Legislative power is vested in a General Assembly, which consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The General Assembly has the authority to enact laws, appropriate funds and levy taxes. Additional powers of the legislature include the proposal of constitutional amendments, the impeachment of public officials, investigative authority, and the confirmation of certain executive appointments. The state’s original General Assembly was a unicameral body established under the Constitution of 1776 that was given vast powers that enabled it to dominate the other two branches of state government. This imbalance was corrected with the adoption of subsequent constitutions, beginning with the Constitution of 1790, which created a bicameral assembly and a popularly elected governor.


House File, 1790-1903. (66 boxes, 1 carton) Arranged chronologically. This series documents the legislative activity of the House of Representatives through petitions, reports, bills, and amendments. Items in the House files pertaining to African Americans include: two petitions signed by three hundred citizens of Washington County requesting a law to prohibit "negroes" from coming into the state, March 5, 1863; a petition from the citizens of Schuylkill County requesting an Act to prevent the migration of "negroes" into Pennsylvania, March 9, 1863; a petition from the citizens of Schuylkill County in favor of a law to prohibit "negroes" from coming into Pennsylvania to reside, March 20, 1863; a petition from 310 citizens of Clearfield County requesting the passage of a "law to prevent negroes from coming within our borders, also to prevent the intermarrying of the whites and blacks, and for the severe punishment of anyone performing the marriage ceremony," March 20, 1863; and 13 petitions from the citizens of Washington County praying for the passage of a law prohibiting the immigration of "Negroes and Mulattos" into the state of Pennsylvania, July 24, 1863. This flurry of 1863 legislation was probably introduced in response to an expected influx of African Americans from various seceded states freed under the provisions of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. There are also two petitions from the citizens of Chester County protesting the fugitive slave laws and opposing any aid being offered to slave owners seeking to recover their slave property or allowing slave owners from slave states to retain their slaves while residing in Pennsylvania.

Septennial Census Returns, 1779-1863. (13 boxes, 2 bundles) Arranged chronologically by date of census and thereunder alphabetically by county. No state censuses were ever conducted in Pennsylvania. The so-called Septennial Census Returns, 1779-1863, merely enumerated taxpayers every seven years for the purpose of determining representation in the General Assembly. Only a few (11 percent) of these records have survived, and usually they list only the name, and sometimes the occupation, of each taxable white inhabitant. Data concerning slaves residing in the counties is often more extensive in content. Beginning with the year 1800, the name, age, gender, and residence of each slave is frequently noted, and occasionally even the owner’s name is provided. The State Archives has original returns for thirty counties and the city of Philadelphia. Inhabitants are listed according to township or other political subdivision in which they resided. The following is a list of the counties and years of the census returns that contain references to African Americans:

• Bedford: 1779, 1786, 1800

• Berks: 1779, 1786, 1793, 1800

• Bucks: 1786, 1800

• Chester: 1786, 1793, 1800, 1807, 1814

• Columbia: 1821

• Cumberland: 1793, 1800, 1828, 1835, 1842, 1849

• Dauphin: 1786, 1800, 1807

• Delaware: 1793, 1800

• Fayette: 1786, 1800

• Franklin: 1786, 1800, 1807, 1814, 1821, 1828, 1835, 1842

• Huntingdon: 1800, 1821

• Lancaster: 1779, 1786, 1793, 1800

• Luzerne: 1800

• Lycoming: 1800

• Mifflin: 1821

• Montgomery: 1786, 1793, 1800, 1807, 1842

• Northampton: 1786, 1800

• Northumberland: 1800

• Philadelphia: 1793, 1800, 1863

• Somerset: 1800

• Washington: 1786, 1800

• Wayne: 1800

• Westmoreland: 1786, 1800

• Wyoming: 1849

• York: 1786, 1793, 1800, 1807

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