About this Collection
The papers of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), lawyer, representative from Illinois, and sixteenth president of the United States, contain approximately 40,550 documents dating from 1774 to 1948, although most of the collection spans from the 1850s through Lincoln’s presidency (1861-1865). Roughly half of the collection, more than 20,000 documents, comprising 62,000 images, as well as transcriptions of approximately 10,000 documents, is online. Included on this website in their entirety are Series 1-3 of the Lincoln Papers and the original materials in Series 4. Excluded from this online presentation is a sizeable portion of Series 4, which consists of printed material and reproductions of government and military documents made from originals in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Treasures in the collection include Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses, his preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, the two earliest known copies of the Gettysburg Address (the Nicolay and Hay copies), his August 23, 1864, memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated for re-election in the upcoming presidential contest, and a condolence letter written to Mary Todd Lincoln by Queen Victoria following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The Lincoln Papers are characterized by a large number of correspondents, including friends and associates from Lincoln’s Springfield days, well-known political figures and reformers, and local people and organizations writing to their president.
Notable correspondents include Nathaniel Prentiss Banks, Edward Bates, Montgomery Blair, Salmon P. Chase, Schuyler Colfax, David Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, John Hay, Andrew Johnson, Reverdy Johnson, Mary Todd Lincoln, George Brinton McClellan, George Gordon Meade, Edwin D. Morgan, John G. Nicolay, William S. Rosecrans, William Henry Seward, Horatio Seymour, Caleb B. Smith, Edwin McMasters Stanton, Charles Sumner, Lyman Trumbull, E. B. Washburne, and Gideon Welles.
The Index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers, created by the Manuscript Division in 1960 after the bulk of the collection was microfilmed, provides a full list of the correspondents and notes the series number, dates, and mounting-sheet numbers for items in Series 1-3 of the Abraham Lincoln Papers. This information, in addition to the keyword search capability in the online presentation, is helpful in finding individual letters or documents in the online version. Additional letters received by the Library after 1960 are not listed in this index.
A current finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Abraham Lincoln Papers is also available online.
Brief History of the Lincoln Papers
Abraham Lincoln’s papers were acquired by gifts, transfers, deposits, purchases, and reproductions during the years 1901-2013. The Lincoln Papers came to the Library of Congress from Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), who arranged for their organization and care shortly after his father was assassinated on April 14, 1865. At that time, Robert Todd Lincoln had the Lincoln Papers removed to Illinois, where they were first organized under the direction of Judge David Davis of Bloomington, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's longtime associate. Later, Lincoln’s presidential secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, assisted in the project. In 1874, most of the Lincoln Papers returned to Washington, D.C., and Nicolay and Hay used them in the research and writing of their ten-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A History (New York, 1890). Robert Todd Lincoln deposited the Lincoln Papers with the Library of Congress in 1919, and deeded them to the Library on January 23, 1923. The deed stipulated that the Lincoln Papers remain sealed until twenty-one years after Robert Todd Lincoln’s death. On July 26, 1947, the Lincoln Papers were officially opened to the public.
The most complete account of the early history of the Abraham Lincoln Papers appears in volume 1 of David C. Mearns, The Lincoln Papers (Garden City, N.Y., 1948), 3-136. An article by the same author which appeared in the December 1947 issue of the Abraham Lincoln Quarterly External contains the substance of the story. An additional history of the provenance of the collection was prepared for the Index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers, pp. v-vi, and subsequently reproduced in the finding aid (PDF and HTML). A version appears on this website as the essay Provenance of the Abraham Lincoln Papers.
Some Lincoln documents which had been retained by Nicolay were restored to the Lincoln Papers and were arranged as Series 2 to assure their identification. Other miscellaneous acquisitions are found in Series 3 and 4.
Scanned images from the Abraham Lincoln Papers first became available online in 2001 as the American Memory website Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcriptions prepared for roughly half of the documents by the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College were added in 2002. The present iteration of the online Abraham Lincoln Papers is an updated version of the American Memory site, with additional features, original materials not included in the previous presentation, and the replacement of images scanned from the microfilm edition with full-color images scanned from the original documents.
Description of Series
The Abraham Lincoln Papers are arranged in five series. All of the documents contained in Series 1-3 are reproduced online, as are the original materials contained in Series 4. Although collection items in the online presentation are described at the item level, they may be accessed in groups at the Series level. Individual document headings and available transcriptions can be searched by keyword.
Series 1, General Correspondence and Related Documents, 1833-1916
Consists of manuscripts inherited by Robert Todd Lincoln, which have been designated “The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.” Series 1 includes the so-called “Carpet Bag Documents,” which were stored in a carpet bag that suffered water damage. A list of the “Carpet Bag Documents” created in 1874 by Lincoln’s secretary John G. Nicolay is available in this series.
Series 2, Additional Correspondence, 1858-1865
Comprised of correspondence retained by Lincoln’s secretary John G. Nicolay, which remained with the Nicolay Papers (received by the Library in 1947) until August 1959, when the letters were removed and reincorporated with the Lincoln Papers.
Series 3, Miscellaneous, 1837-1897
Includes single or small numbers of manuscripts which have been acquired by the Library of Congress from a variety of sources.
Series 4, Addenda, 1774-1948
The addenda to the Abraham Lincoln Papers consists mostly of reproductions of government and military documents made from originals in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1774-1887. Reproductions of documents held by the National Archives are not represented on this online collection, nor are published materials. Original items contained in Series 4 are included in this online collection and include letters written by Abraham Lincoln, an autobiographical sketch written in 1859 at the request of Jesse W. Fell, mourning cards, political ephemera, a pen purportedly used by Abraham Lincoln, and papers omitted as not being integral to the collection when it was microfilmed and indexed in 1960. Please consult the collection finding aid (PDF and HTML) for more detailed information about the contents of Series 4.
Includes original correspondence and facsimile reproductions, certificates, pardons, a petition, a poem, pen, and printed matter. Images of all oversize materials in Series 1-3 and original materials in Series 4 are included in the online presentation and appear with the series from which they were withdrawn when rehoused as part of an oversize series. Oversize facsimiles and reproductions were not included in the online presentation.
Transcriptions Included on this Website
Transcriptions are included for about 10,000 items (about half of the online collection). The Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois performed the editorial work, which included selecting the documents to be transcribed. Their choices were based on either a document's historical importance or as representative of the president’s unsolicited incoming mail. Annotated transcriptions were provided for all of the documents in Lincoln's own hand and for secretarial copies of Lincoln documents located in Series 1-3 of the Lincoln Papers. Many of the other transcriptions were also annotated to aid users in identifying the people involved and in better understanding the content and historical contexts. Annotations for Lincoln's autograph documents usually include a headnote providing historical and documentary context, as well as annotations on the content of the document. Annotations for incoming correspondence typically identify persons and organizations writing to Lincoln or referred to in the documents, explain terms and events, and provide brief historical context. Together, these fully searchable transcriptions and annotations dramatically extend access to the Abraham Lincoln Papers and enhance their teaching and research value. For more information on transcriptions in the Abraham Lincoln Papers see the essay Editors’ Preface to the Transcriptions.