Setting up the Federal Register, 1935

Today’s post was written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

Today we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Federal Register. On that day long ago, the press ballyhooed its arrival.

Official Washington had long lamented the lack of any kind of up-to-date guide to the mind-boggling mass of rules, regulations, and notices which federal agencies issue.

RG 64, P 67, file 1936 - First Issue of Federal Register, March 15 1

First Issue of New Journal, Federal Register, Published, NAID 7582964

RG 64, P 67, file 1936 - First Issue of Federal Register, March 15 2

New Government Publication Comes off Press, NAID 7582964

One person who had bemoaned this situation was John G. Laylin, the Assistant General Counsel of the Treasury Department.

John Gallup Laylin, 1943 portrait - from ancestry

Assistant General Consul of the Treasury Department, John G. Laylin, 1943. Provided from Ancestry.com

In this March 5, 1934 memo, Laylin laid out his vision for such a guide:

The number of proclamations, executive orders, regulations, and rulings which are daily supplementing the statutory law suggests the necessity of establishing a Federal publication similar to the official gazette of most foreign nations.

A month later, Laylin refined his idea and addressed the issues of production and distribution.

RG 64, A1 61, file 8 - John Laylin - Laylin Memo Reasons for Official Gazette, April 13, 1934 - page 4

Memo regarding Reasons for an Official Gazette, April 13, 1934, p4 NAID 12011779

By that December, Laylin’s “Official Gazette” was well on its way to fruition. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed a committee of the National Emergency Council to investigate the publication of such a guide, and Edwin Griswold had published an article in the December 11 issue of the Harvard Law Review entitled “Government in Ignorance of the Law – A Plea for Better Publication of Executive Legislation.”

64-NA-281 R. D. W. Connor, ca. 1935

R. D. W. Connor, Archivist of the United States, ca. 1935 NAID 12168816

By the summer of 1935, the Archivist of the United States, R. D. W. Connor, was laying the groundwork for the administrative and functional organization of the National Archives, the National Historical Publications Commission, and the Federal Register. He was inundated with recommendations for candidates to fill positions.

In a June 25, 1935 letter to Connor, Laylin put forth his suggestions, too. Here is an excerpt:

RG 64, A1 61, file 8 - John Laylin - Laylin Letter to Connor, June 1935, page 2A

Letter from John Laylin to R. D. W. Connor, June 25, 1935 NAID 21925841

Bernard Kennedy was ultimately chosen to be the director of the Federal Register (at a salary of $4,800 USD a year), but it is intriguing to imagine “what might have been” had Alger Hiss been interviewed and agreed to take that cut in pay.

Alger Hiss ID Card - Photo Illustration

This is a photo illustration of Alger Hiss Identification Card by the author, not an actual record


Sources:

  • File: 8 – John Laylin (NAID 21925841), Activities Files, 1935-1968 (NAID 12011779), RG 64 – Records of the National Archives and Records Administration
  • Photograph of R. D. W. Connor, Archivist of the United States (NAID 12168816), Historic Photograph File of National Archives Events and Personnel, 1935-1975 (NAID 518146), RG 64
  • File: 1936, Press Clippings, 1935-1963 (NAID 7582964), RG 64
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