroyed, the senators and representatives crowded into the Post and Patent Office, the only government building not burned by the British. The House promptly passed a resolution appointing a committee to report on the causes and results of Britain’s successful attack.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration
    (facsimile)

  • Report from the Superintendent of the Public Buildings relative to the value of property destroyed, October 29, 1814

    At the request of a Senate committee, the superintendent of public buildings had architects and builders examine the Capitol, the President’s House, and other federal structures burned by the British. Though the walls of the Capitol’s wings and the President’s House were deemed safe for rebuilding, the total cost of all repairs was estimated at $1,215,111.10.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration
    (facsimile)

  • Letter to Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House of Representatives, from S. Burch and J.T. Frost, September 15, 1814

    With many officials away, a few congressional clerks attempted to save records of Congress. S. Burch and J.T. Frost, having only an ox cart at their disposal, had to abandon many House records—including the Secret Journal of Congress, which was destroyed in the fire. Lewis H. Machen rescued one wagonload of Senate records, including its confidential proceedings.  [58 words]

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • H.R. 613, An Act to continue... and to amend “An act to establish a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees,” June 11, 1866

    Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau with an act on March 3, 1865, expecting the Bureau’s work to be complete within a year. In 1866, realizing the Bureau would require more time, Congress passed a bill extending its term and increasing its powers. President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, but both the House and Senate overrode his veto on July 16, 1866.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Fisk University Course Catalog, Nashville, Tennessee, 1868–69

    Fisk University, founded in 1866 as the Fisk School, was one of several historically black colleges established with support of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Its goal was to train much-needed teachers for southern schools.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed July 13, 1787

    The authors of the Northwest Ordinance believed educated citizens were critical to the success of self-government.  Article 3 declared, “...education shall forever be encouraged.”  The Northwest Ordinance, together with the earlier Land Ordinance of 1785, set aside a section of each new township’s land for the support of public schools.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Letter from Joseph Milligan to Thomas Jefferson regarding inventory and appraisal of Jefferson’s collection, July 31, 1815

    Joseph Milligan, a Georgetown book dealer, had helped Thomas Jefferson acquire his library. When Congress agreed to purchase Jefferson’s library, Milligan went to Jefferson’s Monticello home to inventory and appraise the collection. He also supervised its packing and transportation to Washington and in this letter, assures Jefferson of its safe arrival.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
    (facsimile)

  • Notice signed by Librarian of Congress George Watterston, ca. 1815

    To rebuild the collection, Librarian of Congress George Watterston issued a call for the return of any books borrowed before the British invasion of Washington, D.C., or removed during the attack. “A sense of justice,” he stated, would induce anyone in the city or neighboring counties who had such books to return them promptly.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibition at the Library of Congress, photograph by Shealah Craighead, 2013

    A reconstruction of Jefferson’s library, nearly two-thirds of which was destroyed in an 1851 fire, is currently on exhibition in the Library of Congress.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    The 1815 Catalogue of the Library of Congress, 1815

    The catalog of the rebuilt collection reflected Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that “there is... no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Following Jefferson’s own classification scheme, it included sections for fine arts, natural and civil history, and philosophy, which encompassed religion, law, mathematics, and physics.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Roll call for a vote on the Morrill Act, U.S. Senate, June 10, 1862

    The 37th Congress (1861–1863) passed the Morrill Land-Grant Act after members from 11 Southern states withdrew. Southerners had resisted the increased role of the federal government in providing a funding basis for state education. Sparsely settled Western states opposed the legislation because it allotted grants on the basis of population as reflected in congressional representation.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

    Conference Committee report on H.R. 13247, National Defense Education Act, August 21, 1958

    Senator Lister Hill of Alabama chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, which oversaw education legislation. After the Sputnik launch, committee clerk Stewart McClure suggested promoting an education bill as a defense measure to enhance its chances of passage. Hill and the bill’s coauthor, Representative Carl Elliott of Alabama, renamed it the National Defense Education Act.

