A More Perfect Union: Instruments of Change

In Congress, ideas and issues from across the nation are discussed, debated, and acted upon. Petitions, investigations, and Acts of Congress are all instruments of change that can affect the lives of citizens and the direction of the nation.

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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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union... do ordain and establish this Constitution....

E pluribus unum—Out of many, one—expresses the ideal of our Union: many states, one nation. Representing all of the states, Congress has promoted national unity through a process of inquiry, debate, compromise, and consensus. These documents record the continuing legislative efforts to meet the broadest needs of the people.

Pledging Allegiance

Citizens of the United States, diverse in their backgrounds and beliefs, are united by adherence to principles of liberty and justice symbolized by the American flag. A pledge written for an 1892 Columbus Day celebration became the official affirmation of national loyalty in 1942 when Congress included it in flag legislation. In 1943 the Supreme Court upheld a citizen’s right to follow individual conscience and beliefs in choosing whether or not to recite this pledge.

Bleeding Kansas

The issue of slavery became more volatile as the nation expanded to western territories during the 19th century. In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, repealing the Missouri Compromise, which had set a boundary between free and slave territories. The act supported popular sovereignty by allowing residents of new territories to decide whether to permit or prohibit slavery. The result was bloody conflict as pro- and anti-slavery forces flocked to Kansas to determine its future.

Enlarging the National Community

The First Congress (1789-1791) established federal procedures and criteria for foreign-born individuals to become U.S. citizens. These criteria permitted free whites of good character with two years’ residence in the United States to become naturalized citizens. Congress also allowed citizens’ children born outside the U.S. to be considered natural-born citizens. Over the following centuries, Congress readdressed the issue in a series of naturalization acts that sometimes excluded, but increasingly included, people of diverse races and origins.

Unity from Past Exhibitions
  • John Binns’ Engraving of the Declaration of Independence, 1819

    Few copies of the Declaration of Independence were circulated in 1776, but numerous ceremonial copies were published in the surge of patriotism following the War of 1812. This one exactly copied the signers’ signatures, but added the seals of the 13 original states and portraits of George Washington, John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson.

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

  • Mary Katharine Goddard’s Broadside of the Declaration of Independence, 1777

    Congress authorized Goddard to produce this copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was the first typeset copy to include the names of signers who attested, “. . . for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.”

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Petition of 106 members of Union Fire Company No. 1, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, February 6, 1861

    One of the nation’s oldest volunteer fire companies petitioned Congress with this watercolor of the American flag. Likening a civil war to devouring flames, the firefighters implored Congress to pass the Crittenden Compromise or similar legislation to preserve national peace and unity. In the petition they declared their devotion to the welfare of their fellow citizens.

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

     

  • Conference committee report on the Missouri Compromise, March 1, 1820

    When Missouri, which allowed slavery, applied for statehood in 1819, Congress struggled for a way to maintain the Union despite strongly opposing pro-slavery and antislavery constituencies.  After heated debate, Congress adopted the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Maine as a free state to balance Missouri and prohibited slavery north of the 36º 30´ latitude in the Louisiana Territory.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    And be it further enacted, That in all that Territory…which lies north of thirty six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude…Slavery and involuntary Servitude otherwise than in punishment of Crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited.

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

  • The Hartford Convention or Leap No Leap, etching by William Charles, ca. 1814

    A satirical print depicted Federalist Timothy Pickering, a radical secessionist, praying for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to “make the leap” of leaving the Union, while King George III of Great Britain tempted them with trade benefits.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    [Rhode Island]
    Poor little I, what will become of me? this leap is of a frightful size—I sink into despondency—

    [Connecticut]
    I cannot Brother Mass; let me pray and fast some time longer—little Rhode will jump the first.

    [Massachusetts]
    What a dangerous leap!!! but we must jump Brother Conn—

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Bombardment of Fort McHenry, oil on canvas by Alfred Jacob Miller, ca. 1828-1830

    After witnessing the British bombard Fort McHenry, Baltimore, through the night of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem of joy that the American flag was still flying at dawn. Set to a British melody, Key’s poem “The Star Spangled Banner” became a popular patriotic song.

