A More Perfect Union

Instrumental to our identity and future national development, the War of 1812 both shaped and was shaped by Congress. International in scope and economic in nature, the war would not only inspire a national anthem, but would define Congress’s mission for the era to come and fundamentally change the nation’s political parties.

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.

See More

The Congress shall have Power To ... provide for the common Defence

Congress appropriates funds for national defense and has the power to declare war. By approving international agreements and the appointment of ambassadors, Congress also supports efforts to resolve conflict through diplomacy. Congressional contributions to matters of war and peace throughout the nation's history are registered in these documents.

War of 1812: Congress Declares War

The 1783 treaty that ended the American Revolution did not resolve all conflicts between the United States and Great Britain. Tensions escalated over Great Britain’s impressment of American sailors, interference with trade, occupation of U.S. territory, and relations with American Indians. In June 1812 Speaker of the House Henry Clay persuaded Congress to use its constitutional power to declare war for the first time. President James Madison signed the declaration into law, and the United States and Great Britain were at war for the second time.

War of 1812: The Treaty of Ghent

The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812. Signed in Ghent, Belgium, on Christmas Eve, 1814, it was approved by the British Parliament on December 30; the United States Senate approved it for ratification on February 16, 1815. Though the war had no clear winner, the treaty restored pre-war territorial boundaries, returned prisoners, and strengthened the United States as a nation. The greatest loss was to American Indians: without the support of their British allies, they were left vulnerable to U.S. power and expansionism.

The British Burn Washington

On August 24, 1814, British forces entered Washington, D.C., attacked the Navy Yard, and burned the major federal buildings: the U.S. Capitol, President’s House, War Department, and Treasury. The Capitol fire destroyed the chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court, along with irreplaceable records. Congress reconvened in the only remaining public building, the Patent Office, which President James Madison secured as its temporary quarters. In March 1815 Congress authorized the rebuilding of the Capitol and President’s House.

Common Defense from Past Exhibitions
  • Bill to Establish the Department of the Navy, April 11, 1798

    Signed into law April 30, 1798, this bill removed the Navy from the Department of War and established it as a separate office. Under the National Security Act of 1947, the Navy Department became part of the Department of Defense.

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

  • Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Mejico [Map of the United States of Mexico] by J. Disturnell, 1847

    Negotiators of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo agreed to use an 1847 map by J. Disturnell as the reference for the new boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. They found that the map had some serious errors, depicting El Paso and part of the Rio Grande many miles from their true locations, which complicated the negotiations.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • Battle of Buena Vista, color lithograph by J. Baillie, ca. 1847

    At a decisive battle at Buena Vista in northern Mexico, U.S. troops under General Zachary Taylor held the line against Mexican cavalry.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Petition from Bowdoinham, Maine, against the annexation of Texas, December 12, 1837

    Residents of Maine petitioned Congress against the annexation of Texas, citing three reasons. First, Mexico did not recognize Texas’s independence, so annexation might provoke a war. Second, they opposed the expansion of slavery, which Texas allowed. Third, the vast area of Texas might be divided into smaller slaveholding states, upsetting congressional balance and thereby dissolving the Union.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    It being the avowed intention to continue it a slave-holding country, its annexation to the Union will give predominant power, in our national councils, to the slave-holding interest, and will reduce to complete subjection, the interests of the free States

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

  • Original Radar Plot of Detector Station Opana, Oahu, Hawaii, December 7, 1941

    At 7:20 a.m. on December 7, 1941, two novice radar operators detected aircraft approaching Oahu. Their control officer believed the signals tracked American B-17s, but by 7:55 a.m., the first wave of Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. A 1945 Congressional investigation of the surprise attack examined this radar plot.

    Records of the Joint Committees on Congress, National Archives and Records Administration

    Announcement of Victory at Yorktown, October 19, 1781

    General Washington notified the Continental Congress of the defeat of British troops near Yorktown, Virginia. Britain’s Lord Cornwallis surrendered after his troops were trapped on a peninsula between American and French land forces and French naval ships. The Revolutionary War essentially ended with this victory.

    Records of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, National Archives and Records Administration

    Letter from the Continental Congress to George Washington, July 24, 1775

    George Washington, an experienced and respected military leader, provided a unifying influence as the American colonies rebelled against Great Britain. The Second Continental Congress placed great trust in him, as illustrated by this letter authorizing Washington to appoint officers and determine the number of troops needed for the newly created Continental Army. John Hancock, president of the Congress, signed the letter.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • President Abraham Lincoln’s nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the Army, February 29, 1864

    President Lincoln nominated Grant as Lieutenant General of the Army the same day he signed the bill re-establishing the position, which was previously held by George Washington. Grant’s victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga had won the respect of Congress and the president and Grant's military strategy proved effective in winning the war.

