Everything old is new again and now it's free online!
Never again will you have to reel in the microfilm. (Unless you think you might want to investigate this outdated technology. Spoiler: you don't.)
If you've ever wondered what the early presidents and founders had to say before they were famous and, by osmosis, became dense historical tomes--look no further than Founders Online. This is a great unbowdlerized way to investigate the early presidents. You can read what they said about slavery. Learn what people wore. Learn what culturally-sensitive rumors are being tossed about:
"Commodore Porter says that the Turks & other people on the Barbary Coast believe that every Jew who dies turns into a Jack ass, & that the Christians Mount & ride them instantly, & directly, to the Devil."*Learn early American modes of expression, and that every letter ever written has a closer of "your loyal & obedt. servt."
This is your first stop for papers of George Washington, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. And if you want Monroe, the fifth and forgotten founding father, a search tells me he authored 719 letters in the collection, and received 552. (Let me tell you, his handwriting did not make those 719 letters easy).
Disclaimers & Tips
- Some of them are not authoritative final versions, but by golly, no one can proofread these things but fully trained handwriting experts and archaic orthography experts.
- If you are searching terms for frequency of use for linguistic research, be aware that editorial footnotes are also text-searchable, so you cannot infer directly without investigating the results.
This is a project I've been lucky enough to work with for the past year. I don't know how many hundreds of people have contributed to this massive massive endeavor, but many hours of many people's lives have made this a text-searchable, author-searchable reality.
* Citation: “To James Madison from James Monroe, 22 April 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-01-02-4292, ver. 2013-06-10). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of James Madison. It is not an authoritative final version.