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Collection James A. Garfield Papers

Provenance of the James A. Garfield Papers

How did the James A. Garfield Papers come to the Library of Congress? This essay, originally written for the Index to the James A. Garfield Papers (Washington, D.C., 1973), pp. v-xvi, tells the story."General Garfield's habit was to keep everything." Mrs. James A. Garfield thus described her husband's relationship to his papers in a draft of a letter to Mary Abigail Dodge, who was collecting the letters of James G. Blaine, President Garfield's secretary of state.1 Garfield's custom of keeping everything reverted to the preservation habits of his mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield, who kept the first letter he ever wrote her. He was in school in Chester, Ohio, in 1849 when he wrote, in his designation, "The First Epistle of James." (It is now the first item in Series 2 in the Library's James A. Garfield papers.)2 His deep interest in his own papers continued throughout his life, an interest perpetuated by his widow until her death in 1918 and by his children.

On the backs of many letters will be found a note in Garfield's hand, "To be preserved." In fact, on February 25, 1856, he wrote to Lucretia Rudolph, to whom he was to be married nearly three years later, that her letters were "all arranged in chronological order." His diary contains numerous references to his papers. On January 16, 1858, he noted: "Writing and arranging my correspondence."3 He even arranged his wife's letters and sometimes identified the correspondent. On the back of Sallie Spencer's letter of August 31, 1869, he wrote "Mrs. Spencer's Letters to Crete [Mrs. Garfield's nickname], 1869."4 After the battle of Shiloh he wrote to his wife (April 21, 1862) that his personal possessions were missing, including his letters, but a few days later he was overjoyed to report that he had recovered them. On October 31 of the same year he wrote that he wanted the "MacDowell Manuscript" he had sent home "preserved but locked out of sight for the present." His interest encompassed Confederate Archives: "We may take Richmond, but they can put their government with all its archives on wheels and trundle it away into the interior."5

From 1863 to 1869 the Garfield papers were kept in his office in the House of Representatives, at the various residences in which the Garfields lived in Washington, and in their Ohio home. While General Garfield was in the Army, Mrs. Garfield had built their first home in Hiram, Ohio, the location of the Eclectic Institute, where both had been students. After graduating from Williams College in 1855 Garfield taught at the Eclectic Institute and served as its principal. After he was elected to Congress in 1863, this house was probably the place where most of his Congressional papers and old family papers were preserved as they accumulated. The year 1869 was memorable for the Garfields, for the completion of their Washington home on the corner of 13th and I Streets NW., meant that the family could be together for all of the Congressional sessions.

The home was designed so that Garfield would have plenty of room for his library and papers. He may have been deeply influenced in preserving his own papers as well as the "curious" family papers saved by his mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield, by a trip to Quincy, Mass., where he visited the Adams family. On July 8, 1869, he wrote his wife:

Before I left the Adams House I looked through a few of the manuscript journals and letters of John & John Q. Adams. Charles Francis is now at work preparing a mass of them for publication. Do you suppose Hal or Jim will ever care to look over your letters to me and mine to you?

In 1876 Garfield satisfied one of his ambitions by purchasing a farm near Mentor, Ohio. Gradually the Garfields enlarged the house, and a number of books and papers were moved to his office and library there. By 1880 they were able to entertain large numbers of visitors of Lawnfield, where he conducted a front-porch campaign for the presidency in 1880.

General Garfield was a collector as well as a preserver of manuscripts. The diary entry for May 31, 1873, reads: "Mother Rudolph gave me some letters that Crete wrote her from Chester 24 years ago."6 There were times it seemed expedient to retrieve letters he had written. As early as 1855 Garfield sought to recover the letters he had written to Mary Hubbell. In a letter of January 7, 1855, his cousin Henry Boynton, to whom he had entrusted the mission, told of his unsuccessful visit to the Hubbell home, writing that Mary was at home, but her father had told her not to give up her letters, that there was enough in them to "prove all they want." A number of Garfield's letters to Mary Hubbell are now in Series 5 of the Garfield papers, but the details of their acquisition are not known. They were carefully bound with correspondence with other girls and labeled "Miss" when received in the Library.

Garfield's nomination for President at the Republican Convention in Chicago on June 8, 1880, presented problems about papers he had left behind in Washington. On June 14, 1880, he wrote to Whitelaw Reid that he preferred to stay at Mentor, "but I have so many papers there [in Washington], which no one but myself can gather up–that it seems necessary that I have them soon."7

The publication of an article, "Celebrities at Home," on candidate Garfield revealed to the public the mass of books and papers in his home on the corner of 13th and I Streets:

Books, books, books! . . . . They confront one in the hall upon entering, in the parlor and sitting room, and in the dining-room–yes, and even in the bathroom, where documents and speeches are corded up like firewood.

