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Posted: June 6, 2013 5:10 p.m.

Washington's copy of the Constitution on display

 

ATLANTA (AP) — George Washington's personal, annotated copy of the Constitution will be on display beginning Friday for a limited time at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum in Atlanta, part of a traveling exhibit among the 13 presidential libraries.

The book, known as "The Acts of Congress," is considered among the most important items owned by Washington and includes handwritten notes and brackets around certain passages of the Constitution, particularly Article II, which outlines presidential duties and powers. It was purchased last summer by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association for $9.8 million at auction, considered a record for an American historical document.

Carter Library Director Jay Hakes said the book is in remarkable condition and provides an important glimpse into the early beginnings of modern democracy.

"He had to invent government as we know it today," said Hakes. "This is really a first guide to American government."

The Carter Library has chosen to display Washington's book, which also includes the proposed Bill of Rights and a record of acts passed by the first Congress, with a copy of Carter's "The Duties of the President of the United States." The Carter book, which he received while in office in 1979, includes every mention of the president in federal law as well as all the laws passed from 1975 to 1979. The Washington book is about an inch thick with 106 pages, while the Carter book spans 1,483 pages.

"It's a visual illustration of how much the presidency has grown," Hakes said. "It's a different office today but this is where it all started."

The book was the result of an early custom by Congress' official printers to prepare bound copies of new laws. The books were presented as keepsakes to prominent officials of the early government, including Thomas Jefferson and John Jay. Washington received the book in 1789, his first year in office, and brought it home to his Mount Vernon estate in 1797.

The handwritten notes are faint and include the words "President," ''Powers" and "Required." His signature marks the title page. Hakes said the fact that Washington made notes and highlighted key sections demonstrates his commitment to understanding his role.

"He had no model to work from," Hakes said. "This shows us that he was closely studying and eager to understand."

The exhibit has already traveled to presidential libraries in California, Michigan, Kansas, Texas and Massachusetts through a partnership between the National Archives and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. After the tour is concluded in September, the book will be on permanent display at The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which is being built at the Mount Vernon estate.

The exhibit at the Carter Library ends June 24.

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