Guide to the Research Collections



The collection of books and pamphlets relating to the national history of the United States is strong. It consists of printed archives and documents, historical serials, writings on general history as well as on special phases and periods, and works of description and travel.

The Billings Classification Schedule serves as a guide to the brief descriptions which follow.

General Works (Billings IA)

Consistent with the policy of securing any edition containing material not included in works already present in the collections, the library frequently has many editions of general histories. Another type of general literature consists of the published papers of presidents and other significant political figures, which constitute an extensive and important group.

United States historical periodicals are an outstanding feature. The collection includes general

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historical periodicals, the publications of national and state historical societies, and those of special historical associations, such as the Catholic Historical Society. The files of these serial publications are generally complete; many of them are indexed in the Public Catalog and the appropriate division catalogs, while commercial indexes often suffice for contemporary volumes.

Early serial publications include a good collection of American almanacs. There are also many pamphlets in this subclass; more than 6,000 titles represent collections, essays, and miscellanies alone (Billings class mark IAG).

The Constitution and Constitutional History (Billings IB)

This collection contains materials on the federal Constitution and many general works relating to state constitutions as well; holdings classed elsewhere in the library make this a strongly represented subject. Source materials in public documents and in other subject classes are administered by the Economic and Public Affairs Division. Of particular interest are the materials kept in the Rare Book Division which include such rare works as original printed resolutions, debates, and the early editions of The Federalist.

Foreign Relations (Billings IC)

This subject is very fully covered, both in this subclass and in related subject classes. The library attempts to obtain all available material on commissions dealing with boundary disputes, claims for war indemnities, and the like. The collections contain a vast amount of material relating to the former possessions of this country, the outstanding series being the Elihu Root collection of United States documents (1896-1908), consisting of 184 volumes covering Cuba, Puerto Rico, China, the Hawaiian Islands, Panama, etc., and the Elihu Root collection of United States documents relating to the Philippine Islands (1898-1906) in 178 volumes. These make possible a detailed study of United States efforts for world influence and the factors tending to promote overseas expansion.

Political History and Political Parties (Billings ID)

The materials dealing with this subject are divided between the American History Division and the Economic and Public Affairs Division. The value of the collection is greatly enhanced by the collections classed as political and party publications (Billings IO), described below.

Various Races in The United States (Billings IE)

Although the library has systematically collected in this subject over an extensive period, all materials are not located in this class mark. For example, books on the Jew in America are to be found in the Jewish Division. This subclass (Billings IEC) contains important materials in the literature relating to the Negro. Other items are found under headings such as "Ethnology," "Slavery--U.S.," or "Emancipation of Negroes," and in the Schomburg Center. Among European nationalities, the Germans in the United States have received the greatest attention; German-American resources developed rapidly from about 1900.

Period Before the Revolution (Billings IF)

The resources in this subclass constitute a good working collection strengthened by works in the Rare Book Division and related subject materials in the Economic and Public Affairs Division. Primary materials include such compilations as the separately published correspondence of colonial administrators (Sir William Johnson, Shirley, Gage, and others) as well as secondary historical studies. In addition to scholarly works are numerous popular works on colonial life and culture.

The Liebmann collection of American historical documents is fully discussed in the section on alcoholic drinks in chapter 63. Its 226 manuscript items (with some book materials) relate to the production and use of whiskey, rum, and brandy in America from 1665 to 1910. The collections of George Chalmers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contain transcripts and original documents relating to the revolt of the American colonies bound in 25 volumes, and also include a volume of papers relating to the Indians. Among these papers is Major Robert Rogers' journal of 1760-61.3 Other Rogers material was given by Mrs. Charles S. Fairchild in 1927 and includes a sulter's permit, travel accounts, power of attorney, etc.

The collection of first and early editions of the Mather family works is substantial and contains many rarities. Richard Mather was one of the translators of the famous "Bay Psalm Book" (Cambridge, 1640). The Lenox copy in the Rare Book Division is one of five known complete examples. Of equal rarity is A Platform of Church Discipline (Cambridge, 1649), better known as the "Cambridge Platform," which was in part prepared by Richard Mather. The library holds a copy of the second issue of this early declaration of church government and discipline.

