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ARCHIVIST OF THE UNITED STATES
Don W. Wilson
Linda N. Brown
Charles W. Bender
Prologue is a scholarly journal published quarterly by the National Archives and Records Administration. Its primary purpose is to bring to public attention the resources and programs of the National Archives, the regional archives, and the presidential libraries. Accordingly, Prologue in the main publishes material based, in whole or in part, on the holdings and programs of these institutions. In keeping with the nonpartisan character of the National Archives, Prologue will not accept articles that are politically partisan or that deal with contemporary political issues.
Articles are selected for publication by the editors in consultation with experts. However, final responsibility for the decision to publish an article rests with the Archivist of the United States. The editor reserves the right to make changes in articles accepted for publication, but will consult the author should substantive questions arise. Published articles do not necessarily represent the views of the National Archives and Re rds Administration or of any other agency of the United States government.
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Mary C. Ryan EDITORIAL STAFF
Sandra M. Tilley
Sherry King-Anderson ART DIRECTOR
Serene Feldman Werblood PRODUCTION EDITOR
Richard B. Smith SUBSCRIPTIONS COORDINATOR
Olivia Hylton DEPARTMENT EDITORS
Public Affairs Staff
uring the early years of the American Revolution, a young New York bookseller named Ebenezer Hazard began
to collect pamphlets on the stirring political controversies of the day. Later, he gathered and copied many of the laws in force in the colonies and West Indies and planned to publish a volume on colonial sea trade. But, as he worked
four dollars and a quarter. Two years later a second volume was published. Hazard planned an additional volume but did not have the financial resources to continue the work and the project ended. Although Ebenezer Hazard's volumes did not circulate widely soon after publication, historians made much use of them. And scholars many generations later have praised
Prologue in Perspective
The Legacy of Ebenezer Hazard, America's First Documentary Editor
By Don W. Wilson
on his project, Hazard began to see the perilous condition of the manuscript records held by government officials and agencies. Time and accident and neglect, he reasoned, would take a terrible toll on these documents, the content of which revealed so much of the history, not only of these critical times, but of the founding and growth of the various colonies.
Hazard began to conceive a grander project. He planned a publication of charters and grants, laws, pamphlets, newspaper articles, extracts from historical writers and other documents that would lay out much of the history of America, which would "save from oblivion many important papers which without something like this collection will infallibly be lost ...'
For over two decades, even after he became America's Postmaster General, Hazard worked painstakingly on his collection, copying laboriously by hand document after document. John Adams thought highly of the plan and offered friendly advice. George Washington subscribed to purchase the publication. Thomas Jefferson was also enthusiastic and made numerous suggestions. “It is an undertaking of great utility, Jefferson wrote, and will furnish to any historian "those materials which he would otherwise acquire with great difficulty and perhaps not at all."
In April 1792, the first volume of Historical Collections of State Papers and Other Authentic Docments appeared in print—639 pages priced at
Hazard's foresight and industry in preserving these historical materials. He has been called America's first documentary editor.
This issue of Prologue is about the scholarly work that has followed in the spirit of Ebenezer Hazard. It is about the documentary editions of our first four presidents, editions that present historical materials essential for understanding events in America two centuries ago, vital documents—from the messages of Washington penned hurriedly at a Revolutionary War battlefield to Jefferson's philosophical musings written in France; from Adams's long, revealing letters to Abigail to Madison's notes and letters meticulously recounting events of the Constitutional Convention. The issue is about the efforts of editors and their project staffs to preserve these documentary materials and make them available for study, efforts the value of which Ebenezer Hazard understood so well so long ago.
In the generations since Hazard, documentary editing in the United States has grown and matured remarkably. From isolated historians of earlier years carrying on admirable if laborious efforts to gather, annotate, and publish collections of documents, there has emerged the dynamic world of documentary editing today. The work of the distinguished scholars whose essays follow exemplifies the notable editorial endeavors now being undertaken in research institutions across the country. The published volumes of documentary sources now being made available represent a revolution in American historiography. Using the highest professional standards of modern documentary editing, armed with sophisticated word processing and computer programs, editors are providing the sources, the groundwork, for fresh, revealing historical scholarship.
The four projects represented in these essays have been especially notable during this period of the nation's bicentennial activities. The materials unearthed by the editors from sources around the world have added immeasurably to the store of information we have about the early years of the nation. As we learn more and more about the hopes and dreams, the fears and uncertainties of these early Founding Fathers, the more whetted becomes the historical appetite, the more exhilarating the historical road of discovery. These editors are taking us down that road with extraordinary professional competence and scholarly integrity, and we salute their work. Behind the efforts of these editorial teams is the support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission here at the National Archives. An agency created by statute at the same time as the Archives in 1934, the commission, through its grant programs, assists many editorial and archival projects across the country, including such editions as the Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison Papers. Not only historians but all individuals interested in American history are now beginning to gain access to these important documentary materials, collected from many sources, published free from partisan interpretation.
The documentary publications supported by the NHPRC have helped shape recent American historical studies. Scholars are increasingly turning to these volumes in their research. Classroom teachers have put them to use. For genealogists, the editions can be indispensable. Reviewers in newspapers and scholarly journals have praised the projects for their massive col
lecting efforts, their precise, informed editorial work, and their many contributions to American historical scholarship.
Documentary editing has come a long way since the days of Ebenezer Hazard and undergone a dramatic evolution from quill to computer. But the sentiments among the editors have not changed. Spanning the two centuries, powerful beliefs endure—that history informs and teaches, that historical documents are the means by which we can draw closer to our heritage, and that the preservation and dissemination of those documents are a national responsibility from which we must not turn.
Ebenezer Hazard would be proud of the achievements of this generation of documentary editors with whom he shares a kinship. He would, with special zeal, dig into the volumes of his contemporaries—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. He would be gratified to see some of his own letters in the pages of these editions and would nod with assurance at the sentiments of his friend Jefferson expressed in a letter to Hazard of February 18, 1791. In his characteristic unadorned eloquence, writing of Hazard's labors on his documentary collection, Jefferson laid out the charge to which editors continue up to this day to respond. "The lost cannot be recovered," Jefferson wrote, “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."
And Hazard would agree further with Madison that one of the most profound benefits of a free society is the freedom of inquiry, of the right of access to the documentary record. As Madison declared, “The right of freely examining public characters and measures and of free communication thereon is the only effectual guardian of every other right."
Don W. Wilson is Archivist of the United States.