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Essential papers, by George

The Founding Fathers' documents will be published online . . . eventually.

January 14, 2008|Jeffrey H. Birnbaum | Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- At the end of last year's session of Congress, lawmakers slipped a provision into law that directed the archivist of the United States to come up with a plan to hasten the online publication of the papers of America's Founding Fathers.

The measure was a victory for former Rep. Michael A. Andrews (D-Texas) and his client, the Pew Charitable Trusts.

More than 200 years after they were written, large portions of the papers are still decades away from being published. That prompted Andrews and Pew to lead a distinguished group of scholars and federal officials to pressure Congress to speed the process.

The advocates, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, persuaded congressional appropriators to direct the archivist's National Historical Publications and Records Commission to develop a plan, due in 90 days, to put the papers online.

The step was a long time in coming. Teams of scholars have been working since Harry Truman was president in the late 1940s to compile and annotate the letters, correspondence and documents of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Only the papers of Alexander Hamilton have been finished, largely because the scholars did not have as many to comb through. Hamilton died in his late 40s after a duel with Aaron Burr.

"I feel very strongly that this is as worthy as any publishing effort that I know of," said McCullough, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. "It's just a shame that it is taking so long."

The documents include letters to and from the principals and diary and journal entries.

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