Increase Mather is represented by over 34 first editions, among them A Brief History of the War With the Indians in New England (London, 1676) and Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (Boston, 1693), a book that has been credited with helping to bring the witchcraft trials in Massachusetts to an end. Cotton Mather, the most voluminous writer of the three, is represented in the library by over 60 first editions of his more than 400 existing works. Outstanding among them is The Wonders of the Invisible World (Boston, 1693), an account of the witchcraft trials; the Rare Book Division holds copies of the first 3 American editions and the first English edition. His Magnalia Christi Americana (London, 1702), and The Christian Philosopher (London, 1721) are also present. The manuscript of Cotton Mather's sermon delivered in 1723 on the death of his father is held by the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

The Revolution (Billings IG)

General Materials

The materials on the Revolutionary period form an outstanding collection. The library has

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sought to acquire all published original narratives, orderly books, and similar sources of information on campaigns, as well as all published correspondence of political leaders or governmental representatives of the different states. The participation of foreigners as aides, either to the Americans or the British, has received special attention.

Noteworthy holdings for the study of Benjamin Franklin include rare printed works and manuscripts in various locations in the library. There is also an interesting group of materials relating to Major André.

The resources for the study of George Washington are important; their particular strength derives from the presence of certain significant pieces, rather than from their extent.4 Printed editions of Washington's writings include the early and rare Journal (1754). An enormous collection of biographical and historical material relates to Washington's life and career. Portraits in oils by Gilbert Stuart and others are on public display together with two marble busts, one the work of Thomas Crawford; in the Prints Division are over 2,000 engraved portraits. Medals and medallic portraits are kept in the Rare Book Division, which also houses the notable collection of approximately 285 Washington eulogies.5 Among the most interesting of these are 33 eulogies which belonged to Martha Washington. Twenty-four books from Washington's library are also present, many of them given by the late Edward S. Harkness.

Included among some 550 Washington manuscripts is the final holograph version of the Farewell Address. The earliest manuscript is a land survey in the Emmet collection dated November 20, 1750; a notebook kept while Washington was colonel of the Virginia militia dates from 1757. The largest group is a series in the collection of presidential papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Two business letters are in the Arents Tobacco Collection, and 4 letters and a leaf of notes are in the Berg Collection. Manuscript drafts of portions of Washington Irving's Life of Washington are in the Arents and Berg Collections and in the Seligman collection of the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Many musical works celebrating events of Washington's career are a part of the Music Division holdings.

Important works on American Loyalists are supplemented by printed records in the Local History and Genealogy Division and Rare Book Division, which, together with transcripts of records in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, combine to form an outstanding collection of historical works, petitions, depositions, hearings, decisions, and calendars of unpublished materials in various repositories. Fifty-nine volumes of transcripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, which the library began to secure from the Public Records Office in London at the end of the nineteenth century, duplicate information gathered by the Commission of Enquiry into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists.

This subclass contains an adequate collection of printed works relating to the Declaration of Independence. Additional materials elsewhere in the library make the literature relating to it a very rich group. Rare broadsides are in the Rare Book Division; manuscripts are in the Manuscripts and Archives Division; portraits of the signers are in the Manuscripts and Archives and the Prints Divisions.

Manuscript Collections

Brief descriptions of the more important materials and collections on the Revolutionary period now in the Manuscripts and Archives Division follow directly. Such archives as the Emmet and Bancroft collections are not restricted to manuscripts of the Revolutionary period, but contain in addition books, pamphlets, and prints related to other periods of United States history.

The Olive Branch petition:

This document was given posthumously to the library by Lucius Wilmerding in 1948. A petition to George III of England signed by the members of the Continental Congress on July 8, 1775, this was a final attempt to avoid the American Revolution.6

Declaration of Independence:

This is one of five fair copies Thomas Jefferson made of the document. Dr. Thomas A. Emmet had this manuscript bound with at least one autograph of each of the signers of the Declaration.

Constitution of the United States of America: Bill of Rights:

This is an engrossed copy on vellum of the twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted to the several states by Congress as a Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789. It is one of seven known copies of the fourteen originally made.

