Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


The Silence of the Suffragettes: Women's Right to Vote in Congressional Publications

The English word "suffrage" is derived from the Latin "suffragium," meaning a "voting tablet"—by extension a "vote," and by further extension a "voice" or "say" in government. It probably comes as no surprise that in the publications of the U.S. Congress it took a long time for the voice of women to be heard and women's suffrage to become a significant issue.

In the publications that comprise the "American State Papers"—the public papers of the first 14 Congresses and a bit beyond—as well as in the Reports and Documents of the "U.S. Congressional Serial Set," there is much discussion of suffrage. However, this discussion is most often in reference to white and male suffrage.

Consider this text from Miscellaneous Publication 141 in the American State Papers on the political status of the city of Washington, in which women are placed between children and persons non compos mentis (that is, exhibiting mental unsoundness):

And be it enacted, That all the lands belonging to minors, persons absent out of the State, married women, and persons non compos mentis

The grounds for denying suffrage to women are, alas, a legacy of prejudice for which an appeal to the "natural order," precedence, practical considerations and even to the Almighty was in this case, as in many others, sought as a justification for something that reason itself could not justify. In Serial Set Report 546 on political conditions in Rhode Island in 1844, we read:

The Silence of the Suffragettes: Women's Right to Vote in Congressional Publications


Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Although John C. Frémont faded into relative obscurity in the 20th century, he was without question one of the best known public figures of his time. He may also be one of the few individuals not a president, cabinet member or longtime member of Congress whose career is so fully documented in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. More importantly, he may be the only 19th-century figure whose public career was launched and sustained by Serial Set publications.

Frémont was an explorer and cartographer, an author, a Civil War general and departmental commander, a wealthy entrepreneur and railroad speculator, not to mention a senator, presidential candidate and territorial governor. However, today his name is perhaps best known to Americans for the 2.1 million lights that are part of the sound and light show on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, the home of the much-broadcast World Series of Poker.

Frémont's military career began when a family friend obtained for him a commission from President Van Buren as a Second Lieutenant in the newly organized Corps of Topographical Engineers with an assignment to accompany the French émigré astronomer and cartographer Joseph N. Nicollet on an expedition to map the upper Mississippi drainage.

Conducting Biographical Research in Government Publications: John C. Frémont and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


"A Dastardly Outrage": Kate Brown and the Washington-Alexandria Railroad Case

As a Senate employee "in charge of the ladies' retiring room," Kate Brown worked hard, washing towels and laundering curtains. More than one senator commented on her "lady-like character" and described her as "an educated, intelligent, respectable, and to all appearance refined woman." Although not known as a rebel or a troublemaker, on a chilly afternoon in February 1868 Kate Brown rebelled and stirred up a legal storm that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

It was nearly 3:00 p.m. on February 8, 1868, when Kate Brown pulled out her return ticket and stepped aboard a train to take her from Alexandria, Virginia, where she had been visiting a sick relative, back home to Washington, D.C. With her foot still on the step, Brown was accosted by the rail line's private police officer, who called from the platform that she must take the other car. "This car will do," the 28 year-old Brown replied quietly and stepped inside the train. At that point, as Brown later told a Senate committee investigating the incident, "the policeman ran up and told me I could not ride in that car... he said that car was for ladies." Of course, Kate Brown was a lady, but she was also African American.

"A Dastardly Outrage": Kate Brown and the Washington-Alexandria Railroad Case


Chinese Exclusion Acts: A Brief History of United States Legislation Aimed at Chinese Immigrants

Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States in large numbers after the discovery of gold in California in 1849. Initially coming to work as miners, many took farming and manufacturing jobs when the Gold Rush died down.

Another surge of Chinese immigration took place in the 1860s, when construction of the Transcontinental Railroad demanded a large number of reliable workers. Because Chinese laborers were willing to work for lower wages, they were often preferred to other workers by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, particularly during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad's western section.

With the number of Chinese immigrants increasing, China and the United States signed a treaty on July 28, 1868 to supplement the 1858 Treaty of Tianjing. The new treaty, popularly known as the Burlingame-Seward Treaty, established several principles that aimed to ease immigration restrictions and limit American interference in China's internal affairs. The treaty stated:

The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects respectively from the one country to the other, for purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents….