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

  • S.J. Res. 119, Joint Resolution Declaring War with Germany, December 11, 1941

    The House and Senate adopted a joint resolution, S.J. Res.119, declaring war against Germany, on December 11, 1941. This first draft of the resolution shows that the Senate used the declaration of war against Japan, S.J. Res. 116, as the basis of the document and replaced references to “Japan” with “Germany.”

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

  • Certified copy of the Treaty of Versailles (Unperfected Treaty) Section on League of Nations, c. 1919

    In 1919, the Allied nations met in Paris to negotiate the treaty with Germany ending World War I. President Woodrow Wilson brought his own agenda to the talks. Wilson’s highest priority was to establish an international peacekeeping organization—the League of Nations. The U.S. Senate, which holds exclusive power to permit ratification of treaties, rejected the treaty largely because of this provision.

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

  • An Act to establish the Executive Department to be denominated the Department of War, June 27, 1789, with Senate annotations

    The Department of War, established in 1789, oversaw all military affairs until Congress created a separate Navy Department in 1798. The National Security Act, passed by Congress in 1947, designated departments for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. A National Military Establishment, renamed the Department of Defense in 1949, administered these departments.

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

  • Regulations relative to the admission of cadets into military academy by B.F. Butler, Secretary of War, February 15, 1837

    Congress strove for political fairness when it established regulations for admission of cadets into U.S. military academies. By basing distribution on congressional districts, Congress allowed individuals from every state to achieve careers as officers in the U.S. armed forces.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …the appointments are made from among the applicants …so as to give one Cadet to each Congressional District.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • HR 6293, A bill to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, January 28, 1942

    Massachusetts Representative Edith Nourse Rogers introduced this bill to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in December 1941. It became law the next year. Directed by Oveta Culp Hobby, the WAAC was renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and incorporated into the regular Army in 1943.

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

  • Petition against annexation, Women's Hawaiian Patriotic League of the Hawaiian Islands, September 11, 1897

    In 1897, President William McKinley signed a treaty to annex Hawaii and submitted it to the Senate for ratification. Many Native Hawaiians opposed annexation—they swiftly gathered 21,269 signatures of men, women, and children on petitions for delegates to present in Washington, D.C. The Senate rejected the treaty, but five months later Congress annexed Hawaii through a joint resolution.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    We…native Hawaiian women…earnestly protest against the annexation of the…Hawaiian Islands to the…United States of America in any form or shape.

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

  • Message from President George Washington to Congress, December 30, 1790

    Message from President George Washington to Congress, December 30, 1790

    In 1785 Algerian pirates seized two American merchant ships—the Dolphin and the Mary. The crews were still held captive five years later when President George Washington sent this letter to Congress, enclosing Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson’s report on negotiations with Algiers. Washington requested that Congress provide whatever it considered “most expedient” to free the men.

     

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

  • Hand-colored lithograph, “Terrific combat between the ‘Monitor’…& ‘Merrimac,’” New York: Currier & Ives, 1862

    This depiction of the Monitor (foreground) and the Merrimac shows the Monitor’s low hull and rotating two-gun turret. The previous day, the Merrimac had sunk two wooden Union frigates and captured another, nearly ending the Union blockade of Norfolk, Virginia. Though this duel of ironclads left both ships damaged, the Monitor preserved the blockade.

     

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Spot Resolution, Abraham Lincoln, December 22, 1847

    In 1846, after ordering troops into a disputed area between Mexico and Texas, President James K. Polk asked Congress to declare war against Mexico to avenge the wounding of Americans “on American soil.” Representative Abraham Lincoln, wary of Polk’s motives, questioned the war’s legitimacy and called for an investigation of the “spot” where U.S. and Mexican forces first clashed.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …this House desires to obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed, was, or was not, our own soil, at that time….

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

    Order from President Abraham Lincoln to General Winfield Scott suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, April 27, 1861

    After the attack on FortSumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for support from state militias. Confederate sympathizers in Maryland ambushed some of the northern troops en route to Washington. Lincoln declared martial law in the region and authorized General Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Army, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus if necessary to control rebellion.

    Records of the Adjutant General's Office, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Memorial of Clara Barton, February 1, 1866

    Clara Barton’s 1866 petition to Congress explained her reasons for initiating a search for missing soldiers and outlined her research procedures. She noted her very limited resources and mentioned that President Abraham Lincoln and a Union major general aided her efforts. In March 1866 Congress approved $15,000 for expenses of Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.

