Skip to comments.George Washington’s Constitution Up for Grabs Next Week
Posted on 06/14/2012 11:53:56 AM PDT by iowamark
George Washingtons copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, both of which are 223 year-old, are scheduled to hit the auction block at Christies next week. The documents, which are bound in a book containing notes by the first President of the United States himself, were made available to the press earlier this week. Those who are looking to own a piece of history will have an opportunity to do so on June 22nd.
Potential bidders better have plenty of money in the bank, as the documents are expected to fetch upwards of $3 million. What separates this copy from those given to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Jay are the numerous notations written by Washington in the margins of the documents. Adding to the books value is Washingtons signature, which appears in the top right corner of the title page.
Thomas Lecky, who heads up Christies books and manuscripts department, stated that Washingtons copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ranks among the most notable items the auction house has ever made available for sale. Previous noteworthy documents that have been auctioned off include Shakespeares first folios, Abraham Lincolns 1864 victory speech, and three copies of John James Audubons Birds of America.
Following Washingtons death in 1799, the documents were housed in the Presidents Mount Vernon library until his relatives made the decision to sell them. Since then, theyve made their way through a number of owners, eventually ending up in the possession of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr, an art collector and successful businessman. Dietrich passed away in 2007.
""WASHINGTON, GEORGE, President. UNITED STATES, First Congress, First Session. Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America, : begun and held at the city of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, in the year M,DCC,LXXXIX. and of the independence of the United States, the thirteenth. Being the acts passed at the First Session of the First Congress of the United States, to wit, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia; which eleven states respectively ratified the Constitution of Government for the United States, proposed by the Federal Convention, held in Philadelphia, on the seventeenth of September, one thousand eight hundred and seven. New York: Printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine, Printers to the United States, .
THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT: PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PERSONAL COPY OF THE CONSTITUTION, THE BILL OF RIGHTS AND OTHER KEY ACTS OF THE FIRST CONGRESS IN 1789
IN A SUPERB CONTEMPORARY BINDING, WITH WASHINGTON'S ARMORIAL BOOKPLATE AND HIS BOLD SIGNATURE ("GO: WASHINGTON")
WITH WASHINGTON'S AUTOGRAPH MARGINALIA, HIGHLIGHTING THE DUTIES AND POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT
Folio (305 x 190mm., 12 x 7½ in.). Collation: [A] B-C [D] E-Z2 Aa1 Bb-Dd2: 53 leaves. Various watermarks. (A number of quires evenly and lightly age-toned, due to varying paper stocks).
BINDING: Contemporary polished tree calf, covers with thin Greek-key borders at edges; upper cover with rectangular green morocco label gilt-lettered PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; rounded spine gilt in six compartments with five raised bands; two compartments with red or green morocco gilt-lettered labels (LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES and FIRST SESSION 1789); the remaining four compartments with a gilt patera tool and four small hollow star tools; marbled endpapers, edges tinted pale yellow, BOUND BY THOMAS ALLEN OF NEW YORK (who bound identical copies for Thomas Jefferson and John Jay.) CONDITION: Very slight rubbing to corners, raised bands and spine extremities, surface abrasion in several places on covers, catching small bits of the Greek-key border, otherwise in fine condition. Blue morocco clamshell case.
Washington's personal copy of the Constitution and proposed Bill of Rights does not carry Allen's printed binder's ticket. But the classical style of Thomas Allen's elegant binding is identical to that of copies owned by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice John Jay, strongly suggesting that Washington himself had a direct hand in their design. All three bindings employ polished calf, use a distinct Greek-key roll at the cover edges and bear a gilt-lettered rectangular morocco panel on the upper covers. Little is known of Allen, whose binder's ticket reads: "Bound by Thomas Allen, No. 16, Queen- Street, New York." When the first Congress was meeting in New York, Washington's presidential residence was a large home at Number 1 Cherry Street, on the corner of Queen Street (now Pearl Street); a short distance from Fraunces Tavern (at 54 Queen Street, where many governmental offices were housed) and Allen's shop and bindery.
WASHINGTON'S ENGRAVED BOOKPLATE
In addition to the large signature on the title page, Washington has pasted in to the front endpaper his engraved armorial bookplate, featuring the Washington family coat of arms ("Argent two bars Gules, in chief three mullets in fess of the second") a decorative escutcheon with Washington's name and the motto exitus acta probat ("the end justifies the deed"). This bookplate is no doubt one of a shipment ordered from England by Washington in December 1771, through his friend Robert Adam and the agent Robert Cary. The engraving was the work of a London engraver, S. Valliscure. He charged Washington 14 shillings for the plate and an additional six shillings for 300 prints from the plate, printed on good quality laid paper. Washington seems to have reserved these specially ordered bookplates for the more important books in his library.
It is striking that Washington, the owner of an extensive library at Mount Vernon, added marginalia in only this and one other volume (a copy of James Madison, View of the Conduct of the Executive. Here, in this volume, he has added brackets and marginal notes in light but readable pencil. All appear in the text of the Constitution itself and all relate to the duties and prerogatives of the chief executive in the new government.
-- At Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 (on page vi), Washington has written "President" in the margin and has added a long bracket alongside the passage detailing the process by which legislation originates in Congress and is then subject to the approval or veto of the president: "Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law."
In a further section of Section 7, Clause 2 (on page vii), Washington has written "President" twice, next to a description of two additional methods by which laws may be enacted or rejected: "But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law."
In addition, at Clause 3, President Washington brackets another block of text: "Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill."
-- At Article II, Section 2 (on page ix) Washington has written "President" and "Powers" in the margin, and has bracketed Clauses 1, 2 and 3, each stipulating critical responsibilities of the chief executive. First, Washington brackets Clause 1: "the President shall be Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment."
Clause 2, dealing with treaties and their ratification, and presidential powers of appointment is also bracketed by Washington: "He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors and other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law; but the Congress may by Law vest the appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments."
Additionally, Clause 3 is bracketed: "The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."
At Article II, Section 3 (page ix), Washington has written "required" and bracketed text stipulating further duties of the chief executive. "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and speedy; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the Officers of the United States."
SELECT TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Constitution of the United States, (pp. v-xii)
- Resolution to the states regarding ratification of the Constitution (17 September 1787), (pp. xiii-xiv)
- [Oath of allegiance] Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths (the Presidential, Vice-Presidential and other oaths), (pp. 15-16)
- An Act for establishing an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs [renamed State Department in late 1789], (p. 21)
- An Act to establish an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of War (p. 46)
- An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory North-West of the River Ohio (p. 47)
- [Treasury Act] An Act to Establish the Treasury Department (pp. 62-64)
- An Act to provide for the safe-keeping of the Acts, Records and Seal of the United States (pp. 65-67)
- [Post-Office Act] An Act for the temporary Establishment of the Post-Office (p. 68)
- [Congressional Salary Act] An Act for allowing Compensation to the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives (pp. 68-70)
- An Act for allowing a Compensation to the President and Vice-President (p. 71)
- [Supreme Court Judiciary Act] An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States (pp. 72-85)
- [Bill of Rights] Articles in Addition to, and Amendment of, the Constitution...ratified by the Legislatures of the Several States...[12 articles], pp. 92-93
THE MOUNT VERNON LIBRARY
"There is little evidence that he ever read for the mere pleasure of it," writes Eugene Prussing, and due to the unrelenting demands of public service and the care and upkeep of the Mount Vernon plantation, Washington "had neither time nor much inclination...for general reading" (The Estate of George Washington, Deceased, Boston 1927, pp.138,142). Nevertheless, Washington's library at Mount Vernon at the time of his death was substantial, comprising between 800 and 1,000 books and hundreds of pamphlets. After Washington's death, an inventory of the library was prepared by Tobias Lear, Washington's private secretary, with a team of Virginia appraisers. Lear's inventory recorded (no.254) seven folio volumes under the title "Laws of the United States," valued at $28.00, and six octavo-format volumes, under the identical rubric (nos.267, 272 and 277), which were appraised for a total of $10.75. While the books subsumed in these cryptic entries may never be precisely identified, William Coolidge Lane, Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum, in an appendix to the 1897 catalogue of the Athenaeum's Washington collections, attempted to reconcile these listings and to trace the volumes in question (Appleton P.C. Griffin, The Washington Collection in the Boston Athenaeum...With An Appendix...by William Coolidge Lane, Boston, 1897, pp.533-534). Lane was able to identify three folio-format editions of the Acts of the First Congress owned by Washington, plus three small-format reprints. All were offered in the 1876 Lawrence Washington auction. The folios identified by Lane are as follows:
[This copy] Lane, no. 1: (First Session) Evans 22189. Bound by Allen of New York (with his binder's ticket), with gilt-lettered label, with bookplate, signatures and marginalia. (For detailed provenance, see below).
