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George Washington’s Acts of Congress

On display March 1-19, 2013

George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, Acts of Congress, will be on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum between March 1 and March 19, 2013.  It will be the Constitution’s first stop in a nation-wide tour to each of the 13 Presidential Libraries through a special partnership between Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, and the National Archives. 

The remarkably well-preserved book includes President 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.

This rare volume garnered world-wide attention last summer when it was offered for sale and then broke world records for an American historical document at auction, where it sold for $9.8 million. The106-page Acts of Congress is emblazoned with Washington’s bookplate and features his handwritten notes penciled in the margins.  Washington received the book in 1789, his first year in office as U.S. president, and brought it with him to Mount Vernon upon his retirement from public office in 1797.  One of the early customs for the Congress’ official printer was to prepare bound copies of the acts passed by the legislative branch which would be presented as permanent keepsakes for the country’s leaders. Prominent recipients included Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and our first president, George Washington, who all received these beautifully bound versions of the book, which were almost as artful to the eye as they were delicate to the touch.

In addition to the Constitution, the Reagan Library’s exhibit will also include:

  • An 1823 Stone Copy of the Declaration of Independence
  • A July 13, 1796 letter written by President George Washington to his Secretary of War, James McHenry, in which President Washington complains of pirate activity along the Barbary Coast
  • A memorandum from King George III, showing the King’s reluctance to acknowledge the independence of the 13 American Colonies from Great Britain (on loan from the Huntington Library)
This exhibit will be the first exhibit in the Reagan Library’s brand new “Treasures” Gallery, created specifically for these small, but very important, historical exhibits.  There is no additional charge to tour this exhibit, outside of the regular Reagan Museum admission fees.  In addition, this extraordinary exhibit contains special student curriculum.  Student tour groups are always free to the Reagan Museum; educators should call 805-577-4066 to book their school tour.

For more information on the exhibit within the Reagan Library, please call 800-410-8354 or visit www.reaganlibrary.com.

This nationwide tour was originally conceptualized by Mount Vernon as a means of spreading awareness for The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, scheduled to open September 2013.  The Library is not part of the National Archives presidential library system.  For tour details and to learn more about special events and educational programming opportunities please visit www.archives.gov/exhibits/act-of-congress.

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