STATEMENT CONCERNING SOURCES AND OBJECTIVES
In 1787, George Washington noted in his diary (III, 161) that he had ascertained the number of grains there were in a bushel of various grasses, his highest figure being 13,410,000 for a bushel of timothy. The vision of the man already considered one of the greatest in the world counting and counting tiny objects into the millions is an awe‐ inspiring one — but, of course, he did not do it that way. He enumerated how many seeds there were in a small fraction of a bushel, and then multiplied.
Washington's example inspired me to estimate how many cards denoting publications about him there are in the catalogue of the New York Public Library. I counted seventy-seven to an inch, and then measured the number of inches: thirty-seven and a half. The result: 2997. And that total, of course, includes only a few of the tens of thousands of publications that refer to Washington without being primarily concerned with him.
This proliferation is the greatest problem which the biographer of Washington must face. For the riot of volumes — new ones perpetually springing up on the rotting remains of the old — has, like a tropical jungle, obscured with legend and special pleading the true George Washington.
The biographer must clear the fields before he can hope to plough. Fortunately, this can be done to a considerable extent by an act of will. For my part, I resolved to ignore all secondary sources (with one major exception) until I had mastered the original documents.
By far the most important sources for my study are Washington's own writings. His personal file of documents — diaries, financial accounts, letters written and received, and so forth to about 75,000 folios — is at the Library of Congress. The complete archive has just been published by the Library in twenty-four reels of microfilm with a printed index: Presidential Papers Microfilm: George Washington Papers ( Washington, D.C., 1965).