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 23 of Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 covers the period from November 1785 to November 1786, a period of uncertainty for the future of the government of the United States. Although the nation was at peace, it continued to experience difficulties in its relations abroad, vainly seeking commercial treaties, recovery of British-held northwest frontier posts, protection for its shipping from the Barbary States, and free navigation of the Mississippi River.
Spanish determination to keep the mouth of the Mississippi closed to Americans resulted in negotiations between John Jay, secretary for foreign affairs, and Diego Gardoqui, the Spanish charg‚ at New York, who offered commercial concessions to the United States in return for abandonment of pretensions to the Mississippi. This volume presents the full record of the congressional reaction to the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations and contains numerous new documents revealing the views of delegates such as Edward Carrington, William Samuel Johnson, James Monroe, Charles Pinckney, Arthur St. Clair, and Melancton Smith.
Proposals for strengthening the federal government, which led to the call for a convention of delegates at Annapolis to stimulate discussion, form another major theme running through these pages. Still, fiscal problems confronting not only Congress but most of the states remained intractable, and unrest in Massachusetts over conservative state fiscal policies provoked armed resistance that led Congress to issue a special call for troops to meet the threat of Shays' Rebellion.
Similarly, New Jersey's refusal to honor its 1786 requisition led Congress to send a special delegation to the state's assembly to find a compromise, and New York's opposition to the proposed Continental Impost resulted in two special appeals to that state's legislators, who nevertheless continued to rebuff Congress.
Western lands, long looked to as a future source of revenue, also failed to produce significant relief, as relations with various Indian tribes attempting to hold the line against white settlement delayed surveyors and treaty negotiators who struggled to obtain additional cessions from native Americans. Congressional acceptance of Connecticut's cession of its western claims was a modest advance, but a step taken at the price of accepting the state's claim to an extensive Western Reserve.
Much new information on these and other challenging issues fill the pages of this volume. It also includes many new documents on reorganization of the department of Indian affairs, and interstate boundary disputes, such as those between Massachusetts and New York, and Georgia and South Carolina, which occasioned invoking federal courts under the seldom used provisions of Article IX of the Articles of Confederation.
This volume documents as well many aspects of the fiscal crisis that continued to plague Congress, its failure to agree on the permanent location of a capital, inability to maintain adequate delegate attendance, and lack of progress in the settlement of the states' Continental accounts.
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 23 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 23 (693 pages) sells for $39 (cite stock number 030-000-00267-9 when ordering by mail or by telephone). Previous volumes, at various prices, are still available from the Superintendent of Documents.