Rives, John Cook (1795 VA - 1864 MD)


Rives, John Cook



Birth: 24 May 1795, Franklin County, Virginia
Birth Source: Appletons' Cyclopedia

Death: 10 Apr 1864, Prince George County, Maryland
Death Source: Appletons' Cyclopedia

Spouse1: Mary Ann Elliott, 11 Jan 1836, Washington, District of Columbia


Children of John Cook Rives and Mary Ann Elliott:
  1. Wright Rives, b. c1838
  2. Caroline Rives, b. c1840
  3. Franklin Rives, b. c1843
  4. Lucy Rives, b. c1845
  5. Jefferson Rives, b. c1848
  6. John C. Rives, Jr., b. c1849
  7. Robert Blair Rives, b. c1850

Although Reliques indicates he may have been a son of George Reeves of Henry and Patrick Counties, Virginia, there is no evidence to back this up.

From Reliques of the Rives:
John Cook Rives, father of the present Congressional Record, was born May 24, 1795, in Franklin county, Virginia, and attained a position of national prominence as the founder and editor of The Congressional Globe, of Washington, D. C, in the columns of which the first attempt in American history was made to give an impartial record of the debates in Congress.
Removing from Virginia to Kentucky at eleven years of age, "he was brought up by his uncle, Samuel Casey," (Reliques notes Samuel Casey was his mother's brother or brother-in-law) and later settled at Edwardsville, Illinois, where he was employed by the Branch State Bank, later removing to Shawneetown where he studied law and was admitted to practice. A little later, in 1824, he removed to Washington, D. C, and entered upon a clerkship in the Fourth Auditor's office.
During the early part of President Jackson's administration, in 1830, Mr. Rives, in conjunction with Francis Preston Blair, Sen., founded The Congressional Globe, predecessor of the present Congressional Record. Somewhat later, Mr. Ritchie purchased the Globe, and changed its title to the Union, whereupon Messrs. Blair and Rives reestablished the Globe, principally for the publication of debates in Congress, it later becoming accepted as the official record of proceedings. About 1861 Mr. Rives bought out Mr. Blair's interest and later turned the conduct of it over to his son, the editor ship being confided to a son-in-law. It was some time later that the Government officially assumed the task which Mr. John C. Rives had initiated of publishing impartial and, subsequently, verbatim reports of Congressional proceedings.
As attesting Mr. Rives' national renown, it may be mentioned that the present Henry county in Missouri was originally named Rives county in his honor, but was changed in 1841 to Henry, in honor of Patrick Henry, when Mr. Rives deserted the Democratic party in 1840 and became a Whig.
Of the several obituaries published of him in the Washington press after his death on April 10, 1864, in Prince George county, Maryland, the most authoritative is that in the Globe from the pen of his former partner, the Honorable Frank P. Blair, Sen.:
Died at his residence, near Washington, on the morning of the 10th instant, John C. Rives, editor of the Congressional Globe, in the sixty-ninth year of his age.
Mr. Rives was a self-made man. Without the means to obtain education in schools, he became well versed in the business of the world by his aptness for observation and readiness in applying his faculties. He was skillful and successful in the various pursuits to which he devoted his laboriously useful life.
In the conduct of his affairs he was a perfect, not a professed man of honor. He never forfeited his word, never permitted convenience to stand in the way of his duty. He has sacrificed thousands on the forced sale of means to cancel engagements for which he committed himself for others, but was never known to exact similar sacrifices from those indebted to him. He took to himself the rule, "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you," and he "bettered the instruction." He allowed none to be as generous to him as he would willingly be to them. He expended more in charities than any who ever lived in this city, though he earned the means by incessant, well-directed labor, beginning at first by turning the wheel that moved the Globe presses by his own strong arm, before steam was applied to them.
He made no ostentation of largesses, but his books show that in a single year he paid out $17,000 to support the wives of soldiers enlisted in the District, besides innumerable aids in similar amounts to individuals. He was a devotee in his friendships —gratitude was a religion with him—and in all the relations of social life he indulged those around him with the most affectionate kindness, overtasking no one but himself, and parting with none worn down in the service of his establishment, but making them its pensioners when no longer suited to arduous exertion.
He would not even dispose of an old horse incapacitated for use, but had as many as five at one time on his hands kept in good condition as incapables for what they had done when able. With a bosom full of tender affections, he was so averse to pretension that none but those in most intimate relations with him could see through the disguise his blunt manners and sturdy exterior put over them.
He came to Washington more than forty years since, and engaged first as a clerk in some printing office, and afterwards in some of the Departments, finally laying hold of the Globe, which he lifted out of embarrassment and supported ever after like an Atlas. His management was unexceptional as the business partner.
He was never a partisan, and although on great national questions agreeing in the main with Jackson's policy, he saw much merit in portions of that urged by his great antagonist, (Mr. Clay) whose patriotism in maintaining the country's rights over the Union and in its foreign relations, he always held in profound homage. His partner, a more vehement party man, was sometimes held in check by his sound and temperate judgment.
It was on Mr. Rives' suggestion that the scheme of having all sides heard fairly in debate by publishing impartial reports of congressional proceedings was adopted. The editor combatted such views of the opponents of the Administration in Congress as he thought assailable; but it was Mr. Rives'
care to see that no report should do injustice to a speaker.
At first but the outlines of a discussion were given in the Globe. It was found that epitomes were unsatisfactory, and Mr. Rives, by degrees, brought the reports to the perfect state which have rendered the debates of Congress for more than a quarter of a century an authentic record.
The plan as sanctioned by Congress was designed to make a political history of the country as spoken by the nation's representatives, who, seeing the imperishable form it assumed in the official report, would each be incited to make his contribution, especially where his section or his political interests were concerned.
The original plan provided that each member and each succession of members should have a copy of the official debates and proceedings to place in the county court clerk's office or some public library or seminary, that it might be consulted by his constituency, and thus, in effect, increase the responsibility of members while it increased the means of information among the people.
This multiplication of copies enabled Mr. Rives to execute the work of reporting and printing for less than one-third of the price for which similar work had ever been obtained in England or the United States.
Changes have, however, been made in respect to the number of the reports disseminated, which, together with the increased price of materials and labor, have, it is ascertained by the Printing Committees, made reporting a losing business for the last few years, to such an extent as to render its continuance impossible unless the original terms of the contract should be restored, or some other provision made to maintain the establishment.
It was a matter of pride as well as of patriotism which induced Mr. Rives to make a sacrifice from year to year to keep up his system in the hope that Congress would make it permanent. He perfected all the machinery of his office, and educated a son to its management, to preserve what he had originated and so long cherished.
He has fallen in his harness, and indeed, by exposure in arising from a bed of sickness to maintain the efficiency of a work to which he willingly gave his life. It is to be hoped Congress will not allow its annals, especially in such eventful times, to perish with him.