Following a description of the pictures in the library, the unidentified contributor continues:

One infallible rule of his public life has been that every civil letter, on whatever subject or from whatever source, demands an answer. His correspondence has been, therefore, always large and exacting. He employs two short-hand secretaries at times, and his private secretary, Mr. George U. Rose, has been with him for twelve years . . . . A closet contiguous to this workroom is crowded with letters received and copies of letters sent, and the adjoining bath-room shares the surplus.8

It is not unlikely that this publicity hastened his decision to return to Washington to see about the papers. Garfield spent several days on this "private" visit seeing friends and gathering papers. George U. Rose, one of his stenographers, wrote on June 26, 1880, that he had enclosed in the box going that day by express "the contents of the drawer back of the desk and the volume of manuscript lectures, agreeably with your request." Rose wired on the 26th that he would start Friday because he "had staid to find papers."

Ever seeking to maintain the integrity of his papers and to provide current information, Garfield had another of his stenographers, Joseph Stanley-Brown, write to Rose on August 23, 1880:

The General wants you to look up and bring with you copies of the correspondence with Mr. Ordway in regard to the backpay. The correspondence occurred in March 1873. He wants a copy of his letter and Mr. Ordway's. It is important.

Earlier, others had begun to gather letters, some for campaign biographies and some for campaign speech material. On June 21, 1880, Almon F. Rockwell, one of Garfield's classmates at Williams College and a long-time friend, sent out a circular letter to "My Dear Classmate" in which he requested that they send, "within ten days, addressed to Major J. M. Bundy . . . any original memoranda of recollections of classmate Garfield's college, or other life, that you may have or prepare; also such extracts from his letters to you as may be deemed pertinent or illustrative."9 Bundy published several of these letters in his campaign biography, Life of Gen. James A. Garfield; he had the use of Garfield's letters to Almon F. Rockwell and Burke A. Hinsdale, another of Garfield's close friends.

An occasion arose on October 20, 1880, that made it necessary to have Garfield's papers searched. At this late date in the campaign Garfield was told of a letter purported to have been written by him in which the admission of Chinese laborers was advocated. After seeing a copy sent to him by an agent of the Associated Press, he replied by wire that it was a forgery. Since his secretaries often imitated his handwriting, some doubt remained in his mind, and he "concluded to send [George U.] Rose to Washington to search our files which had been carefully indexed and see if they contained any such letter."

On October 23, 1880, his diary entry is more cheerful:

The morning mail brought us a lithographic facsimile of the forged Morey letter. It relieved my mind of the only oppression I had–the fear that there might have been a letter from [Henry L.] Morey and that [Thomas M.] Nichol might have answered it without my seeing the letter or answer. The facsimile is not in the handwriting of any person whom I know but it is a manifestly bungling attempt to copy my hand and signature.

On the 24th Henry E. Knox, a classmate at Williams from New York City, telegraphed to U.S. Treasurer [James] Gilfillan: "You and Rockwell bring on tonight personal letters from old man during past year to be used in comparison by experts think we know the scoundrel Will you be here in the morning[.]" On October 25 the Republican National Committee issued "To the Public" a facsimile of a letter of James A. Garfield (October 23) in which he refers to the letter as "a base forgery," adding that "anyone familiar with my handwriting will instantly see that the letter is spurious."

Garfield was at his own house in Washington November 22-29, 1880, following his election and spent some time going over the papers there, probably segregating the most private. In his diary the entry for December 10, 1880, reads: "Wrote a long letter to Rockwell, requesting him to assist Rose in getting my letters, notes of letters together in some fire proof place." In this letter (December 10, 1880) to Rockwell, the President-elect told him that Mr. Rose was leaving for Washington that day and added:

. . . I want you to assist him in packing and storing in some fireproof place my accumulated letters and papers now at the house. He will call on you soon after he reaches Washington. Please consult with him about the number and size of the boxes needed and order some carpenter to make them. I want strong boxes, with rope handles, in which to enclose all my letters, papers, shorthand notes of letters, etc. If you have a place where they will be reasonably safe against fire, please keep them in store until I come. If not, please see [James] Gilfillan,10 whether he cannot let them stand in some safe place until I come.11

Another request made of Rockwell, probably relating to their finances, was refused:

. . . to go through all our correspondence & c. from the past three years, and figure up just how we stand, I would not do for all the stock we have. I find the copies of letters & c. written you make a pile 6 inches in thickness by the single sheet, while your letters make an enormous bundle.12

The increasing amount of mail received after his nomination disturbed Garfield. After his election the situation grew worse. In his diary for November 6, 1880, he wrote: "The mail increases–but telegrams are falling off–we made some progress in answering the most important, but the great mass must remain unanswered." By December 5, 1880, his diary shows that he had come to grips with the problem:

I am determined to answer fewer letters in the future, otherwise I shall have no time for study and reflection. . . . I could let myself be eaten up before the fourth of March. . . . Shall bend my energies now to clearing and putting in order, all correspondence old letters, documents, that I want to lay safely away until the Presidential term is over.

