George Washington’s personal copy of the Laws of the United States, First Session 1789, also known as the Acts of Congress, will be on display in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum from May 20, 2013 through June 4, 2013. This special display is part of a nationwide tour to each of the Presidential Libraries, made possible through a special partnership between Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, and the National Archives.

This remarkably well-preserved book includes Washington’s copy of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress, complete with his personal annotations.

This rare volume garnered world-wide attention last summer when it was offered for sale and then broke world records for an American historical document at auction. The 106-page Acts of Congress is emblazoned with Washington’s bookplate and features his handwritten notes penciled in the margins. Washington received the book in 1789, his first year in office as U.S. President, and brought it with him to Mount Vernon upon his retirement from public office in 1797. One of the early customs for the Congress’ official printer was to prepare bound copies of the acts passed by the legislative branch which would be presented as permanent keepsakes for the country’s leaders. Prominent recipients included Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and our first President, George Washington, who all received these beautifully bound versions of the book which were almost as artful to the eye as they were delicate to the touch.

After the tour, the Acts of Congress will eventually take permanent residence at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, currently under construction on Washington’s estate.

Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Photography by Mark Finkenstaedt

Opening page of Washington's Acts of Congress

The signed first page of George Washington's Acts of Congress