Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
April 25, 1994
Volume 21 of Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 Published by the 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 21 of "Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789" covers the period from October 1783 to November 1784, which began with Congress sitting in Princeton and closed with the delegates struggling to convene a quorum in Trenton, following a six-month session in Annapolis and a summer recess. The uncertain future of the union under such conditions frayed tempers and sparked mutual recriminations and denunciations that are well documented in this volume.
With the arrival of peace, a lack of interest in congressional proceedings haunted many leaders. Thus, major decisions were slow to be made, since the concurrence of nine states was required. The ratification of the Treaty of Paris, for example, was delayed until January 14, 1784. Insufficient attendance blocked proceedings throughout much of that congressional year. Before the year was finished, Congress directed its secretary to maintain attendance lists, which were to be remitted monthly to impress unrepresented states with the seriousness of their deficiencies.
During this period the Continental Army was demobilized and Congress received the resignation of General Washington in a dramatic ceremony held soon after convening in Annapolis. However, the country soon found itself too weak to maintain a military presence on the frontiers. Congress was powerless to secure the reoccupation of British-held posts in the Northwest or to promote desired negotiations with a dozen Indian tribes. Development of the public domain was accordingly stymied and plans to realize revenue from the sale of Western lands was delayed for years.
Congressional weakness and the forces generated by competing states delayed postwar progress in several policy areas. The states continued to deny Congress authority to levy a Continental tax, which was deemed the only solution adequate to prevent default on the public debt, both domestic and foreign. And although confronted with European trade barriers and a deepening recession, Congress continued to encounter resistance from the states in its bid to secure power to regulate trade.
These pages also include many newly published documents on key interstate conflicts, such as Massachusetts's claim to lands in western New York, Connecticut's challenge to the Trenton decree on the Wyoming Valley claims of its citizens against Pennsylvania, and renewed threats of New York against Vermont independence.
Rivalry over the location of a federal capital is another major theme throughout the volume. The decision to leave Princeton was preceded by one to establish dual federal capitals -- at the falls of the Delaware River and on the Potomac near Georgetown -- but many leaders expressed doubt over the possibility of implementing the decision. Others, in and out of Congress, ridiculed the idea, while recognizing that widespread hostility to any return to Philadelphia probably doomed Pennsylvania's aspiration for the site.
This volume also documents Congress's experiment with the "Committee of the States," a constitutional device under the Articles of Confederation for entrusting the country's business during a recess to a committee of 13, which attempted to sit, with mixed results, from June 4 to August 19, 1784.
The editors of the Letters project, Paul H. Smith and Ronald M. Gephart, have drawn upon more than 23,000 documents assembled from hundreds of institutions and private individuals from all over America and Western Europe, particularly the Library's own unrivaled collections covering the American revolutionary era. They have attempted to present all the extant documents written by the delegates during their attendance in Congress. Dozens of librarians, archivists, and private collectors assisted the editors in the project.
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 21 of "Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789" is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, New Orders, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. Telephone orders may be placed by calling (202) 783-3238 to charge copies to VISA or MasterCard.
Volume 21 (861 pages) sells for $41 (cite stock number 030-000-00246-6 when ordering by mail or by telephone). Previous volumes, at various prices, are still available from the Superintendent of Documents.
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