The Green Papers
The Green Papers
Historical Data


The United States Code (cited as X USC y [where X is the appropriate TITLE and y the section of said Title re: which the statutory provision in question is to be found]) is the official codification of Federal Statutes (that is: Acts passed by both houses of Congress and either signed into Law by the President of the United States or enacted via overriding his/her veto) arranged by subject matter for relatively easy reference.

It should be noted that the text of statutory provisions as they might be found in the United States Code are, in general, not the controlling text of a given statute in which said provisions are to be found; rather, the "best legal evidence" of the actual text of a Federal Statute is that which is found within the United States Statutes at Large-- however, with the following exceptions:

Where Congress has enacted (with the approval of the President or, without such approval, overriding a Presidential Veto) an entire Title of the United States Code as so-called "Positive Law" (that is, the given Title has been adopted "all up" with all previous versions of any statutory provisions therein repealed thereby), the text in that Title is, thereafter, the controlling "best legal evidence" of just what that text might be. United States Code Titles so enacted as "Positive Law" are noted in the table of this page (but note that a citation by the appearance of said U.S. Code Title in the Statutes of Large is also provided in said table: thus, one can also find the text of a given Title as so enacted in the same way that one can also find the controlling text of any other Federal Statute)...

one caveat to be noted here, however: any Appendices to U.S. Code Titles so enacted as "Positive Law" are not themselves such "Positive Law"! (Therefore: the controlling text of statutory provisions as found in said Appendices is, once again, that to be found within the Statutes at Large.)

By the way: it is the style of The Green Papers to cite sections of the United States Code, where this might be necessary, on this very website by Title and section in italics (thus: X USC y) in order to better differentiate such a citation from the more usual citation of Federal Law, on this website, from the Statutes at Large.

The compilation of the United States Code is arranged as in the following table:

TitleSubject Matter of Titleenacted as "Positive Law"?
1General ProvisionsYes
[61 Stat. 633
(30 July 1947)]
2The CongressNo
3The PresidentYes
[62 Stat. 672
(25 June 1948)]
4Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the StatesYes
[61 Stat. 641
(30 July 1947)]
5Government Organization and Employees [prior to enactment as "Positive Law" was entitled 'Executive Departments, Officers and Employees']Yes
[80 Stat. 378
(6 September 1966)]
6originally 'Official and Penal Bonds'; then 'Surety Bonds' [Repealed when Title 31 was enacted as "Positive Law"]Yes
[61 Stat. 646
(30 July 1947)]
6now Homeland SecurityNo
8Aliens and NationalityNo
[61 Stat. 669
(30 July 1947)]
10Armed Forces [Prior to enactment as "Positive Law" was originally entitled 'Army'; then 'Army and Air Force']Yes
[70 Stat. 1126
(10 August 1956);
published in toto at 70A Stat. 1]
[92 Stat. 2549
(6 November 1978)]
12Banks and BankingNo
[68 Stat. 1012
(31 August 1954)]
14Coast GuardYes
[63 Stat. 495
(4 August 1949)]
15Commerce and TradeNo
[61 Stat. 652
(30 July 1947)]
18Crimes and Criminal ProcedureYes
[62 Stat. 683
(25 June 1948)]
19Customs DutiesNo
21Food and DrugsNo
22Foreign Relations and IntercourseNo
[72 Stat. 885
(27 August 1958)]
24Hospitals and AsylumsNo
26Internal RevenueNo
27Intoxicating LiquorsNo
28Judiciary and Judicial ProcedureYes
[62 Stat. 869
(25 June 1948)]
30Mineral Lands and MiningNo
31Money and FinanceYes
[96 Stat. 877
(13 September 1982)]
32National GuardYes
[70 Stat. 1126
(10 August 1956); published in toto at 70A Stat. 596]
33Navigation and Navigable WatersNo
34Navy [Repealed when Title 10 was enacted as "Positive Law"]No
[66 Stat. 792
(19 July 1952)]
36Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies, and OrganizationsYes
[112 Stat. 1253
(12 August 1988)]
37Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed ServicesYes
[76 Stat. 451
(7 September 1962)]
38Veterans' BenefitsYes
[72 Stat. 1105
(2 September 1958)]
39Postal ServiceYes
[74 Stat. 578
(2 September 1960)]
40Public Buildings, Property, and WorksYes
[116 Stat. 1062
(21 August 2002)]
41Public ContractsNo
42Public Health and WelfareNo
43Public LandsNo
44Public Printing and DocumentsYes
[82 Stat. 1238
(22 October 1968)]
[97 Stat. 500
(26 August 1983);
process of enactment into "Positive Law" completed in 120 Stat. 1485
(6 October 2006)]
47Telegraphs, Telephones and RadiotelegraphsNo
48Territories and Insular PossessionsNo
[92 Stat. 1337
(17 October 1978)]
50War and National DefenseNo