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

     

    my attention was arrested by the great number of letters received from all parts of the country, mostly from the wives and mothers of soldiers desiring my personal assistance in searching for their lost husbands and sons

  • A Proclamation by the President of the United States, April 15, 1861

    As Commander in Chief, President Abraham Lincoln responded to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter by calling for 75,000 militia volunteers. Their first duty was to repossess federal property seized from the Union by the seven seceded states. Lincoln also used his constitutional authority to convene an extraordinary session of Congress for July 4, 1861.

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

    Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress.

  • Color lithograph, Battle Between the Monitor and Merrimac, Kurtz and Allison, Art Publishers, Chicago, ca. 1889

    As Union officers watched from a point near Fort Calhoun, the U.S.S. Monitor (top center) and the Merrimac (C.S.S. Virginia, top right) battled for several hours, each inflicting damage on the other. The Merrimac had earlier destroyed two wooden Union frigates, including the U.S.S. Congress, shown in flames (top left).

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • S. 2000, Peace Corps bill, introduced by Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, June 1, 1961

    In 1960 Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin introduced bills concerning a federal volunteer program for service abroad. Humphrey’s bill was first to name the program the “peace corps.” After President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, Humphrey introduced this bill to authorize its funding.

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

  • List of U.S. Navy vessels in service and lost, 1812

    This report to President James Madison confirmed that all ships worthy of repair had been requisitioned for service. Among them was the U.S.S. Constitution, whose capture of the H.M.S. Guerriere in August 1812 would be the first American naval victory of the war. In January 1813 Congress approved legislation to expand the U.S. Navy.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    All the public vessels, worthy of repair, have been put in requisition, & the following are now in actual Service

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    House Declaration of War, June 4, 1812, with Senate Amendments, June 17, 1812

    After President James Madison asked Congress to declare war against Britain, the House of Representatives voted 79–49 to pass this declaration. “War hawks,” led by Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, prevailed over members favoring neutrality and Federalists sympathetic to Britain. Clay argued that war was justified to defend U.S. rights against British offenses.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    war . . . is hereby declared to exist between Great Britain and her dependencies and the United States of America and their Territories and …the President of the United States is hereby Authorized to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect.

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

  • Memorial of Hannah Stephens requesting the release of her husband from Algiers, December 9, 1791

    In June 1785 Algerian pirates captured Isaac Stephens, captain of the Boston ship Maria, and his crew en route to Spain. The sailors were held captive for eleven years before Congress was able to secure their release. During Stephens’s captivity, his wife Hannah repeatedly petitioned Congress, citing her family’s terrible sufferings in her husband’s absence.

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

    Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, manuscript, signed with wax seals February 2, 1848

    The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo set the U.S.-Mexico border at the Rio Grande; compensated Mexico for war damages; secured for the United States an area encompassing present-day New Mexico, Arizona, California, and parts of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming; and protected the rights of Hispanics residing in the territory.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Great Speech of Clay––Bran Bread is Riz! Lithograph attributed to John L. Mager, 1847

    This cartoon mocks Henry Clay, a longtime U.S. representative and senator from Kentucky. Clay protested the Mexican War in an 1847 speech published in the New York Tribune. His son Henry Clay Jr., meanwhile, led a Kentucky regiment. Popular depictions of Clay Jr.’s death at Buena Vista made him a national icon of battlefield heroism.

    Lithograph published by James Baillie, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate Roll Call on the Treaty of Annexation between the United States of America and the Republic of Texas, June 8, 1844

    In 1844 the Senate rejected a treaty of annexation between the U.S. and Texas. The vote of 16 (for)–34 (against) fell far short of the two-thirds majority constitutionally required for ratification. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri led the opposition. Benton favored expansion, but argued that annexing Texas would intensify sectional conflict and rupture the Union.

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

  • Wreckage-strewn Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor Following Japan’s Attacks on the Morning of December 7, 1941

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Congress’s Response to the Resignation of the Commander in Chief, December 23, 1783

    General George Washington appeared before Congress to resign his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army. In this eloquent letter, Congress accepted the resignation and expressed the gratitude of the nation for his leadership during the Revolutionary War.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Proclamation of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1776

    Pledging loyalty to the “United American Colonies,” the signers of this proclamation vowed to defend America against the army and navy of Great Britain. As inhabitants of the colonies joined the cause of liberty, such proclamations reflected their growing sense of shared purpose and destiny.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Telegram from President Abraham Lincoln to Lieutenant General Grant, City Point, Virginia, August 17, 1864

    President Lincoln urged Lieutenant General Grant to “Hold on with a bull-dog grip…” during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, even as other politicians argued for Grant’s army to move north to protect Washington, D.C. Lincoln and Grant knew that victory at Petersburg was crucial to defeating the Confederate army.

