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Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate at the National Archives (Record Group 46)


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Chapter 16. Records of the Committee on Public Works and Related Committees, 1820-1968


Records of the Committee on Public Works and Related Committees, 1820-1968 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States


Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Roads and Canals, 1820-1857

16.3. The Committee on Roads and Canals was established as a standing committee on February 8, 1820, following approval of a motion of William A. Trimble of Ohio. Rufus King of New York was appointed chairman. The committee was formed to consider a memorial of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company and resolutions of the Ohio Legislature regarding continuation of the national road west of Wheeling. At the beginning of the 19th Congress (1825-27), the Committee on Roads and Canals was missing from the list of standing committees, a victim of the developing battle between President John Quincy Adams and Vice President John C. Calhoun and allied Senators over the role of the Federal Government concerning internal improvements. Benjamin Ruggles of Ohio submitted a motion to add the committee; in response, John Holmes of Maine argued that a select committee was adequate unless the Senate agreed not only that the Government had the power to construct roads and canals, but also that it was expedient for the Government to do so. Ruggles' motion was defeated and on December 13, 1825, a select committee on roads and canals was established, and was thereafter established for both the 20th and 21st Congresses. Finally, the climate in the Senate with respect to internal improvements changed sufficiently to reestablish the Committee on Roads and Canals as a standing committee on December 7, 1830. By the mid-1850's, interest in canals had waned, and after the close of the 34th Congress (1855-57), legislative matters pertaining to roads and canals were referred to the Committee on Commerce.

16.4. The records of the committee and select committee (4 ft.) consist of committee reports and papers, 1825-47 (1 ft.), and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1820-57 (3 ft.). The committee reports and papers consist of original and/or printed reports on bills and petitions referred to the committee, and related correspondence, maps, and other records. Many of the petitions and memorials are also accompanied by supporting documentation.

Sketch from a Memorial from Hancock County, Illinois, praying for a sum of money to improve the  navigation of the Mississippi River at the Des Moines Rapids, ca.1835
Sketch from a Memorial from Hancock County, Illinois, praying for a sum of money to improve the navigation of the Mississippi River at the Des Moines Rapids, ca.1835 (HR24A-G19.5) from NARA's Online Catalog.  

16.5. Subjects of the records include construction and location of the national or Cumberland road (16A-G14, 19A-D15, 20A-G18, 21A-D16, 21A-G21, 23A-G17, 24A-G17, 27A-G21, 28A-D16, 28A-G20) and other roads (19A-G18, 22A-G18.1); construction of canals in Florida (17A-G13, 19A-D15, 19A-G18), Maine (19A-G18), and Alabama (25A-G20), and around rapids and falls such as the Falls of St. Mary's, also known as Sault Ste. Marie (28A-D16, 28A-G20, 29A-G22) and the Falls of the Ohio (22A-G18, 23A-D17, 27A-G21, 28A-G20.1, 29A-G22, 32A-H22, 34A-H22). The records for 1833-35 include a watercolor map of the Falls of the Ohio (23A-D17). The committee also considered other improvements to navigation (19A-D15, 19A-G18, 25A-D18), and construction of railroads, particularly a transcontinental railroad and accompanying telegraph line (29A-G22, 30A-H19, 31A-H21, 32A-H22, 33A-H22). There are many records relating to requests from canal and railroad companies for financial assistance in the form of stock subscriptions and land grants. Among these were the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company (17A-G13, 20A-G18), the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company (20A-G18, 22A-G18.2, 23A-G17, 25A-D18, 25A-G20, 26A-D17, 27A-G21), the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (20A-G18, 21A-D16, 22A-G18.2), the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company (20A-G18), and the Louisville and Portland Canal Company (21A-D16, 23A-G17, 24A-D17, 26A-D17). Claims of contractors involved in internal improvement projects are also documented in the records; a file on the petition of Mary Perrine, the widow of a contractor for the Louisville and Portland Canal, not only documents her claim but also contains a wealth of detail on the construction of the canal (33A-H22).

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.
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