ALL ABOUT SESSION LAWS
Statutes at Large
The 18 volumes of the Statutes at Large contain public and private laws of the Province and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1682 through 1809. They hold the earliest provisions for liberty of conscience and other principles of a free society, setting forth significant archival documents and enactments with references to original sources, prior provisions and review by British Crown and Parliament agencies.
Commission appointed to publish laws prior to 1800
A three-person commission appointed by the Governor under the resolution of the General Assembly of January 23, 1883 (P.L.225, No.3) completed its work to report on Commonwealth laws which were not printed or published, finding 108 acts not in print and hundreds of acts in scarce early volumes. The commission was authorized under the act of May 19, 1887 (P.L.129, No.70) to prepare the laws from 1700 to 1800 for publication using Commonwealth books of record and affixing opinions of the Attorneys General of Great Britain, orders of the Privy Council and other records, the edition to be printed by the State Printer in the style of the Archives of Maryland series published under the direction of the Maryland Historical Society.
Volumes 1 through 16 published or authorized
The commission sought to include charters and laws prior to 1700 in Volume 1 but deferred its publication until completion of other volumes. Publication began in 1896 with Volume 2, the laws from 1700 to 1712, and continued through 1913, with 16 volumes published or authorized. The commission, continued by the General Assembly in 1901, 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1911, did not publish Volume I.
Second commission appointed to complete publication of laws
The General Assembly under the act of July 25, 1913 (P.L.1273, No.782) authorized a four-person commission and statutory editor to prepare two to four additional volumes to end the series and connect with the Pamphlet Laws, completing the chain of published laws.
Volumes 17 and 18
In 1915 the commission published Volume 17, the laws from 1802 to 1805, and Volume 18, the laws from 1806 to 1809.
Department of Public Instruction
The Department of Public Instruction, through the State Library and Museum, was charged under the act of May 15, 1929 (P.L.1763, No.571) with publishing Volume 1 and additional volumes, 19 and 20. These volumes were not published.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was charged under the act of March 2, 1970 (P.L.77, No.35) with the publication of Volume 1. This volume was not published.
An unofficial version of Volume 1 by Gail McKnight Beckman was published in 1976. The Legislative Reference Bureau under the act of May 7, 1923 (P.L.158, No.119) certified in 2001 the completion of an electronic-only version of Volume 1. A bound version of this Bureau publication is not planned.
Name and numbering conventions
Historical and scholarly references to Statutes at Large volumes make use of both Roman numerals and Arabic numbers. This site uses Arabic numbers to refer to volumes of the Statutes at Large. Chapters of the Statutes at Large are referred to as "acts" and identified by Arabic numbers.
Method of citation
Cite the Statutes at Large as follows: act of November 18, 1782 (11 St.L.5, Ch.996).
For more details on the Statutes at Large, see the foreword (pdf) to Volume 1 written by former Legislative Reference Bureau Director Robert L. Cable.
The ten volumes of Smith's Laws contain laws enacted from 1700 through the 1828-1829 session. Repealed, expired or obsolete laws were not carried in Smith's Laws.
Under the act of February 28, 1810 (P.L.50, No.38), the Commonwealth contracted with John Bioren to print 1,350 copies of Pennsylvania laws through the end of the 1810 session. This edition was prepared as authorized for review by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the General Assembly, listing titles of obsolete, repealed and expired acts, indexing each volume and providing abstracts of local and private acts and notes relating to judicial decisions.
Compiler Charles Smith
Charles Smith, a Lancaster County attorney, produced the notes and references for the original four volumes published in 1810 and a fifth volume published in 1812 under the acts of February 13, 1811 (P.L.43, No.37) and January 17, 1812 (P.L.17, No.9). Charles Smith served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives before his 1816 election to the Pennsylvania Senate and was President Judge of the Ninth Judicial District comprising Cumberland, Franklin and Adams counties and President Judge of the District Court for the City and County of Lancaster before retiring from the bench on March 27, 1824.
Compiler Joseph Reed
Joseph Reed completed editorial work through 1844 on volumes 6 through 10, which set forth the laws through the 1828-1829 session.
Volumes 6 and 7
The act of February 8, 1821 (P.L.33, No.26) authorized Volume 6. The act of February 8, 1822 (P.L.16, No.15) authorized advance payment for the volume, and the act of March 21, 1822 (P.L.73, No.60) authorized its completion and publication of Volume 7. The act of April 1, 1823 (P.L.281, No.168) provided compensation to Joseph Reed and John Bioren for these volumes.
Volumes 8 through 10
Volumes 8 through 10 were published by Kay & Brother under authority of section 15 of the act of May 5, 1841 (P.L.342, No.125).
Printing and distribution
For further information relating to this ten-volume edition, see the following:
- Resolution of March 20, 1811 (P.L.270, No.4).
- Resolution of April 2, 1811 (P.L.272, No.6).
- Resolution of December 21, 1811 (P.L.262, No.2).
- Resolution of March 6, 1812 (P.L.263, No.5).
- Resolution of March 27, 1812 (P.L.264, No.6).
- Resolution of March 31, 1812 (P.L.266, No.9).
- Resolution of December 22, 1811 (P.L.270, No.4).
- Resolution of March 29, 1813 (P.L.264, No.5).
- Resolution of December 20, 1813 (P.L.379, No.1).
- Resolution of March 26, 1814 (P.L.384, No.8).
- Resolution of March 15, 1821 (P.L.315, No.5).
- Resolution of January 12, 1822 (P.L.300, No.3).
- Resolution of March 18, 1823 (P.L.302, No.3).
- Resolution of March 25, 1823 (P.L.303, No.4).
- Resolution of February 9, 1824 (P.L.243, No.4).
- Resolution of January 26, 1825 (P.L.267, No.4).
- Resolution of July 16, 1842 (P.L.497, No.22).
- Resolution of April 29, 1844 (P.L.609, No.32).
Method of citation
Cite Smith's Laws as follows: act of May 28, 1715 (1 Sm.L.94, Ch.208).
Predating the Statutes at Large and Smith's Laws, the Pamphlet Laws are a continuing publication of session laws. The Secretary of the Commonwealth was authorized under the act of April 9, 1792 (3 Sm.L.79, Ch.1628) to print, publish and distribute the laws.
The Laws of Pennsylvania, also referred to as the Pamphlet Laws, have been recognized as official law since December 1, 1801. Acts are numbered by the Department of State and published by the Legislative Reference Bureau as separate official documents known as slip laws before publication in bound editions as the Laws of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania statutory law is recorded in printed versions of proceedings and acts of provincial assemblies, early act books, Pamphlet Laws containing private and public laws and resolutions and the Laws of Pennsylvania containing consolidated and unconsolidated enactments, appropriation acts, Governors' veto messages, joint resolutions and other legislation.
The Laws of Pennsylvania contain laws enacted as amendments to the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the official statutory codification established by the General Assembly under the act of November 25, 1970 (P.L.707, No.230). These laws have been incorporated into a separate official publication since 1975.
Method of citation
Cite Pamphlet Laws as follows: act of April 28, 1999 (P.L.24, No.3).