As editors, the most important decision we made during our work on the petition histories was to arrange them by topic. After years of research on the individual petitioners and their claims, we concluded that presenting each petition separately would emphasize only the personal stories and fail to convey to the user of the volumes the collective impact of the different types of petitions on the workload of Congress, the legislative process, and the development of the executive departments and their functions. Thus, all of the petitions were categorized and some of the categories were divided into subsections. Chapters on subjects with a history previous to the First Federal Congress, for example, the seat of government issue, begin with descriptive backgrounds. The legislative history of each petition is covered in either paragraph or calendar format, with titles of documents printed in italics. Biographical information is given for all petitioners whom the editors were able to reliably identify.
To render as complete an account as possible, an effort has been made to include all information we were able to find about the petitions, whether from official or unofficial records. In cases where an official version of a First Congress petition has not been located, every reasonable effort has been made to print a petition on the same claim as the one submitted to the First Congress, either a petition submitted to the Confederation Congress or, as our second choice, a petition to one of the later federal Congresses. We have printed these documents under headings dated according to the day they were journalized by the First Congress. Sometimes we used drafts of the petitions from private collections or summaries culled from letters or newspaper accounts. Reports from executive departments ordered by the First Congress but submitted to later Congresses are also print ed.Items alienated from the records of the First Congress, when they have been so identified and located, are included here. Usually we retrieved them from among the papers of the Continental and Confederation Congresses, from which they were frequently copied or even borrowed during the First Federal Congress. Our use of documents from the Continental and Confederation Congress Papers and from the records of later Federal Congresses has been strictly limited to the above guidelines. Researchers may find additional documentation cited in the Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims…( serial set, vols.653-55) and the Index to the Papers of the Continental Congress.
A combination of factors necessitated this approach. The petitions and petition-related documents in Senate Records, though few, were meticulously preserv ed.Documents that might have remained part of House Records, such as secretaries' reports, their enclosures, and in particular the petitions themselves, were victims of House Clerk John Beckley's systematic disposal of “loose papers.” Documents Beckleychose to dispose of may have been returned to the relevant departments or to the Papers of the Continental Congress. Reports returned to or otherwise retained by Secretary of War Henry Knoxsuffered the fate of many department records when the building they were stored in was destroyed by fire in November 1800. Other records were destroyed in the British burning of Washingtonin August 1814 or were lost in the immediate aftermath, either willfully or accidentally. Any loose papers that survived Beckley's zeal would not have survived the flames in 1814, since only bound volumes of House records were removed from the Capitol. The House's occasional practice of returning petitions to the petitioners explains how others were alienated from the official records.
For volumes VII and VIII some earlier editorial policies have been changed or additional policies adopt ed.These changes and additions are as follows:
The volumes are arranged in chapters by categories and subcategories. Within categories petitions are arranged chronologically by date of presentation or by date of report of the department head to whom they had been referr ed.In some cases petitions that led to extensive action in Congress, usually resulting in a bill, are treated at the end of the chapters, irrespective of chronology.
In cases where a petition presented in both houses is printed, it has been keyed to its earliest appearance in the chronology regardless of the provenance of the document; for example, David Ramsay's copyright petition is from the Senate Records, but is italicized in the House calendar entry because it was presented there first.
The date lines, signatures, standardized salutations, and complimentary closings that routinely appeared in documents (“Humbly sheweth,” “as in duty bound shall ever pray,” etc.) have been eliminated, except in unusual cases when they provide specific information not used in the document heading.
When petitions are signed by a large number of individuals, the names of the signers either appear with the document or in its location note, depending on their number. In rare cases, when documents contain dozens of signatures and those names have been printed elsewhere (i.e., in American State Papers), they are omitted and the printed location cit ed.
The spelling of petitioners' names follows the spelling found in documents rather than that found in the journals.
The existence and location of portraits have been cited in the cases where either the petitioner or the portrait itself is well known.
Authorial deletions in manuscripts have been retained and lined out in the text, but insertions above the line have been lowered to the line without comment, unless the document is a document created by the Congress or a congressional committee. In those documents the substantive interlineations are noted in the footnotes.
Brackets in the text indicate that the letters or words within the brackets represent the editors' supposition as to the correct reading. Bracketed and italicized phrases give physical descriptions of the original document or information provided by the editors, such as first names or titles of persons for the purpose of identification.
Certain basic sources were used extensively but never cited: the Dictionary of American Biography, 1790 Census, and the Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims…( serial set, vols.653-55).