    Records of the Secretary of War, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Poster, Americans will always fight for liberty, 1943

    To promote patriotism during World War II, the Office of War Information, a federal agency, commissioned artists to create propaganda posters. This one, by the painter Bernard Perlin, associates soldiers of 1943 with troops of the Continental Army that endured the harsh winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

    Records of the Office of Government Reports, National Archives and Records Administration

    Henry Cabot Lodge’s personal copy of reservations of Treaty of Versailles, c. September 1919

    Based on the deep and resonant isolationist sentiment among many Americans, some members of Congress opposed the League of Nations because they feared U.S. entanglement in international affairs. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, prepared a series of 'reservations' or modifications to the Treaty of Versailles in an effort to reflect these concerns.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …the United States declines to assume…any obligation to preserve the territorial integrity or political independence of any other country…

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

  • Pay of the Army on the New Establishment agreeably to Act of Congress, April 30, 1790

    This document records the monthly pay rates for the new national army, listed according to rank and title. A lieutenant colonel commander earned $60 per month, a major commandant of artillery earned $45, and majors earned $40. Sergeants, quartermasters, and the paymaster earned $5. Privates and musicians were the lowest paid at $3 per month.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from Dwight David Eisenhower to Senator Joseph L. Bristow, August 20, 1910

    In August 1910, Dwight D. Eisenhower sought support from Kansas Senator Joseph L. Bristow to enter a military academy. Eisenhower, born October 14, 1890, was nearly twenty, but claimed to be a year younger. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, did not accept candidates over age eighteen. Eisenhower secured Bristow’s recommendation to the Army school at West Point.

    Kansas State Historical Society

  • Army Recruiting poster, “Nurses Are Needed Now!... ” by Stu L. Savage, 1944

    During World War II, women served in many noncombatant roles, including as crucial medical support personnel. More than 59,000 women served in the Army Nurse Corps, often close to the front lines of battle.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • President William McKinley’s nomination of Sanford B. Dole to be Governor of the Territory of Hawaii, May 4, 1900

    Under the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900, which created the government of the Territory of Hawaii, Hawaiians did not elect their governor. Instead, the U.S. President appointed governors and the Senate confirmed them. On May 4, 1900, President William McKinley nominated Sanford B. Dole as the first governor of the Territory of Hawaii.

     

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

  • Report of Secretary of State on American captives at Algiers, December 28, 1790

    Thomas Jefferson’s report on the status of the negotiations with Algiers included this list of Dolphin and Mary crew members with ransom fees indicated. Jefferson was very familiar with the hostages’ plight—as the Secretary of State, and previously as Minister to France under the Articles of Confederation, Jefferson advised Congress on how to secure peace with Algiers.

     

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

  • Photograph, U.S.S. Monitor, by James F. Gibson, July 9,1862

    The Monitor’s iron-covered gun turret, which rotated by steam power for a wide firing range, was its most distinctive feature. After the battle with the Merrimac, the Monitor was engaged in the Union’s Peninsular Campaign on the James River in Virginia. Heading south in December 1862, the Monitor sank in a storm off CapeHatteras.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Abraham Lincoln, oil on canvas, by Ned Bittenger, 2005

    Abraham Lincoln served as Representative from Illinois in the 30th Congress (1847-1849). Like others in the Whig party, he questioned President Polk’s motives in promoting war with Mexico.

    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

    President Abraham Lincoln's handwritten draft of his Special Message to Congress, July 4, 1861

    John Merryman, a Confederate sympathizer arrested in Maryland, challenged President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, presiding over a circuit court, ordered Merryman’s release and stated that only Congress, not the president, could take such an action. Lincoln’s message to Congress defended his decision and requested congressional authorization and funding.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    I decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension…of the writ of habeas corpus, which I authorized to be made. Now it is insisted that Congress, and not the executive, is vested with this power—But the Constitution itself, is silent as to which, or who, is to exercise the power…

     

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Rolls of missing soldiers accompanying the Memorial of Clara Barton, July 1865, no. 1

    To support her appeal to Congress, Clara Barton attached this example of a roll of missing soldiers. Barton compiled such lists from names sent to her by soldiers’ families and friends. She distributed the rolls to military barracks, newspapers, and post offices nationwide, asking anyone with knowledge of the lost men to contact her.

