George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams assumed that historians someday would scrutinize their activities, but they never imagined the enormous literature that would result. Only one or two other figures in American history—certainly Abraham Lincoln and probably Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well—have been the subject of as much study as Washington and Jefferson; Adams too has been the focus of numerous scholars.
Modern editions of the papers of these three Founders exist alongside older, but still useful, compilations of their correspondence. The comprehensive modern editions, which are under the direction of professional editors and feature annotation and editorial comment, are a decided improvement over the earliest editions.
From the outset The Papers of George Washington (Charlottesville, 1981–) under the editorial guidance of W. W. Abbot and his successor, Dorothy Twohig, made the wise decision to simultaneously publish papers from various periods in Washington's life. The result is The Colonial Series, now complete, that spans his first forty-two years, The Revolutionary War Series, The Confederation Series, also complete and that covers the 1784–1789 period, The Presidential Series, and The Retirement Series, which focus on his last thirty months and will be complete within a few months of the publication of this book. The Diaries of George Washington (6 vols., Charlottesville, 1976–1979), edited by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, is available as well.
The definitive modern edition of Jefferson's papers has proceeded at a considerably slower pace. In a half-century of publication The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, 1950–), under the direction of Julian P. Boyd, et al., eds., has now brought its subject only to 1794. However, important supplements exist. Jefferson's correspondence with his daughters can be found in