George Washington, Farewell Address:

This is the final version in thirty-two heavily corrected pages which President Washington delivered to the Philadelphia printer David Claypoole. It was published on September 19, 1796, in Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser.7

Bancroft Collection:

Original manuscripts in the Bancroft collection include letters to Samuel Adams from the prominent men of the Revolution, along with drafts of his own letters; the papers of the Boston Committee of Correspondence; the Hawley papers; the Ansbach and other papers on the service of German troops in the Revolution, including the correspondence of General Riedesel; and numerous letters of distinguished Americans. Transcripts in this collection are bound in 210 volumes: they include copies of important materials from European archives on the subject of the Revolution, as well as the British state papers on colonial affairs, and a great number of documents from private sources. Also present is historical matter of a later date, including the unpublished diary and correspondence of President Polk, along with the papers of the historian George Bancroft documenting his duties as minister to Great Britain and Germany and as Commissioner of Boundaries. This most important collection of 486 volumes in manuscript, with other book materials, was purchased in 1894 by the Lenox Library.

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Chalmers Collection:

These twenty-five volumes of bound transcripts, original documents, and notes relating to the United States were collected by George Chalmers for his history of the revolt of the colonies, the manuscript of which is also present. There is, in addition, a volume of papers relating to the Indians. Most of the volumes were purchased by the library in 1890; several came with the library of George Bancroft.

Emmet Collection:

The manuscripts in this collection number about 10,800 pieces, and include one or more autographs of almost every man of distinction in American affairs during the Revolution, as well as a large number of earlier colonial documents and letters of more recent date. There are three complete sets of autographs of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, one of which has been called "the finest set extant.8 Among the many official documents of great interest is Thomas Jefferson's fair copy of the Declaration of Independence. The finest material in this collection is mounted in bound volumes with printed titles and narrative text, illustrated with portraits, views, caricatures, drawings, and broadsides. Sixty volumes of publications, the majority relating to the American Revolution, are extra-illustrated. The collection was brought together by Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet and presented to the library by John S. Kennedy in 1896.9

Ford Collection:

This collection of some 60,000 items consists chiefly of autographs of Americans from the Revolutionary period and the nineteenth century. There are many autographs of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and a number of letters by Washington and Franklin, letters to General Hand, and many other papers relating to the Revolution. The collection was made between 1840 and 1898 by Gordon Lester Ford and his sons Worthington Chauncey Ford and Paul Leicester Ford; it was presented to the library in 1899 by J. Pierpont Morgan.

Gansevoort-Lansing Papers:

In 1919, Victor Hugo Paltsits presented this collection to the library under the terms of the will of Catherine Gansevoort Lansing. It consists of books. pamphlets, and other materials, including a collection of about 25,000 manuscripts documenting the careers of General Peter Gansevoort, an officer during the Revolution, of his son, the Hon. Peter Gansevoort, and of the latter's son, Brigadier-General Henry Sanford Gansevoort. There are also numerous papers of the Lansing, Douw, Van Schaick, and Melville families, along with several hundred items from the papers of Abraham Yates. In all, these manuscripts embrace a period of nearly 250 years of American history; a listing of the papers is given in the Dictionary Catalog of the Manuscript Division.10

William Livingston Papers:

The correspondence and other papers of William Livingston from 1775 to 1782 amount to approximately 950 items; a listing is available in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. The collection was deposited by Mrs. Lewis C. Ledyard in 1938 and given to the library in 1962-65.

Myers Collection:

Formed by Colonel Theodorus Bailey Myers, this collection numbers about 1,600 pieces and consists chiefly of autograph letters and documents of distinguished Americans of the colonial period, the Revolution, and the nineteenth century. Included are the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the governors of New York, members of the Continental Congress, and generals of the Revolution, along with autographs of distinguished Europeans. The collection was arranged under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet and, like his own collection, contains illustrative matter such as portraits and prints. It was presented in 1900 by Colonel Myers' family.

Schuyler Collection:

This collection of the papers of General Philip Schuyler is arranged in several series which reflect the General's varied activities. The Schuyler canal papers consist of about 740 letters to and from General Schuyler on the affairs of the Northern and Western Inland Lock Navigation Company from 1792 to 1803. The Schuyler Revolutionary papers include 2,431 letters to him from military officers, members of Congress, committees of safety, and private individuals between 1761 and 1802, the greater part relating to the conduct of the war in the Northern Department from 1775 to 1777. A calendar of these manuscripts was made in 1851. In addition are transcripts of letters from General Schuyler and his aides de camp, general orders issued by him, copies of letters and instructions from General Washington, and the like. The Schuyler Indian papers consist of about 550 items concerning Indian affairs during the period 1764-97. The Schuyler land papers number about 850 items including letters, deeds, leases, mortgages, and maps relating to New York State between 1720 and 1840. Other letters of General Schuyler are in the Ford collection (12 originals) and the Bancroft collection (162 transcripts).