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

    President Abraham Lincoln's special message to Congress, July 4, 1861, printed draft with Lincoln's

    In his July 4, 1861, message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln defended his calling up the militia and suspending habeas corpus. Lincoln explained the urgent need of a military response to preserve the Union, and he requested additional troops and funds. Congress validated Lincoln’s actions by unanimously approving his request.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

     

    It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war-power, in defence of the government, forced upon him. He could but perform this duty, or surrender the existence of the government.

  • “The Civil War in America­—Naval engagement in Hampton Roads,” by Thomas Nast, The Illustrated London News, April 5, 1862

    The battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac demonstrated the superiority of ironclads over wooden vessels, inaugurating the age of armored warships.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from President Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the Peace Corps Bill, May 29, 1961

    President John F. Kennedy sent this letter to Senate President (Vice President) Lyndon B. Johnson describing the Peace Corps’ pilot program successes. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey introduced the bill authorizing the Peace Corps on June 1, 1961. President Kennedy signed that bill into law on September 22, 1961.

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

    Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the size of the Barbary Navy, ca. 1799–1800

    While Thomas Jefferson served as Minister to France (1784–1788) and Secretary of State (1789–1793), he advised Congress on securing peace with Algiers and urged using naval power to combat piracy rather than paying ransom or tribute. Jefferson later made these notes on Barbary State fleets while Vice President (1797–1801).

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • H.J. Res. 46, A joint resolution for annexing Texas to the United States, January 27, 1845

    After the Senate rejected the Texas annexation treaty, proponents of annexation decided to gain Texas by a joint resolution of Congress, which required only a majority vote in each house. Passed by the House (120–98) and Senate (27–25) in 1845, the resolution was later challenged but upheld by the Supreme Court.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Congress doth consent that the territory properly included within and rightfully belonging to the Republic of Texas may be erected into a new State, to be called the State of Texas

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

    President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” Speech, December 8, 1941

    The day following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. He described failed negotiations with the Japanese and the destruction of the attacks. He read from this copy of the speech, which includes his handwritten changes.

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

  • State of Connecticut Revolutionary War Pay Vouchers for Mjuba Freeman, June 1, 1782

    More than five thousand African Americans served in the Continental Army. Both free and enslaved blacks had fought in colonial militias prior to the Revolution, and African-American minutemen died in the battles at Lexington and Concord. This pay voucher attests to money owed and interest paid to a black soldier, Mjuba Freeman.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Into the Jaws of Death, photograph of D-Day, Normandy Landing, by Robert F. Sargent, June 6, 1944

    American troops wade ashore from a Coast Guard landing boat off the coast of France in a massive invasion that changed the course of the war.

    Records of the U.S. Coast Guard, National Archives and Records Administration

  • United Nations Poster, "Charter of the United Nations" 1945

    President Franklin Roosevelt was committed to U.S. participation in an international peace organization. To avoid challenges faced by President Wilson, President Roosevelt was careful to build bipartisan support for Senate approval by including influential Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg as a delegate to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco. The U.N. Charter was signed on June 26, 1945. A month later the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved it.

    Records of the Office of Government Reports, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Senator Joseph L. Bristow's nomination of Dwight D. Eisenhower to West Point, October 28, 1910

    With Senator Bristow’s backing, Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1911 after passing the admissions exam. Eisenhower went on to become a five-star general, one of the greatest military commanders of the twentieth century, and president of the United States.

    Records of the Adjutant General's Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Women's Army Corps pamphlet, The WAC, ca. 1944, collection of Edith G. Wells

    WACs served worldwide during World War II, including the European Theater. Two battalions sent to London assisted in preparations for D-Day and U.S. maneuvers in France. Sergeant Edith G. Wells enlisted in 1942, trained in London, and was among the first WACs in Normandy, France, after the 1944 D-Day landing.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    This is your story—a record of the vital services performed by the Women’s Army Corps in the European Theater.

    Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

    Petition from Captain Richard O'Bryen to Congress, April 28, 1791

    Richard O’Bryen, captain of the Dolphin, repeatedly petitioned Congress while languishing in captivity for eleven years. In this petition—sent six years after his capture—O’Bryen described the high prices other nations paid to free hostages and outlined means U.S. officials could pursue to win American sailors’ freedom. After his release O’Bryen served as U.S. Consul to Algiers.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Most Honoured Sirs we hope you will Consider what our Sufferings must have been in this Country Dureing that Trying Period of Nearly Six years Captivity

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

  • Sailors on the deck of the U.S.S. Monitor, by James F. Gibson, July 9, 1862

    The Monitor carried a crew of 63. Living conditions were difficult—there were no windows, few skylights, and the iron exterior magnified temperatures below deck.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    H.R. 591, A bill giving the President the right to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, December 8, 1862

    Controversy about President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus continued into the second year of the Civil War. Congress responded with this bill—signed into law on March 3, 1863—that supported the president and gave him authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus as necessary for public safety during the rebellion.