On December 10, 1880, Whitelaw Reid wrote to Garfield that it was very uncertain whether John Hay would take the job as Garfield's private secretary adding:

It is of the utmost importance for you to have some relief of this sort at once. You ought not to be confined to your present drudgery of opening and reading hundreds of letters on utterly trivial subjects. You should have some competent person who could sift your mail, and place on your table daily not more than a dozen or so of the more important letters from persons of some real consequence. I am afraid that the mass of trivial work that you are now undertaking will so fritter away your time as to prevent that dispassionate view of the field and restful study which are needful before you fairly enter upon the long ordeal at Washington.13

One source of help was in the family. Young James R. Garfield's diaries of 1880-81 have numerous entries about helping with his father's papers: (August 3) "Worked in the library, arranging slips in alphabetical order"; (January 5, 1881) "In the afternoon I finished filing the December letters and also sorted some."14

The presidency of James A. Garfield is one of the uncompleted stories of U.S. history. He was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker. Although Garfield survived until September 19, 1881, his active presidency ended on July 2, the date of Guiteau's attack. During the interval when Garfield lingered between life and death, Mrs. Garfield took several actions which are now reflected in the Library's collection of Garfield papers. She sought through the press a copy of everything printed about her husband. The clippings received as a result are now in scrapbooks labeled "Eighty Days," the interval of the President's survival.

Joseph Stanley-Brown, Garfield's private secretary, had been sent to England for a rest and was there when the President was shot. Soon after his return, obviously on Mrs. Garfield's instructions, he wrote to Col. Orsamus H. Irish, chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Treasury Department, (July 22, 1881): "I send you herewith, properly sealed, another box containing personal papers of the President. Please be kind enough to place it with the other boxes which you already have in your vaults."

The details of the transfer of Garfield's papers to Treasury Department vaults are given in a letter from Colonel Irish to Mrs. Garfield (November 29, 1881):

Soon after the Generals election while he was here arranging his papers Col Rockwell spoke to me with regard to the Generals desire that I should receive & take care of certain private papers. Afterward the General spoke to me himself on the subject, and I received during his lifetime both before and after his inauguration 7 boxes. I have since received from Mr. Brown 22 boxes making in all 29. I was at the time advised that these papers were of a private character and that no one was to have access to them.15

He was anxious for her to tell him who should have access to the papers; Mrs. Garfield kept no copy of her reply in the papers now in the Library.

Colonel Irish had probably seen an announcement in the newspapers of November 19 that Joseph Stanley-Brown had resigned as private secretary to President Arthur to "put in order and prepare for the biographer the letters, papers, and literary remains of the late President."16 The notice brought forth letters from prospective biographers, even a suggestion that Mrs. Garfield write the biography, with a collaborator.17 She wrote to a "Mr. Cahill" apologizing for her inability to return a manuscript from the papers (December 2, 1881):

Immediately after General Garfields death I ordered to be collected all his papers and to be stored in a fire proof vault at Washington to be held intact until we could begin the work of assorting and arranging them for future use. Consequently nothing is, nor has been, in my possession since the first of October.18

She must have meant that she had no papers with her in Cleveland, because many personal and family papers remained at Mentor. In the Rockwell papers is an unidentified newspaper clipping in which she states her plans in a letter to Colonel Rockwell (October 17, 1881):

It is my wish that an account of the life and an appropriate collection of the literary remains of Gen. Garfield shall be published, after that careful consideration and preparation so manifestly necessary. To that end, I request that you will announce, in some public manner, my purpose to cause this work to be done at the earliest practicable time, and of which due notice will be given.

In an explanatory statement following the letter, Colonel Rockwell made it clear that no publication of a biography could be anticipated for many years.19

Having seen the announcement, John G. Nicolay felt "emboldened" to make a few suggestions prompted by his own experience in the care and handling of the papers of President Lincoln (November 1, 1881):

My urgent advice to you is, that not only should your husband's papers be carefully preserved, but that you should at an early period institute some methodical and systematic examination and arrangement of them. In his long and varied public career a great accumulation of original manuscripts, letters, and other material for biography and history must have taken place. Only those who have undertaken similar labors have the remotest conception how painfully tedious and difficult it is to examine and prepare such material for the biographer's use. Hurry in such a task is utterly impossible, and one mind must practically accomplish the greater part, if not the whole, in order that unity of plan may be preserved. Every document, leaf and scrap must be deliberately scrutinized to ascertain its date, relation and historical value; and a convenient method of handling and reference must be devised.20

Mrs. Garfield on November 5, 1881, thanked Nicolay for his letter with its thoughtful suggestions concerning the care of General Garfield's papers:

This had not been overlooked and I am glad to say to you that my first work has been to carefully gather up all letters–papers –and manuscripts of every kind and put it where it shall be safely kept and an arrangement is already in progress for beginning immediately the work, you so strongly recommend, of assorting classifying and cataloguing the whole for future use.21

There are large numbers of letters about the papers in Mrs. Garfield's papers from 1881 to 1885, when Joseph Stanley-Brown had them at his home in Washington at 1318 Massachusetts Avenue NW. He built a fireproof room for them and worked out a security alarm which would go off in his bedroom. For some time he did most of the processing and indexing himself but eventually delegated this task to others employed for the purpose.22

As a curator of manuscripts, Stanley-Brown was a perfectionist. Among his numerous letters reporting to Mrs. Garfield on the state of the arranging, indexing, and binding of the papers are important comments about them. In his notes, titled "Memoranda," describing the papers as they were received, he copied the description Garfield himself had placed on the envelopes or sealed brown paper containing the papers. Garfield's methods of arrangement provide much information about his life and character. Also included are Stanley-Brown's instructions to the untrained people who helped:

Lay aside all fragmentary letters
Exercise care in putting enclosures after letter of transmittal
Do not pin anything that can be glued
Lay aside all letters from Mrs. Garfield or to her from the General or the children or Grandma23

On one occasion some of the papers were in the hands of Burke A. Hinsdale who edited The Works of James Abram Garfield. An unidentified clipping in the Rockwell papers gives the details of Mrs. Garfield's having appointed him as editor of General Garfield's Works, with authority to collect and edit the speeches, addresses, and published papers; Hinsdale emphasized that his edition would not deal with the life of Garfield.

