Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
July 26, 1993
Volume 20 of "Letters to Delegates of Congress", 1774-1789 Published by Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has just published the latest volume in its projected 25-volume series containing the complete correspondence of the 343 delegates who attended the Continental Congresses during the American Revolution.
Volume 20 of "Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789" covers the period from March 12 through September 1783, which began with the arrival of news that a preliminary treaty of peace had been signed at Paris. Exhilaration over the news of peace was soon dampened, however, by the reality of fiscal demands on the treasury for the arrears of Continental Army pay and interest payments on the Continental debt.
Five days after Congress received the peace treaty from Paris, a letter from General Washington warned that "two anonymous & inflammatory exhortations to the army" had been circulated at the Newburgh encampment that threatened his and Congress's control of the military. Washington's deft handling of the Newburgh crisis defused the unrest, but the underlying weakness of Continental finances continued to plague officials.
Troop unrest resurfaced in June in Philadelphia, when mutinous Pennsylvania soldiers forced Congress to flee to Princeton because state authorities refused to call out the militia. Although the delegates had cobbled together a fiscal package in April that featured another request to the states to vest Congress with authority to levy duties on imports to meet both current governmental expenses and interest payments on the debt, the response was slow and inadequate, and the states were soon calling once more for retrenchment of Continental expenditures.
During this period both the Continental Army and Navy were almost completely demobilized, and Congress agreed to "commute" the claims of Continental officers for half pay for life to full pay for five and a half years. Congress also accepted the terms of Virginia's cession of its vast western land claims and notified the states that debate over proposals for locating the federal capital would open the first week in October. In the meantime, the delegates learned that the accommodations available in the village of Princeton were inadequate to their needs, and many urged their states to submit proposals for securing the proposed federal site within their borders.
Significant documents printed in this volume include a series of Massachusetts delegate Stephen Higginson's letters found in British archives that reveal his extreme Francophobe views and his eagerness to promote an early resumption of trade with Britain, and several documents from the pens of Elias Boudinot (President of Congress) and Alexander Hamilton that underscore the key roles they played in Congress's removal from Philadelphia.
The volume also includes 33 recently discovered letters written at Princeton by the secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, to his wife, Hannah; a long public letter by Arthur Lee (delegate from Virginia) denouncing Pennsylvania, aimed at blocking a congressional return to Philadelphia; and the first published letter of "The North American," whose identity has long baffled scholars. Volume 20 reveals that the letters published by "The North American" in The Pennsylvania Journal were actually written by Virginia delegate John Francis Mercer.
The editors of the Letters project, Paul H. Smith, Gerard W. Gawalt, and Ronald M. Gephart, have drawn upon more than 22,000 documents assembled from hundreds of institutions and private individuals from all over America and Western Europe. In the work of collecting this store of information, they had the assistance of dozens of librarians, archivists, and private collectors. They have attempted to present all the extant documents written by the delegates during their periods of attendance in Congress.
The publication of this material began in 1976 with a generous grant from the Ford Foundation. It supersedes the 60-year-old "Letters of Members of the Continental Congress" prepared in eight volumes by Edmund C. Burnett.
Volume 20 of "Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789" is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, or in person from the Library of Congress Sales Shop in the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Telephone orders may be placed by calling (202) 783-3238 to charge copies to VISA, MasterCard, or Choice.
Volume 20 (791 pages) sells for $39 (cite stock number 030-000- 00245-8 when ordering by mail or by telephone). Previous volumes, at various prices, are still available from the Superintendent of Documents.
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