     

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

  • Handwritten railroad pass for Clara Barton and attendant signed by members of Congress, July 19, 1866

    Members of Congress who supported Clara Barton’s mission included Senators Henry Wilson and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, and others who signed this pass giving Barton free passage on trains. Though based in Washington, D.C., Barton frequently traveled to publicize her work, raise funds, or visit sites where Union soldiers died.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Sailors on the deck of the U.S.S. Monitor, by James F. Gibson, July 9, 1862.

    The Monitor carried a crew of 63. Living conditions were difficult—there were no windows, few skylights, and the iron exterior intensified temperatures below deck.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Peace Corps volunteer explaining inoculation of cows, East Pakistan, by Charles Harbutt/Magnum Photos, 1962

    Peace Corps volunteers serve the needs of host countries and communities. This volunteer (right) worked with farmers in East Pakistan to protect the health of their livestock.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Thomas Jefferson, First annual message to Congress, December 8, 1801

    In his 1801 annual message to Congress, delivered in writing, President Thomas Jefferson reported that Tripoli, a Barbary state, posed the greatest threat to peace. Jefferson presented evidence of the ongoing problem of piracy and explained that in response to Tripoli’s increasing demands and aggression, he had sent frigates into the Mediterranean to protect American trade.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The legislature will doubtless consider whether, by authorizing measures of offence… they will place our force on an equal footing with that of its adversaries.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • H.R. 145, A bill providing for the prosecution of the war between the United States and Mexico, May 1846

    Congress declared war against Mexico in 1846, claiming that a state of war existed “by the act of the Republic of Mexico.” That “act”—Mexican forces wounding U.S. soldiers in a skirmish—occurred after President James K. Polk sent troops into a disputed border area. This printed House bill shows revisions by the Senate before passage.

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

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower as a cadet, United States Military Academy, West Point

    Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915. Out of his extraordinary class of 164 cadets, more than a third achieved the rank of general.

    Courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library

  • Memorandum from Headquarters, U.S. Army, 20 July 1944, collection of Edith G. Wells

    As WACs provided battlefield support, the Army addressed issues concerning their situation. This memo, issued shortly after D-Day, warned enlisted WACs that if captured by the enemy they would not have officers’ privileges. In 1949, the Geneva Convention provided women prisoners with limited rights—such as separate beds and toilets—because of their gender.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Thorough training will be given in the rights and obligations of enlisted prisoners of war…which may be interpreted to safeguard to women such provisions as billeting and sanitary facilities separate from those afforded male prisoners…

    Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Wood engraving, interior of the Merrimac during combat with the Monitor, Le Monde Illustré, ca. 1862–1865

    The ironclad Merrimac (C.S.S. Virginia) had easily overcome wooden U.S. Navy ships, but the encounter with the Monitor was not so decisive. The Merrimac succeeded in hitting the Monitor’s pilothouse, blinding the commanding officer, but the Merrimac also suffered damage. As this French engraving attests, this first encounter of ironclads made news around the world.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863

    Abraham Lincoln challenged Steven Douglas for Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat in 1858 and gained national recognition through their debates. Lincoln lost the Senate race but won the presidency in 1860.

     

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Portrait of Clara Barton, ca. 1865

    After the Civil War, Clara Barton volunteered with the Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In 1881, she founded the American Red Cross.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Interior of the Merrimac during combat with the Monitor, Le Monde Illustré, ca. 1862–1865

    As this French engraving attests, the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac––the first encounter of ironclads––made news around the world.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • "Be about peace," December 1976

    The Peace Corps develops programs in partnership with other countries. Since the 1960s nearly 200,000 Americans have volunteered on Peace Corps projects related to agriculture, health, education, economic development, the environment and information technology in 139 countries around the world. Many members of Congress have been volunteers or officials with the Peace Corps.