The papers were finally prepared in 1885 and shipped to Mentor, the binder causing the last delay. After long discussions about the construction details, the "Memorial Room" was added on to Mrs. Garfield's spacious farmhouse. Shelves were built to fit the volumes into which the letters and other papers were glued, and the room was made fireproof and secure. The papers, especially the diaries, were read and referred to many times over the years by Mrs. Garfield and her family, especially by James R. Garfield, who lived next door.

As the years passed the family remained determined not to authorize an inadequate edition of the President's papers. On June 27, 1903, Murat Halstead, a newspaperman, wrote to James R. Garfield concerning the family's understandable reluctance to publish "anything that would be controversial touching the old matters" but added:

And yet, I can not help thinking that in those boxes that are sealed and put away so carefully, there is a great deal of history that would be valuable to the country; and it is a question worthy of the gravest consideration whether it does not largely belong to the country. . . . I presume from the habits of your father when President that he preserved the letters that he received during the campaign that closed with his election and during the months that he was permitted to hold the great office of the country. . . . There is a mass of correspondence that should not be neglected it seems to me; and I simply write not to be urgent for a reply covering the ground, but rather to suggest to your mind a policy as to the ultimate use of those letters.24

The safety of the papers was emphasized in James R. Garfield's reply. He wrote, "All of my father's papers are most carefully kept and added to whenever the opportunity occurs. We have very thoroughly considered the question of publication and have determined that nothing fragmentary should be done."25

In July 1911 the entire Garfield family gathered at Mentor to choose a biographer. James R. Garfield recorded their conclusions:

Prof. [Theodore Clarke] Smith of Williams, who has the chair of History, came today to discuss the question of writing Father's biography. Mother & the rest of us have been considering Mr. Smith during the past winter & decided to ask him at Mother's during the evening. We all feel that the time has come for the publication.26

During the period from 1911 to 1925, when Theodore Clarke Smith's Life and Letters of James Abram Garfield (New Haven, 1925) was published, some of the papers were shipped back and forth from the Memorial Room at Mentor to the home of James R. Garfield's brother, Harry, president of Williams College, for the use of Professor Smith during the academic term. Smith worked at Mentor in the summer and has left his thoughts on his experiences. After describing the unforgettable influence which Mrs. Garfield had upon him as he read letters with her at Mentor, he gave an account of the papers:

Next, sharp and clear, comes the memory of the impression which the Garfield room and the Garfield papers made on me. I saw in 1911 what an extraordinary collection it was, but no single survey could do justice to it. Even now, after examining almost every volume outside of the "Letters received" I still feel that I have not mastered its fulness. The look of the volumes, the smell of the old paper and the leather bindings . . . above all the overwhelming record of human interests, passions, longings in the hundreds and hundreds of letters–these have fairly drenched my being.27

The completion of the Smith biography reopened some old questions and made possible some long-deferred decisions about the ultimate location of the Garfield papers.

The relationship between the Library of Congress and generations of Garfields has been unusually cordial. General Garfield often mentioned working in the Library, then in the U.S. Capitol. He noted in his diary on March 14, 1881–10 days after the inauguration–that he "drove with Crete . . . to the Congressional library" and on April 9, 1881: "Crete and I drove out,–thence went to the Congressional Library or as [William Cullen] Bryant preferred–Library of Congress–to get some books and to ask Mr. Spofford to look into the history of the White House and its contents–of which little seems to be known." Earlier, as a Congressman, Garfield had donated his large annual collection of pamphlets to the Library. In every way he used and supported the Library. The first Garfield item to be accessioned in the Manuscript Division is his letter to Frederick Vinton, Assistant Librarian, in which he wrote on November 8, 1872:

I very fully appreciate what you say in regard to work in the Library. We ought to pay well for the best brains and the best culture we can get, to work up the rich store now lying almost entirely useless in our Library.

I am ready to help in that direction at any time.

It is not surprising, therefore, that his sons and daughter also had warm associations with the Library. James R. Garfield, in particular, during the time that he was in Theodore Roosevelt's "Tennis Cabinet" and serving as secretary of the Interior, was often a guest at Herbert Putnam's Round Table Luncheons.

