National Archives | Record Group 60

RG 60

Entries 1 - 50 | Entries 51-100 | Entries 301-350


The office of Attorney General of the United States was created by the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat. 73), which provided for appointment by thePresident of "a meet person, learned in the law, to act as attorney general of the United States... to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, andto give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments."

Edmund Randolph, former Governor and attorney general of Virginia, was appointed by President Washington as the first Attorney General of the United States. His salary was only $1,500 a year, but it was expected that he would supplement his income by engaging in private law practice. One of his first tasks was to prepare a report on thejudicial system established by the Judiciary Act. The report, in which he suggested certainchanges, had been requested by the House of Representatives, but no action was taken on it by Congress.

Although the Attorney General joined the President's Cabinet as early as 1792, the powers and emoluments of the office fell short of those of the other Cabinet members. It was not until 1818 that Attorney General Wirt was officially accorded office space, a clerk and an office boy as assistants, and funds for stationery and fuel. Even so, Wirt called a halt to work exceeding the provisions of the Judiciary Act, refusing to follow the practice of his predecessors in giving legal opinions to congressional committees, U.S. attorneys and marshals, courts-martial, collectors of taxes and customs, and others.

In 1829 President Jackson recommended to Congress that the Attorney General be given the supervision of suits for the recovery of money and property to which the Government was entitled and of all Federal criminal cases in the lower Federal courts. He also asked that the Attorney General be made equal to the department heads, with the same pay and with subordinate officers for his "Department" to aid in the discharge of these additional duties. This attempt tocreate a "law department" ended only in the creation, within the Treasury Department, of the office of a Solicitor of the Treasury with extensive authority over the conduct of cases in the lower Federal courts by U.S. attorneys, marshals, and other officers.

Further efforts by Presidents Polk and Pierce to create a law department were also unsuccessful, even though the business and staff of the Attorney General's Office increased' considerably in the decade before the CivilWar, and the war itself added to the work of the Office. However, the prestige of the Attorney General steadily increased. By 1853 his salary equaled that of other Cabinet members, and he ceased the private practice of law. The Congress authorized the Attorney General in 18'59 to appoint an assistant. This position was abolished in 1868; instead, the President was authorized to appoint two assistant attorneys general. The Attorney General at the same time was given theresponsibility of defending the Government in the Court of Claims, having already been given a "'general superintendency and direction" over U.S. attorneys and marshals 'in1861. Under the law his authority over these officers did not modify that of the Solicitorof the Treasury.

By an act of Congress of June 22, 1870 (16 Stat. 162), the Department of Justice was finally created and began its formal existence on July 1. 1870. The Attorney General, retaining his former duties, became its head, with a Solicitor General as his principal assistant. As a concession to the wishes of the Attorney General, the act did not divide the Department into bureaus but authorized the Attorney General to make all necessary rules and regulations for the Department and for th e conduct of its business. The Solicitor of the Treasury, as well as the law officers of the State and Navy Departments and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, were transferred to the new Department, which was required to perform all legal services necessary for the President and the other executive departments to fulfill their duties. The Attorney General was to supervise Federal district attorneys and all other law officers of the Government, and he was authorized to take direct charge of cases in the lower courts personally or through a representative.

The Department of Justice Act and other acts passed within the next few years also caused or resulted in the transfer of various duties relating to the administration of justice from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Justice. These duties included the supervision of the accounts of district attorneys, marshals, clerks, and other officers of the courts, who were then paid principally from fees ; the control of the judiciary fund from which the expenses of the courts and the safekeeping of prisoners were paid and the provision of facilities in State, Territorial, or other prisons for the imprisonment of Federal prisoners for whom facilities were not available in the judicial districts where they were convicted.

Subsequent legislation restated or defined the functions of the Department concerning various subjects, including civil rights, claims by or against the Government, criminal law, immigration and naturalization, Indians, customs and internal revenue, the mails , public lands, legislative investigations, public officials, power resources, commerce and transportation, drug abuse, rivers and harbors, and racial segregation. The Department of Justice today is a large organization, headed by the Attorney General assisted by the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and the Solicitor General. It includes numerous staff level offices , legal subject matter divisions and bureaus, the U.S. Parole Commission, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. 

The records described in this inventory are general records of the Department of Justice that were in the National Archives of the United States as of September 30, 1979.  They consist of the records of the Attorney General and Attorney General's Office, 1790·1870 , and of units of the Department of Justicewhose recordswere maintained, in whole or in part, in the central files of the Department as well as of units that maintained their own mesoMost of the unit records are dated from 187 1 through 1941, although a few are of later date, the most recent being 1974. They are designated General Records of the .Department of Justice, Record Group 60, and include about 18,000 cubic feet of records, textual as well as nontextual.

Other records of the Department are in Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Record Group 65, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85;  Records of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals, Record Group 118; Records of the Bureau of Prisons, Record Group 129; Records of the Office of Alien Property, Record Group 131; Records of the Bureau of War Risk litigation, Record Group 190; Records of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Record Group 204; Records of the Court of C1aims Section (Justice), Record Group 205 ;  Records of the Solicitor of the Treasury, Record Group 206; Records of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, Record Group 423; and Reoords of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, Record Group 460.

Other related records are in various record groups, including Records of the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, Record Group 10; General Records of the US. Government, Record Group 11; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; Records of theUS. Senate, Record Group 46; Records of the Bureau of the Budget, Record Group 51; Records of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Record Group 116;  Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, Record Group 123; Records of the U.s. Commerce Court, Record Group 172; Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, Record Group 220; Records of the US. House of Representatives, Record Group 233; Records of the SUpreme Court of the United States, Record Group 267; Records of the President', Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, Record Group 272; and Records of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, Record Group276.

This inventory is divided into four parts. Part I describes the records of the Attorney General's Office, 1790-1870. Part II describes general records and records of units of the Department of Justice, 1870-1967. Part III describes personnel records of the Department spanning both periods (1844-1933), and Part IV describes recordsof special investigations and surveys. ca. 1908-47 .  

Entries 1 - 50 | Entries 51-100 | Entries 301-350

National Archives | Record Group 60

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