    Records of the Peace Corps, National Archives and Records Administration

  • An Act for the Protection of Commerce of the U.S. in the Mediterranean, passed by the Senate February 1, 1802

    This 1802 act of Congress was a response to years of attacks on U.S. ships by Barbary pirates. Though not a declaration of war, it supported President Thomas Jefferson’s decision to send a U.S. Navy squadron to the Mediterranean and to use force to protect American citizens and property.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …It shall be lawful fully to equip, officer, man, and employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged required…for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof…

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

    WAC photographs, Planet News Ltd., collection of Edith G. Wells

    First image: “We, WACS of the 2nd World War learning to use our rifles in England before going to Normandy 1943”

    Second image: “Mess in the London Streets after bombing raid”

    Though they enlisted for noncombatant support, WACs experienced the dangers of war. WACs were trained in the defensive use of rifles and other wartime skills. During the 1944 German blitz of London, a bomb destroyed the WAC headquarters.

    Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

  • Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, by Mathew Brady, 1866

    As Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts was sympathetic to Clara Barton’s mission and garnered congressional support for her work.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, ca. 1960s

    Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota first proposed the idea of a peace corps in 1957 and continued to champion it when it was established in 1961.

    U. S. Senate Historical Office

  • Treaty of Ghent, 1814

    United States delegates who negotiated the Treaty of Ghent with Great Britain included five who served in Congress at some point in their careers: John Quincy Adams and Jonathan Russell of Massachusetts, Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and James A. Bayard of Delaware. The treaty initiated a lasting peace between the two countries.

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

  • Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the expediency of removing the Seat of Government, October 3, 1814

    A House of Representatives committee charged with determining whether the national capital should move from Washington, D.C., to another location concluded that a move would be “inexpedient.” A House vote on a motion to change the decisive word to “expedient” was split, 68–68, until the Speaker of the House cast his tie-breaking vote for the change.

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

  • Resolution of the City of Philadelphia offering accommodation... , September 26, 1814

    While some members of Congress from northern states were advocating relocation of the federal government, Philadelphia’s city government sent a resolution to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives offering “suitable places for their accommodation, as well as that of the other departments.”

    Records of the House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

  • A Bill for the temporary removal of the seat of government from Washington, October 13, 1814

    A bill introduced in the House of Representatives in mid-October 1814 proposed that all federal government offices move from Washington to another location within twenty days, but did not specify a place for the temporary seat of government. The House rejected the bill, 83–74. Congress passed a separate bill, which provided for the rebuilding of Washington.

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

  • Letter from Daniel Carroll of Duddington to the Speaker of the House offering the use of a new building for Congress, December 4, 1815

    After British soldiers burned the Capitol in August 1814, Congress met in cramped quarters in the only remaining government building, the post and patent office. Daniel Carroll, owner of a large Capitol Hill estate named Duddington, offered Congress a temporary brick Capitol, which he and other private citizens built at their own expense.

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

  • Brick Capitol (detail), photograph by Matthew Brady, 1865

    Congress met in the brick Capitol—on the site of the present-day Supreme Court—from December 1815 to March 1819, while the original Capitol was rebuilt. The brick building later served as a school and as a Civil War military prison.

    Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives and Records Administration

  • The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814 (detail), oil on canvas by Sir Amédée Forestier, 1914

    On December 24, 1814, after four months of negotiations in Ghent, Principality of the United Netherlands, delegates from Great Britain (left) and the United States (right) signed a treaty to end the War of 1812.

    Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sulgrave Institution of the U.S. and Great Britain

  • “Impressment of American Seamen” (detail), wood engraving after a drawing by Howard Pyle, Harper’s Monthly, April 1884

    Great Britain frequently captured English deserters on American vessels and forced them into service with the Royal Navy. This impressment was one motivation for Congress to declare war.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Henry Clay, oil on canvas by Charles Bird King, 1821

    Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky and other congressional War Hawks rallied under the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” to push for war against Great Britain.

    Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 81.9, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches
    Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

    President James Madison’s war message, June 1, 1812

    As Congress debated whether to declare war against Great Britain, President James Madison addressed a message to the Senate and House of Representatives detailing British offenses against the United States. He concluded that Great Britain was already in a state of war against the United States, but left Congress to determine the nation’s response.

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

  • Senate changes to the House Declaration of War, June 17, 1812

    On June 4, 1812, the House of Representatives voted 79–49 for a declaration of war against Great Britain. After making minor changes to the declaration, the Senate approved it by a vote of 19–13 on June 17. The bill gave the president “the whole land and naval force of the United States” to execute the war.

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

    Treaty of Wangxia (Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce between the United States and China), July 3, 1844

    On July 3, 1844, Commissioner Caleb Cushing and his Chinese counterpart, Qiying, signed the Treaty of Wangxia, adding their official seals. In exchange for U.S. assistance in suppressing the opium trade, China opened five ports to U.S. merchants, granted legal rights and protections to American citizens, established tariffs, and awarded the U.S. most-favored-nation status.