Chinese subjects visiting or residing in the United States shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities and exemptions in respect to travel or residence as may there be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation….

Chinese subjects shall enjoy all the privileges of the public educational institutions under the control of the government of the United States, which are enjoyed in the respective countries by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation. 1

Chinese Exclusion Acts: A Brief History of United States Legislation Aimed at Chinese Immigrants


Commodore Vanderbilt: Patriot or War Profiteer?

When I set out to write a biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a man known by the informal title of "Commodore," I faced one mystery after another. Even though he was one of the richest and most powerful businessmen in American history, he conducted most of his operations in secret. He left no diary, no collection of papers, and carried out many transactions orally, without committing them to paper. But perhaps no period of his life was more bewildering than the Civil War.

Congress bequeathed a gold medal upon the Commodore for donating his largest steamship (the Vanderbilt) to the Union navy—but he did so only after leasing it to the War Department for many weeks, until the bill reached $300,000, nearly a third of what it cost to build. He refused to take any compensation when he organized a massive flotilla to transport an expedition to New Orleans led by General Nathaniel Banks—yet the press was scandalized by stories of decrepit, unseaworthy vessels that he hired for the fleet. It was said that Vanderbilt used an agent who extracted outrageous commissions from shipowners, suggesting the Commodore had received some of the gains as well.

Was Vanderbilt a noble patriot, or a war profiteer? Most histories of the period that mention him list him as an example of the latter, alongside men who sold the government rotten shoes and shoddy uniforms that fell apart in the first rain. Yet Vanderbilt named two of his sons after national heroes (William Henry Harrison and George Washington), and seems to have taken great pride in his country.

Commodore Vanderbilt: Patriot or War Profiteer?


Planning a Government Documents Instruction Program: A Strategic Approach to Outreach

Everyone who has worked closely with government information knows that fascinating details hide behind such dry titles as the "Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology" and "U.S. Congressional Serial Set." To uncover the valuable information in materials published by the U.S. government, including congressional reports and hearings, most users require orientation and even some civic education. The importance of understanding the purpose and significance of most government documents is equally true for information buried on CD-ROMs or in online databases.

Many government information specialists turn their knowledge into a passion for outreach, promoting the treasures in their realm to library users who may not know that government information is exactly what they seek. In academic libraries, instruction is one way to promote government information to students and researchers who need it. However, in an organizationally complex university setting, it can be particularly difficult to identify which classrooms or groups to speak to. While responding to instruction requests from individual instructors benefits a specific group of students, relying exclusively on this approach assumes that everyone who needs instruction knows that you are available and willing to help. A proactive approach to instruction can dramatically increase the number of students and faculty who use and value government information.

A good first step toward developing an effective instruction program is to become familiar with the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. 1 These standards not only provide a common vocabulary with other instruction librarians, but also help clarify what students can learn from government information about being better researchers.

Planning a Government Documents Instruction Program: A Strategic Approach to Outreach


Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Not only are American government documents not just about American government, they aren't just about America. Asked to highlight the U.S. Congressional Serial Set's richness for exploring the wider 19th-century world, I immediately thought of the fictional Phileas Fogg and his 1872 bet that he could travel around the globe in 80 days. I challenged myself to find remarkable and relatively contemporaneous documents on every country that Fogg visits in "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1873), Jules Verne's classic adventure novel.

Phileas Fogg, accompanied by his man servant Passepartout, departs London on October 2, 1872. Passing through France and Italy by train with little comment, Fogg leaves for the East on the steamer Mongolia from Brindisi on October 9. The steamer crosses the Mediterranean, transits the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and deposits Fogg in Bombay on October 20. He travels across India by train and elephant. On October 24 he and his rescued Indian noblewoman depart Calcutta on the steamer Rangoon, which takes them to Hong Kong after a brief stop in Singapore. The party is briefly separated at Hong Kong. Fogg travels on to Shanghai by a rented vessel, reuniting with Passepartout in Yokohama.