The principal collection of Federal Law (as opposed to regulations promulgated by Federal executive departments and agencies [which is the stuff of the 'Code of Federal Regulations']) has ever been the United States Statutes at Large (usually referred to as, simply, the Statutes at Large). This is simply a multi-volume compendium of all the Federal statutes, Treaties made under the authority of the United States and such things as Presidential Proclamations compiled more or less chronologically from the very beginning of the Federal Government back in 1789.

As noted above the preceding table: absent certain exceptions, the text of a Federal statute as found in the Statutes at Large is that which would usually be considered to be controlling- that is, the "best legal evidence" of said text- by the courts in any legal dispute involving said law (but see below) because each volume of the Statutes at Large is made up of those laws collected from the actual original documentation (in the case of Federal statutes, for instance, these would be the engrossed bills which- once passed by Congress- are actually sent to the President of the United States for his signature or possible veto; once signed by the President- or, if vetoed by him, assuming a successful override of the veto by Congress- these engrossed bills become the basis of the printed "session laws" which are then bound together to eventually make up one volume of the Statutes at Large.

The problem with this collection (now- in 2010- going on 124 volumes and counting) is that it is not codified- that is: it is not at all arranged by subject matter; thus: in order to find a particular statute, one would have to know when it was adopted (and then find it in the volume of the Statutes at Large covering that period of time) or one would have to consult published indexes indicating what the X Stat. y [X=Volume, y=page number] citation for a particular law covering a particular subject might be!

By the 1870s, the lack of just such a codification was becoming a real problem as more and more Federal legislation was being adopted as time went on. To this end, Congress- on 22 June 1874- authorized the very first codification of Federal law: the Revised Statutes of the United States (often simply referred to as the Revised Statutes) which consisted of all permanent statutes created by Act of Congress (statutes of temporary effect- such as individual appropriations [which are almost always limited to the fiscal year] or things such as private laws- were not so codified) in effect as of 1 December 1873, which happened to be when the 43rd Congress that so authorized said Revised Statutes had itself first convened.

There were three principal problems, right off the bat, with this new Revised Statutes compilation:

First: although, for the first time, permanent Federal statutes were now arranged by subject matter, there were no Titles and chapters as such: instead, every section of every Federal statute was given a consecutive section number in the Revised Statutes. Yes, there were headers indicating the subject matter of a block of consecutive Revised Statutes sections but these had no function as regarded citation of a law found therein.

Second: there was no system of "continuous revision" implemented in relation to the Revised Statutes. Put another way, the text of the Revised Statutes was "locked in": there was no way to add sections from statutes enacted after 1873 in their proper places in between R.S. sections. As time went on, this situation became more and more untenable (more than fifty years after the Revised Statutes had first been authorized, it still remained the official codification of United States law and, in order to find the definitive text of Federal legislation enacted after 1873, one had to go to the Statutes at Large as one would have had to have done in the days before the Revised Statutes itself existed; moreover, the text of the Revised Statutes contained more and more laws- as more and more time passed- which had since been either altered or outright repealed!). Private companies published indexes linking post-1873 legislation to the relevant R.S. section; other private publishers issued their own (unofficial, however) compilations of Federal laws by subject matter. By the mid-1920s, what was really needed was a whole new system of official codification which would come in the form of the United States Code.

There was, however, a third problem with the Revised Statutes: for Congress intended this entire codification- as enacted- to be considered as what is known as "Positive Law".