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

  • Message from President George Washington to United States Senate, August 21, 1789

    On August 21, 1789, the Senate received a message that President George Washington would visit for advice on a treaty with Southern Indians. The Senate decided to postpone consideration of the treaty rather than debate the issue in Washington’s presence. Thereafter, presidents forwarded treaties to the Senate until President Woodrow Wilson hand-delivered the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

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

  • President George Washington's nomination of John Jay as Envoy Extraordinary to his Britannic Majesty, April 16, 1794

    The U.S. Constitution empowers the Senate to give “Advice and Consent” to presidential appointments of ambassadors and other public officials. In 1794 the Senate approved President George Washington’s nomination of Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a new treaty with Britain. Jay, who favored a strong federal government, had helped negotiate the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

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

  • Green Island, Macao (Aomen), watercolor by George R. West, 1844

    Macao, a peninsula in southern China near Hong Kong, was settled by Portugal in the 1500s. For centuries, China restricted Western commerce to this area. Commissioner Caleb Cushing arrived in Macao in February 1844 to negotiate for American trade rights. The artist George R. West accompanied Cushing and painted many scenes of China.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Memorial from Chiefs of the Cherokee and other Warriors, signed in Chota on the Tennessee River, May 17, 1789

    Cherokee chiefs, warriors, and representatives met at Chota to sign a memorial to President George Washington and Congress, “the great council of the United States.” They described the terrible sufferings of their people from hunger and war and pledged friendship and alliance with the United States. Beside their names they inscribed their individual marks.

    "...to our great Joy the Great Spirit above has removed the Cloud & Permits the Sun to Shine again in friendship upon Each party. Tho’ the darkness have lasted so long that Our Country and towns have been Spoiled, our Selves become Naked, and Suffer much with Hunger."

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

    Letter from Senator Alexander Martin to Representative William Loughton Smith, June 27, 1795

    Senator Alexander Martin of North Carolina confided in a letter to Representative William Loughton Smith of South Carolina that the Senate was keeping the terms of the Jay Treaty confidential to prevent public reaction before it was ratified. This attempt at secrecy further inflamed public opinion against the treaty. 

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Temple where the Treaty was signed July the 3rd, 1844, in the Village of Wang Heia (Wangxia) in the Vacinity [sic] of Macao (Aomen), watercolor by George R. West, July 3, 1844

    George R. West accompanied Commissioner Caleb Cushing to China as the official artist of the diplomatic mission. West’s watercolor drawings documented the trip, including this Buddhist temple in Wangxia where Cushing and Qiying, the Chinese commissioner sent by the emperor, signed the historic treaty.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    James Madison's working copy of the Jay Treaty, November 19, 1794

    Representative James Madison of Virginia opposed the Jay Treaty. Although the treaty required concessions such as removing British troops from the northwest, it lacked strong protections for American shipping. It did not uphold American views of freedom of the seas or neutrality rights. In addition, it left issues such as U.S.-Canadian boundaries to be settled later.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Jos [sic] House on Canton River (Zhu Jiang), watercolor by George R. West, 1844

    George R. West accompanied Commissioner Caleb Cushing to China as the official artist of the diplomatic mission. West documented the historic trip with watercolor drawings such as this scene of a joss house, or small temple, on the Canton River near Macao (Aomen).

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate roll call on the Jay Treaty, June 24, 1795

    Despite private doubts and public opposition, President George Washington believed the Jay Treaty would avoid war with Great Britain, and he submitted it to the Senate for approval. The Senate’s anti-administration minority attempted to block ratification, but the Federalist majority prevailed and approved the treaty. The final vote met the minimum two-thirds requirement—20 votes for the treaty and 10 against it.

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

  • Street in Macao (Aomen), China, watercolor by George R. West, 1844

    Macao, a peninsula in southern China near Hong Kong, was settled by Portugal in the 1500s. For centuries, China restricted Western commerce to this area. Commissioner Caleb Cushing arrived in Macao in February 1844 to negotiate for American trade rights. The artist George R. West accompanied Cushing and painted many scenes of China.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate roll call vote on Treaty of Wangxia, January 16, 1845

    The Senate unanimously approved the Treaty of Wangxia for ratification in January 1845. It was the first Western trade treaty with China not preceded by a war—a diplomatic achievement that became a model for other treaties. In addition to stimulating U.S. commerce, it guaranteed that Americans in China would be subject to U.S., not local, laws.

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

  • Caleb Cushing, n.d.

    Representative Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts served four terms in Congress (1835–1843) and was an influential member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs before his commission to China.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress