Congressional Timeline: 1st Congress (March 4, 1789) - 113th Congress (January 3, 2013)

The Congressional Timeline, developed and maintained by The Dirksen Congressional Center, arrays more than 900 of the nation's laws on a timeline beginning with the first Congress in 1789 and continuing to the present. A second timeline "band" depicts major political events as context for Congress's law-making.

• At the beginning date for each Congress, the timeline features session dates, number of recorded votes, total bills introduced and enacted, the partisan composition of both the House and the Senate, information about African-Americans and women serving in that Congress, and links to the presidential administration and to congressional leaders in that Congress. Click the dropdown under "Select a Congress," scroll to the "99th Congress, 1985-1986" and click "Go." In the top band find "January 3, 1985: 99th Congress, First Session, convenes" for an example. Note: Not all this information is available for early Congresses.

• Click on any of the laws and you will see a brief summary of its provisions. In some cases, we link you to the full text of the law and related resources. For example, click on the dropdown under "Select a Congress," scroll to the "88th Congress, 1963-1964" and click "Go." In the top band, drag the timeline to the left and select "July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964." There are links to a dozen historical documents, six photographs, and two videos—all related to the passage of that landmark legislation.

• The timeline is searchable in both the "legislation" and "events" bands. If you enter the word "labor" in the filter box for the legislation band and enter "management" in the yellow highlight box, the timeline will clear out all other laws except those that deal with labor. It also will highlight in yellow those that include "management."

That particular search finds these laws in the years following 1933: Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (June 25, 1938), the Farm Labor Supply Act (April 29, 1943), the Employment Act of 1946 (February 20, 1946), the Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act (June 23, 1947), the Fair Labor Standards Act Amendments of 1949 (October 26, 1949), the Landrum-Griffin Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (September 14, 1959), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (June 10, 1963), the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (December 29, 1970), and the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (January 23, 1995). Note that the search will identify not only laws with the search words in the title but also laws that contain the terms in their descriptions. This is the case with the Employment Act of 1946, for example.

By selecting "Clear All," the timeline will revert to its original state. There is a separate search feature for the "events" band which works the same way. We do not include descriptions with individual events, however.

• Navigation takes place in two ways. Scrolling from right to left or left to right moves you through the entire timeline seamlessly. But you can jump to a particular Congress by selecting it from the boxed list at the top of the timeline.

Any attempt to identify so-called "landmark" laws or laws that broadly represent congressional action is flawed from the outset by subjectivity.

Several sources proved particularly helpful in identifying the laws to include on the Congressional Timeline. Stephen W. Stathis's Landmark Legislation 1774-2002 (Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2003) is among the best. We also relied on the Vital Statistics on Congress series produced by Norman J. Ornstein, Thomas E. Mann, and Michael J. Malbin and published by Brookings Institution Press; Richard A. Baker's 200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787 to 2002 (Washington DC; U.S. Government Printing Office); and Raymond W. Smock's Landmark Documents on the U.S. Congress (Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1999). Wikipedia, which includes entries describing major events and major legislation for every Congress, and Google are essential in today's Internet-based environment as is the new congress.gov, which replaces the venerable Thomas.gov.

KEY:  Legislation   Events

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