Press Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
November 29, 1996
Volume 24 of Letters of Delegates to Congress 1774-1789 Published by Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has just published the penultimate 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 24 of Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 covers the period from Nov. 6, 1786, to Feb. 29, 1788, and focuses primarily on events surrounding the creation of the U.S. Constitution. The volume also reflects the fiscal problems of Congress and the states, and issues of foreign affairs and the Western frontier.
Although Congress had authorized a new convention to gather "for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation," the 55 state delegates who assembled in Philadelphia from May 25 to Sept. 17 nevertheless crafted an entirely new document. Ten delegates were also sitting members of Congress, and extracts from their letters from Philadelphia have been preserved in these pages. Extensive notes taken by delegate Melancton Smith, which were not publicly available until 1959, now comprise the fullest record known for study of the debate in Congress.
Also reproduced here is James Madison's lengthy review of the controversy surrounding the Constitution in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in Paris.
This volume documents as well the early struggle over ratification: Opponents of the Constitution, such as Richard Henry Lee, appealed almost immediately for a bill of rights and other amendments, while still others called for its outright rejection. The pamphlet war began in earnest in October, when Madison joined Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in producing the now-legendary Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius." By February 1788, when this volume ends, six states -- Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- had ratified the Constitution.
This volume reflects the fiscal problems that continued to plague Congress and the states. Because of debtor demand for paper money, especially in Rhode Island, Congress reasserted its requirement that state quota payments be made in coin and even adopted a plan for a new copper coinage. Congress also appointed commissioners to settle long- standing departmental and state accounts.
In foreign affairs, Congress sorted through rumors of imminent war in Europe, continued to discuss Spanish closure of the Mississippi River to American navigation, and reasserted its exclusive treaty-making powers by recommending that the states repeal all laws that violated the 1783 peace treaty. North Africa emerged as a new area of concern in this volume, as Congress ratified a commercial treaty with Morocco.
The greatest scene of activity in these pages, however, is the Western frontier, as Congress monitored westward migration, disavowed George Rogers Clark's unauthorized raids against the Spanish and Indians in the Ohio Valley, resolved to negotiate a treaty with hostile Western tribes, and appointed a superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern Department. It also documents the prospect of Kentucky statehood and the passage of the Northwest Ordinance.
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 24 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 24 (721 pages) sells for $46 (cite stock number 030-000-00-266-1 when ordering by mail or by telephone). Previous volumes, at various prices, are still available from the Superintendent of Documents.
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