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Collection George Washington Papers

Creating the American Nation

George Washington, the commander in chief of the American Revolutionary Army, was the ever practical military leader, president of the Federal Constitutional Convention, and first president of the United States. The collections of this famous former British colonial reflect his public career and his personal interests.

George Washington, the commander in chief of the American Revolutionary Army, was the ever practical military leader, president of the Federal Constitutional Convention, and first president of the United States. The collections of this famous former British colonial reflect his public career and his personal interests.

The approximately 65,000 items in the George Washington Papers revolve around Washington's careers as surveyor, plantation owner, military commander in the service of and in revolt against the British government, and practical politician. Washington's correspondence, account books, and military papers are the preeminent sources for military aspects of the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. Washington's correspondence, diaries, journals, and meticulously maintained records of federal appointment applications are unparalleled reservoirs of information on the founding of the United States constitution and the creation of the national government.

These collections of the papers of Washington and 22 other Presidents are the core of the Library of Congress's unequaled sources for the study of the founding of the American nation and its national government.

George Washington to Sarah Cary Fairfax, June 7, 1755

In 1755 while on a military campaign against the French, George Washington began his flirtatious correspondence with Sarah Cary Fairfax, who was only two years older than Washington but the wife of George William Fairfax, his neighbor and close friend at Belvoir, in Fairfax county. Only twenty-two when he began this written communication, Washington continued to write to Sally and she no doubt retained a special place in Washington's heart throughout his life. Washington's correspondence with the well-married Sarah Fairfax was not unusual for the eighteenth century. Washington's letterbook copies reveal his care and concern in the composition of this letter and his later attempts to polish the prose in his letterbooks.

See Series 2, Letterbook 1, image 69 and Letterbook 2, image 31 for additional images and a transcription of these letters.

George Washington to Mary Ball Washington, July 18, 1755

Shortly after the defeat of General Braddock's army on July 9, 1755, a defeated but clearly exhilarated George Washington wrote this excited and reassuring account of the battle to his mother, Mary Ball Washington. Washington praised the Virginia soldiers for their "Bravery," but condemned the British regulars who "broke, and run as Sheep pursued by dogs" for their "cowardice" and "dastardly behavior." The fortunes of war smiled down on Washington, as the young American escaped uninjured by hostile or friendly fire, although "I had four Bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me." Washington continued to serve in the Anglo-American military and was a major factor in Britain's defeat of the French and capture of Fort Duquesne (renamed Fort Pitt by the British) in 1758. Immediately after his return to Virginia, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759.

See Series 2, Letterbook 1, image 77, for additional images and a transcription of this letter.

George Washington to John Hancock, July 21, 1775

For sixteen years George and Martha Washington lived as an affluent, influential planter family in Virginia. Washington played a leading part in Virginia's struggles against British rule. The American revolt against British rule in 1775, recalled Washington to the military life from his beloved Mount Vernon estate. A political leader in Virginia, Washington was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. After fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April 1775, Congress appointed Washington commander in chief of the American forces on June 15, 1775. Washington soon departed Philadelphia to take command of the main American army encircling the British forces in Boston. General Washington arrived after the resounding American slaughter of British forces at Bunker (Breed's) Hill on June 17, and wrote this brief update to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. When Washington realized the impact of British military losses on their political and military plans, it became the dominant element of Washington's military strategy throughout the war.

See Series 2, Letterbook 7, image 26 and 27, for additional images and a transcription of these letters.

George Washington to Richard Varick, January 1, 1784

When the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Washington returned to Mount Vernon as soon as America's political, economic, and military situations would allow. A tearful farewell to his officers and men in New York on December 4, 1783, was followed by his dramatic resignation to Congress on December 23. Ever mindful of his personal papers and records, Washington had written on November 16, 1783, to his aide, Richard Varick, about transporting them to Virginia in six hair chests by wagon. In this January 1, 1784, letter, Washington acknowledges their arrival at Mount Vernon and thanks Varick for having them "so properly arranged, & so correctly recorded." The transcripts of Washington's wartime papers, known as "the Varick Transcripts," comprise series three of the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress. Because Washington's papers have been rearranged at various times, "the Varick Transcripts" provide the only source for the original arrangement of Washington's papers.

See Series 2, Letterbook 11, image 72, for additional images and a transcription for this letter.

George Washington to James Madison, October 10, 1787

George Washington returned to the center of national political life during the struggle to create a strong national republican government to replace rule by the divided state and confederation governments. Working closely with James Madison, Washington helped pave the way to the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he sat as presiding officer from May to September 1787, while the new constitution was written. This October 10, 1787, letter to Madison, reveals Washington's political maturity. Washington clearly saw the importance of the public's perception of Congress's unanimous referral of the Constitution to the states and the nature of opposition from George Mason, Richard Henry Lee and the other anti-federalists in Virginia.

See Series 2, Letterbook 14, images 158-161 for additional images and a transcription of this letter.

Address to the Mayor, Corporation and Citizens of Alexandria, April 16, 1789

George Washington made this emotional speech to the citizens of his hometown, Alexandria, Virginia, at the start of his triumphant tour to New York and the presidency of the nascent United States on April 16, 1789. Washington expressed his regret at leaving Mount Vernon and asked for the "protection of that beneficent Being" as he and the nation embarked on their new course. This letterbook copy is the only historical manuscript of this address to survive.

See Letterbook 38, image 2, for additional images and a transcription of this speech.

George Washington to the United States Senate, September 24, 1789

As the first president of the United States under its new constitution, President George Washington performed many "firsts." Among the most important of these tasks was the appointment of federal officials. In this letter to the United States Senate, Washington nominates the first members of the Supreme Court and other federal judicial officials. Washington had to act swiftly, prudently, and wisely in his selections, because of the need for the first federal departments to function smoothly and fairly. The need for the people to perceive this equity led Washington to base his decisions on geographic location, support for the new constitution, and past relevant experience. Thus, his nominees for the Supreme Court were from different states and sections of the nation, were strong supporters of the constitution, and had legal and judicial experience.

See Series 2, Letterbook 25, images 100 and 101 for additional images of this document.

Journal of the Proceedings of the President, August 1 and 2, 1793

George Washington had maintained a personal diary throughout his life, and when president he instituted the practice of maintaining an official journal or diary of the chief executive. Although not all the journals survive, those in Washington's papers provide an insight into the daily activities of the presidency unmatched by any other source. The entries for August 1 and 2, 1793, revolve around one of the earliest foreign policy crises of the new government. President Washington wanted French Minister Edmond Genet sent home, because of Genet's continued violations of United States laws and regulations in his efforts to recruit men, ships, and supplies for France's war against Great Britain. Washington's cabinet, like the nation, was divided between supporters of France and Great Britain. The issue was a key factor in the rivalry of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. As a result of the cabinet meetings of August 1 and 2, even Jefferson had to support a request to the French government for the recall of Genet.

See Series 2, Letterbook 41, images 191 and 192 for additional images of these pages.