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Peter Force was born in New Jersey in 1790. When very small he accompanied his father to New York, where, after a short term at school, he became a printer's boy. He proved intelligent and reliable and rose to the first place in the business. In 1816 he became managing partner in a shop which his former master established in Washington to execute a government contract. In 1823 he became editor and proprietor of The national journal, then in the interest of Monroe's administration and later an Adams organ. In 1830 his party had disintegrated, and, being of all men least able to find another, he saw his paper run into a decline that left him without employment.

Earlier than this he had made plans for publishing a great collection of documents on the American Revolution. Sparks was just bringing his Diplomatic correspondence to a successful close, and the profits of the enterprise had attracted the attention of more than one Washington editor. It seemed a favourable time to attempt the execution of Force's scheme. He found a partner in Matthew St. Clair Clarke, clerk of the House of Representatives, who had money enough to launch the enterprise and political influence enough to get it authorized by Congress. Accordingly, after some negotiations Congress on 2 March, 1833, at the very time the compromise tariff bill and the ‘Force Bill’ disposed of the South Carolina crisis, passed a brief law authorizing the secretary of state to contract with Force and Clarke for the publication of a documentary history of the American Revolution, provided it did not cost more proportionally than Sparks's work.

Edward Livingston was then secretary of state. His contemporaries considered him an impractical man, and the contract he now made goes far to support their view. It was agreed that the work should be published in folio form, the government to take fifteen hundred copies at 1 7/8 cents a page a copy. Thus $22,500 would be paid for each volume of eight hundred pages. No limit was set to the number of volumes, and as the mass of materials was large the work might be made to extend to many volumes. Among Force's manuscripts, in the Library of Congress, is a memorandum in which he and Clarke estimated their profits, not including the expenses of collecting materials, at $11,000 on a volume of eight hundred

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