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Recording the Senate's Debates:

The Congressional Record

The Constitution mandates that "Each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings," but does not require verbatim recording of congressional debates. Still, members of Congress and their constituents expect an accurate and unbiased account of all floor activities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Since 1873, they have turned to the Congressional Record for this account.

Prior to 1873, multiple sources–primarily newspapers–provided an incomplete record of congressional action. Such reports were typically fragmentary and sometimes colored by partisan views. In 1824, printers Gales and Seaton established the Register of Debates, an abstract of most House and Senate floor statements. The development of the Pitman Shorthand system of note taking in 1837 gave reporters the ability to record debates in a more complete and accurate manner. Reporters covering Congress adopted this system in the 1840s, and comprehensive accounts of daily Senate debates appeared in the nonpartisan Congressional Globe, a newspaper contracted by Congress to cover congressional activities. When the Globe's contract expired in 1873, Congress did not renew it but instead established the Congressional Record, printed by the Government Printing Office and staffed by Official Reporters of Debates employed by the House and the Senate.

The Congressional Record continues to provide accurate and unbiased coverage of floor proceedings in each house of Congress. For more information on the Record– including how to find it, and how to use it–see the Congressional Record page in the Virtual Reference Desk.

Past Feature Articles

Past Feature Articles