Volume 2: July 1784 – May 1785

This is the second volume of an six-volume edition of Washington’s papers in the Confederation period. The series begins on 1 January 1784 with the hero of the American Revolution back at Mount Vernon under his own “vine and fig tree.” It ends in September 1788 on the eve of his return to public life as president under the new Constitution. Unlike the series devoted to Washington’s revolutionary War and presidential papers, the Confederation Series is composed almost entirely of personal letters and includes very few official documents.

While at Mount Vernon, Washington was hard put to cope with the steady flow of letters from high and low, friend and stranger, here and abroad, even after he acquired a secretary in 1785. These incoming letters tell us as much as his own do about the place Washington held in America in the 1780s. His exchange of letters with Europeans reveals a mutual awareness that at one level the American Cincinnatus could speak for his country in a way no one else could. The replies of his countrymen to what he wrote about the meaning of the Revolution and the future of the new union reveal how great a weight Washington’s words bore. The letter that poured in from from the poor and the humble everywhere seeking aid, advice, and comfort demonstrate the pervasive importance of his very presence. The man himself is seen most distinctly in the letters that he wrote and received as a private man of business engaged in a complex and large-scale agricultural enterprise, committed to experimentation and innovation for the improvement of American farming.

Volume 2 documents Washington’s emergence as the extraordinarily active leader of the move to open the upper reaches of the Potomac to navigation and use it to tie the fast-settling West to the seaboard states. Besides documents relating to Washington’s presidency of the Potomac River Company and to the routine management of his private affairs, there are letters dealing with such things as the famous Spanish jacks, the plight of both Patrick Henry and Nathanael Greene, histories by Jeremy Belknap and William Gordon, Lafayette’s visit, William Byrd’s letters, and David Humphreys’s poetry.

W.W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Confederation Series volume 2, July 1784 – May 1785. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1992.

Purchase from the University of Virginia Press.