     

    Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, 1901.2.3

  • The Fugitive Slave Law, n.d. ca. 1850

    Under the Fugitive Slave Law, Congress supported slaveholders’ rights to recover escaped slaves. The law authorized federal commissioners to arrest and return fugitives solely on the basis of a claim by the purported owner, without testimony or trial. The law fined or imprisoned citizens who aided runaways, and it did not protect free blacks wrongly arrested.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • John C. Calhoun’s Speech to the Senate, March 4, 1850

    Too ill to stand, Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina asked Senator James Murray Mason of Virginia to read his speech. In it, Calhoun accused the North of endangering the Union by forcing the Southern states to abandon their rights in new territories. Calhoun died before the compromise was settled.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The prospect then is, that the two sections in the Senate, should the efforts of some made to exclude the South from the newly conquered territories succeed, will stand before the end of the decade 20 Northern States to 12 Southern . . . [upsetting] the equilibrium which existed when the government commenced

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Practical Illustration of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1851

    The new Fugitive Slave Law, far stricter than previous legislation, pleased Southern slaveholders and outraged Northern abolitionists. It authorized federal agents to arrest and return anyone identified as an escaped slave. In this illustration, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison defends an African American woman against a slave catcher and Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, who championed the law.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • James Madison’s “Vices of the Political System of the U.S.,” April 1787

    While a delegate to the Confederation Congress, Madison pointed out the drawbacks of the government created under the Articles of Confederation, laid out the deficiencies of state governments and emphasized the need for a stronger federal government. Madison listed the problems, or vices, on the left and his observations on the right. The observations became part of the Virginia Plan.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Drafts and Notes on the Virginia Constitution, June 1776

    In drafting the Virginia Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and James Madison expressed key ideas about the balance of power and the structure of government that were later incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. Among them were a bicameral legislature and three branches of government, each with their own functions.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • H.R. 123, Third Reconstruction Act, July 8, 1867

    The Third Reconstruction Act clarified the language and “true intent” of the First and Second Reconstruction Acts. These acts divided the former Confederate states into five military districts, required new state constitutions that recognized voting rights of black men, and demanded state ratification of the 14th Amendment—which guaranteed civil rights for all citizens—before readmission to the Union.

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

    William F. Paterson's draft resolutions from the Constitutional Convention, June 13-15, 1787

    William F. Paterson of New Jersey presented to the Constitutional Convention a list of resolutions favoring the smaller states. The plan called for congressional representation allotted equally among the states, irrespective of their populations. He also favored three branches of government–legislative, executive, and judicial–and proposed that all legislative authority rest with Congress.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Resolved, That every State In the Union as a State possesses an equal Right to, & Share of, Sovereignty, Freedom, and Independence.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Articles of Confederation with handwritten annotations, April-November 1777

    The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union on November 15, 1777, and it was approved by all thirteen states by 1781. Under the Articles, states delegated minimal authority to a national assembly to conduct war and diplomacy, but reserved most other powers, including raising revenue, to themselves.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship….binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them…on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.

    Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Conference Committee Report on the Missouri Compromise, March 1, 1820

    When Missouri, which allowed slavery, applied for statehood in 1819 Congress struggled for a way to maintain the Union despite strongly opposing pro- and anti-slavery constituencies. After heated debate, Congress adopted the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Maine as a free state to balance Missouri and prohibited slavery north of the 36º 30´ latitude in the Louisiana Territory.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …in all that Territory…under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude…Slavery and involuntary Servitude…shall be and is hereby forever prohibited.

    Records of Joint Committees of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

    Thomas Jefferson’s notes on drafting the Declaration of Independence. June 1776

    Jefferson labored more than two weeks drafting the Declaration of Independence to justify and explain to the world America’s reasons for renouncing British rule. In these notes sent to James Madison, Jefferson uses language that appeared in the final version of the Declaration, enumerating the abuses of liberty by King George III that provoked the separation.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Proclamation to the residents of the Province of Louisiana, December 20, 1803

    In this proclamation William Claiborne, Territorial Governor of Mississippi, announced that “Louisiana” was now part of the Union and promised that the U.S. government would protect residents’ rights to liberty, property, and religion. His proclamation was issued in English, French, and Spanish. Claiborne later became the first governor of the Orleans Territory.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …all the military, civil and judicial powers…shall be exercised…for the maintaining and protecting the inhabitants of Louisiana, in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and religion…

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

  • HR 163, A bill for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration, March 6, 1792

    Using the 1790 census, Congress reapportioned seats in the House of Representatives. This bill lists the new number of representatives for each state. States with large (but non-voting) enslaved populations were awarded greater representation in Congress than states with equal numbers of white male voters and fewer enslaved persons.

