George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to Ebenezer Hazard, 28 February 1791

Tobias Lear to Ebenezer Hazard

[Philadelphia] February, 28th 1791.

By the command of the President of the United States T. Lear has the honor to return to Mr Hazard the enclosed proposals for printing by subscription a collection of State-Papers, which Mr Hazard submitted to the President and which have been subscribed by him.1

The whole or any part of the money for the President’s subscription will be paid by T. Lear whenever Mr Hazard may chuse to receive it.


1The enclosure was a printed broadside, dated “Philadelphia, February 24th, 1791,” and titled Proposals for Printing by Subscription, a Collection of State Papers, Intended as Materials for an History of the United States of America, by Ebenezer Hazard. Hazard had been compiling his collection of historical materials since the early 1770s. He made little progress on the project between 1782 and 1789 while serving as postmaster general under the Confederation government. GW declined to retain Hazard as postmaster general when he assumed the presidency, turning that post over to Samuel Osgood. Thereafter Hazard devoted a substantial part of his time to bringing the work to publication.

The text of the broadside includes a description of the work and the text of a letter to Hazard from Thomas Jefferson, dated 18 Feb. 1791, endorsing the project. The printed text of Jefferson’s letter contains his eloquent endorsement of documentary publication as a means of preservation and dissemination: “I learn with great satisfaction that you are about committing to the Press the valuable Historical and State Papers you have been so long collecting. Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices: the late war has done the work of centuries in this business: the lost cannot be recovered; but let us save what remains; not by vaults and locks, which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of Copies as shall place them beyond the reach of accident. . . .” The broadside also specified the terms of subscription: Hazard issued the work in numbers at $1.00 each or in two volumes, in boards, for $4.25. At the bottom of the page space was provided for subscribers’ names. GW’s signature, with the added note “In volumes to be neatly bound,” appears first on the list, followed by the signatures of Vice President John Adams, most of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and officials of the executive branch, including Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, and Tench Coxe. This copy of the broadside is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; it is illustrated, along with the signatures, in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19: following page 348.

Hazard’s work was published as Historical Collections: Intended as Materials for an History of the United State of America in two volumes in Philadelphia in 1792–94. GW owned two sets at the time of his death. One set from his library is in the Boston Athenaeum Collection of Washington books (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Washington Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 98–99, 520). Hazard experienced considerable financial losses in this publishing venture but struggled on in the hope of issuing a third volume, which never appeared (Shelley, “Ebenezer Hazard,” description begins Fred Shelley. “Ebenezer Hazard: America’s First Historical Editor.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 12 (1955): 44–73. description ends 45).

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