Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version

Spring 2005

Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2005. ISSN 0196-7134


2005 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


With publication of the official records and debates completed in the first fourteen volumes of The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, the editors have turned to the final series-the publication of letters concerning the activities that surrounded the first Congress. The three current volumes cover Congress's first session, March to November 1789. From the more than 13,000 documents that have been collected for this series, letters have been chosen for publication that throw light on the working of both houses, that describe the social and political views of the members, incoming letters that express cogent views and inform the members of the opinions and expectations of their constituents, and newspaper items written to or by members that reveal new information about the activities of Congress. The editors do not necessarily print each letter in full, concentrating rather on those portions of letters relevant to Congress. Some letters are printed in their entirety, some have pertinent parts extracted, and others are simply listed. Letters do not always confine themselves strictly to matters dealing with Congress. Correspondence from outside observers, such as the Comte de Moustier's perceptive description of President Washington's inauguration, fill in the picture of life in New York in the early days of the new government (15:403-6). The current three volumes have gone beyond their mission, covering not only the politics of the new Congress's first session, but presenting an unparalleled glimpse of the institutional and political life of the new nation and of its social milieu as well. Personal letters are, of course, the most revealing, but the volumes also include the circular letters to constituents that played to a wider audience, explaining the incumbent's political positions and seeking local support.