It is evident that the Library's interest in the Garfield papers was conveyed by Herbert Putnam, probably on these occasions, and by Gaillard Hunt, a childhood friend of the Garfields, the son of President Garfield's secretary of the Navy, William H. Hunt, and chief of the Library's Division of Manuscripts, 1910-17. The first formal approach, however, was taken by Hunt's successor, Charles Moore, on September 6, 1922. Moore, apparently unaware that a biography was in progress, wrote to James R. Garfield, calling attention to the presence of the Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Taft papers in the Library:

. . .Can you not send the Garfield papers here on deposit, subject to withdrawal for your purposes in preparing a Life of President Garfield? We will arrange them chronologically and put them in order, so that, when you come to see them, they will be much more convenient than they are in their present condition.28

In his reply of September 12, Mr. Garfield told Mr. Moore that he had "very often discussed with Mr. Putnam and Mr. Hunt the ultimate disposition of my father's papers. At present they are all stored in a fireproof room at Mentor, where they are all available for study. The letters are all bound and properly indexed."

Moore did not give up; in 1925 he wrote to James R. Garfield to ask if he might "have a look at the Garfield papers when I am in your vicinity." Garfield replied that he would be delighted to have him come whenever it was convenient for him, but he would be away for a few days. There is no record of a visit.

Meanwhile, the papers Smith used in Williamstown, Mass., for the biography were all restored to Mentor, as James R. Garfield wrote his brother Harry (December 2, 1925):

The box containing father's papers arrived safely, but by some oversight I was not advised. I checked the material through last night and found it in accordance with the memorandum sent me by Professor Smith. It is all now safely back in the Memorial Room.29

A month later, on January 4, 1926, Harry Garfield wrote his brothers and sister about choosing the proper repository for President Garfield's papers: "A letter in yesterday's Times concerning the papers of the Presidents leads me to suggest to you all that we take steps immediately to lodge Father's papers in the Congressional Library."30

In their replies to Dr. Garfield's letter, the family agreed that the papers should come to the Library of Congress. Irvin McDowell Garfield wrote (January 5, 1926) that he agreed entirely that:

. . . the proper disposition is to lodge them with the Congressional Library, if it cares to take them, or such of them as it does care to take, excluding personal correspondence with members of the family, or such others as we might determine upon. I think we ought to consider whether these should be made a loan or a gift. Of course we should have to comply with the requirements of the Congressional Library, and probably in any event an outright gift is the better arrangement. . . .31

He later added in the same letter that he thought that Harry A. Garfield should take the matter up with Mr. Putnam immediately: "when a decision of this sort is made, I think it is well to act on it and have it over with." Abram Garfield wrote (January 6, 1926): "I am personally in accord with your proposition and have believed that this material should go to Washington and this is the time to do it. You know that Will Palmer has always wanted some of it in the Historical Society here."32

James R. Garfield had some reservations, probably because of his close relationship, both physical and emotional, to the papers, for he spent much time in the Memorial Room. On January 11 he answered his older brother's letter: "As to the disposition of the papers at Mentor, this question must be given careful consideration in order to determine just what should be sent. I fully approve the general plan, as you know."33 He added that he would take the matter up with Mr. Putnam when he went to Washington. Mary (Mollie) Garfield Stanley-Brown replied (January 13, 1926) that she thought the Library was the proper place for their father's political papers but perhaps not for the most personal things.34

No decision was made in 1926, and Harry Garfield wrote to his brother James (May 2, 1927), bringing up the question of the disposition of the papers: "By the way, are we not letting the question of the papers last for too long a time. I believe we understood between us that all of the papers except Mother's and Father's private letters and perhaps some other things should be deposited in Washington . . . . Have you had any word from Mr. Putnam or Mr. Moore."35 James R. Garfield replied (May 4, 1927) that he had had no recent communication from Mr. Putnam or Mr. Moore but would see them when next in Washington.36 In reply to a further inquiry by the Library (May 16, 1928), James R. Garfield replied briefly (May 19, 1928): "As I have advised Mr. Putnam it is our purpose to deposit President Garfield's papers with the Library of Congress, and we may do so this summer. The exact date has not yet been determined."

J. Franklin Jameson, director of the Department of Historical Research of the Carnegie Institution, anticipating his assumption of a chair of American history as chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, wrote (May 29, 1928) to Harry A. Garfield of his keen desire to have the papers of President Garfield placed under his care. Dr. Putnam had told him that "such a disposition of these papers was contemplated as ultimately possible." He continued:

. . . it does seem to me plain that interests both of historical writers on the one hand and of descendants on the other hand are best served by depositing the papers of any President in the place where they are most likely to be seen and used, and that the Library of Congress would certainly be that place.