Nine years after Mr. Rives' death, the Congressional Record, "the first series of the Proceedings of Congress to be officially reported, printed and published directly by the Government," was instituted by congressional action, superseding The Congressional Globe which had begun a regular report of the Proceedings of Congress with the first session of the twenty-third Congress, December 2, 1833, and had continued until the end of the forty-second Congress, March 3, 1873. Actually, printed records or reports of the debates and proceedings of Congress are extant for the whole period of its existence from March 4, 1789.
The first series in point of the date of the proceedings therein reported, though not the first published, is entitled Annals of the Congress, first published in 1834, and purporting to give the proceedings from 1789 to 1824. The second series, and the first to be contemporaneously reported and published, bears the title, Register of Debates in Congress, and began in 1824 and continued to 1837. To Mr. John Cook Rives is due the honor of initiating the recording of the reports in something like the verbatim form which they take at present.
It would seem peculiarly fitting if Congress might perpetuate the part John Cook Rives played, in bringing about the maintenance of a record of Congressional debates and proceedings, by some permanent reference to him as the founder of the Congressional Record in the present printed record of proceedings.
It is not known whom John C. Rives married. His undated will was recorded in Davidson county, Tennessee, naming seven children, and, amongst other provisions, directing that "my servants shall be free on the following days : Gilbert Keys shall be free on the fourth day of July 1866 (I have sold him to Dr. Berry of Prince George County Maryland to be free on that day) and all others to be free on the fourth day of July as follows : James Jackson 1865, Jane Brooks 1867, Ellen Brown 1870, Henry Brown 1878, William Brown 1881, Judson 1867, Lucy 1862, Charles Summers her son 1876, and Ben an old man is to be free at any time he may desire to be so but if he still refuses to be free my children shall take care and support him as long as he lives."

Appletons' Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889 includes a brief bio of John, although it's unclear if its sources were separate from Reliques.

Research Notes


Marriage1:  District of Columbia, Marriage Records, 1810-1953 (Ancestry)

1840 Census:  Washington, District of Columbia
1850 Census:  Bladensburg, Prince George's, Maryland
1860 Census:  Prince George's, Maryland

Childs, James Rives. Reliques of the Rives, p383
Appletons' Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889, Vol. V, p267