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U.S. Government Information: A sampling of the Collection

Introduction to Government Documents at Williams

An informed citizenry is the basis for democracy;
unless people can know what their elected representatives are doing,
they cannot meaningfully participate in determining their future.

Reports and Investigations

Among our collections are important reports and investigations, including Watergate, the Waco tragedy of 1993, and the Iran-Contra affair

Executive, Judicial and other Important Series 

We also have the Public Papers of the President series, Supreme Court ReportsCongressional Record, and the Laws of the United States, Statutes at Large and United States Code

Online, our most-used resources are:

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Census: Then and Now

One of the most important tasks of any government is to keep track of its citizens, what they do, and the wealth they hold and create.

Then: Some of the earliest Census documents are in Archives or Chapin, and we have reprints of many early enumerations so that researchers can use them as much as needed. 

Compendium of the enumeration of the inhabitants and statistics of the United States, as obtained at the Department of State, from the returns of the sixth census, by counties and principal towns, exhibiting the population, wealth, and resources of the country, with tables of apportionment ... / prepared at the Department of State  In this volume of the sixth census from 1840, Williamstown is not even considered a "principal town", although Adams is (incorporated in 1778). However, by the 9th Census, Williamstown merits mention. 

Not only people, but agricultural products and animals were well-represented.  We have purchased digital replicas of these early volumes, but for many, we have the fragile originals as well. So you can see a picture of the lovely ox named Constitution, who was raised not far from here in Bernardston, MA, but you can see the original as well. 

The Census has digitized much its historical run; here is the title page of the original volume which we have in our collection.

Now: The latest and most user-friendly tool which Census has developed is the American Factfinder2. A quick search for North Adams city instantly yields important statistics from the most recent Census.

Veterans and Defense

Another important responsibility of government is to take care of its veterans, their dependents, and enlisted troops. Some examples from our collection:

A census of pensioners for revolutionary or military services, with their names, ages, and places of residence, as returned by the marshals of the several judicial districts, under the act for taking the sixth census. In it, you can find which ten residents of Williamstown were receiving pension benefits as of the spring of 1840, when the Sixth Census was taken. 

Williams College has long had a reputation for building a fine military history collection.

... the records of the Civil War

The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Pub. under the direction of the ... Secretary of War  

 ... and of the Revolutionary War (this is actually a Commonwealth of Massachusetts document, not Federal)

Massachusetts soldiers and sailors of the revolutionary war. A compilation from the archives prepared and published by the secretary of the commonwealth in accordance with chapter 100, resolves of 1891 

... and World War I

United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919  In volume 11, on the occupation of Germany, there is a section on the "immoral behavior" of U.S. troops - especially with regard to consorting with German girls.

Nowadays, though, most of the Veteran's Administration's materials are online, as evidenced by this really useful VetData section of the VA's website. 

... World War II

On September 2nd, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender, the facsimile of which was distributed to Depository Libraries. The War Department also published and distributed a series of titles reporting on exactly how Allied Bombing operations were affecting various segments of the German infrastructure and economy. 

Other defense-related documents include "how to behave" handbooks from World War II, and well as a whole series of the history of military operations during the Vietnam conflict, including [remember Apocalypse Now?] Riverine operations, 1966-1969 and Project Trinity 1945-1946, the documentation of the project which resulted in the detonation of the first nuclear device. Much of the research conducted there was on the effects of exposure to an atomic bomb. The effects of atomic bombs on health and medical services in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from March of 1947 was another document (among many) that continued this documentation. 

Our collection is also home to many original documents pertaining to domestic Civil Defense and preparation for a direct nuclear attack on the United States. 


Williams College Library has long maintained an extensive collection of Congressional Documents,which amount to many thousands in print, and hundreds of thousands in electronic format. But in fact, the only document which is actually ordered to be printed by the Constitution is the Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the House of Representatives, which we have housed in Archives / Rare Books. However, anyone can use them online, as they have been digitized by the Library Of Congress.

Other types of Congressional documents include Congressional Committee hearings, which in the past, we collected in print. Most of the print documents now have been replaced by our database Congressional Publications which we purchased from ProQuest. It contains digitized replicas of all Congressional Committee hearings from 1824 through 2003.

What are the hearings about? Anything and everything! Some examples:

  • To Protect Citizens Against Lynching. This hearing was in support of a bill which protected Black  US soldiers and their dependents; it was promoted as a way of increasing Black military personnel's loyalty to the military.