THEY are centuries apart but both focused on the same goal - independence. Alex Salmond is to hand back two of George Washington’s books to the United States after eight decades in Scotland.
The volumes of correspondence were Washington’s own copies and offer a unique insight into his military strategies during the American War of Independence. The First Minister is to loan the books to a new library dedicated to the US’s first president at a formal ceremony in Washington’s former home of Mount Vernon, Virginia, tomorrow.
The books, which date from 1795, were originally acquired by Dundonian jute magnate and bibliophile Hugh Sharp, whose family donated them to the National Library of Scotland in 1938.
Sharp bought them via US dealer Dr Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, who described them as “the finest books from Washington’s library.”
From the autumn, they will be displayed at the Fred W Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.
The Washington volumes bear the title: “Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress, Written During the War between the United Colonies and Great Britain, by His Excellency, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Force.” They also contain the president’s signature on the title page of each volume, and comprise, in Washington’s words, “documents relating to the contest of the colonies and the mother country”.
Salmond is on a week-long trip to the US to coincide with Tartan Week. Last night, he was due to speak at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Tomorrow’s handover was described by Scottish historian Tom Devine as an “important symbolic gesture” that ought to remind ordinary Americans of the historically “close relationship” between the nations.
He said: “The First Minister is to be congratulated. This is bound to capture the imagination of Americans because Washington was the founding father of their nation.
“The majority of Americans probably think of Scotland in terms of Braveheartism, golf, and landscapes and have forgotten the close relationship, economically, intellectually and religiously, that existed prior to 1776.”
He added: “Although not the only influence, the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment were key factors in the elaboration of the Declaration of Independence and constitution.
This will go down well with the Scottish diaspora. It’s an important, symbolic gesture during Tartan Week that will have a very positive impact, and it will certainly not do Alex Salmond any harm in the run up to the referendum.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “First Minister Alex Salmond is on visit to the US that will focus on encouraging economic investment in Scotland. He will also visit Washington’s former home, where he will present historic volumes of books from the National Library of Scotland. “They are being loaned to the Fred W Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.”