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July 28, 1998

Library of Congress Publishes Final Volume in Delegate Letter Series

The Library of Congress has just published the final textual volume in its 25-volume series containing the extant correspondence of the 344 delegates who attended the Continental Congresses during the American Revolution.

Volume 25 of Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 covers the period from March 1, 1788, to July 25, 1789, during which Congress carried on the nation's business under the Articles of Confederation while preparing to transfer authority to the federal government under the newly ratified Constitution. Fiscal problems continued unabated as Congress pursued legal means to collect outstanding Continental accounts and adopted a requisition for 1788, to which the states paid scant attention.

In foreign affairs, Congress considered a French protest over Virginia's seizure of a French pirate and sought Spanish cooperation in apprehending fugitive slaves that had fled to Florida. It also deferred negotiations with Spain over navigation of the Mississippi River to the new government.

This volume documents as well Congress's preoccupation with Western lands. To expedite sale, Congress amended the land ordinance of 1785 and negotiated a contract with George Morgan and Associates for the purchase of large tracts in the Illinois country, while confirming the land titles of French settlers already there. It also rejected the terms of Georgia's Western land cession and approved a contract granting Pennsylvania a large tract bordering Lake Erie. Congress further sent Continental troops to pacify an uprising in Luzerne, Pa., and planned for the mobilization of frontier militia against Western and Southern Indians. At the same time, it condemned settler encroachments on Cherokee lands and reserved Ohio lands for Christian Delaware Indians. When it appeared that the Constitution would be ratified, Congress postponed its consideration of Kentucky statehood, leading the territory's delegate, John Brown, to intrigue with the Spanish minister over the possibility of Kentucky's independence.

Of great interest in the volume are documents that highlight the transition from confederated to federal government. Although Congress took up the ninth ratification of the Constitution, that of New Hampshire, on July 2, 1788, it debated for two months the report of the committee appointed to prepare the details for the change in government. The early stages of debate were complicated by the delay in receiving ratifications from Virginia and New York and the rejection of the Constitution by Rhode Island and North Carolina. However, the sectional split over the site of the government -- New York, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Wilmington, or Baltimore -- was not resolved until the Southern delegates yielded to the majority interest in New York and dates were set for appointing presidential electors, for electing a president, and for "commencing proceedings under the said constitution." Shortly thereafter, when Congress was forced into cramped quarters to permit the restoration of City Hall for the incoming government, most delegates left New York.

Congress transacted its last official business on October 10, 1788, although a few delegates drifted in and out of Congress over the ensuing five months. On July 25, 1789, Secretary Charles Thomson finally delivered the papers and records of the Confederation to the new federal government that had begun organizing in March.

Volume 25 of Letters of Delegates also includes a 235-page supplement of documents from 1774 to 1787 that have become available or were discovered since the publication of earlier volumes in the series in which they would otherwise have appeared. The most significant of these is New Jersey delegate John Fell's diary of congressional activity in 1780, which supplements his diary for 1779 previously published in volumes 11-14 of these Letters. Other important discoveries are chaplain Jacob Duch's first prayer in Congress, September 7, 1774, documents of the Secret Committee in 1775-76, proceedings of a treaty held with the Indians at Easton, Pa., Committee on Appeals decrees, caches of letters of William Ellery, Samuel Holten, and Charles Thomson, and George Clymer's "thoughts" on West Indian trade.

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 25 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) 512-1800 to charge copies to VISA or MasterCard, or by sending a fax to (202) 512- 2250.

Volume 25 (843 pages) sells for $56 (cite stock number 030- 000-00277-6 when ordering by mail or by telephone). Previous volumes, at various prices, are still available from the Superintendent of Documents.

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PR 98-113
ISSN 0731-3527

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