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    Within the state of Pennsylvania, 13…

    Within the state of Virginia, 19

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

  • Broadside, “The Star Spangled Banner,” Andrew's Printer, New York, c. 1861-65

    “The Star Spangled Banner” steadily gained favor as a patriotic song. It was one of the most popular Union songs of the Civil War, and in the 1890s the U.S. Navy and Army adopted it for flag ceremonies. Representative J. Charles Linthicum of Baltimore, Maryland, proposed the bill passed by Congress in 1931 making it the national anthem.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • S.J. Res. 50, proposing certain amendments to the U.S. Constitution (Crittenden's Compromise), December 18, 1860

    Senator John Crittenden, from the border state of Kentucky, sought to find some acceptable compromise on the slavery issue. He proposed constitutional limits on Congress’s ability to abolish slavery, and extension of the 36’30”-parallel boundary between free and slave territories as set by the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Congress did not pass his plan.

     Click here to view an excerpt.

    …those dissensions which now threaten the very existence of this Union, should be permanently quieted and settled by Constitutional provisions which shall do equal justice to all sections… .

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

  • State Census Schedule, Pennsylvania, 1790 and 1800

    State marshals compiled census figures, posted them publicly, and submitted them to the president of the United States. Pennsylvania’s census report for 1790 and 1800 enumerated free white males over and under sixteen years of age, free white females, other free persons, and slaves.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Portrait of Jefferson Davis, McClee's Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives, and Delegates of the 35th Congress, 1859

    Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who had served as a Representative and as the U.S. Secretary of War (1853-1857), was one of five senators to withdraw from Congress on January 21, 1861. In a moving farewell speech, he said he carried “no hostile remembrance.” On February 9, Jefferson was elected provisional President of the Confederacy.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Wilmot Proviso (Amendment to HR 534, 29th Congress), August 8, 1846

    Representative David Wilmot proposed the controversial amendment to the appropriations bill ending the Mexican War. Known as the Wilmot Proviso, his amendment would have prohibited slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico. Passed by the House, but not by the Senate—where southern opposition was stronger—the proviso intensified the sectionalism that precipitated the Civil War.

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

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Provided that, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico, by the United States,… neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory

  • General Map of the United States, by Henry D. Rogers, 1857

    A map published nearly forty years after the Missouri Compromise distinguished free states (dark green) and free territories (light green) from slave-importing (light red) and slave-exporting (dark red) states.

     

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • The Proceedings of a Convention of Delegates…at Hartford, in the State of Connecticut, December 15, 1814, by the Hartford Convention, 1815

    Though the Federalist Party stood for a strong national government, the loss of commerce and high costs of the War of 1812 led many Federalists in New England to call for greater state sovereignty. Discussing their grievances at the Hartford Convention, 26 delegates from five states rejected secession but drafted seven constitutional amendments to strengthen states’ rights.

    General Collections, Library of Congress

  • Telegram from the mayor of Baltimore in favor of officially recognizing the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem, January 1, 1930

    In 1930, when the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill introduced by Representative John Linthicum of Maryland to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem, the mayor of Baltimore telegraphed his support. Letters and telegrams from 25 governors and petitions signed by more than five million citizens urged Congress to approve the bill.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The anthem written under such stirring circumstances as the bombardment of Fort McHenry has been the inspiration of our fighting forces and civilians ever since its inception.

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

  • S. 226, A bill to suppress the slave trade in the District of Columbia, September 3, 1850

    This bill, passed by Congress on September 20, 1850, ended slave trading in Washington, D.C., a notorious slave market. It outlawed the transport of persons into the District for sale and liberated enslaved individuals brought into the city for that purpose. Slavery in the District continued, however, until Congress passed the D.C. Emancipation Act in 1862.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    It shall not be lawful to bring into the District of Columbia any slave whatever, for the purpose of being sold.

