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Government Information: Legislative--US Congress

This guide will help you find federal, state, and city of Boston information online and in print

A Century of Lawmaking


A Century of Lawmaking at the Library of Congress provides an excellent overview of the history of most Congressional publications. The site also includes searchable or browsable collections of selected Congressional Publications.

Legislative Sourcebook of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC also provides detailed information on Congressional publications, their contents, history, and use. 


Congressional Publications


Congressional bills are legislative proposals from the House of Representatives and Senate. According to, there are almost 11,000 bills and resolutions currently before the United States Congress. Of those, only about five percent will become law. Full text of bills can be found at: logo contains full text of bills and histories of legislation from 1973 to the present. It is an official website for federal legislative information, and also provides information on members of Congress and guides to the legislative process. provides full text of bills 1993 to the present. All documents in Govinfo are official and authenticated documents. Govinfo is the website of the US Government Publishing Office, a federal agency administered by Congress. logo is an open data site that helps ordinary citizens find and track bills currently before Congress,  and understand their representatives' legislative record.


Congressional Bills Project

The Congressional Bills Project is a relational database of over 400,000 public and private bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate since 1947. It contains information about bills but not the text of bills themselves. 

Congressional Bills in Other Formats:

Many bills are available at BPL in microformat. This material can be viewed, printed, or scanned on microprint readers in the Research Services Department.

The Legislative Process

How does a bill become law? 

Check out this guide from  How Our Laws are Made and Enactment of a Law, from the Library of Congress, are also useful in understanding the legislative process. has a nine-part video series describing the legislative process (about thirty minutes to see entire nine parts).

Public Laws, United States Code, Statutes at Large

Federal law is passed by the United States Congress or is created by federal case law. Federal law applies in all fifty states and covers areas such as civil rights and discrimination, veterans, social security and other benefits, some criminal law, bankruptcy and immigration. 

Just as Massachusetts state law is codified in the Massachusetts General Laws, federal law is codified in the United States Code. The USC is organized into fifty titles (broad topics). The USC is available online and is updated almost in real time. The USC is also issued in print volumes but is not current as changes and new laws are not added until annual supplements are published. 

The chronological arrangement of federal laws start in 1789 and have been continued thus far through 2007 in the United States Statutes at Large. Laws passed 1995 and after are also available in the Public and Private Laws section of the FDSys database. (Private laws affect an individual, family, or small group, and are enacted to assist citizens that have been injured by government programs or who are appealing an executive agency ruling such as deportation).

Law Library of Congress

The Law Library of Congress has a great guide to federal law, with links to the US Code, Statutes at Large, and Public Laws, as well as tools to help you search all three databases.

Federal laws are available from a variety of online sources.

The Statutes at Large is a chronological arrangement of federal laws, searchable on FDSys back to 1951. BPL maintains a print collection of the Statutes at Large from 1789 to the present. The Statutes at Large from 1789 through 1875 are also keyword searchable and browsable at A Century of Lawmaking.

The United States Code (USC)  is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the US. The USC is available at FDSys. There is also a very search-friendly interface for searching the Code at

The USC is available in print at the Central Library on the reference shelf in the Research Services Department, although the print version is not as current as the online version at FDSys.

Need to do a legislative history?  Georgetown University Law Library has a good guide to get you started.

Congressional Committee Hearings

A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be held to provide members of Congress with expert data or information on a particular topic or issue. Transcripts of most hearings are published and contain a wealth of information valuable in researching and writing academic papers. 

How to find hearings

  • includes some hearings from 1985 through 1996; it is more complete from 1997-present, although some hearings are never published or take several years to be published. 
  • BPL has scanned many hearings relating to some important historic events, such as migration and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the House Un-American Activities Committee,  the Watergate investigation, the Iran-Contra scandal, and many others. Many of these are available on the Congressional Committee Hearings and Reports libguide. Links to many other older historic digitized hearings are contained in the BPL catalog. The Warren Commission hearings on the assassination of President Kennedy, while not an official hearing of Congress, have also been scanned by BPL and are available here.  Remember to check HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive for hearings digitized by other institutions. 
  • The BPL catalog includes many hearings available in paper, microfiche, and online. If a hearing is available online a link is provided in the catalog record. Some hearings (particularly those published before 1975) are not yet listed in the BPL's catalog.  You can access digital versions of almost three thousand Congressional records directly through the BPL catalog; most of these hearings were published from the mid 1990s to the present. Please consult the Research Services staff if you need help finding a hearing. 




