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Federal Legislative History: Cong. Debate

About Recorded Debate

The Congressional Record is the government's official record of U.S. Congressional debates and proceedings. It may contain arguments for or against a proposed bill or amendment or explanations of provisions that are vague or unclear. The debates printed in the Congressional Record are not necessarily a verbatim transcript. One useful feature is the History of Bills that lists legislative actions on bills reported in the Congressional Record.

The Congressional Record began publication in 1873. Three earlier publications, described on this page, document earlier Congressional debates.

The Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. provides a chart correlating the Congressional sessions from 1789 to current with the source of recorded debate.

Annals of Congress

1st Congress-18th Congress, First Session (March 4, 1789-May 27, 1824)

Sources include:

Register of Debates

18th Congress, Second Session-25th Congress, First Session (December 6, 1824-October 16, 1837)

Sources include:

Congressional Globe

23rd Congress-42nd Congress (December 2, 1833-March 3, 1873)

Sources include:

More About the Congressional Record

Congressional Record Editions

The Congressional Record is first published as a daily edition. Since 1967, the page numbers in this edition begin with a letter: S for Senate, H for House, E for Extension of Remarks, or D for Daily Digest. Indexes are published periodically throughout each session of Congress.

After each session of Congress, a permanent, bound edition is published as a single volume with multiple parts, including an index. (It takes several years to publish this edition.) This bound edition has the same volume number as the daily edition, but the page numbers are different. Unfortunately, the Congressional Record does not include a table that links the numbering system of the daily version and the permanent version.

Congressional Record Daily Edition Sources

Printed daily editions are shelved in the Government Documents collection in the Lower Level of the Law Library at GOVDOC X A for the 79th-112th Congress, vols. v.91-158.

The daily version is also available online from several sources:

Congressional Record Permanent Edition Sources

The permanent edition of the Congressional Record is available as follows:

Converting Daily Cite to Permanent Ed.

Bluebook rule 13.5 says to cite to the permanent edition and use the daily edition only when the permanent version has not yet been published. (Note: because of the difficulty correlating permanent edition pages to daily edition pages, it may be helpful to the reader to include a parallel citation.)

If the author has cited to the daily edition, you will need to do the following:

For cites since 1980, use the

For cites since 1873, search the

Use distinctive phrases from the daily edition full-text. See the Hein Congressional Documents Guide for more search tips. If this search is unsuccessful, you can also follow the Use Index approach described below.

If the date is more recent than HeinOnline coverage, then the bound volume has probably not been issued yet. It can take quite awhile for the bound version to be published, and the Hein coverage should be comprehensive. 

If there is no permanent edition, cite to the daily edition. If the permanent edition exists, continue, using the instructions below.

Use Index 

Once you have verified that there is a bound Congressional Record to find, there is no precise way to find the corresponding page number beyond the HeinOnline tool described above. Your best bet is probably using a combination of the index and date to find the right page.

The Law Library receives hard copy index volumes, available in the Government Documents collection at GovDoc X A. The volume number for the daily edition and the permanent edition are the same. The index provides access by topic or bill/resolution number.

Use the date to narrow the possible pages by checking page numbers and dates on the spines of the print volumes or the top of the microfiche. If you do not have a date, you may need to go back to the daily edition to obtain these; two good sources are

Once you have the date and some potential page numbers, search the permanent edition. (Permanent edition sources are noted above.)

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