Period Between the Revolution and the Civil War (Billings II)

This subclass includes a number of strong features. One of the most important is the collection of travelers' observations on the country during this period of expansion (class mark IID). The material on the War of 1812 is also noteworthy, especially the collection of naval histories. A first edition of The Star Spangled Banner (Baltimore, 1814) in the Music Division is one of the library's treasures.

The collection relating to the rise of the secession movement is very extensive, with much additional material in the Economic and Public Affairs Division classed with materials on slavery. Pamphlet holdings are outstanding; in classmark IIR ("Slavery Controversy") are filed more than 300 titles, and more than 1,500 titles with the general materials on slavery. Other classes contributing to this period include works on religious history, particularly of the Mormons and Shakers. Periodical and newspaper files for this period are extensive.

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Civil War (Billings IK)

This very strong collection covers both the Union and the Confederacy. It includes an extensive collection of the accounts of campaigns, from viewpoints as diverse as those of general officers and private soldiers. The rosters of military organizations, whether issued by the organization or by the adjutants general of the various states, are complete as far as obtainable.11 Veterans' groups such as the GAR and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and auxiliaries such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy are represented by their many publications.

The development of photography and modern processes of reproduction created a wealth of pictorial data on the War. The library has a vast amount of this material, especially in elaborately illustrated books. In addition, drawings by the staff artists of Leslie's Weekly are held in the Prints Division. An important collection of Confederate imprints is housed in the Rare Book Division. This includes more than 520 items issued by southern presses during the Confederacy's existence. Of these, approximately 360 publications are official and 160 are unofficial, including textbooks, almanacs, newspapers, and periodicals.

Civil War materials in the Manuscripts and Archives Division consist primarily of diaries and the correspondence of soldiers, most of them in New York regiments. There is also material in the papers of such personalities as Horace Greeley, William H. Harris, Henry J. Raymond, Elizabeth L. Van Lew, and in log books such as those of the S.S. Tillie and the S.S. Passaic. The division also maintains the files of the United States Sanitary Commission, consisting of over 1,000 boxes of material covering the period from 1862 to 1867. Among the largest groups of material are the papers of the Army and Navy Claim Agency, the Army and Navy Pay Claim archives, the Washington Hospital Directory archives, along with condensed historical matter consisting of reports, plans, maps, newspapers, clippings, and the like. The Schomburg Center should be consulted for original materials on slavery and emancipation during the period.

Since the Civil War (Billings IL)

This class of materials consists of social and political histories and commentaries on the United States since the Civil War. Included are observations of political leaders, volumes on the administrations of various presidents of the period, and volumes on the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. General works and travelers' accounts, particularly those of foreigners who came to observe and record frontier development,12 are strongly represented. Many personal narratives and memoirs are classed either with the literature of the region with which they are concerned, with the American Indian material, or with biography. Thus much of the material on persons prominent in the state and national life of this period will be found outside this subclass of American history. The extensive collection of diaries in the Manuscripts and Archives Division is another valuable source which adds unique records to the holdings of printed diaries.

Political and Party Publications, Campaign Handbooks, ETC. (Billings IO)

The ephemeral nature of many of the publications in this subclass makes them noteworthy because of their rarity, in addition to any individual importance they may have. They provide a strong supplement to the works on American politics. Only the purely political ephemeral materials are kept in this subclass; political pamphlets on economic subjects are ordinarily classified by subject under economics. An important feature of this collection is a large group of Fourth of July orations, and political or patriotic speeches on similar occasions. Another feature is the literature connected with each American presidential campaign: manuals for speakers, pamphlets, scrapbooks, and small items incident to political contests. Special materials include 28 scrapbooks related to the career of Samuel J. Tilden, especially during the presidential election of 1876. Some materials relate to elections other than presidential.