Lane, no. 2: (First, Second and Third Sessions) Evans 223842, 22952, 23845. 1) Philadelphia: Childs & Swain ; 2) Acts passed at a Second Session...New York: Childs & Swaine ; 3). Acts Passed at a Third Session.... Philadelphia: Childs & Swaine [1790. Bound by James Muir of Philadelphia, with gilt-lettered label and signature. Provenance: George Washington -- Bushrod Washington -- Lawrence A. Washington (sale, Thomas & Sons, 28 November 1876, lot 100) -- John R. Baker (sale, Philadelphia, February 1891, lot 38) -- W.F. Havemeyer -- The Chapin Library, Williams College.
Lane, no.3: (First, Second and Third Sessions) Evans 23842, 22952, 23845. 1) Philadelphia: Childs & Swain ; 2) Acts passed at a Second Session...New York: Childs & Swaine ; 3). Acts Passed at a Third Session.... Philadelphia: Childs & Swaine . Bound by James Muir of Philadelphia, with gilt-lettered label, without bookplate or signature. Provenance: George Washington -- Bushrod Washington -- Lawrence A. Washington (sale, Thomas & Sons, 1876, lot 118) -- Senator Joseph Roswell Hawley -- Michael Papantonio -- Unidentified owner (sale, Christie's, 19 May 1995, lot 91, $310,500) -- Private collection.
In addition, three other specially bound, association copies of the first acts are extant:
1. Richard Varick's copy: (First session). Evans 22189. Acts Passed at a Congress...New York: Francis Childs and John Swaine . First Edition. First Session. Evans 22189. Bound by Thomas Allen. Presented by Washington to Varick (1753-1831), with Varick's autograph inscription -- Princeton University Library.
2. John Jay's copy: (First Session. Acts Passed at a Congress... New York: Francis Childs and John Swaine . First edition. First Session. Evans 22189. Bound by Allen of New York. Inscribed by Jay: "9 Dec. 1789: Presented by the President of the United States to John Jay." With gilt-lettered label, no bookplate or signature. Evans 22191. Provenance: John Jay -- with A.S.W. Rosenbach -- Estelle Doheny -- Doheny Library (sold, Christie's, 22 February, lot 2026) -- Richard Manney (sale, Sotheby's, 11 October 1991, $210,000) -- Private collection.
3. Thomas Jefferson's copy: Acts Passed at a Congress...New York: Francis Childs and John Swaine . First Session. Evans 22191. Bound by Thomas Allen of New York, with gilt-lettered label, Jefferson's concealed ownership markings. Provenance: Thomas Jefferson -- Josiah Kirby Lilly (blue morocco bookplate) -- Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana.
Provenance of Washington's personal copy:
1. President George Washington (gilt morocco label, engraved bookplate, signature on title-page and penciled marginalia)
2. Bushrod Washington (1762-1829), nephew of the above, who inherited Mount Vernon, its library and Washington's extensive archive
3. Lawrence A. Washington, son of the above, by descent (sale, M. Thomas & Sons, Auctioneers, Philadelphia, 28 November 1876, lot 114).
4. C.H. Hart (sale, Thomas Birch's Sons, April 5-6, 1892, lot 842, sold for $1,150)
5. Mrs. Senator George [Phoebe] Hearst
6. William Randolph Hearst
7. Colton Storm
8. Heritage Foundation, Deerfield, Massachusetts (sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, Inc., 17 November 1964, lot 148), bought by George Sessler of Philadelphia on behalf of
9. Estate of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr.""
I was hoping there would be a notation on what “natural-born” means. Seriously.
Glenn Beck will grab these, I think, at least he says he has a safe to keep them in. They would be perfect for him.
Some billionaire American Maoist will buy it and turn it over to a Maoist “artist” who will,no doubt,use it to create “Piss Constitution” which will be a smash hit in San Francisco,Madison,Manhattan and Cambridge.
Don’t forget D.C.
As long as Obama and Holder are in power, and Gingsburg, Bryer, Sotomeyer, Kagan, and Kennedy are on the Supreme Court, the Constitution will always be “up for grabs.”
It is a shame these are being auctioned. It would have been nice to see them donated to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for the Library for the Study of George Washington. I attended the ground breaking ceremony and very much look forward to going back upon completion.
Just great stuff...I never knew this existed. The marginal notes make it an incredible piece of history and a great addition to insight into the General's thoughts.
The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...
I agree. It’s a shame some mega-star can’t buy them and donate them to a museum to preserve them for future generations of Americans.
Instead, they give their millions to help the Pretender get reelected.
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