A “dear colleague” letter is a letter (or email) addressed “Dear Colleague(s)” or “My Dear Colleague(s),” sent by one member of a legislative body to another member. The letter often describes a new bill and asks for cosponsors, members to support the bill, or members to oppose the bill.
The address “Dear Colleague” has been cited in print since at least from an October 1913 letter printed in the New York (NY) Times. The term “‘dear colleague’ letter” dates to at least 1935.
Wikipedia: Dear colleague letter
A dear colleague letter is a letter sent by one member of a legislative body to all fellow members, usually describing a new bill and asking for cosponsors or seeking to influence the recipients’ votes on an issue. They can also be used for administrative matters, such as announcing elevator repairs, or informing colleagues of events connected with congressional business, or to set or modify procedures. A typical Dear Colleague letter is written by staff members and will be approved by a Legislative Director as it represents a significant political communication by the member. “Dear Colleague” letters are short, typically no longer than 500 words.
The use of such letters dates back to at least to the early 20th century. Electronic Dear Colleague letters are now disseminated via in-house networks in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. In UK government agencies such as the U.K. Department of Health, Dear Colleague letters convey general information, policy updates or a request for information or action.
Wikipedia: Dear colleague letter (United States)
A “Dear Colleague” letter is official correspondence that is sent by a Member, committee, or officer of the United States House of Representatives or United States Senate and that is distributed in bulk to other congressional offices. A “Dear Colleague” letter may be circulated in paper form through internal mail, distributed on a chamber floor, or sent electronically.
“Dear Colleague” letters are often used to encourage others to cosponsor, support, or oppose a bill. “Dear Colleague” letters concerning a bill or resolution generally include a description of the legislation or other subject matter along with a reason or reasons for support or opposition. Senders or signatories of such letters become identified with the particular issue. “Dear Colleague” letters can also create an “unofficial link” in the Capitol Hill information chain.
Additionally, “Dear Colleague” letters are used to inform Members and their offices about events connected to congressional business or modifications to House or Senate operations.
Member-to-Member correspondence has long been used in Congress. For example, since early House rules required measures to be introduced only in a manner involving the “explicit approval of the full chamber,” Representatives needed permission to introduce legislation. A not uncommon communication medium for soliciting support for this action was a letter to colleagues. Representative Abraham Lincoln, in 1849, formally notified his colleagues in writing that he intended to seek their authorization to introduce a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.
The phrase “Dear Colleague” has been used to refer to a widely distributed letter among Members at least since early in the 20th century. In 1913, the New York Times included the text of a “Dear Colleague” letter written by Representative Finley H. Gray to Representative Robert N. Page in which Gray outlined his “conceptions of a fit and proper manner” in which Members of the House should “show their respect for the President” and “express their well wishes” to the first family. In 1916, the Washington Post included the text of a “Dear Colleague” letter written by Representative William P. Borland and distributed to colleagues on the House floor. The letter provided an explanation of an amendment he had offered to a House bill.
LexisNexis—Glossary of Terms
“Dear Colleague” letter
A short letter sent by a bill’s sponsor to other Members of the Chamber describing the legislative proposal and soliciting cosponsors. So called because the letter begins with the salutation “Dear Colleague”.
31 October 1913, New York (NY) Times, pg. 10:
DISCORD IN HOUSE
OVER WILSON GIFT
Members Proposing Present for
Miss Jennie Find Gray of
Indiana Out of Tune.
HE CALLS IT BAD TASTE
Writes a Letter, Offers a Resolu-
tion, and Makes a Speech
Against the Plan.
The letter follows:
Hon. Robert N. Page, M. C.
House of Representatives:
Dear Colleague: In response to the letter of the 27th inst., signed by youirself and others, inviting a contribution for the purchase of a gift to the President’s daughter by the members of the House, I here enclose my check for the amount solicited, together with a copy of the resolution.
FINLEY H. GRAY.
By United States. Congress. House. Committee on Rules
Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office
Some of you may remember the so-called “Dear Colleague” letters, which were circulated in the House just before the coming up of the Wheeler-Rayburn bill. They originated with Mr. Brewster.