Dr. Garfield replied two days later that he had "long desired" that the papers come to the Library. He promised to send a copy of Jameson's letter to his brother, James, and "suggest that the matter be pushed through as quickly as possible." Dr. Garfield sent the letter to his brother on May 31, inquiring "Do you know of any reason why we should not make the transfer at once."37 On August 24 he wrote a reminder: "Please write me about this matter as soon as possible."38 On August 27 "Jim" wrote that he had started the examination of his father's papers and would continue."39

On September 10, 1928, James R. Garfield acknowledged that "it will be with regret that I send this material away from Mentor . . . . However, we all agree that the ultimate place is the Congressional Library and we should now make the gift."40 Incorporated in his letter was a list of "what ought to go." Although Theodore Clarke Smith, to whom Harry had shown his brother's letter, suggested that the personal papers not be sent, Harry Garfield wrote James (September 12, 1928): "Yes, clearly the Library of Congress is the most suitable repository & now is the time to send them–the Life & Letters having been published."41

Harry Garfield visited Washington in November 1928 and discussed the papers further with J. Franklin Jameson, who supplied (November 16, 1928) shipping instructions and an account of the Library's plans to accommodate the Garfield papers. In early December James R. Garfield had "a very satisfactory conference" with Jameson, decided to send the material by truck, not freight, but he wrote his brother Harry (December 8, 1928): "I want to go over the various items with you before sending any." Despite assurances to Jameson and to Harry Garfield throughout 1929, James R. Garfield continued to postpone release of the papers.

The summer of 1930 found the papers still at Mentor. On May 16, 1930, Irvin M. Garfield wrote to his brother Harry about the distribution of the contents of the house at Mentor, adding: "The papers in the Memorial Room I feel ought to be kept together and lodged with some appropriate custodian, so that we could feel reasonably sure that they would be kept intact."42 In his reply Harry wrote (May 19, 1930): "You know, I assume, that the papers in the Memorial Room, except the purely personal ones, are now in process of being packed and shipped to the Congressional Library at Washington. That is, of course, where they belong and Jim and I have discussed the matter with Dr. Jameson, the person in charge of papers and manuscripts."43 The youngest son, Abram, perhaps pinpointed the true reason for the delay. Writing to his brother Harry (June 11, 1930), he advised: "I wish to report that Jim has lost the key to the inside door of the Memorial Room. I strongly suspect that he wishes to lose it and permanently so as never to send the books to Washington and think you had better charge him with this when you see him in Williamstown."44

In discussing the possible disposition of Lawnfield, Dr. Garfield wrote his Mentor brother (June 19, 1930):

. . . I should favor leaving the furniture in the house deeding everything, except a keepsake or two which each of us could select, to you and excepting also the papers in the Memorial Room. The papers which you are now packing should be given or loaned to the Congressional Library, all five of us joining in the arrangement. All the other papers, letters, books and memorabilia would remain in your keeping in the Memorial Room.45

Whatever the reason for the delay, Harry Garfield never wavered in his determination that the papers should come to the Library. The delay, it must be assumed, was caused chiefly by the difficult process of deciding what was purely personal. The sudden death of Mrs. James R. Garfield in an automobile accident later in the summer of 1930 was the unfortunate cause of further delay.

Theodore Clarke Smith continued to advise caution in release of the papers. He wrote to James R. Garfield (October 19, 1930):

. . . . As for General Garfield's own letters, I still feel that it would be safer to send on only those that cover the period of his public life. The first volume of the Letters Sent comprises letters from 1852 to 1867, the only important ones for public purposes being those to [James Harrison] Rhodes which are incorporated . . . . Similarly I should certainly retain all diaries, originals or copies at Mentor, except the series beginning in 1872.

Smith's explanation follows:

. . . I have a strong desire to let nothing be done that will enable any ‘modern biographer' with a strong nose for the scandalous and the indecent, fall upon any of the emotionalities and sentimentalisms of your father–things he laughed at himself later–and make out of them something unfair and unworthy. I do not trust any of them. Their zest in defaming and conjecturing evil is limitless.46

Finally on December 30, 1930, James R. Garfield wrote to the Librarian that he was sending eight boxes of papers–150 bound volumes of letters and 10 of indexes. A second and third shipment followed shortly afterwards. Apparently none of the purely personal and family papers, except diaries, were included.

In the administrative records of the Manuscript Division there is a memorandum (January 17, 1931) of the receipt of two lots of papers of President James A. Garfield "as a gift, conditions yet to be determined." Included were 19 volumes of Notes, 11 of Public Utterances, 150 volumes of Letters Received, with an index, 21 volumes of Letters Sent, 4 volumes of Telegrams Sent, one volume of Francis Lieber letters, and sealed diaries. Dr. Jameson, on February 7, unaware of the mass of personal papers left at Mentor, wrote to James R. Garfield: "Now that all the papers of President Garfield are here, I wish to express my own most hearty thanks for a gift to the Library that constitutes an addition of immense value to our resources for the aiding of students of his period." The Librarian's Annual Report for 1931 described it as the "most important" manuscript accession of the year.

The Library's awareness that some papers had been withheld by the Garfield's came about through a visit to the Manuscript Division in 1937 of Mary Hinsdale, daughter of President Garfield's friend, Burke Hinsdale. Unable to find the President's letters to her father, she informed Dr. Jameson that they had been turned over to the Garfield family for the benefit of Professor Smith. Jameson's inquiry of Smith (March 15, 1937) led to the information that the Hinsdale correspondence was among many papers still in the Memorial Room at Mentor. Jameson's death (September 28, 1937) may have prevented further transfers at that time.

The Mentor papers were fully described in a letter (October 7, 1940) written by Abram Garfield to Charles Moore. Moore sent the letter to Dr. St. George L. Sioussat, then chief of the Manuscript Division:

I spoke somewhat frivolously in my last letter about Father's papers which are still in the fireproof room at Mentor. I mean that after the bulk of obvious papers were sent to Washington, the residue is so extensive that we have charged James R. with holding back everything of importance, etc.

