Revised Statutes of the United States

The Revised Statutes of the United States (in citations, Rev. Stat.) was the first official codification of the Acts of Congress. It was the precursor to the United States Code.


Previous codifications by private publishers were useful shortcuts for research purposes, but had no official status.

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts began to press Congress to revise and consolidate national statutes in 1851. President Abraham Lincoln also recommended such revision in his annual message of December 3, 1861. It was not until 1866 and the administration of President Johnson that the Congress finally approved Sumner's An Act to provide for the Revision and Consolidation of the Statute Laws of the United States.[1] The Act called for three commissioners to carry out this work for three years, and President Johnson appointed Caleb Cushing, Charles Pinckney James, and William Johnston as these commissioners. Cushing, James, and Johnston were unable to complete their task within the allotted time. Congress continued the work by passing a continuation of the original act[2] in 1870. President Grant renewed the appointment of Charles Pinckney James but called on Benjamin Vaughan Abbott and Victor C. Barringer to replace Cushing and Johnston. The Congress approved the revision and consolidation prepared by these commissioners on June 22, 1874, for laws in effect as of December 1, 1873. This codification is known as the Revised Statutes of the United States.[3]

On March 2, 1877, the Congress called for an updated and expanded edition of the Revised Statutes. Charles Pinckney James was again called to service to support George S. Boutwell, who was named commissioner for this work. The Congress enacted Boutwell's version of the Revised Statutes in 1878.

The Revised Statutes were enacted as positive law, but subsequent enactments were not incorporated into the official code, so that over time researchers once again had to delve through many volumes of the United States Statutes at Large or use unofficial, privately published supplements.

According to the preface to the United States Code, "From 1897 to 1907 a commission was engaged in an effort to codify the great mass of accumulating legislation. The work of the commission involved an expenditure of over $300,000, but was never carried to completion." During the 1920s, some members of Congress revived the codification project, resulting in the approval of the Code by Congress in 1926.


  1. June 27, 1866, ch. 140. Revision and Consolidation of the Statutes. An Act to provide for the Revision and Consolidation of the Statute Laws of the United States.
  2. May 4, 1870, ch. 72. Statutes of the United States. An act to provide for the revision and consolidation of the Statutes of the United States.
  3. Charles Sumner: his complete works. With Introduction by Hon. George Frisbie Hoar. Boston, Lee and Shepard. 1900. Vol. VIII. Revision and Consolidation of the National Statutes, p.5.

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