"Positive Law" is, to give the simplest possible definition of this term of legal art without being overly simplistic, Law specifically enacted by one with sovereign authority to make rules regulating the community-- but to further explain this concept as it relates to codification of law, let us consider the following "hypothetical":

Let's, just for sake of this argument, take two (made up) States of the Union: Nirvana and El Dorado- both in an American West (albeit a West in some universe parallel to our own, for these two States cannot be found on any map of the United States in my possession! [;-)]):

Both States happen to have an Election Code that, at the start of its existence, reads exactly the same- right down to the numbering of its chapters and sections (largely because this Election Code was originally adopted by El Dorado when it was still a U.S. Territory and not yet a State and Nirvana was once part of El Dorado when it was still said Territory; then El Dorado had [in our "alternative universe", of course!] applied for Statehood, but only after Congress had created a new Nirvana Territory out of the northern third of El Dorado; some time after El Dorado had been admitted as a State to the American Union, Nirvana was, likewise, admitted. Both States' Election Codes are, therefore, direct lineal descendants of the election laws of the original Territory of El Dorado, hence the similarity); both States also have an equivalent of the Federal Statutes at Large (a generally chronologically collection of State laws- each State's "Session Laws" in bound form) and an equivalent of the United States Code (a codification in which State laws can be found by Title, chapter and section- let's just call these the "General Statutes" of each State).

At about the same time, both States decide to amend their respective Election Codes. Nirvana does it piecemeal, by amending sections of the Election Code in individual pieces of legislation containing said amendments and enacted by its State legislature over time; on the other hand, El Dorado decides to create a completely new Election Code and enact it "all up"- that is, adopt it all at once. There is now a crucial difference between the two sister States: in El Dorado, the Election Code, as amended, is "Positive Law"; in Nirvana, the amended Election Code is not (even if the amendments adopted in each State happen to be exactly the same and, in addition, alter an Election Code that once read identically in each State before being so amended).

The difference may seem rather technical to the reader who is not an attorney, legal scholar or researcher-- but here is what this difference means: in El Dorado, the text of the amended Election Code, as published in that State's "General Statutes" is now controlling (that is: must be considered by the courts to be the intended text of a statutory provision within that Election Code)-- put another way: in El Dorado, any conflict between the text in the "Session Laws" in which are found those portions of the Election Code not amended through the adoption of the revised Election Code and the text of the Election Code as it now appears in the "General Statutes" is to be resolved, by the courts, in favor of that in the "General Statutes" (a comma seen in the version of a statutory section in the "Session Laws" is not found in that very same section as now codified in the "General Statutes"? Well, this merely means that there's no comma in that statute as far as the State of El Dorado be concerned)...

in Nirvana, however, it's the opposite: because the amended Election Code in that State was not enacted as "Positive Law", the text of the "Session Laws" is still controlling as regards those portions of the Election Code of Nirvana not so amended. (That nasty little comma dating all the way back to something originally enacted by the old El Dorado Territorial legislature is, unlike the case in the modern State of El Dorado, still part of the statute in the State of Nirvana... and, should that comma- or lack thereof- somehow change the basic meaning of what is otherwise the very same wording of the very same sentence in both States' election-related legislation, El Dorado and Nirvana may very well end up with differing interpretations, by its respective courts, as to what that very same worded statute might actually mean!)

In the case of the Revised Statutes of the United States, there were- as it turned out- so many errors in the original version as published (in 1875) that Congress- on 2 March 1877 (interestingly, on the same day that the final determination of the Disputed Election of 1876 was being made by the one-time only Electoral Commission)- authorized a commission to undertake a complete revision of the Revised Statutes (Congress appointing commissions to untangle rather knotty problems of governance seems to have been somewhat fashionable at that point in American History!), said revision- once presented by the aforementioned commission- being accepted by Congress in 1878 (thus, the second edition of the Revised Statutes is considered to be the definitive version and, in addition, one that was to be considered as "Positive Law"- that is: the text in the 1878 Revised Statutes was intended to supersede any and all texts of said laws as they had originally appeared in the Statutes at Large up to that time).

The inherent problem with this intention is that any statutes adopted after this 1878 codification were not enacted as "Positive Law", further complicating the issues flowing from the complete lack of a system of "continuous revision" of the codification (as discussed above).

On 30 June 1926, a new codification of Federal Law to replace the Revised Statutes- the United States Code- was authorized by Congress. As can be seen in the table above, the United States Code would be cited by Title (there would be 50 of these numbered [more or less alphabetically] by subject matter, section numbers beginning anew with each new Title [something that had, as already noted above, not been done in the R.S.]) and section, making Federal statutes much easier to locate; in addition, yearly string-bound supplements would be issued at least annually, with a new, complete hard-bound multi-volume edition of the United States Code made available every six years: therefore, unlike the Revised Statutes, there would ever be a process of "continuous revision" with the new USC.

