Sunday, February 24, 2013



They are building a George Washington Presidential Library!! At Mt. Vernon!

The 45,000-square-foot library, designed by Ayers Saint Gross, will 15 acres of woodland just to the west of Washington's historic Mt. Vernon home. A 6,000-square-foot Scholars' Residence adjacent to the library will provide bedrooms, kitchenettes, and living quarters eight resident scholars.

Until 1941, presidents retained their public papers as personal property. They often then edited these and published them for profit. Private presidential papers were rarely made available to anyone; many families destroyed them rather than see them become public, and most private papers remained unavailable for decades (or longer). The first president to donate his materials to the public was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1941 founded his own presidential library for his public and private papers at Hyde Park. Harry S. Truman also donated his public and private papers to the National Archives. Then, in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Presidential Libraries Act into law. The Act provides for private donations to build libraries to house public presidential papers, and for a mechanism for presidents to donate their private papers to these libraries (including restrictions on their release and access). The law also permitted for the creation of private foundations to assist the National Archives in operating the library, and for the construction and operation of presidential museums at each library site.

Truman's was the first library built, in 1957. Hoover's followed in 1962, Eisenhower's in 1966, LBJ's in 1971, Kennedy's in 1979, Ford's in 1981, Carter's in 1986, Reagan's in 1991, George H.W. Bush's in 1997, Clinton's in 2004. Nixon's originally was private, and opened in 1990. A federal lawsuit erupted over ownership of most of Nixon's papers, due to Nixon's involvement in Watergate. As an outcome of these lawsuits, the library was federalized in 2007. The George W. Bush library will open in Dallas in May 2013. Obama's library will likely open in 2016, although it's not clear if it will be in Hawaii or Chicago.



The new George Washington Presidential Library will NOT be part of the National Archives (NARA) presidential library system. One wonders why... After all, the Library of Congress' Manuscript Collection holds about 65,000 of Washington's personal diaries, letters, papers, manuscripts, and other items. You'd think a NARA library would get this LOC collection, right?

So what does Mt. Vernon have that justifies a library? Mt. Vernon has just 500 original Washington items. It has another 5,500 historical items such as letters written to Washington, accounting books used at Mt. Vernon and at various other Washington estates (which were extensive!!), and maps; 46 books owned by Washington; about 2,450 rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries; about 18,000 hard-copy books, journals, and magazines about Washington, 18th century American life and culture, 18th century decorative arts, historic preservation, genealogy, and Mt. Vernon; and 250,000 digitized books, journals, and magazines about Washington. Except for the original manuscripts, all of what Mt. Vernon has is already at the Library of Congress (LOC).

You'd think the two would have worked together to create a single George Washington research site. It's unclear if Mt. Vernon wanted to become part of the federal presidential library system or not. It's not clear if Mt. Vernon will be purchasing other major Washingtoniana collections, to make it's library more than just a niche facility. It's also unclear why this library is being built at Mt. Vernon. Why didn't Mt. Vernon donate its collection to the LOC and build a major library in D.C. -- so that scholars and the public are better served by a single facility, rather than collections scattered hither and yon? Or does a private library provide better access than big, stuffy, red-tape suffused LOC?

We don't have these answer.

And besides... well, it's kind of moot. Mt. Vernon needed $100 million to build its library, and it now has $110 million.



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Just for fun's sake, here is where the other presidential papers are located.

At the Library of Congress:
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • Andrew Jackson
  • William Henry Harrison (Note: The majority of Harrison's papers were destroyed by fire in 1858.)
  • John Tyler (Note: The majority of Tyler's papers were destroyed during the Civil War.)
  • Zachary Taylor (Note: The majority of Taylor's papers were destroyed during the Civil War.)
  • Franklin Pierce (Note: Pierce's papers are scarce. The most significant collections available are housed at the Library of Congress and the New Hampshire Historical Society.)
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Andrew Johnson
  • James Garfield (Note: Garfield's presidential papers are scarce, as he served only 100 days.)
  • Chester Arthur (Note: Arthur's papers are scarce.)
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • William McKinley
  • Theodore Roosevelt (Note: Other than the Library of Congress, the most significant collections available are housed at Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Calvin Coolidge


In other collections:
  • John Adams at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts
  • James Monroe at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia
  • John Quincy Adams at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Martin Van Buren are widely scattered. The largest collection is at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Smaller collections (less than 250 items) may be found at the Columbia County Historical Society in Kinderhook, New York; Filson Club Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky; the Massachusetts Historical Society; the New-York Historical Society in New York City; and the New York State Library in Albany, New York
  • James K. Polk at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Millard Fillmore at the Buffalo Historical Society and Erie County Historical Society, both in Buffalo, New York
  • Franklin Pierce (Note: Pierce's papers are scarce. The most significant collections available are housed at the Library of Congress and the New Hampshire Historical Society.)
  • James Buchanan at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Ulysses S. Grant at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois
  • Rutherford B. Hayes at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio
  • Theodore Roosevelt at the Library of Congress; Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota)
  • Warren G. Harding at the Ohio Historical Society at Columbus, Ohio

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