(The “Wheeler-Rayburn Act” is also known as the “Public Unity Holding Company Act of 1935.” Ralph Owen Brewster (1888-1961) was a Republican congressman from Maine—ed.)
11 July 1935, La Crosse (WI) Tribune and Leader-Press pg. 17, cols. 4-5:
Spectators Think Brewster
Committed Political Suicide
By RUBY A. BLACK
(Tribune Washington Correspondent)
Washington—The spectators’ verdict on Representative Ralph O. Brewster, Maine republican, is that he has publicly committed political suicide.
Half a dozen congressmen who were present at famous RFC conference on strategy are asking to testify before therules committee that Brewster was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the “death sentence” in that meeting, that he suggested the “Dear Colleague” letter, that he agreed to handle the legal arguments on the constitutionality of the bill on the floor, and that he himself suggested getting time from the republican side to do this.
4 September 1958, New York (NY) Times, “Boeing 707 Jet Not Too Noisy, Aviation Industry Group Holds” by Richard Witkin, pg. 54:
The statement was made in a letter Mr. Tobin is said to have written to heads of major Western European air terminals. It has been circulated in the trade where, because of its salutation, it has become known as the “My Dear Colleague” letter.
Google News Archive
5 May 1962, Palm Beach (FL) Post, “Kennedy Losing Favor In Deep South” by Drew Pearson, pg. 4, col. 5:
And in order to prevent any rush consideration of the giveaway, he sent out a “dear colleague” letter to a group of Congressmen who are usually interested in fighting the public’s battles, inviting themto a meeting.
20 November 1977, Dallas (TX) Morning News, sec. A, pg. 8:
“Dear Colleague” called latest plague
Dallas-area congressmen say they don’t ignore blitz of letters
By CAROLYN RAEKE
Washington Bureau of The News
WASHINGTON—Recently, Rep. Otis Pike, D-N.Y., referred in a letter to his constiutents tp a “new plague” on the House of Representatives.
This new plague, joining Pike’s older plagues of “uselessq uorum calls, unnecessary votes on trivial issues,” is the “Dear Colleague” letter, which is reaching blizzard proportions in terms of paperwork in the House.
CRS Report for Congress
Updated January 4, 2005
“Dear Colleague” Letters: A Brief Overview
R. Eric Petersen
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
“Dear Colleague” letters are official correspondence distributed in bulk to Members in both chambers. Primarily, they are used by one or more Members to persuade others to cosponsor or oppose a bill (generally, prior introduction). Dear Colleague letters might also inform Members of an event connected wioth congressional business, of new or modified House procedures, or of some other matter. The use of the phrase “‘Dear Colleague’ letter” to refer to a widely distributed letter among Members dates at least to the start o fthe 20th century. New technologies and expanded use of the Internet have increased the speed and facilitated the process of preparing Dear Colleague letters. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
“Dear Colleague” Letters: Current Practices
Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress
“Dear Colleague” letters are correspondence signed by Members of Congress and distributed to their colleagues. Such correspondence is often used by one or more Members to persuade others to cosponsor, support, or oppose a bill. “Dear Colleague” letters also inform Members about new or modified congressional operations or about events connected to congressional business. A Member or group of Members might send a “Dear Colleague” letter to all of their colleagues in a chamber, to Members of the other chamber, or to a subset of Members, such as all Democrats or Republicans. The use of the phrase “Dear Colleague” to refer to a widely distributed letter among Members dates at least to the start of the 20th century, and refers to the generic salutation of these letters. New technologies and expanded use of the Internet have increased the speed and facilitated the process of distributing “Dear Colleague” letters.
Date of Report: November 19, 2010
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RL34636
Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress
By Scot Schraufnagel
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press
DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTERS. Form letters sent from one member to usually all other members of the chamber, which outline a new bill, or procedure change, or announce events taking place on Capitol Hill. Typically, a dear colleague letter might request cosponsors or ask members to support (Pg. 65—ed.) a bill with their vote. The practice has been in place since the early 20th century. Today, the letters are most commonly dissseminated electronically.
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