On this President’s Day there are plenty of stories about Presidential letters we could share, as it seems that almost every President of our country believed in the value of the letter. There are even books published on the letters they have written! However, rather than writing about a specific letter, we wanted to focus on the first president of the United States who went to great lengths to preserve and care for his personal letter collection – George Washington.
George Washington is one of the most important figures in the history of our country. He lived an extraordinary life, and helped to set the foundation of America. Much can be learned from how he carried himself and the sacrifices he made for our country. One of the reasons we know so much about his life is from his correspondence through handwritten letters. Love letters to his wife, war letters to Generals, notes to friends and family all give us a glimpse into his mind and life. But this would not be possible if George Washington himself had not gone to great lengths to preserve and keep his collection of letters.
Even before George Washington became a national figure he was going to extraordinary measures to care for his assembly of letters, not only that he received but that he wrote. Many times he would have letters he wrote immediately copied for preservation purposes. Sometimes he would use a machine called a letterpress that would take the wet ink from his letter and make an identical copy. He would then bind the letters in books to keep them organized, protected and easily transferable.
When the war for Independence began, George Washington was concerned for the safety of his letters, so he gave very specific instructions on how to care for his collection to his staff at Mount Vernon. Eventually he had them moved to Philadelphia as he felt they would be safer than on his personal property. Once the war was over he spent time reorganizing his letters even as he prepared to become the first President.
Nothing changed during his Presidency, as he still kept meticulous records and care for his correspondence. Once his second term was over, he returned to Mount Vernon and spent a lot of his free time continuing to organize and preserve his letters. He also developed plans for a building on the property designed to specifically store his letters. Unfortunately, he passed away before the building was completed.
After his death, his wishes to preserve his letters were not followed. His wife Martha was very private and ended up burning their personal correspondence, and only a few letters were preserved. Many of his letters were then given away as gifts or sold for financial gain. Eventually the Library of Congress received what was remaining of the collection, and have safely kept them for our enjoyment and education.
We don’t understand all the reasons as to why George Washington was so detailed in his care and love for his written correspondence, but without it we wouldn’t have the same understanding of his life, the Revolutionary War, and the beginning of our country. We can be thankful today for all the work he put into the safe keep of his handwritten letters.
What letters or correspondence have you saved for safe keeping? We might not have a building full of letters, but notes from those we love should be kept and cherished. Maybe George Washington will inspire you to write more and keep those special cards in a box under your bed.
If Indelible Cards can help make this a reality, we would be happy to help you send more cards.