At first (again, unlike the R.S.), the United States Code was not intended to be "Positive Law": except for those laws still in force in (as well as after) 1926 as found in the 1878 Revised Statutes, the controlling- "best legal evidence" of the- text of a given Federal statute was still to be found within the Statutes at Large. Only in 1947 (as can be seen in the above table) did Congress begin to enact individual Titles of the United States Code "all up" as "Positive Law" and, to date [2010], only about half of the USC's 50 Titles have been so enacted as so-called "Positive Law".

One more note about "Positive Law" to be made here: many movements towards the extremes of either end of the political spectrum have often claimed that any Title of the United States Code not enacted as "Positive Law" is, somehow, not really Federal law and, therefore, not at all valid (the most notable claim, in this regard, has long been made by anti-tax groups who- via this fallacious argument- state, unequivocally, that the Internal Revenue Code [Title 26 of the USC] is void and of no effect [merely because it has never been enacted as "Positive Law"])...

as already noted, this argument is altogether fallacious as well as constitutionally and legally untenable:

putting aside the fact that the Federal courts have long rejected this kind of argument (such as in a 1984 case coming out of the District Court of Connecticut- United States v. Zuger- a decision upheld on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals a year later and not granted a writ of Certiorari for further hearing before the United States Supreme Court), there is the basic premise of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Field v. Clark (1892: 143 US 649), a case which arose because a section of an Act of Congress which had appeared in the Journal of both houses of Congress at the time the bill received Final Passage had been- by all accounts, mistakenly- left out of the "Enrolled Bill" in the possession of the State Department (which, in turn, had already become the basis of the "Session Law" version of same eventually printed up in a bound copy of the Statutes at Large-- hence, the controlling "best legal evidence" of the text of said Act): the appellants (who were claiming a tax rebate under the omitted section, one which they had previously been denied by the Treasury Department) argued that the Journals of each house of Congress was the best evidence as to what was actually in the Enrolled Bill presented to the President for his signature, but the High Court disagreed...

the first Justice John Marshall Harlan, writing the Opinion of the Court, noted that

The evils that may result from the recognition of the principle that an Enrolled Act, in the custody of the Secretary of State, attested by the signatures of the presiding officers of the two houses of Congress, and the approval of the President, is conclusive evidence that it was passed by Congress, according to the forms of the Constitution, would be far less than those that would certainly result from a rule making the validity of Congressional enactments depend upon the manner in which the Journals of the respective houses are kept by the subordinate officers charged with the duty of keeping them...


The signing by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and, by the President of the Senate, in open session, of an Enrolled Bill, is an official attestation by the two houses of such bill as one that has passed Congress. It is a declaration by the two houses, through their presiding officers, to the President, that a bill, thus attested, has received, in due form, the sanction of the Legislative branch of Government, and that it is delivered to him in obedience to the constitutional requirement that all bills which pass Congress shall be presented to him. And when a bill, thus attested, receives his approval, and is deposited in the public archives, its authentication as a bill that has passed Congress should be deemed complete and unimpeachable. As the President has no authority to approve a bill not passed by Congress, an Enrolled Act in the custody of the Secretary of State, and having the official attestations of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, of the President of the Senate, and of the President of the United States, carries, on its face, a solemn assurance by the Legislative and Executive departments of the Government, charged, respectively, with the duty of enacting and executing the laws, that it was passed by Congress. The respect due to coequal and independent departments requires the Judicial department to act upon that assurance, and to accept, as having passed Congress, all bills authenticated in the manner stated; leaving the courts to determine, when the question properly arises, whether the Act, so authenticated, is in conformity with the Constitution.

This is the essence of the "Enrolled Bill rule" which underlies the notion- as regards Federal Law- that the text which appears in the Statutes at Large is the controlling "best legal evidence" of said text (and, again, even where a Title of the United States Code is enacted as "Positive Law", said enactment also can be found within the Statutes at Large).

Point is: all sections of any Title of the USC- whether it has been enacted as "Positive Law" or not- has an underlying citation in the Statutes at Large, itself based on the requisite "Enrolled Act" in the possession of the National Archives and, indeed, this is no less as regards Title 26 (again, the Internal Revenue Code)- or, for that matter, any other Title of the United States Code not yet enacted as "Positive Law"- as it would be for any Title of the USC already so enacted as "Positive Law"!

Modified .