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Collection Chester Alan Arthur Papers

About this Collection

The papers of Chester Alan Arthur (1829-1886), who became the twenty-first president of the United States in 1881 after James A. Garfield’s assassination, consist of 4,400 items (7,675 images), most of which were digitized from 10 reels of previously produced microfilm. Spanning the years 1843-1960, with the bulk dating from 1870 to 1888, the collection contains correspondence, financial papers, scrapbooks, clippings, and other papers relating to Arthur’s presidency, his service as collector of customs for the Port of New York, and his work with the New York Republican State Committee.

Correspondents represented in the collection include Campbell Allen, Chester Alan Arthur II, James Gillespie Blaine, George Bliss, Benjamin Harris Brewster, Benjamin Helm Bristow, Roscoe Conkling, Robert Graham Dun, Hamilton Fish, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Julius Guiteau, Wayne MacVeagh, Edwin D. Morgan, Frederick J. Phillips, James C. Reed, Julia I. Sand, Philip Henry Sheridan, John Sherman, William T. Sherman, and Kate Chase Sprague.

The Index to the Chester A. Arthur Papers, published by the Manuscript Division in 1961 after the bulk of the collection was microfilmed, provides a full list of the correspondents and notes the series number and dates of the items indexed. This information is helpful in finding individual letters or documents in the online version. Additional materials received by the Library after 1961 are not listed in this index.

A current finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Chester Alan Arthur Papers is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

Brief History of the Arthur Papers

You may be sure that I am as interested as you are in having the Arthur papers finally come to rest in the Library of Congress. The ones that I have in my possession have travelled a good deal—over to Europe, back to Colorado, California, and now here [New York]. During his lifetime, my father would never let anyone see them—not even me. When they finally came into my possession, I was amazed that there were so few. At my father’s funeral in Albany, or rather at the interment of his ashes which took place several months after his death [July 17, 1934], I enquired of all the cousins there assembled—the nieces and nephews of my grandfather, as to what had happened to the bulk of the papers. Charles E. McElroy, the son of Mary Arthur McElroy who was my grandfather’s First Lady, tells me that the day before he died, my grandfather caused to be burned three large garbage cans, each at least four feet high, full of papers which I am sure would have thrown much light on history.

So wrote Chester A. (“Gavin”) Arthur III to Dr. Thomas P. Martin, then acting chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, on April 15, 1938.

For many years President Chester Alan Arthur was represented in the Manuscript Division by a single document, a letter he had written during the Civil War and which the Library purchased in 1902. Beginning in 1910 and continuing to the present, successive Manuscript Division staff endeavored to assemble surviving Arthur manuscripts.

Louise Reed Mitchell, the daughter of Arthur’s secretary, James C. Reed, informed the Librarian of Congress in June 1925 that she had inherited some fifty Arthur manuscripts, which the Library subsequently purchased. In 1938, a fresh trail led to President Arthur’s grandson, Chester A. Arthur III, who deposited ninety of the more important documents he had in his possession. These manuscripts, together with an additional 470 documents which had remained in his possession, were sold to the Library in 1958. Noted collector Charles A. Feinberg gave to the Library of Congress twelve letters written by Arthur in the 1850s. In 1959, representatives from Dun & Bradstreet and Northern Pacific Railway donated copies of letters and telegrams documenting Arthur’s life and career.

When the Chester Alan Arthur Papers were organized and filmed in 1961, certain items were omitted as not being integral to the papers. These items, subsequent to the completion of the index and microfilm, were added in 1973, 1979, and 1980 as Series 4. The bulk of this material, a gift of more than two thousand items, came from Vincent F. Assaiante in 1971. The following year another significant addition was received as a bequest from Chester A. Arthur III. In 1973, Arthur’s biographer, Thomas C. Reeves, who was largely responsible for earlier Arthur acquisitions, donated a large body of Arthur family papers from which items of Chester A. Arthur were incorporated into this collection. Smaller additions received by the Library from 1960 to 1974 were also interfiled with this series, and the entire series was microfilmed in 1984. A one item addition was donated in 2015 and was organized as Series 5: Addition II.

Inasmuch as many of President Arthur’s personal papers have been destroyed, researchers may wish to examine the papers of his contemporaries in the Library of Congress and elsewhere for information about his life and times. Additional material documenting Chester Alan Arthur and members of his family can be found in the Arthur Family Papers and Thomas C. Reeves Papers.

A fuller history of the provenance of the collection was prepared for the Index to the Chester A. Arthur Papers, pp. v-vii (PDF and HTML) and was subsequently reproduced in the finding aid (PDF and HTML). A version appears on this website as the essay Provenance of the Chester Alan Arthur Papers.

Description of Series

The Chester Alan Arthur Papers are arranged in five series as described below. A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the collection is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

Series 1: General Correspondence and Related Manuscripts, 1843-1938 (Reels 1-3)
Includes letters received by Chester Alan Arthur, some letters he sent, other related original manuscripts, and a few photocopies of original manuscripts. Documents are arranged chronologically.

Series 2: Arthur-Dun Manuscripts, 1862-1887 (Reel 3)
Contains photocopies and a few typed copies of letters exchanged by Arthur and Robert Graham Dun and of other letters and documents concerning Arthur. Materials are arranged chronologically.

Series 3: Arthur Transcripts, 1872-1926 (Reel 3)
Composed of typed copies of certain letters written by, to, or concerning President Arthur in the papers of other persons in the Library of Congress. Items are arranged chronologically.

Series 4: Addition, 1846-1960 (Reel 4)
Material in the Addition series consists of four subseries:

  • Correspondence, 1846-1887 (Reel 4), arranged chronologically.
  • Financial Papers, 1855-1886 (Reel 4), arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • Scrapbooks, 1871-1884 (Reel 4), arranged alphabetically by subject.
  • Miscellany, circa 1857-1960 (Reel 4), arranged alphabetically by type of material or topic.

Series 5: Addition II, 1882 (Unfilmed material scanned from original)
Consists of a letter from Chester Alan Arthur to New York City restauranteur John Sutherland thanking him for the “haunch of Caribou.”