Washington, George. Official Letters to the Honourable American Congress, Written During the War between the United Colonies and Great Britain, by His Excellency George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental forces, Now President of the United States. New York: Samuel Campbell, 1796. 2 volumes. 8vo. Early edition. Rebound in full calf with blind tooled front, back, and spine, and raised bands and gilt titles to spine. Presented in a matching archival cloth slipcase with Washington’s facsimile signature in gilt and a portrait of Washington inlaid on front.
This beautifully rebound two-volume set of Washington’s Letters to Congress was printed in New York by Samuel Campbell in 1796. The full title of the work is: Official Letters to the Honourable American Congress, Written During the War between the United Colonies and Great Britain, by His Excellency George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental forces, Now President of the United States. First issued in 1795, this is a later printing issued the following year.
Combining many of Washington’s letters to Congress between the years 1775 and 1778, this set was published during Washington’s second term in office as the President of the still nascent United States. Dating from June 24, 1775, nine days after Washington’s unanimous appointment to the top military post, through December 1778, Washington’s Official Letters reveal his efforts to comply with the financial directives of Congress, while constantly at pains to secure adequate provisions and pay for his poorly trained, disaffected troops.
Washington’s first letter desperately pleads Congress for more gunpowder. The last letter was written shortly after the British captured Savannah, but after the turning point in the war. Washington mentions an upcoming strategy and possibly the annexation of Canada. This two-volume set contains the General’s warm acknowledgement of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (“I caused ‘The Declaration’ to be proclaimed before all the army under my immediate command”), correspondence from the grueling winter bivouac at Valley Forge, and a report of his Christmas victory at the Battle of Trenton. These letters take the reader through Washington’s thoughts and actions during major battles, issues, and victories.
Washington was known to meticulously care for and organize his personal papers. Throughout his life, he hired aides, clerks, and secretaries to assist him in his careful record keeping. To Washington, the safety of his letters were second only to the safety of his wife, Martha. In 1775 he wrote to his cousin, Lund Washington, to provide “for [Martha] in Alexandria, or some other place of safety for her and my papers.” Bound copies of papers relating to a single topic were kept with his records and he even planned to build an entire building at Mt. Vernon specifically to safely house his papers. Periodically, Washington would return to edit his old letters correcting grammar and word choice.
Washington was consulted by Jefferson as to the publication of these papers, and the latter was in constant correspondence with publishers during their preparation. On July 3, 1792, Jefferson gave the publishers formal permission to use the State Papers. Both men were adamant that as much as possible should be revealed to the public. The letters provide evidence for Washington’s leadership, his care for his men, and his care for his country despite overwhelming odds. The first president was always hailed as an American hero, but by his second term the country was divided over his administration. Public opinion universally glorified Washington when he was first elected, however, opposition to his government began in the early 1790s. The most harsh criticisms came about in 1793 and 1794 over US neutrality in Revolutionary France, as well as the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Amidst growing discontent for the government, these letters were likely published to boost the public’s wavering opinion of Washington and gain support for his administration. These papers helped to solidify the almost legendary character of the first president of the United States.
Very good condition. Two volumes, Octavo. Rebound in full calf with blind tooled front, back, and spine, and raised bands and gilt titles to spine. Presented in a matching archival cloth slipcase, with Washington’s facsimile signature in gilt and a portrait of Washington inlaid on front. Internally toned and lightly foxed throughout, volume 2 less so. Dimensions, in slipcase: 8 1/4" H x 5 1/8" W x 2 5/8" D.
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