    Records of the United States Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

  • Daniel Webster’s Notes for the “Seventh of March” Speech, 1850

    In one of the most controversial speeches ever delivered in Congress, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts risked his reputation and career by urging compromise on issues related to slavery in order to preserve the Union. His eloquent plea was persuasive in effecting passage of the compromise measures, including the Fugitive Slave Law, but it angered his antislavery constituents.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    I speak, today, for the “Union” Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Petition from Dover, New Hampshire, asking for the abolition of slavery and slave traffic in the District of Columbia, February 14, 1850

    These women of Dover were among the many citizens who petitioned Congress to abolish slavery and slave trading in the District of Columbia—a federal area under congressional control—and to prohibit interstate commerce in slaves, over which Congress had constitutional authority. The Compromise of 1850 ended the slave trade—but not slavery––in Washington, D.C.

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

    Virginia Plan, as Amended, June 13, 1787

    The Virginia Plan was so named because it was written primarily by James Madison and introduced to the Constitutional Convention by Edmund Randolph, both Virginians. The resolution provided for three branches of a national government and laid the foundation for what would become the United States Constitution.

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

  • Printed Draft of the U.S. Constitution by the Committee on Revision of Style and Arrangement, September 13, 1787

    The 1787 convention printed only two drafts of the Constitution for discussion. This second draft replaced a list of states with the phrase “We the People of the United States,” emphasizing that the national government represented the people rather than a coalition of states. This rare copy belonged to New Jersey delegate David Brearley.

    Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, National Archives and Records Administration

    President Andrew Johnson’s Veto of the Third Reconstruction Act, July 19, 1867

    President Andrew Johnson took a lenient approach to restoring the rebel states to the Union. Radical Republicans in Congress did not believe Johnson’s plans adequately protected the rights of freedmen and implemented their own Reconstruction measures. Johnson stubbornly resisted all congressional proposals and vetoed every Reconstruction bill Congress passed.

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

    William F. Paterson's notes on debates in the Federal Convention (regarding smaller and larger states), ca. June 1787

    William Paterson's notes on the Constitutional Convention record remarks of other delegates about the imbalance of power in a union of large and small states. Patterson noted that James Madison of Virginia mentioned the interests of the smaller states and Pennsylvania's Gouverneur Morris believed the larger states would overpower the smaller ones.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The strongest Party will make the weaker Traitors and hang them

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    James Madison, “Ancient & Modern Confederacies” (Notes on Government), May 1787

    To prepare for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison studied the strengths and weaknesses of ancient and contemporary confederations. Surveying the political systems of ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Swiss Confederation, and the Netherlands, Madison sought models to improve upon the Articles of Confederation. His research contributed significantly to a stronger Union under the U.S. Constitution.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820

    In this foreboding letter, former president Thomas Jefferson warned Representative John Holmes that the alarming issue of slavery could not be staved off forever. In words foreshadowing the Civil War, Jefferson predicted the issue once loosed would ignite the nation in violence and destruction.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

    Letter from John Sibley to unnamed recipient, August 15, 1804

    John Sibley, a physician and newspaperman, moved to Louisiana in 1802. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on territorial issues and served as an Army contractor and Indian agent. Sibley recorded the concerns expressed by French-speaking people upon learning that Louisiana was to become part of the United States.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    "My room has been crowded almost every day since I received governor Claiborne’s letter; some having heard the report, and wishing to learn the truth of it; others to obtain some knowledge of the American government, under which they expect soon to pass."

