In 1955, Columbia University and its University Press created a project to collect, edit, and publish the written records of the life of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury secretary and one of the most important architects of the new nation. The project was completed with publication of its last volume in 1987.
The methodology of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton followed closely the model of the pioneering Thomas Jefferson series at Princeton. It includes both letters written and received by Hamilton, as well as his famous Treasury reports, contributions to The Federalist Papers, and other writings. The project’s goal was accurate documentary texts with editorial notes that provided historical context for the user’s convenience.
Like the Jefferson series, the Hamilton editors provided “calendar” entries or concise abstracts of the contents of documents they deemed “routine.” The years of Hamilton’s service as inspector general of U.S. armed forces during the Quasi-War with France, 1798–1801, produced the greatest body of such calendared materials. Luckily, however, users can supplement those calendar entries with digital images of virtually all these letters and reports in the Papers of the War Department edition at George Mason University.
The Hamilton Papers project had two features that distinguish it from other modern “Founders” editions. The volumes of Hamilton’s papers were published in one chronological sequence rather than being issued in separate series with independent editorial staffs. Even more significant, the project was unique in having an original project director, Harold C. Syrett, who remained with the project until its completion. Over three decades, Dr. Syrett oversaw the preparation and publication of 27 volumes of documents and notes and capped that accomplishment by compiling a cumulative index for the volumes.
The letterpress edition of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton is available from Columbia University Press.
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