Lot 139: Major Fragment from Draft of Washington's Handwritten First Inaugural Address
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: A Significant Fragment from the Conclusion of Washington’s Handwritten Draft of His First Inaugural Address: “…While others in their political conduct shall demean themselves… let us be honest. Let us be firm. Let us advance directly forward in the path of our duty…”********** WASHINGTON, GEORGE. (1732-1799). Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and first president of the United States. AMs. Unsigned. 2pp. Oblong small 8vo. (Mount Vernon, January, 1789). ********** “I have now again given way to my feelings, in speaking without reserve, according to my best judgement, the words of soberness and affection. If anything in disrespect or foreign to the occasion has been spoken, your candor, I am convinced will not impute it to an unworthy motive. I come now to a conclusion by addressing my humble petition to the… While others in their political conduct shall demean themselves as [or] may seem to them, let us be honest. Let us be firm. Let us advance directly forward in the path of our duty. Should the path at first prove intricate and thorny, it will grow plain and smooth as we go. In public as in private life, let the eternal line that separates right from wrong, be the fence to…” ********** Washington assumed command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, a year and a day before the colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Britain. In so doing, he became America’s first general, a commission he held until the war’s end. In April, 1783, Washington resigned his commission to lead the life of a gentleman farmer at his home in Mount Vernon. Reluctantly, he agreed to represent Virginia at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he was unanimously elected its president and where he participated in shaping the new republic. In the country’s first presidential election, Washington was unanimously elected to the newly-created executive position. In anticipation of his inauguration, Washington purportedly asked his aide David Humphreys to draft an address that he rewrote in his own hand. He also sent a copy to James Madison for comment. There has been speculation among historians that the original draft was, in fact, authored by Washington himself, but that he suggested to Madison that it was Humphreys’ work in order to allow Madison to criticize and comment on it feely, without prejudice. Washington eventually decided the speech was too long and delivered a completely different inaugural address. ********** The 73-page manuscript draft survived into the 19th century and was discovered at Mount Vernon by the historian Jared Sparks, who was then working on what would become the 12-volume The Writings of George Washington. Sparks found it with an accompanying letter from Madison and wrote to him to learn more about the manuscript: “The letter dated Jany 1789, related to the Message to the first congress, and there is preserved with it the copy of a message, or as he calls it, a speech, in his own hand, which I presume is the same that was sent to you for your revision, according to the request in his letter. The person to whom he alludes as the author of it, and whom he designates as a ‘gentleman under this roof,’ I suppose to be Colonel Humphreys. The Speech, as copied by Washington, extends to seventy three pages, in which is included a short space for a prayer, that was to be introduced after the first paragraph. It is certainly an extraordinary production for a message to Congress, and it is happy, that Washington took counsel of his own understanding, and of his other friends, before he made use of this document. No part of it seems to have been formally introduced in the real message,” (Library of Congress: James Madison Papers). William Barclay Allen, in his George Washington: America’s First Progressive, observes that this discarded draft “is a comprehensive statement of his political understanding…even in its defective form, it is a manifest contribution to our understanding how far Washington’s understanding as opposed to his image informed the founding of the United States.” ********** Sparks was permitted to move Washington’s papers from their Mount Vernon home to his Harvard office while he worked on his published correspondence. Seeing no value in the discarded first draft as it was not incorporated into Washington’s final address, Sparks, regrettably, dismembered the manuscript and gave fragments to autograph seekers. Only a small number of fragments survive from the original 73 pages and they are published in The Papers of George Washington. ********** Our fragments are numbers 39 and 42 of the 42 known segments and are written on laid paper on the recto and verso in Washington’s “copperplate” hand. As it is the last of the known fragments, our section 42 represents, therefore, the conclusion to Washington’s very first draft of his inaugural address. Accompanied by a letter written by Sparks to T. Addison Richards (possibly the English-born, American painter, 1820-1900) from October 1842 stating, “I enclose specimens of the hand-writing of Washington & Franklin. I have not been able to furnish you with Washington’s signature, because all my treasures in that way were long ago exhausted by the collectors of autographs. This is the best I can do for you.” ********** In overall fine condition; some final letters of Washington’s memorable words have been trimmed at the margin and the writing is slightly light, but perfectly legible.