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Look to the Past, Look to the Future, mural project of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Scottsdale, Arizona, ca. 1999

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Soldiers in Vietnam, photographs from the Walter Lewis Kudlacik Collection, Veterans' History Project, ca. 1970

    These snapshots taken by an American soldier who served in Vietnam show the region’s dense jungle growth that provided cover for North Vietnamese forces––and the barren aftermath of spraying Agent Orange. Congress sought to understand the impact of exposure to the herbicide on veterans’ health.

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    Books borrowed from the Library of Congress by Senators Daniel Clark and Henry Wilson

    Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1853 edition)

    John Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. (1808 edition)

    John Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. (1808 edition)

    These volumes represent some of the titles that Senators Clark and Wilson borrowed from the Library of Congress. Clark chose Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey and the 17th-century Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. Wilson’s reading included the best-selling antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, first published in 1852.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Joint Resolution of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota accepting the donation of lands by Congress . . . [Morrill Act], approved January 27, 1863

    Minnesota accepted its allotment under the Morrill Land-Grant Act and used funds from the sale of the land to build the University of Minnesota. The Morrill Land-Grant Act was landmark legislation that led to the founding of 69 colleges throughout the United States and opened opportunities of higher education for generations of Americans.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Letter from Lawrence H. Fuchs, Dean of Faculty at Brandeis University, to Senator Lister Hill, May 24, 1961

    Brandeis University and more than 150 other academic institutions strongly objected to the loyalty oath required for student loans under the National Defense Education Act. The Brandeis faculty dean protested to Senator Lister Hill of Alabama that farmers and businesses received federal aid without proving their loyalty, and he decried the oath’s violation of civil liberties.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • 30th Annual United Tribes International Powwow, Bismarck, North Dakota, program art by Alden Archambault (Standing Rock Sioux), September 1999

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Letter from several members of Congress to Representative Ray Roberts, Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, April 21, 1978

    After viewing an Agent Orange documentary, 14 members of Congress wrote to Representative Ray Roberts of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. They wanted the Department of Veterans Affairs to report on its research of Agent Orange health claims and let Congress know what legislation could help the Veterans Administration act in veterans’ best interests.

    "We feel strongly that the Veterans’ Affairs Committee should look into this matter. Initially, we feel a complete report from the Veterans’ Administration is needed so that we can properly assess the situation."

    Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Label, Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska, n.d.

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    Agent Orange / Information for Veterans Who Served in Vietnam / Questions and Answers, Veterans Administration pamphlet, June 1982

    In 1982 the Veterans Administration (VA) issued a pamphlet to Vietnam veterans addressing concerns about possible health risks of exposure to Agent Orange. In his introduction, VA Deputy Administrator Charles T. Hagel––later a U.S. senator from Nebraska (1997–2009)––referred to Public Law 97–72, by which Congress mandated long-term studies of effects of Agent Orange exposure.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Tee shirt, Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, Santa Clarita, California, March 1999

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    Summary of P.L. 98-542, Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act, October 24, 1984

    Congress addressed the problem of veterans’ exposure to dioxin (a chemical in Agent Orange) with a series of laws. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs prepared this summary of a 1984 act requiring the Veterans Administration to offer disability benefits to some Vietnam veterans and to continue to study environmental hazards of military service.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Button, Madonna del Lume celebration, San Francisco, California, n.d.

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    Toad box, Toad Suck Daze celebration, Toad Suck and Conway, Arkansas, 2000

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Belt buckle featuring the Black Cloud Mine, Leadville Boom Days, Leadville, Colorado, 1999

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Quilter Opal Clower, photograph by Dr. Lisa Abney, Natchitoches/Northwestern State University Folk Festival, Natchitoches, Louisiana, 1999

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Basket maker Elijah Harris, photograph by Dr. Donald Harley, Natchitoches/Northwestern State University Folk Festival, Natchitoches, Louisiana, 1988

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Fan, Mt. Nebo Chicken Fry, Mt. Nebo, Arkansas, 1998

    American Folklife Center, Library of Congress