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Book Reviews

Book Reviews


Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789. Volume 16: September 1,

1780-February 28, 1781. Edited by Paul H. Smith, Gerard W. Gawalt, and

Ronald M. Gephart. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989. xxix +

804p.; editorial method and apparatus, acknowledgments, chronology of

Congress, list of delegates to Congress, illustrations, notes, index, $38.00.)

In commenting upon several of the other volumes in this series, this reviewer

has made a number of points that could well be repeated here. These volumes

are superbly edited, they are highly usable as reference works, and they are

destined to be of enduring value long after the Bicentennial Era is over.

Moreover, there is much in this volume, as in the previous ones, that could

be used to humanize our colorful cast of characters and the pageant in which

they played their important roles. Indeed, should the widely acclaimed Ken

Burns decide at some future point to do a PBS video on the American

Revolution, perhaps something comparable to his often gripping and haunting-

ly beautiful 1990 miniseries on the Civil War, he would encounter a wealth of

material here that is suitable for transformation into a fine, fine script.

Admittedly, in many cases, the dramatis personae of Volume 16 continue to be

reluctant delegates, flesh-and-blood human beings who are understandably

torn between a compelling sense of obligation to serve the public on the one

hand and an unquenchable desire to be back home with their own families and

friends on the other. Most of them try hard to function effectively in these often

distressing times, but as mere mortals they themselves are hardly immune from

such common foibles as vanity, jealousy, and backbiting. The infant nation's

life may be hanging in the balance; but still these men who will one day be

lauded as peerless Founding Fathers now display a certain very human

tendency to be caught up in gossip, speculation, and intrigue. To make matters

even worse, on many occasions they are enveloped in a misty and profound

ignorance as to what is really going on out there in the field of battle-or

anywhere in the world beyond the confines of Philadelphia, for that matter.

And the money problems, both of the men themselves and of the republic they

seek to serve, are seemingly endless and are nearly always threatening to


Money is an especially important theme in this particular volume. From one

end of this book to the other, there is a veritable chorus of voices singing the

same song: "The Situation of our Finnances yet remains distressing, and

seems the true Cause to which every other Difficulty & Embarrassment may be

traced" (p. 16). So wrote the president of Congress, Samuel Huntington of

Connecticut, in early September, 1780. So echoed James Lovell of Massachu-

setts in February of the following year: "Our Prospects as to Money do not

brighten" (p. 688). It must have been somewhat difficult for a generation

brought up on the old notion that "The love of money is the root of all evil" to

find itself now subscribing so thorough goingly to a form of economic deter-

minism that would explain either their nation's very survival or its destruction.

But their words make it clear that Ezekiel Cornell, John Hanson, John

Sullivan, Theodorick Bland, Jr., Whitmell Hill, James Duane, and company

are now learning some hard lessons about what might be termed the economic

basis of politics. For his part, James Madison of Virginia chimes in: "The want