From Yokohama Fogg departs for San Francisco on the Pacific Steamship Mail Co. on November 14. In New York Fogg just misses his December 11 connection with a Cunard liner and rents another vessel to carry him across the Atlantic to Ireland. From there, following some final misadventures, Fogg travels back to London. With this quick summary of Fogg's itinerary, we can now try to mimic his course with Serial Set publications.

Around the World in 80 Documents: 19th-Century Publications on Europe, Africa and Asia in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View

Representative Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 1812-1883, and U.S. Senate Librarian, Alonzo Webster Church, 1829-1909, though on different sides of the aisle and separated by almost two decades in age, had at least one thing in common besides being Southerners, Georgia natives, and graduates of the University of Georgia: a deeply held concern about the indexing of and access to U.S. Congressional publications.

In the Jan. 19, 1880 report "Indexing the Publications of Congress" (H.Rpt. 128, 46th Congress, 2nd Session), Stephens noted that his recent reports from the Committee on Rules have "had the effect of calling the attention of members to the real nature and importance of index-making…and developed an appreciation of the fact that the want of a proper system of indexing has detracted very greatly from their value and use." He then went on to say "the application of a uniform system of indexing, based on well-established principles, would enable the compilation of general indexes at stated periods hereafter a matter of very little trouble and expense."

Stephens also focused on the practices, current at that time, of indexing the Congressional Record, which were making access to the Record far from easy. He quoted one index entry which begins "That the rules of the Last House of Representatives shall be the rules of this House until otherwise ordered, with the following amendments thereto; namely: Rule 76 shall be amended so as to read as follows…" and then the entry goes on for another 660 words making a total entry of 690 words. From that exaggerated case Stephens drew the conclusion: "Measured by the standard of Sir Henry Thring, that 'an index is perfect in proportion as it is concise in expression,' we doubt if a more extreme example of what an index entry should not be can be found in the history of index-making since the art of printing has been practiced."

Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View


Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre

Recent access to new scholarly databases has enabled me to pursue an unfinished story I had encountered during my research about the Colfax Massacre of 1873, a racial conflict arising from the Reconstruction-era politics of Louisiana. In particular, I hoped to learn more about a curious document I had turned up in the course of my inquiry into the life of William Smith Calhoun, a Radical Republican scalawag and planter whose tremendous family estate included the town of Colfax, where Republican blacks met disaster in battle with a White League or Ku Klux armed force.

Calhoun had played a key role in an 1869 challenge to the outcome of the previous national election, in which one of his neighbors, Michael Ryan, had been seated with the Democratic Party minority in the House of Representatives. I learned as much the old-fashioned way, at the New York Public Library, in a bound volume of nineteenth-century pamphlets that included a privately printed compendium of Michael Ryan's brief to the House of Representatives. Reading cautiously but still stirring a cloud of debris from its pages, I gleaned mostly biographical details and marveled that the otherwise obscure Calhoun had offered linchpin testimony that resulted in Ryan's removal as the Representative of the 4th Louisiana Congressional District.

Following the Trail of a Deep South Massacre


Exploring the Explorers: Government-Sponsored Expeditions in the 19th Century

The nineteenth century was the last great age of exploration on the earth. …American exploration, in particular federally sponsored exploration, began in the nineteenth century at an advanced level as the beneficiary of the developments in the arts and science of exploration of proceeding centuries, but developed some special characteristics of its own.
– Spy Out the Land [1]

In the 19th-century, the United States government spearheaded hundreds of exploring expeditions throughout America and around the world. To record the many works published about those trips, Adelaide R. Hasse—the first Superintendent of Documents librarian—compiled Reports of Explorations Printed in the Documents of the United States Government [2] in 1899. This bibliography is not only a "who's who" of 19th-century explorers but also a travel guide to the many places the government sent these expeditions, including the Amazon, the Arctic, Japan, Mexico, Mississippi River, Yellowstone and many other locations. This article will provide tips on finding a few of the fascinating works cited by Hasse and published in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980 and other Archive of Americana collections.

Adelaide R. Hasse (1868-1953) Superintendent of Documents Librarian (1895-1897)Adelaide R. Hasse (1868-1953) Superintendent of Documents Librarian (1895-1897)

Exploring the Explorers: Government-Sponsored Expeditions in the 19th Century


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