|By Jim Rutledge
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — A 223-year-old tome of George Washington’s personal annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution and a draft of the Bill of Rights kicks off on a first-ever tour of the historic documents in exhibits across the country at the nation’s 13 presidential libraries.
The papers are contained in a 106-page, leather-bound edition of The Acts of Congress with other legislation passed by the first session of Congress, and printed for Washington in 1789. The official printer of Congress prepared three other bound volumes as permanent keepsakes for notables such as Thomas Jefferson and John Jay. Washington’s personal copy, though, has the most historical significance.
The tour was launched earlier this month at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., and it will make its final stop Sept. 12-21 at the Henry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, in Independence, Mo.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Assoc., whose mission is to preserve and maintain Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Va., located south of Washington, D.C., are sponsors of the tour.
The most significant features of Washington’s volume are his personal notes, penciled in the margins. Washington rarely inserted notes or markings in his books, choosing instead to make notes on separate sheets of loose-leaf paper, according the Mount Vernon Assoc. librarians. All of his notes in the volume appear alongside the text of the Constitution, where Washington drew neat brackets to highlight passages of particular interest. In Article Two of the Constitution, spelling out the powers and duties of the president, he added the words “President,” “Powers” and “Required.” He also marked passages in “Article One” concerning the president’s power to the Constitution system of checks and balances on government power.
His custom-bound copy of Acts is embossed in gilt letters that read “President of the United States.” Washington’s bold signature appears on the right corner of the title page. He also pasted his specially engraved armoral bookplate to the inside front cover. The bookplate features the Washington family’s coat-of-arms and the motto “exitus acta probat” which translates to “the result is the test of the actions.”
The dates and location of the exhibit include:
•March 1-19, Reagan library at 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, Calif.
•March 22-April 5, The Richard Nixon Project, at the National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Md. (The Nixon Project is not affiliated with the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., a private institution that was established personally by Nixon in 1990.)
•The tour continues on April 8-April 20, Gerald R. Ford Library, 1000 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, Mich.
•April 23-May 3, Eisenhower Library, 200 SE 4th Street, Abilene, Kan.
•May 06-June l, John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, Mass.
•June 7-21, Jimmy Carter Library, 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta, Ga.
•June 30-July 12, Clinton Library, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, Ark.
•July 14-27, George H. W. Bush Library, 1000 George Bush Drive West, College Station, Texas
•July 30-Aug. 11, Herbert Hoover Library, 210 Parkside Drive, West Branch, Iowa
•Aug. 13-23, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, 4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, N.Y.
•Aug. 26-Sept. 9, George W. Bush Library, 1725 Lakepointe Drive, Lewisville, Texas
Sept. 12-21, Harry S. Truman Library, 500 W. U.S. Highway 54, Independence, Mo.
The historic document will be hand-carried by curators from the Mount Vernon Ladies Assoc. on the state-by-state tour. Historians will give a variety of lectures, including one film presentation of George Washington and the Paparazzi, a short film about a letter from the president declining to sit for a portrait.
The Acts of Congress volume was acquired by the Ladies’ Association on June 12, 2012 in an historic auction at Christie’s in New York for a record $9.8 million. The volume had been consigned from the private estate of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr., a cough drop and candy maker from Philadelphia.
The book had not been viewed by the public since 1964. Christie’s pre-auction estimates had been $2 million to $3 million.
The historic volume had been kept at Washington’s home library at Mount Vernon for nearly 70 after his death in 1799. Then, in 1867, many of his books, and the volume, were inherited by Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington.
Bushrod’s son, Lawrence, later sold the copy in a Philadelphia auction for $13 – about $277 in today’s dollars. A few years later it was sold to C.H. Hart in April 1892 for $1,150, a huge amount of money at the time.
Later, it was acquired by Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, the wife of former Sen. George Hearst. It was then passed to Hearst’s son, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who later sold it to Dietrich for $27,000 – $200,000 in today’s dollars.
After the tour, the Acts of Congress will be the centerpiece of the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. The library is being built on Washington’s Mount Vernon, Va. estate and will open by the end of 2013.
The library will house 2,500 rare 18th and 19th century books, including 80 books that were personally owned by Washington, in addition to 500 letters, ledgers and accounting books that bare Washington’s writings or signatures.