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Washington, George - Writings


George Washington

Writings

 
"This superbly edited collection...adds up to an extraordinary autobiographical portrait."
—Publishers Weekly
 
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents  |  Features
 

This volume prints the texts of 446 documents--official and private letters, military orders, addresses, proclamations, memoranda, and diary entries--that were written by George Washington, or written at his direction, between 1747 and 1799. Most of these documents were not written for publication, and almost all of them existed only in manuscript form at the time of Washington's death in 1799.

For over 40 years Washington carefully attended to the organization, copying, and preservation of his papers. He began making copies of his outgoing correspondence in letter books while serving as a Virginia militia officer during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and continued keeping letter-book copies of both personal and business letters while living at Mount Vernon in the 1760s and early 1770s. As commander of the Continental Army, Washington wrote many letters in his own hand, but he also used the secretaries and aides who served in his military "family," including Joseph Reed, Thomas Mifflin, Robert Hanson Harrison, Tench Tilghman, Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens, and Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., to help him conduct his official correspondence. Typically Washington would give a written memorandum or an oral directive to an aide regarding the particular letter or order to be written. The aide would then prepare a draft, which Washington would review and often revise. A fair copy would be made for Washington's signature and then sent, and the revised draft would be retained at headquarters as a copy; in cases where no changes were made to the draft, it was often signed and sent after a copy was made from it. (At the beginning of the war a separate letter-book copy was often made in addition to the retained draft, but in 1776 this procedure became increasingly impracticable and fell into disuse.) In 1781-83 Washington ordered Lieutenant Colonel Richard Varick to arrange the records at Continental Army headquarters systematically; while doing so, Varick had a new transcription made of Washington's wartime correspondence, which eventually filled 44 volumes. Thus there are often three extant forms of a Washington letter sent between 1775 and 1783: the signed copy sent to the recipient; the draft retained at Continental Army headquarters; and the copy made for the Varick transcripts. (In some cases there is also a contemporary letter-book copy and in a few instances, such as letters received by the Continental Congress, a copy made by the recipient.)

At the close of the Revolutionary War Washington moved his Continental Army papers into the office wing at Mount Vernon. Sometime during the 1780s, possibly in 1786-87, he began to make revisions in letter-book copies of the letters and orders he wrote during the French and Indian War with the apparent intention of improving their clarity and diction. Washington appears not to have finished making these revisions until after his retirement from the presidency in 1797; once done, he then had the revised texts copied, possibly by his nephew Lawrence Lewis, into a new set of letter books. Only two of the original letter books from the French and Indian War, covering March 2-August 14, 1755, and June 14-September 12, 1758, are known to be extant.

During his presidency Washington continued to have copies of his correspondence and official papers recorded in letter books. At times he would ask his advisers, including Alexander Hamilton and, in his first term, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, for assistance in drafting official papers. In his will Washington bequeathed his official and private papers to his nephew, Supreme Court justice Bushrod Washington. After Bushrod Washington's death in 1829, possession of the papers passed to Bushrod's nephew and heir, George Corbin Washington, who sold them in two lots to the United States government in 1834 and 1849 for the sum of $45,000. In 1903 the Washington papers were moved from the custody of the Department of State to the Library of Congress.

Three major editions of Washington's writings have appeared: The Writings of George Washington, edited by Jared Sparks (12 volumes, 1833-37); The Writings of George Washington, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (14 volumes, 1889-93); and The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (39 volumes, 1931-44). A fourth edition, The Papers of George Washington, edited by W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, and others, is ongoing [as of 1997]; 32 volumes have been published since 1976, and when complete this edition will be the most comprehensive edition so far.

Sparks began work on his edition in 1827 with the cooperation of Bushrod Washington and eventually included approximately 2,500 documents in it. He freely revised texts, correcting spelling and grammar, altering phrasing, omitting material he thought inconsequential, and in some instances rewriting passages. During the several years in which Sparks had custody of the Washington papers, he also mutilated or dispersed many manuscripts in order to produce souvenir autographs. Much of this material has not been subsequently located and either has never been printed or has been printed only in the form in which it appeared in the Sparks edition. Worthington Chauncey Ford exercised greater editorial restraint in preparing his edition, but he added only about 500 documents to those already published by Sparks.

The most complete edition to date is The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick of the Library of Congress and published under the auspices of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission. It contains the texts of some 17,000 Washington documents, mostly taken from the Washington papers in the Library of Congress, although in some cases Fitzpatrick was able to use the recipient's copy of a Washington letter as his text. In presenting these documents, Fitzpatrick frequently altered punctuation and paragraphing and in some instances regularized spelling, often by spelling out words that Washington had written in contracted form (e.g., printing "about" for "abt"). Fitzpatrick also printed in abbreviated form the formal closings Washington habitually used in his correspondence; for example, the closing "I have the honor to be With great respect & esteem Your Excellency's Most Obedt Humble Servt" appears in the Fitzpatrick edition as "I have the honor etc."

In 1969 work began on The Papers of George Washington, a new edition sponsored by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union and the University of Virginia and published by the University Press of Virginia. The editors of The Papers of George Washington initiated a worldwide search for manuscript material, including both documents sent by and received by Washington, and have located, cataloged, and transcribed over 100,000 documents. Under the editorship of W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, and others, publication of The Papers of George Washington has proceeded in five series, of which three are still ongoing: The Diaries of George Washington (6 vols., 1976-79), Colonial Series (10 vols., 1983-95), Revolutionary War Series (6 vols. to date, 1985-94), Confederation Series (4 vols. to date, 1992-95), and Presidential Series (6 vols. to date, 1987-96). Whenever possible, The Papers of George Washington prints the recipient's copy of a Washington letter. Documents are transcribed and printed without alteration in their spelling, capitalization, paragraphing, and punctuation, except for the omission of dashes in instances where a dash appears together with another mark of punctuation.

