Library of Congress Online Archives – Centuries of Primary & Secondary Source Legal Materials


Most of us are probably familiar with The Library of Congress THOMAS web site – a terrific resource where you can find a wealth of federal legislative information dating back to the 104th Congress. While THOMAS is a great place to find current legislative resources, the Library of Congress (LOC) also has some really interesting online collections consisting of primary and secondary source legal materials relating to the formation of the United States. As well, the LOC provides an entire century of US Congressional documents, statutes, journals and debates in their Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation collection, which covers Congress from 1774 – 1875. Below are some links to help get you started on an exploration of these incredible archives.

Creating the United States

This LOC exhibition and collection consists of the founding papers and documents of the United States. Browse through the various sections to see such things as a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence,  James Madison’s notes on “the great compromise”, or the letter notifying George Washington of his unanimous election to the be the first President of the United States. The Exhibit is broken up into three main sections: Creating the Declaration of Independence, Creating the United States Constitution, and Creating the Bill of Rights.

The Federalist Papers

The LOC also provides a full set of the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October, 1787 and May, 1788. Under the pen name “Publius,” the three argued for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation.

Primary Documents in American History

Covering 1763 – 1877, this collection provides links to materials digitized from the collections of the LOC’s American Memory Project. These include resources related to the US Constitution such as Eliot’s Debates, historical broadsides and other printed ephemera and documents from the US Congress and papers of various Presidents including Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

A Century of Law Making

Search and browse through a century of documents, statutes, journals and much more in this collection which brings together the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record (1873-75).  Check out this image which is the text of the proposed US Constitution.  From the 11th Congress, look at the American State Papers to read James Madison nomination of John Quincy Adams to be minister plenipotentiary of the United States to the court of St. Petersburg, or browse through the debates of the Compromise of 1850 in the Congressional Globe,  which contains the Congressional debates of the 23rd through 42nd Congresses (1833-73).

The above represents just a few examples of the materials in these extraordinary collections – we encourage you to spend some time looking through them yourself – you never know what you might find!


The Justia Portal Team

Photo credit: Eric Chan.