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“For some inexplicable reason, the early publications of the laws of the United States have not captured the attention of legal bibliographers as have the state session laws. If one may judge by the scarcity of commercial publications, it would seem that the federal laws were not in great demand by the legal profession until the period following the opening decades of the twentieth century. Even after the adoption of the Revised Statues in 1875 [followed by a second edition published in 1878 in order to deal with numerous errors found in the first edition], commercial publishers did not rush to print editions of this compilation. Perhaps the main reason for this lack of interest is that in the nineteenth century few federal statutes impacted the average citizen the way the laws of the present century do. . .

During the early decades of the federal government, federal laws were published officially in several sources, including newspapers, collections of session laws, and special collections by subject. Until 1874, Congress undertook to publish the laws as a collections of all statues on a subject, rather than as a compilation of all general laws of a permanent nature.”

Erwin C. Surrency, “The Publication of Federal Laws: A Short History,” 79 Law Library Journal 469-484 (1987).

Not until 1926 did we see a true codification of federal law – the law compiled, arranged and systematized into an ordered code.

“The Code * was created in 1926 to address the need for an updated, authoritative, and useful consolidation of Federal laws. Section 1 of the Act of June 30, 1926, ch. 712, provided that the 50 subject-matter titles of the original Code that were set forth in the 1926 Act were ‘intended to embrace the laws of the United States, general and permanent in their nature.’ . . .

In 1926, the general and permanent Federal statutory law could be compiled in a single volume. Today, it comprises over 40 volumes. Without the Code, Federal statutory law is inaccessible and unworkable.”

Office of Law Revision Counsel, “ The United States Code – What it is . . . What it isn’t . . . And What It Could Be”. Accessed 8/9/19.

For a timeline including “Background and History to the Codification of U.S. Laws and the United States Code”, see “United States Code: Historical Outline and Explanatory Notes”  prepared by Richard J. McKinney for Law Librarians’ Society Program (2004).

  • The .pdf file with the 1926 Code is a large file, and takes a long time to load.

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