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Kentucky census, 1st census 1790, Leaf inserted in census report, printed in Philadelphia, 1791

    State marshals compiled results of the 1790 census, posted them in public places, and submitted them to the president of the United States. This page of the published report shows the figures for each demographic category in Kentucky counties and towns. In some counties, slaves outnumbered white adult males.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Sheet music, “The Star Spangled Banner National Song,” ca. 1861

    The melody of the “Star Spangled Banner” derives from an older British song, “Anacreon in Heaven.” The London composer John Stafford Smith created it around 1775 for a gentlemen’s musical club. The tune became widely known in the United States, and Francis Scott Key probably had it in mind when he wrote his poem.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Petition from the citizens of Philadelphia praying for Congress to stand firm on the "Union, the Constitution, and the Enforcement of Law," February 5, 1861

    This petition is one of several from Philadelphia that Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio presented to Congress in February 1861, as Congress debated the Crittenden Compromise before Abraham Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration. The signers, though of differing political parties, all opposed Crittenden’s proposals. They urged Congress not to alter the Constitution.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    We, the undersigned, Citizens of Philadelphia, without distinction of Party, do earnestly request you to stand firm for the Union, the Constitution as it is, and the enforcement of all the Laws.

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

  • Portrait of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, McClee’s Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives, and Delegates of the 35th Congress, 1859

    Representative Jabez L.M. Curry of Alabama served in the 36th and 37th U.S. Congresses (1857–1861) before withdrawing to join the Confederacy. During the Civil War he served in the Confederate Congress and as a Confederate Calvary officer. After the war Curry had a career as an educator and served as U.S. Envoy and later Ambassador Extraordinary to Spain.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Map of the United States including Western Territories, December, 1848

    This map, which accompanied President James K. Polk’s last annual message to Congress in December 1848, shows the more than half-million square miles the United States gained from the Mexican War. The Wilmot Proviso would have prohibited slavery in the territories of California, New Mexico, and Texas—an area that now encompasses all or parts of eight states.

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

  • Resolution of the Legislature of Connecticut proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States, introduced February 28, 1815

    The Hartford Convention submitted to Congress resolutions for seven amendments to the Constitution. They proposed to diminish the influence of slaveholding states in the legislature, limit federal restrictions on foreign trade and shipping, and set stricter conditions for declaring war or holding national office. Both houses of Congress read the resolutions but took no other action on them.

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

  • H.R. 14, An Act to make The Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem of the United States of America, April 21, 1930

    In April 1930 the House of Representatives passed the bill introduced by Representative John Linthicum of Maryland to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the nation’s anthem. Despite critics who disliked the melody or felt the law unnecessary, the Senate passed the bill the following year, and President Herbert Hoover signed it into law on March 2, 1931.

     

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

  • Where's My Thunder? lithograph by anonymous artist, 1850

    In a satirical print, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts “steals the thunder” from Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky by taking the Fugitive Slave Act from Clay’s pocket. Though Clay proposed the measures that formed the Compromise of 1850, it was Webster’s stirring defense of the compromise that moved Congress to action and lingered in the national memory.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Protest of certain Senators against the bill for the admission of California into the Union, August 14, 1850

    In 1849 California adopted a constitution banning slavery and applied for admission to the United States. Ten Southern senators protested, insisting that California’s statehood would violate the rights of slaveholding states to “equal enjoyment of the territory of the Union.” The senators predicted the Union’s dissolution.

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

  • Message from House of Representatives Overriding President Andrew Johnson’s Veto of the Third Reconstruction Act, July 19, 1867

    Congressional mistrust of President Johnson’s power and motives helped mobilize the votes needed to override his veto of the Third Reconstruction Act. In overriding the President, Congress asserted its authority to determine the process of reunification and to protect the rights of freedmen.

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

    Map of "Louisiana" by Samuel Lewis, from New and Elegant General Atlas… Philadelphia, 1804

    Samuel Lewis, a Philadelphia cartographer, created this 1804 map of the Louisiana Territory. Lewis had previously produced authoritative maps of the original thirteen states and the Northwest Territory. Later he incorporated information from the Lewis and Clark expedition into U.S. maps detailing previously uncharted areas of the West.

    Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

  • The Federalist. Vol. 1, 1788. First edition

    To win support for the new Constitution after the 1787 Convention, Alexander Hamilton orchestrated a series of newspaper essays. Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote them under a common pen name, “Publius.” In 1788, the 85 essays were republished in two volumes as The Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson acquired this volume once owned by Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth.

    Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

  • Stephen Douglas's amendment to S. 22, Senate version of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, February 15, 1854

    The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a major step leading to the Civil War. It overthrew the Missouri Compromise and gave the residents of new territories the power to decide whether to allow slavery. It more firmly wed slavery with states’ rights and created uncertainty about the extent of slavery in the western territories.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    …it being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it there from, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way…

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

  • “Star Spangled Banner,” Port Royal band book, 1864

    During the Civil War, Union bands played “The Star Spangled Banner” at patriotic events. The brass band of the Third New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, stationed at Port Royal Island, South Carolina, was one of the finest musical regiments of the Union Army. Band members played from sheet music handwritten for each instrumental part.

    Music Division, Library of Congress

  • H.J. Res. 80, proposing to amend the Constitution of the United States (Corwin Amendment), February 28, 1861

    In 1861 Ohio Representative Thomas Corwin proposed an amendment to prevent Congress from interfering with slavery in any state. It would have been the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution. Congress approved it, but eleven southern states seceded from the Union before it could be ratified. The actual Thirteenth Amendment—which prohibited slavery—was ratified in 1865.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

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

  • Senate resolution declaring the seats of seceding senators to be vacant, March 14, 1861

    After Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and other senators representing South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi announced their withdrawal, the Senate debated how to define their absence without officially acknowledging the act of secession. In March 1861 the Senate declared those seats vacant. Later, the Senate formally expelled other members who withdrew.

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

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    Whereas the seats . . . as members of the Senate have become vacant, therefore resolved that the Secretary be directed to omit their names respectively from the roll

  • “Hon. David Wilmot,” Harper’s Weekly, 1857

    David Wilmot represented Pennsylvania in the House (1845–1851) and later in the Senate (1861–1863). His proviso heightened sectionalism in Congress.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Hartford Convention Candidate, detail from a Democratic-Republican campaign handbill, 1816

    A campaign handbill supporting Democratic-Republican presidential candidate James Monroe depicted a Federalist candidate as a pro-British devil mounting the platform of the Hartford Convention.

     

    Florida Center for Instructional Technology Freedom

  • John Charles Linthicum, oil on canvas by Thomas Cromwell Corner, 1932

    Representative John Linthicum of Maryland was born near Baltimore. He served in Congress from 1911 to 1932, becoming chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1931.

     

    Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

    The Compromise of 1850 as Introduced by Senator Henry Clay, January 29, 1850

    To preserve the Union, Clay’s compromise proposed to bring California into the Union as a free state; allow the New Mexico Territory to decide the slavery issue for itself; and retain slavery in the District of Columbia but abolish its slave trade. It would also enact a stronger fugitive slave law (requiring free states to return escaped slaves to their owners), and settle the Texas boundary and debt issues. These provisions later passed as separate measures.

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

    Thomas Jefferson's notes on Indian tribes and populations in Louisiana, 1803

    Jefferson sought eye-witness information about the diverse peoples and regions of the newly acquired Louisiana territory. Here he made notes about the size and characteristics of Indian nations based on the journal of Jean Baptiste Truteau, who encountered many Native Americans in his exploration up the Missouri River in 1794.

    Click here to view an excerpt.

    The crow nation inhabit near the Rock mountain. The Sioux their neighbors & very powerful, abounding in firearms…

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Port Royal Band, 1862

    The Port Royal Band, like other Union and Confederate military bands of the Civil War, played music to entertain, inspire, lift morale, and provide solace.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Senate seating chart, Congressional Directory, 37th Congress, 3rd session, 1863

    During the Civil War, the Senate lost 25 members by withdrawal, expulsion, or failure to appear; the House lost more than 60. This 1863 Senate chart shows 49 seats occupied, including one by a Unionist replacement from Virginia. Over time, numbers varied with shifting allegiances of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri and the addition of two new states.

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

  • “The Star-Spangled Banner”, original manuscript by Francis Scott Key, ca. September 15, 1814

    After an anxious night during the British attack on Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key wrote a victory poem celebrating the Americans’ resistance. Originally titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” it was renamed when published as a song.

     

    Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, 54315

  • Senator John C. Calhoun’s Speech to the Senate, March 4, 1850

    Calhoun asked for a constitutional amendment to protect the South’s sovereignty and sought a way to keep the Southern states in the Union “consistent with their honor and safety.” Calhoun, who died within the month, was too ill to deliver the speech. It was read by Senator James M. Mason.

