Federal legislation, like its state counterpart, is published in two ways: chronologically and topically.

The federal statutory compilation organized chronologically is called Statutes at Large. This chronological collection contains all laws passed by Congress, whether they are public laws or private laws. Each volume has a table of contents that lists the statutes passed by that Congress in that specific session by their title and their public or private number.

This collection is available both in print and online, on governmental and proprietary databases. The governmental publications, whether on print or online are not complete. For example, you can find online the first 18 volumes of the Statutes at Large-from 1789 through 1875-are available on the Library of Congress’s Web site, at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html, and all the statutes passed by Congress since 1993, from a different Library of Congress's site, Thomas.loc.gov.

Thomas.loc.gov.is not the best designed web site imaginable, but once you become familiar with its goal, it is easily manageable. Thomas is mostly meant as a legislative history site, for statutes and bills whose citation you know. For example, if you know that the original Patriot Act was passed on October 26, 2001, under the following numeric identifier, PUBLIC LAW 107–56, then you can visit Thomas, locate the public law and find out [its legislative history] [1].