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George Washington letter urging ratification of Constitution fetches almost $1.5M

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    The first president's plea is expected to fetch as much as $2 million at auction. (National Archives/Christie's)

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    WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:o Washington"), to John Armstrong (1717-1795), Mount Vernon, 25 April 1788. 4o, 7 pages on two bifolia (9 x 7 3/8 in.). Professionally conserved: two horizontal folds neatly reinforced, slightly obscuring some text, light dampstains to page [4], left-hand margins of pages [1] and [4] with narrow strip from old mount. Estimate: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 (CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2013)

A seven-page letter signed by George Washington, urging a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress to help ratify the Constitution, fetched just under $1.5 million at an auction Friday.

Washington wrote the letter to John Armstrong, a major general in Washington's army, in 1788. In it, Washington voiced his passionate support of the newly-drafted Constitution.

 “I have no doubt those persons who are chosen to administer it will have wisdom enough to discern the influence which their examples as rulers and legislators may have on the body of the people, and will have virtue enough to pursue that line of conduct which will most conduce to the happiness of their Country,” the letter reads.

It was not immediately known who the winning bidder was at Christie's. He or she placed the bid of $1,443,750 over the phone, beating out a competing bidder in the auction room.

Washington played a substantial role in garnering support of the nine required states needed for ratification. He objected in the letter to the anti-Federalists who feared the tyranny of a strong central government and wanted to limit its powers with amendments.

“That the proposed Constitution will admit of amendments is acknowledged by its warmest advocates, but to make such amendments as may be proposed by the several States the condition of its adoption, would, in my opinion, amount to a compleat rejection of it,” he wrote. 

“In addition to these considerations it should be remembered that a constitutional door is open for such amendments as shall be thought necessary by nine States,” Washington adds.

The ratification process began in 1787, with Delaware unanimously voting in favor of the new Constitution. Six states ratified the charter at the time Washington wrote the letter on April 25, with Maryland signing on three days later. New Hampshire became the ninth vote just under two months later.

Christie’s acknowledged that Washington’s letters on the creation and adoption of the Constitution are rare. In December 2009, the auction hall sold Washington’s defense of the new Constitution to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, for $3,218,500.

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