The wisdom of Washington

His annotated Constitution was worth $9.8 million at auction — but was priceless to a nation

Maureen Callahan
The New York Post
7/2/2012

When George Washington’s personal, annotated copy of the Constitution sold last week for $9.8 million at auction in New York, it didn’t just set a record. It allowed us to see, for the first time, how cautiously our first president assumed the office, his eyes not toward history but the future.

“This shows that he let the presidency define him, rather than for him to define the presidency,” says Edward Lengel, military historian and author of two books on Washington. “He was a man who thought scrupulously, and he was very concerned with precedent. He understood that his own approach would define how his successors approached the presidency.”

Though the markings are scant — it is next to but a few paragraphs that Washington has made notations — they are telling: He is more concerned with the limits of the office than its powers.

“These are marginal notes by a very thoughtful, contemplative Washington,” says Mary V. Thompson, research historian at the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens (its Ladies’ Association was the successful bidder). “It looks as though he was very methodically outlining what his role as president entailed, as it was set up in the Constitution, so that he knew what he should be doing and didn’t overstep the bounds of his office.”…

…“I think one of the things people forget about Washington is that he established this air of moral sanctity about the office, of complete integrity,” Lengel says. “It wasn’t enough for him to simply have a grand vision for the United States; he also had to understand how to make that vision work in a very practical way. I think his ability to do that is reflected in this volume.”…

The complete article is at The New York Post.

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