George Washington's copy of the Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America (New-York, 1789) contains key founding documents establishing the Union: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a record of acts passed by the first Congress. In the margins of four separate pages, Washington wrote the words "President," "Powers," and "Required," underscoring the responsibilities of the first Chief Executive.

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. The book now resides within The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which opened its doors in the Fall of 2013.

The Acts of Congress (Mount Vernon Ladies' Association)

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 bookplate inside the cover of the Acts of Congress (Mount Vernon Ladies' Association)

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.

Washington's notations highlighting powers of the presidency (Mount Vernon Ladies' Association)

"...the constitution is the guide, that I will never abandon."

George Washington to The Boston Selectmen, July 28, 1795

The Acts of Congress

1789
2012
Washington acquires his copy of the Acts
The Acts of Congress Arrives at Mount Vernon
Inherited by Bushrod Washington
Remains in Washington Family Hands
Sold at Auction
Sold at Auction to the Hearst Family
Sold to Dietrich American Foundation
Acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

September 29, 1789

Washington acquires his copy of the Acts

Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine.  The Acts of Congress was acquired by Washington after the end of the Congressional session on September 29, 1789.

The Acts of Congress Arrives at Mount Vernon

After his retirement from the Presidency in March, Washington returns to Mount Vernon with his copy of the Acts of Congress.

Inherited by Bushrod Washington

After Washington's death on December 14, 1799, the Acts of Congress was listed among his inventory of property. The book, along with Mount Vernon itself, was willed to nephew Bushrod Washington after Martha Washington's death in 1802

Remains in Washington Family Hands

The Acts of Congress remained in Washington family hands after the sale of the Estate to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

Sold at Auction

Washington's copy of the Acts of Congress was sold to Philadephia lawyer and historian, Charles Henry Hart.

Sold at Auction to the Hearst Family

The Acts were sold again at auction.  Owned by California philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst and then her son, newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst.

Sold to Dietrich American Foundation

Sold at auction by the Heritage Foundation of Deerfield, Massachusetts, to H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. for the Dietrich American Foundation.

Acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

Washington's copy of the Acts of Congress was acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association on June 22 for The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington for a record $9.8 million.  Today the volume is one of the Library's prized objects.

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