Congressional Record 

The Congressional Record is the official and substantially verbatim account of the remarks made by senators and representatives while they are on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It also includes all bills, resolutions, and motions proposed, as well as debates and roll call votes. It is published daily when Congress is in session. The Congressional Record began publication in 1873 and is still published today. It has changed titles a few times over the years. 

The Law Librarians' Society of Washington DC (LLSDC) has compiled a guide to the Congressional Record and its predecessor publications, which includes an explanation of the differences in content between the bound and daily editions of the Record. 


ProQuest Congressional Record 

If you have a BPL card or BPL e-card, you have access to the Proquest Congressional Record database, fully searchable with scanned images of the Record and its predecessor publications from 1789 through 1997.

If you are not a BPL cardholder, there is no online access to the Congressional Record between 1874 and 1993. To access content of the Congressional Record between 1874 and 1993, you can check for volumes digitized by various partners of HathiTrust, or use either microform or print versions at the BPL. 

1994 to the present, the Congressional Record can be also searched via both FDSys and, websites which are freely available to all. 

The Law Librarians Society of Washington, DC maintains a list of links to the daily and bound editions of the Congressional Record available online for free and from commercial sources. 

Predecessors to the Congressional Record:

  • 1789-1824  The Annals of Congress (also known as The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States) were not published contemporaneously, but were compiled between 1834 and 1856, using the best records available, primarily newspaper accounts. Speeches are paraphrased rather than presented verbatim, but the record of debate is nonetheless fuller than that available from the House and Senate Journals. It is available via BPL subscription database Sabin Americana, 1500-1926. To find these, do a title search "annals of Congress". 
  • 1833-1873 The Congressional Globe contains the congressional debates of the 23rd through 42nd Congresses (1833-73). Its forty-six volumes may be both browsed by volume and keyword searched in A Century of Lawmaking.


A Century of Lawmaking





House and Senate Reports and Documents, also known as the Serial Set

Since 1813, Congress has compiled its reports and documents in a bound series of volumes known as the US Serial Set or Congressional Serial Set. Now exceeding 15,000 volumes and containing hundreds of thousands of numbered congressional reports and documents, the Serial Set includes many executive branch and legislative branch publications, which were originally printed as Congressional documents. 

Congressional publications published between 1789 and 1817 are contained in a subset called American State Papers. comprising a total of thirty-eight physical volumes, contain the legislative and executive documents of the government during the period 1789 to 1838. The collection includes documents that cover the critical historical gap from 1789 to the year 1817, when the Serial Set volumes began publication. 

For more information on the history and contents of the US Congressional Serial Set, see An Overview of the US Congressional Serial Set by Richard J. McKinney*, Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C., Inc.

Where to Find Serial Set Volumes


Most of the thirty-eight volumes in American State Papers are digitized here at HathiTrust Digital Library. The papers are grouped into ten subsets: I. Foreign Relations; II. Indian Affairs; III. Finances; IV. Commerce and Navigation; V. Military Affairs; VI. Naval Affairs; VII. Post Office Department; VIII. Public Lands; IX. Claims; X. Miscellaneous

Many volumes published between 1817 through 2003 have been digitized here by members of the HathiTrust Digital Library partnership. This collection covers years 1817 through 2003 (first through 108th Congresses, volumes 1 through 14895), with some gaps. If you have a report or document number, you must convert it to a serial set volume number using one of several finding aids, including Numerical List and Schedule of Volumes of the US Serial Set.

1995 to present

Copies of all reports produced by House and Senate committees from 1995 (104th session)  to the present are available at the US Government Publishing Office website. also serves as a repository of House and Senate reports and documents from 1995 (104th Congress) through the present:

In 1914, Congress passed legislation to establish a department within the Library of Congress, called the Legislative Reference Service, to provide members of Congress with reliable, authoritative, and  non-partisan research and analysis. In 1970, Congress renamed the agency the Congressional Research Service and significantly expanded its statutory obligations. In 2018, the CRS made many of its reports freely available to the public on its website. Reports are added on an ongoing basis. includes 15,191 CRS reports; content is added regularly. The site contains all reports on, and another 5,100 archived reports from the University of North Texas Libraries Government Documents Department CRS reports collection.