The present volume prints 204 documents from The Papers of George Washington, its preferred source of texts. Another 28 documents are printed from a variety of sources, either because they were not included in the Fitzpatrick edition, or because more recent editions of the papers of Washington's correspondents (Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason) present texts of Washington letters with fewer editorial alterations than are present in the Fitzpatrick edition. The remaining 214 documents are taken from The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick.

This volume prints texts as they appeared in these sources, but with a few alterations in editorial procedure. Bracketed editorial conjectural readings in the source texts, in cases where the original manuscript text was damaged or difficult to read, are accepted without brackets in this volume when that reading seems to be the only possible one; but when it does not, or when the editor made no conjecture, the missing words are indicated by a bracketed space, i.e., [ ]. Where the editors of a source text use a bracketed space to indicate a space left blank in the manuscript, this volume uses a blank two-em space without brackets. Bracketed editorial insertions used in the source texts to expand contractions, abbreviations, or place names have been deleted in this volume. The editorial sic used in the Fitzpatrick edition after repeated words has been omitted in this volume and the indicated corrections accepted. In his edition, Fitzpatrick also used brackets to indicate which portions of a document were in Washington's handwriting, as opposed to that of an aide or secretary; this volume omits the brackets. In cases where the draft of a letter in Washington's handwriting contains alternate wordings supplied by an aide seeking to improve Washington's diction, Fitzpatrick printed the aide's emendations within brackets. This volume does not print these emendations and presents Washington's original version as its text. The Papers of George Washington presents documents from the French and Indian War letter book covering the period March 2-August 14, 1755, in texts in which material deleted by Washington while making his revisions in the 1780s and 1790s is printed with lines through the deleted material, and material added by Washington during his revisions is printed in the form of interlinear interpolations. This volume prints the deleted words without cancellations and omits the revisions printed as interpolations, presenting a clear text of the document as it was written by Washington in 1755. (The Papers of George Washington presents documents from the letter book for June 14-September 12, 1758, as they were originally written by Washington and indicates his subsequent revisions in footnotes.)

The following is a list of the most common sources of documents that appear in this volume:

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (39 vols., Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1931-44).

The Diaries of George Washington (6 vols., Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976-79). Volume I, edited by Donald Jackson (1976); Volume III, edited by Donald Jackson (1978); Volume V, edited by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (1979). Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted courtesy of the University Press of Virginia.

The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, vols. 1-6, edited by W. W. Abbot, vols. 7-9, edited by W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig, vol. 10, edited by Beverly H. Runge (10 vols., Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983-95). Volumes 1, 2 (1983), Volume 3, 4 (1984), Volume 5, 6 (1988), Volume 7 (1990), Volume 8 (1993), Volume 9 (1994), Volume 10 (1995). Copyright © 1983, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted courtesy of the University Press of Virginia.

The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, vols. 1-5, edited by Philander D. Chase, vol. 6, edited by Philander D. Chase and Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., vol. 7 (forthcoming), edited by Philander D. Chase (6 vols. to date, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985-94). Volume 1 (1985), Volume 2 (1987), Volume 3 (1988), Volume 4 (1991), Volume 5 (1993), Volume 6 (1994), Volume 7 (forthcoming [as of 1997] ). Copyright © 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1994 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted courtesy of the University Press of Virginia.

The Papers of George Washington: Confederation Series, edited by W. W. Abbot (4 vols. to date, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992-95). Volumes 1, 2 (1992), Volume 3 (1994), Volume 4 (1995), Volume 5 (forthcoming [as of 1997] ). Copyright © 1992, 1993, 1995 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted courtesy of the University Press of Virginia.

The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, vols. 1-4, edited by Dorothy Twohig, vol. 5, edited by Dorothy Twohig, Mark A. Mastromarino, and Jack D. Warren, vol. 6, edited by Mark A. Mastromarino (6 vols. as of 1997, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987-96). Volumes 1, 2 (1987), Volume 3 (1989), Volume 4 (1993), Volumes 5, 6 (1996). Copyright © 1987, 1989, 1993, 1996 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted courtesy of the University Press of Virginia.

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (27 vols., New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-81). Volumes 3, 4, 5, (1962), Volume 12 (1967), edited by Harold C. Syrett and Jacob Ernest Cooke, Volume 18 (1973), Volume 20 (1974), Volume 24 (1976), edited by Harold C. Syrett. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1973, 1974, 1976 by Columbia University Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (26 vols. to date, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-93). Volume 6 (1952), Volume 12 (1955), edited by Julian P. Boyd, Volume 24 (1990), Volume 25 (1992), edited by John Catanzariti. Copyright © 1952, 1955, 1990, 1992 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

This volume presents the texts of the editions chosen as sources here but does not attempt to reproduce features of their typographic design. Some headings have been changed and George Washington's name at the end of letters has been omitted. The texts are printed without alteration except for the changes previously discussed and for the correction of typographical errors. (Two transcription errors have also been corrected: at 481.13 "pill" replaces "work" and at 865.30 "must" replaces "much.") Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are often expressive features, and they are not altered, even when inconsistent or irregular.

Copyright 1995–2011 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
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