National Museum of American History Acquires George Washington Letter

July 15, 2009
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired a letter written by George Washington on Nov. 30, 1785, to David Stuart, an associate and stepfather to Washington’s grandchildren. Stuart was in Richmond and had written to Washington with news of the Virginia legislature.

Washington wrote this letter during the short period—1783 to 1787—of his first retirement after serving as commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The letter addresses many of the central issues of the day concerning the future of the country under the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States from 1781 to 1788.

“This letter is an excellent example of Washington’s concerns for the strength and welfare of the new nation,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “A valuable addition to our collection, Washington’s letter will enhance our understanding of the fragile and challenging state of the union through Washington’s eyes.”

Washington’s hopes and fears were best expressed in this passage from the letter: “If we consider ourselves, or wish to be considered by others as a United people why not adopt the measures which are characteristic of it—Act as a Nation—and support the honor & dignity of one? If we are afraid to trust one another under qualified powers there is an end to the Union.”

Due to general dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation, Washington came out of retirement in 1787 to preside over the Philadelphia Convention that drafted the United States Constitution as it stands today.

The museum’s Washington collection includes his documents, household furnishings, clothes, military dispatch case and spyglass and the candle stand he used to write his Farewell Address.

The acquisition of the letter has been made possible by the donation of Peter Buck, a Connecticut-based physicist and co-founder of Subway restaurants, who donated the Carmen Lúcia Ruby to the National Gem Collection at the National Museum of Natural History in 2004.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation, the museum shines new light on American history. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.