As a matter of fact it is a serious problem. There are scrapbooks running over all of his [James A. Garfield's] public life. These are bound and in very good shape. In fact everything is in good & manageable shape and condition. Joe Stanley-Brown did a remarkable job for Mother. These scrapbooks were not wanted by the Library of Congress and many other things of one sort and another which they did not require. There is no great problem about things of that sort. We can keep them where they are with the intention of turning them over to the Western Reserve Historical Society, the most natural recipient, or some other similar institution. . . .

A good deal of the material is of a somewhat personal nature and, to go to the extreme of the problem–what would you do, or, what has usually been done about the letters between Mother and Father?

As an illustration: His journal tells nothing about the Convention in Chicago. During those days he wrote Mother and these letters are the only comment which he recorded covering that week of intense mental activity. When Smith wrote his "Life" he had access to these letters. They would still be of use fifty years from now. The same is true of the period leading up to Chicamauga [sic]. Mother's letters are his only record. All through the correspondence, important things are commented upon along with talk between Father & Mother which I would not want anyone to see so long as I am around or any of the rest of us. Purely personal.

What is ordinarily done in such a case? Would you destroy them or seal them up for a period of, say, fifty more years? It would take a long study to divide them in any sensible way. There are many other things which are somewhere between public matters and completely private. At present we can use our somewhat acquainted judgment when any request is made but this will be much more difficult twenty five years from now. . . .

Your acquaintance with similar collections leads me to long [?] for some general or even particular advice and we shall be greatly interested in what you may say. The advice of the Adams crowd is easily available and the answer there is that there has always been a member of the family near by the material and with judgment. We cannot promise that fifty years from now.

It is really an immensely valuable collection of papers covering the period from ‘63-‘64 to ‘81 and is indexed so things can be found.47

Dr. Sioussat replied to his predecessor on November 7, that he had had the records checked and could find no evidence that any of President Garfield's papers had ever been rejected by the Manuscript Division.48 The same day he also wrote to Harry A. Garfield asking that the collection of Garfield papers at Mentor be sent to the Library "where it seems to belong with the great collection of President Garfield's papers. Surely we may properly wish to have the collection as complete as possible in the interest of American historiography." Dr. Garfield visited the Manuscript Division after receiving Dr. Sioussat's letter and wrote to his brother Abram (November 12, 1940), telling him that the Library wanted all of his and James R. Garfield's papers, as well as "letters and papers to and from Father and Mother."49

Abram replied (November 15), explaining the misunderstanding, adding:

Jim will have told you that there is a substantial agreement from Mollie and Irv as to Mother's & Father's letters . . . . I had written Mollie on that day about this, holding out the suggestion that Mother's letters shall all be in one collection; that the letters to any one of us were of limited interest but that letters from such a person as Mother to the various members of the family, addressed to their particular character, formed an extremely valuable document for some future student. I doubt if any comparable collection is in existence for the period from 1880 until 1918. We have them and I believe they should be preserved intact.50

In his reply (November 20) Harry A. Garfield again referred to his parents' letters: "To return to Father's and Mother's letters to us children, and those to one another, the Library very much wishes them all, as I wrote you, and I am glad to have the approval of Mollie and Irv."51 The papers were much on Dr. Garfield's mind and he wrote again (December 2, 1940): "Have I written you . . . concerning the deposit of Father's and Mother's letters now at Mentor with the Library of Congress? I approve of the suggestion. They will be safe there and accessible to any whom we may permit to examine them. My judgment would be to have them closed to the public until some date sufficiently in the future to put them in a class interesting as literary remains of a past age."52

The fact that the Garfield papers already presented to the Library were evacuated in 1942, in a precautionary wartime measure, to the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia was probably discussed by Harry Garfield, who lived in Washington, and James R. Garfield, a frequent visitor. It is possible that there was an unrecorded conference during which it was decided to leave the additional papers temporarily in the Memorial Room at Mentor–a safe wartime resting place. Nevertheless Dr. Sioussat wrote to James R. Garfield (March 29, 1943) on a question of access. He added:

May I seize this occasion to remind you of the hope which I have more than once expressed that you would be willing to add to the existing collection the gift of whatever further papers of President Garfield remain at Mentor or elsewhere in your possession, or in the possession of other members of your family; so that all the Garfield papers may be united, when at the close of the war those which have been evacuated to places of greater safety are returned to the Library.

May I ask you again, also, if you will not give the thoughtful consideration to the idea of presenting to the Library your own papers? If to those of President Garfield could be added those of yourself and your brother's, this would indeed constitute a notable family archive. We hope this may be accomplished.

On June 28, 1946, Dr. Sioussat again brought up the subject of the Mentor papers in a letter to James R. Garfield: "This leads me to express the hope that such papers as are now in Cleveland or elsewhere may be added to the main collection which is housed in this Division, whenever it may be convenient for you . . . ." He also reminded him of his earnest hope that some day the papers of President Garfield's sons might be added to those of their father.

