George Washington's personal copy of the Act's
Washington's signature appears inside of this custom bound copy of the Acts

A Historic Homecoming

On June 22, 2012, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association emerged triumphant from an auction at Christie’s in New York, securing a priceless treasure: George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress. This rare volume includes Washington’s copy of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress, complete with his personal annotations. He brought the book home to Mount Vernon after retiring from the presidency in March 1797. Since leaving the hands of the Washington family in 1876, it has been treasured and preserved by several noted private collectors. Its return to Mount Vernon is in anticipation of the construction of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which will open in fall 2013 and will function as Washington’s presidential library.

This video presentation was produced by American History TV on C-SPAN3 for the exhibit.
Armour Plate
George Washington's armorial bookplate, which he pasted inside the front cover.

About The Book

One of the most historic publications owned by Washington, the book testifies to his crucial role in the implementation and interpretation of the Constitution and the establishment of the new American government. The first Congress ordered the printing of 600 copies of the Acts, which were distributed to federal and state government officials. Chief Justice John Jay and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson owned volumes similar to Washington’s.

Property of the President

His custom-bound copy of the Acts is embossed in gilt letters reading “President of the United States.” Washington’s bold signature appears on the right corner of the title page. He also pasted his engraved armorial bookplate to the inside front cover. The bookplate features the Washington family coat of arms and the motto “exitus acta probat,” which translates to “the result is the test of the actions.”

Washington's Notes

The most significant features of this book are Washington’s personal notes, penciled in the margins. Washington only rarely inserted notes or markings in his books, choosing instead to make notes on separate sheets of loose-leaf paper. All of his notes in this volume appear alongside the text of the Constitution, where he drew neat brackets to highlight passages of particular interest. In Article Two, 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 veto Congressional legislation — a critical element of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances on governmental power.

Building His Library

Washington’s Acts of Congress will be a centerpiece of The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. The presidential-style library will serve as a center for scholarly research, a site for leadership training programs, and a place for safeguarding original Washington volumes. A private, not-for-profit organization, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is constructing the library and building its slate of innovative programs without any government funding.

Wahsington's Library
The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, currently under construction, will house 2,500 rare 18th- and 19th-century books, including 80 books that were owned by Washington in addition to 500 letters, ledgers, and account books that bear George Washington‘s writing or signature.
The contsitution is the guide, which I will never abandon.
— George Washington to The Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795

The Book's Journey

Roll over the dates below to learn more about the book's journey.