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Credentials of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry of Alabama, February 10, 1861

    The Confederate government, hastily organized, depended heavily on the experience of former members of the United States Congress. U.S. Representative Jabez L.M. Curry, who represented Alabama in the 35th and 36th Congresses (1857–1861) before withdrawing, used a prior certificate of election—with handwritten changes—as his credentials for the Congress of the Confederate States.

    Records of the War Department, National Archives and Records Administration

     

    this 10 day of Feby. in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and 62 and of the Independence of the United Confederate States of America, the Eighty First

    Daniel Webster’s Notes for a Speech to the Senate, March 7, 1850

    “In reply to Calhoun and speaking only from notes, Webster delivered one of the most famous addresses in the history of the Senate. Beginning with the immortal phrase, ‘Mr. President, I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. . . . I speak for the preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause,’ he argued that Southern secession would bring war. His statesmanly support of Clay’s compromise, however, alienated the large antislavery constituency in his home state.”

    Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

  • Henry Clay’s handwritten resolutions proposing the Compromise of 1850, January 29, 1850

    Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky prefaced his compromise resolutions by stating that they were intended as a peaceful and equitable settlement of all existing controversies among the states over the institution of slavery. Though Clay’s initial proposals and subsequent omnibus bill failed, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois moved Clay’s separate resolutions through both houses of Congress.

    "It being desirable, for the peace, concord and harmony of the Union of these States, to settle and adjust amicably all existing questions of controversy between them, arising out of the institution of slavery, upon a fair, equitable and just basis . . ."

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

    Senate report of the Committee of Thirteen offering Henry Clay's compromises on the extension of slavery, May 8, 1850

    The Senate appointed a select Committee of Thirteen, with Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky as chair, to report on Clay’s compromise resolutions. Clay’s committee report sought to balance the conflicting interests of Northern and Southern states regarding the volatile issue of slavery, which threatened to disrupt the Union.

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

    First Constitution of California, 1849

    In 1849 California adopted a constitution banning slavery and applied for admission to the United States. To balance California’s entry into the Union as a free state, the Compromise of 1850 included other measures—such as a stricter law on the return of fugitive slaves—that appeased the South.

    "...Neither Slavery nor involuntary Servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State."

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

    Henry Clay's resolutions proposing the Compromise of 1850, January 29, 1850

    The eight resolutions of the Compromise of 1850 addressed unresolved questions related to slavery, balancing the interests of the antislavery North with those of the slaveholding South. The first four resolutions covered issues in western territories. The others concerned slavery and the slave trade in Washington, D.C., the return of fugitive slaves, and rights of slaveholding states.

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

  • S. 225, Omnibus Bill and amendments relating to slavery in the territories, endorsement page, May 8–July 30, 1850

    On May 8, 1850, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky presented the select committee’s proposals, consolidating the resolutions into a single bill called an “omnibus”—the term for a large vehicle that carried diverse passengers. On this page, a clerk tracked the bill through numerous Senate debates, from its first reading in May to its collapse in July.

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

  • "Admission of California," Remarks of Mr. [Lewis] Cass of Michigan in reply to . . . Mr. Berrien, of Georgia, August 12, 1850

    In debating the admission of California to the Union as a free state, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan argued that Congress did not have unlimited constitutional power over the territories. He believed residents of California had the sovereign right to choose not to allow slavery within its borders.

    General Collections, Library of Congress

  • Senator Henry Clay’s Speech to the Senate on the Compromise Report, May 21, 1850

    In response to criticism of the committee’s omnibus bill of compromise measures, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky challenged his fellow senators to offer better proposals to reconcile the conflicting interests of the North and South. Failing to win enough support to overcome Southern opposition, the controversial omnibus bill did not pass.

    "[I]t is the duty of all who assail this compromise, to give us their own and a better project; to tell us how they would reconcile the interests of this country, and harmonize its distracted parts."

    General Collections, Library of Congress

  • Newly Constructed and Improved Map of the State of California, 1851

    Congress admitted California to the Union as a free state. This map, created shortly after statehood, reflects the history of the region and includes Spanish missions, gold mining camps, and American Indian settlements. For American Indians, conflicts with growing numbers of white settlers resulted in further restriction of their freedoms.

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