University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Thomas R. Carper
Congressional Papers

See below for collection citation and reference information.

I.E. Constituent Correspondence, 1983-1992

+ Series I.E. -- Scope and Content Note
+ Series I.E. -- Contents List

Extent: 11 linear ft.

Boxes: 53 - 63

Contents: Correspondence, legislative requests, mail reports, office codes for letters, return response letters, news clippings, memoranda, pamphlets.

Arrangement: Arranged chronologically by Congress, 98th - 102nd. Some years are arranged topically by issue; others alphabetically by last name of correspondent. In some years, such as 1991-1992, there was no form of delineation in the correspondence, the letters were simply filed by the year. From files generated during Carper's first term, there are no individual response letters, just the standard form letter found in the beginning of the files for 1983-1984. For later years, replies sent by Carper's office are included. Several of the folders, from 1983-1989, also contain a photocopy of the front of a manilla envelope. The letters were housed by Carper's office in these envelopes, labeled and coded by name of issue and response sent out to the individual. In contrast to correspondence in Series I.A. TC Personal Files, which usually consisted of incoming and outgoing letters, the Constituent Correspondence series often contains only the letters written to Carper and not the replies sent out, or vice versa.


The Constituent Correspondence files mainly consist of letters and postcards from Delaware voters addressing House legislation and Congressman Carper's voting record. There are also legislative phone requests which Carper's staff recorded and responded to when necessary. "Legislative Request" forms in the collection identify callers by name and address, and describe their concern. Most of Congressman Carper's responses to his constituents were handled by staff assistants. His staff had a numeric code for each issue and after coding the request, they sent out a form letter detailing Carper's position or explaining his vote. These form letters are filed under the heading of "return response letters" in this series. Occasionally Carper personalized his replies, especially if he knew the constituent personally, if the constituent was a frequent correspondent, or if the letter he was answering came from an "important" person.

Carper with constituents at a town meeting, Hockessin, 1985
The Constituent Correspondence series begins in 1983 when Tom Carper was a freshman in Congress and ends in 1992 when he left the House to run for governor of the state of Delaware. Issues addressed in the correspondence are numerous and include the environment, taxes, foreign affairs, civil rights, health care, the military, and the budget.

One of the most well-documented issues is the "Notch Year Baby" controversy. Citizens born in the Notch Years (1917-1921) argued that certain changes in the social security laws enacted by Congress in 1972 and 1977 to compensate for rising inflation costs allowed people born before the Notch Years to receive more benefits than those born in these years did. Carper (whose father was also a "Notch Baby") responded by pointing out that there had been a discrepancy but that it had been corrected and that if anything, the Notch Babies were receiving more than they would have without the correction. They were also receiving more than those individuals born after 1921. A letter-writing campaign initiated by Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) appears to have been a catalyst for a significant amount of the mail Carper received on this issue.

In addition to the "Notch Year" controversy, issues concerning the economy, defense, and various social issues are well documented. Economically, Carper's correspondence shows him to be fiscally conservative. He vigorously supported cuts in unnecessary spending in order to balance the budget and decrease the huge deficit that built up during President Reagan's terms in office. (See also Series I.A. TC Personal Files -- Balanced Budget Amendment.)

Regarding defense, Carper's letters show him supporting a strong military to defend the country against a perceived threat from the U.S.S.R. However, Carper was against the accumulation of nuclear arms and voted against construction of the MX missile, and for a freeze in nuclear arms production. Carper also voiced disapproval over funding for projects such as Star Wars, which he felt was too expensive and served no practical purpose. Carper favored humanitarian and political aid to Central American contries such as El Salvador, but his 1983 and 1987 visits to Central America only served to convince him that no military aid should be given to rebels in these countries. Though Carper may have disagreed with both President Reagan and President Bush over certain defense and foreign policy issues, he consistently supported their decisions to use military force when absolutely necessary, as is evidenced by his letters expressing support for the invasion of Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega, and the war in the Persian Gulf.

When dealing with social issues, Carper showed that he was willing to vote for a bill even when it was unpopular with his constituents if he felt that the bill was best for the country. For example, Carper voted for the highly unpopular Equal Rights Amendment and the Civil Rights Amendment each time they came before Congress. He also consistently voted to keep abortion legal, saying that after weighing both sides of the argument he felt it was a descision best left to a woman, her physician, and family. Carper also supported some popular social issues including the Family and Medical Leave Act which allowed employees to take time off in the event of a family emergency. Finally, Carper's terms in Congress coincided with the first appearances of the AIDS epidemic. Carper voted for laws against discrimination of people with AIDS, and for funding for education and research on this disease.

For several boxes in this series, tally sheets listing codes for types of letters and page extent are listed along with a description of the letter. Included with this tally sheet are examples of each letter generated by Carper's office in response to the issues represented. Following these files are the actual constitutent letters, arranged by topic, the letter code included with each group of letters.

"Legislative request" forms provide details of phone calls from constituents taken by Carper's staff. These forms record the caller's name, address and their comment, either verbatim or summarized. Repeat callers were common. Often, the sheets are annotated regarding necessary follow-up, from none to a letter from Carper.

The final portion of this series contains mail reports which provide a detailed breakdown of the quantity of mail sent out by Carper's office by issue or topic. The reports also further record the correspondence handled by legislative staff. A count of the mail backlog was recorded, as well as the quantity handled by each staff member. Mail reports were compiled from slips on which were recorded the number of letters sent out per issue with their appropriate code. These slips have been discarded, except for samples in the first file, since the printouts that have been retained duplicate this information.

+ Contents List for Series I.E. Constituent Correspondence

+ Return to Index Page for Thomas R. Carper Congressional Papers

+ Guide to Other Political Papers at the University of Delaware Library

+ Return to List of Manuscript Finding Aids by Title

citation and reference information:

Thomas R. Carper
Congressional Papers

1979 - 1993
(bulk dates 1982 - 1992)

Manuscript Collection Number: 399
Accessioned: Gift of Thomas R. Carper, 1992, 1998-1999
Extent: 84 linear ft. and oversize material
Content: Legislation, correspondence, reports, documents and publications, memoranda, speeches, photographs, audio-visual material, newsletters, news clippings, and ephemera.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: November 1997 - December 1999 by Rebecca J. Altermatt with assistance from Rob Costello; edited by L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin.

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