A Link to President's Past
Library of Congress Puts Washington Letters on
The Washington Post, 17 February 1998«back | home
For Presidents' Day, the Library of Congress posted on the World Wide
Web 8,000 letters written by George Washington, including one to his mother
about a hairbreadth escape from death in battle.
"I luckily escaped without a wound, tho' I had four bullets through my
Coat, and two Horses shot under me," he wrote nine days after a disastrous
engagement in the French and Indian War. fit was a bad sped for the Father
of the Country:
"I was not half recovered from a violent illness," he wrote, "that confined
me to my Bed, and a Waggon, for above ten Days."
Despite the defeat at Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh, Washington's bravery
in the battle was soon to have him named a colonel at age 23. Twenty years
later he took command of American forces in the Revolution.
In Washington's time, bad roads and other hazards made mail delivery
uncertain. So people often kept copies of their letters in a "letterbook,"
as Washington did from the age of 9 until the last year of his life.
Now it's e-mail that sometimes disappears, swallowed by a computer glitch.
Guy Lamolinara, who publicizes material the Library of Congress posts
on the Web, said he thinks people who send letters by e-mail should keep
printouts--otherwise future historians may be out of luck.
"We probably won't have correspondence as complete as some we have from
earlier times," he said.
On Feb. 4-eight days before Abraham Lincoln's actual birth anniversary--four
of more than 26,000 papers in the library's Lincoln collections went online.
Among them is a first draft in his own hand of the Emancipation Proclamation,
written more than five months before he issued it Sept. 22, 1862.
Lincoln had let the idea fizzle out for a while when Secretary of State
William H. Seward suggested the proclamation could bring anarchy in the
South and intervention from abroad.
"I, as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,"
Lincoln wrote, "do order and declare that on the first of January in the
year of our Lord one thousand, eight hundred and sixtythree, all persons
held as slaves within any state or states, wherein the constitutional
authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized,
submitted to and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be
A batch of Lincolniana that the library put online earlier had a picture
of the items found in the 16th president's pockets after he was assassinated.
The artifacts include two pairs of spectacles and a penknife.
The new Lincoln material will he made available with a gift of $1 million
from the Jones Family Foundation of Fond du Lac, Wis. Washington's letters
are being financed with a $1 million gift from the Reuters news agency.
Later, letters from Thomas Jefferson and other presidents will be put
They can be found through the library's home page, www.loc.gov
© 1998 The Washington Post Company
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