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Collection Connections

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

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Go directly to the collection, Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, in American Memory, or view a Summary of Resources related to the collection.

A broadside (or broadsheet) is a large sheet of paper, usually printed on one side. Citizens would read posted broadsides and gather to discuss their content. Broadsides set the stage for the open public debate and free press that became ideals in our society. These broadside collections document the hopes, fears, motivations, and interests of Americans who fought the Revolutionary War and created the United States Constitution.

1) The collection contains classic documents of the Revolutionary War era including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, The Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.

Congress Search on Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence.
In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration By the Representatives of the United States of America, In General Congress Assembled. Philadelphia: John Dunlap, July 4, 1776.
2) The broadsides document debate on issues such as states rights, balance of power, and branches of government. The broadsides record hallmark events in American history such as the call for the first presidential election and the establishment of the Supreme Court.

[The First Assembly of Congress]. François Godefroy (c.1743 - 1819). Mixed method, in Essais Historiques et Politiques sur la Revolution de l'Amerique Septentrionale, 1782.

Search on election, Congress, president, states rights, and Supreme Court for text such as:

Be it therefore ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, that a supreme court of appeals, for the United States of America, in all cases of captures, shall be constituted and established, and it is hereby constituted and established, to consist of three judges, to be chosen by ballot from time to time by Congress and commissioned by the president ... .

From the broadside: "The committee to whom the several ordinances relating to captures on water, were committed, report the following ordinance : In pursuance of the power vested in Congress by the Articles of Confederation ... it becomes necessary that a supreme court of appeals, in all cases of captures, should be constituted and established,..."1782?"

3) These broadsides present diverse views on how and why the Revolutionary War was fought. The broadsides paint a picture of how colonists became convinced to fight a war for independence.

Join or Die

JOIN, or DIE. Artist unknown. Woodcut, in The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754.

Search on broadsides and broadsheets to find rallying cries for the war for Independence. For example, search on broadsides for text such as:

A Plan was carried on by the British Ministry for several Years in a systematic Manner to enslave you to that Kingdom. After various Attempts in an artful and insidious Manner to bring into Practice the laying you under Tribute, they at last openly and decisively asserted their Right of making Laws to bind you in all Cases whatsoever.

From the broadside: "The representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, to the people in general, and particularly to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania, and the adjacent states." 1776.

4) These documents trace the legislative process. Many of the broadsides appear in several drafts. These drafts highlight the process of negotiation and compromise during this era. Debate over the new Constitution is well chronicled in the Constitutional Convention Broadsides.

Search on laws or legislation combined with specific topics.

  • For example, to study the development of the American monetary system, search on legislation, money for text such as:

    The weight, size or value of the several pieces of money that shall be made, or rather the most convenient value of the money unit, is a question not easily determined, considering that most of the citizens of the United States, are accustomed to count in pounds, shillings and pence; and that those sums are of different values in the different states...

    From the broadside: "Propositions respecting the coinage of gold, silver, and copper." 1785.

  • And text such as:

    [Resolved] That the money unit of the United States, being by the resolve of Congress of the 6th July, 1785, a dollar, shall contain of fine silver, three hundred and seventy-five grains, and sixty-four hundredths of a grain.

    From the broadside: "By the United States in Congress assembled. August 8, 1786 : On a report of the Board of Treasury..."

  • And the broadside: "An ordinance for the establishment of the mint of the United States of America, and for regulating the value and alloy of coin." Oct. 16, 1786.

5) Broadsides on the Revolutionary War effort are prevalent. The documents reveal the details and financial difficulties of organizing 13 separate governments and militias into a united fighting force.
George Washington

General Washington (1732-1799). Painted by John Trumbull (1756- 1843). Engraved by Valentine Green 1739-1813). Mezzotint, 1781

Search on continental, army, war, or George Washington to find out about the war effort. For example, search on continental for text such as:

And whereas great confusion hath arisen from the manner in which officers and soldiers have been paid for rations and parts of rations allowed to, but not drawn by, them respectively: Resolved, That the parts of a ration be estimated as follows, viz. For the daily allowance of beef, pork, or fish, Four-Ninetieths of a Dollar; of bread or flour, Two-Ninetieths; of pease or beans, One-Ninetieth; of milk, One-Ninetieth; of beer, One-Ninetieth; of rice, One-Half of a Ninetieth; and of soap, One-Half of a Ninetieth; making in the whole Ten-Ninetieths of a Dollar for each ration...

From the broadside: "In Congress, June 10, 1777 : Resolved, I. That for supplying the Army of the United States with provisions..."

6) Under the treaty of Paris (1783) which ended the war, Britain relinquished a large tract of land in the west. The collection traces Congressional debate over division, distribution, and governance of these territories. For example, Congress designated some of the territory lands as rewards for soldiers of the Continental Army.

Search on western territory for text such as:

Be it further ordained, That the secretary at war issue warrants for bounties of land to the several officers and soldiers of the late continental army who may be entitled to such bounties, or to their respective assigns or legal representatives, certifying therein the rank or station of each officer, and the line, regiment, corps and company in which the officer or soldier served.

From the broadside: "By the United States in Congress assembled. July 9, 1788: A supplement to an ordinance entitled An ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of lands in the Western Territory'."

7) As part of the debate over western territories, the early congress also debated treatment of and relationships with Native Americans. The collection covers Native American issues such as treaty formation, trade, and settlement of Native American lands.

Mohawk Indian

JOSEPH THAYENDANEKEN, The Mohawk Chief. Artist unknown. Mixed method, in The London Magazine, July 1776

Search on Indian, treaty, and the names of specific tribes (such as Shawnee, Cherokee, Mohawk and Wabash). For example, search on Indian for text such as:

[And be it further ordained,] That no person, citizen or other, under the penalty of five hundred dollars, shall reside among or trade with any Indian or Indian nation, within the territory of the United States, without a license for that purpose first obtained from the superintendant of the district...

From the broadside: "By the United States in Congress assembled. August 7, 1786 : An ordinance for the regulation of Indian affairs."

8) These broadsides do not present history from the perspective of the common citizen. The documents were written by patriot leaders steeped in the ideology of freedom and equality. While the broadsides do not commonly cite authors, many famous patriots are named in or are signers of the documents.
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin

Detail from Signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Trumbull (1756-1843). Oil on canvas, c. 1819.

Search on James Monroe, John Adams, George Washington, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and others. For example, search on Benjamin Franklin for text such as:

The solemn ratifications of the present treaty, expedited in good and due form, shall be exchanged between the contracting parties, in the space of six months, or sooner if possible, to be computed from the day of the signature of the present treaty. In witness whereof, we the undersigned, their ministers plenipotentiary, have in their name and in virtue of our full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty, and caused the seals of our arms to be affixed thereto.
DONE at Paris, this third day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.

From the broadside: " By the United States in Congress assembled, a proclamation : Whereas definitive articles of peace and friendship, between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty, were concluded and signed at Paris, on the 3rd day of September, 1783 ..."

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Last updated 09/26/2002