Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Presidential Papers (and Libraries)

Today is Election Day. In one year, Americans will head to the polls to either reward or punish President Obama with a second term. It should be an interesting year, if not very, very long.

As I think I have said here before, I work for the federal government in an agency that among many other things, oversees the presidential libraries for all of the presidents from the latter half of the 20th Century. Presidential libraries and the papers that fill them became federal records in part to the 32nd President of the United States (and Honorary Archivist-in-Chief), Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Prior to that point, US Presidents had the option of taking their stuff and doing with it what they wanted.

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was rightfully concerned with this lack of organization regarding presidential papers. In 1801, he wrote a letter about the "lack of a safe deposit" for his papers. The letter exists in the collection of the National Archives, in the records of the Department of State.

Many of the papers of the early presidents have been lost to history. There are some collections here and there, but you are not likely to find a great deal of material on Millard Fillmore or Martin Van Buren. The Library of Congress was the early beneficiary of no presidential library system and many presidential papers collections may be found there.

Below is a list of the Presidents and where the majority of their papers reside (the link is to the Miller Center, which also provides a list of locations of presidential papers). At the end of the list is the aforementioned Presidential Libraries, part of the National Archives. There is already discussion of where the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be. Unfortunately, it's looking like Illinois and not Hawaii (that would have been a sweet job!). And, for that matter, if things don't start looking up, that library is going to be needed sooner, rather than later.
  1. George Washington - at the University of Virginia
  2. John Adams - at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  3. Thomas Jefferson - a prolific writer, his papers are everywhere, here's about 27,000 of them at the Library of Congress
  4. James Madison - also at the Library of Congress
  5. James Monroe - at the College of William and Mary
  6. John Quincy Adams - here's an example of how widely scattered presidential papers can be - but as with his father, the bulk are at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  7. Andrew Jackson - at the University of Tennessee
  8. Martin Van Buren - another extensive list, with the bulk at the Library of Congress
  9. William Henry Harrison - the majority of Harrison's papers were destroyed by fire in 1858, but there is a microfilm collection at the Library of Congress.
  10. John Tyler - most of Tyler's belongings (and papers) were destroyed during the Civil War, what remains of his papers is at the Library of Congress.
  11. James K. Polk - many places, but mostly at the Library of Congress.
  12. Zachary Taylor - Library of Congress
  13. Franklin Pierce - the Library of Congress (shocking), but also material at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
  14. Millard Fillmore - the man from Western New York brought his stuff back to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Archives.
  15. James Buchanan - the only President from Pennsylvania, the majority of Buchanan's papers are held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  16. Abraham Lincoln - most likely the most written about President, there are Lincoln Papers everywhere. But he also has a Presidential Library and Museum (but it's not part of the Presidential Library system).
  17. Andrew Johnson - the University of Tennessee undertook a project to centralize Johnson's papers.
  18. Ulysses Grant - though I am really confused by this, the Ulysses Grant Papers are held at Mississippi State University. People know that's in the South, right?
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes - you'll note I didn't dis President Hayes above - one of the only 19th Century Presidents to have his own presidential library.
  20. James Garfield - when you get killed in office, a lot of people tend to write about you and go looking for your stuff. Garfield papers are widely scattered (as this list shows) and the bulk of the material are at the Library of Congress.
  21. Chester Arthur - there is a very limited collection of Arthur's papers at the Library of Congress.
  22. Grover Cleveland - the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms (see #24) - his papers are also at the Library of Congress.
  23. Benjamin Harrison - there is a Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, IN, but the bulk of his papers are found at the Library of Congress.
  24. Grover Cleveland
  25. William McKinley - assassinated in office, McKinley's papers went to the Library of Congress
  26. Theodore Roosevelt - the youngest man to serve as President, TR went on to live for many years after leaving office. After his death, his papers went to the Library of Congress.
  27. William Howard Taft - the bulk (!) of Taft's papers are at the Library of Congress.
  28. Woodrow Wilson - the last President to come from the Commonwealth of Virginia (the mother of the Presidency), Wilson is also the only president to have a Presidential home / museum located in the District of Columbia. His birthplace in Staunton, Virginia is home to his library and museum.
  29. Warren G. Harding - what there is of Hardin's papers (his widow destroyed much of his papers allegedly to clear herself of any implication in his death) is at the Ohio Historical Society.
  30. Calvin Coolidge - the thirtieth President has a presidential library and museum located in Northampton, MA.
  31. Herbert Hoover - Hoover decided after Roosevelt started the Presidential Library system that it was a pretty good thing (and he needed all the help he could get to try and restore his image) so the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library is found in West Branch, IA.
  32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt - the FDR Presidential Library (in Hyde Park, NY) is located next to the Roosevelt family home. FDR designed the library.
  33. Harry Truman - "Give 'em Hell" Harry's stuff is at the Truman Library in Independence, MO
  34. Dwight Eisenhower - Ike was born in Abilene, Kansas and as a result that's where the Eisenhower Library is.
  35. John F. Kennedy - the Kennedy Library (in Boston, MA) sits prominently on Boston Harbor.
  36. Lyndon Johnson - the most recent presidential library that I have visited, the Johnson Library is in the state capital of Texas, Austin
  37. Richard Nixon - After many discussions with the Nixon family, the Nixon Library opened in July 2011 in Yorba Linda, CA
  38. Gerald Ford - OK, I like(d) Jerry Ford, but the only president to not be elected to the job has a Library in one place (Ann Arbor, MI) and the Museum somewhere else (Grand Rapids, MI). And it's not like there close - they're two hours apart. What does that say?
  39. Jimmy Carter - the Carter Library is in Atlanta, GA, not Plains, where the peanut farmer President hailed from.
  40. Ronald Reagan - the Reagan Library (in Simi Valley, CA) also holds the plane (Air Force One) used by President Reagan while in office.
  41. George H.W. Bush - the first Bush Library is in College Station, TX on the campus of Texas A&M University.
  42. Bill Clinton - the Clinton Library is in Little Rock, AR
  43. George W. Bush - the [still being developed] second Bush Library will be located in Dallas, TX on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

No comments: