In October, President George W. Bush signed the “Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008,” which included major reforms to the Founding Fathers Project. This landmark, bipartisan legislation passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on September 26, due to the efforts of Senators John Warner (R-VA), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Jim Webb (D-VA).
“I commend the President and members of Congress for working to increase public access to the writings of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, President and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Completing the effort to publish these works and ensuring that they are made readily available to every American is vital to understanding our past and to navigating our future.”
The federal government formally launched the Founding Fathers Project in 1952 to publish the complete, annotated writings of several of the most influential framers of the Constitution. Since 1981, Pew has contributed more than $7.5 million to advance the scholarship and availability of these important documents, and recently advocated to reform the project.
The law puts term limits on members of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission; allows the Archivist to enter into cooperative agreements to speed up the online publication of the papers of the Founding Fathers; creates an advisory committee of noted historians to oversee the completion of the papers; and requires the editors to set completion goals and to submit to the committee annual reports that include an accounting of all the funding sources for the project each year. The law also charges the advisory committee with recommending to Congress further legislative or executive action to speed completion of the papers.
Today, the project consists of six separate collections, each with its own editorial staff who are working to annotate and publish the diaries, presidential proclamations, essays, legal papers, correspondence and other writings that offer a glimpse into the forces that shaped the nation. The project includes:
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