After a long period of failing health, James R. Garfield died in March 1950, leaving the responsibility for his own papers and those in the Memorial Room at Mentor in the hands of his youngest brother Abram. (Harry Garfield had died in 1943.) On May 8, 1950, Solon J. Buck, then chief of the Manuscript Division, wrote to Abram Garfield about the James R. Garfield papers and again brought up the James A. Garfield family papers at Mentor:

I have noted . . . that there existed a few years ago in "the Memorial Room at Mentor" a considerable amount of papers of your father, President Garfield. . . . It is always unfortunate for all concerned when papers are broken up and preserved in different places . . . .

In the same letter he brought up the subject of Harry A. Garfield's papers, noting that Mrs. Lucretia Garfield Comer, Dr. Garfield's daughter, had been in the division some two years earlier using the James A. Garfield papers.

Abram Garfield wrote again on June 6 asking about the "machinery" of an individual's use of a collection of papers. This question was in connection with both collections. He wrote that he was "making good progress with both sets, those which are in my keeping [James R. Garfield's papers] and those which are in the Strong Room at Mentor," adding that he was making "every effort to complete this undertaking within a few weeks." On June 13 Mr. Garfield had come to a conclusion as to what could be sent: between 60 and 70 scrapbooks and his mother's letters to her children and other members of the family, the latter to be sealed until after his and his brother Irvin's death. "For the present I am holding out my father's letters to mother but will come to a conclusion about this before very long." In his reply of June 23, Dr. Buck urged him to send his parents' letters to each other: "They certainly ought to be preserved, and I suppose that the time will come ultimately when they could without any impropriety be studied for the light that presumably they throw upon your father's personality and on social conditions of the period in which they were written."

Harry Garfield's daughter, Lucretia Garfield Comer, with the permission of her uncles, worked intermittently for a number of years on the James A. Garfield papers in the Library. It was through the auspices of Mrs. Comer that the Library of Congress received the papers of Harry A. Garfield in 1954, and her need for the James R. Garfield papers was influential in their being donated to the Library in 1958. The main body of the "Mentor papers" remained in the Memorial Room, but in 1955 Harry J. Brown and Frederick D. Williams of Michigan State University became interested in editing the diaries of James A. Garfield. All of the diaries were thought to have been sent to the Library in 1930, but Edward W. Garfield, Abram's son, wrote to the Manuscript Division on November 5, 1955, that he had made a further search and had found 11 diaries and notebooks of his grandfather. These diaries, intermittently kept from 1848 until 1875, were immediately sent to the Library. Mr. Garfield in a later letter (December 2, 1955) explained that he had found these small journals in a desk drawer, not on the shelf where the later journals had been kept. He added, "At any rate, you've got them all now, and we in the family are very happy that they are with the others in your care." The Library agreed to Abram Garfield's request that Dr. Brown and Dr. Williams be given "full and exclusive permission to edit the journals and to publish them." Mr. Garfield also asked that "the Division of Manuscripts refrain from allowing the journals to be used by other scholars whose publication might anticipate in any important way the work of Professors Brown and Williams."

On July 30, 1956, Abram Garfield wrote that he was sending three more of his father's diaries and one his mother kept from March 1, 1881, until her severe illness which began April 20. The subject of the "Mentor papers" arose in the same letter: "I expect to send on to you at a later date my father's and mother's correspondence during the period of the Civil War and later." He added that he also expected to send on a considerable number of bound volumes. Meanwhile, a large quantity of the personal papers from the Memorial Room had been lent to Professors Brown and Williams to assist them in their work on the diaries. A list of this material is in the division's administrative files. The letters of President Garfield collected by Mrs. Garfield and her sons, the correspondence of Mrs. Garfield and the President, letters to the Garfield children, law cases, scrapbooks, and a variety of notebooks are included. These papers formed the most historically important part of the so-called Mentor Papers; those remaining at Mentor consisted of Mrs. Garfield's own papers, many other family papers and diaries, and a mass of printed matter.

After the death of Abram Garfield in October 1958, his widow acknowledged (November 8, 1958) a note of sympathy from David C. Mearns, chief of the Manuscript Division, adding: "Mr. Garfield has had much pleasure and interest in his negotiations with you and the others of your Department and, as you know, he had some unfinished business which he had personally hoped to attend to this summer. A little later, his son Edward Garfield, and I will assemble the remaining material and forward it to you." Mr. Mearns replied, giving information about the Library's presidential papers program, referring to his anxiety to include all the Garfield material and reassuring Mrs. Garfield of the Library's interest in papers of other members of the family. Mrs. Garfield remarried and left her Cleveland home for a while. When she returned to empty her Cleveland house in the fall of 1960, she and Edward Garfield were joined by Mrs. Rudolph Hills Garfield and her son, Rudolph Hills Garfield, Jr., and they succeeded in emptying the Memorial Room in a short time and shipped almost everything to the Library. Mrs. Sellers enclosed in her letter of November 1, 1960, a detailed list of the papers Professors Brown and Williams had borrowed on June 24, 1956.

The "Mentor papers" on loan to Drs. Brown and Williams finally reached the Library in October 1963, largely as a result of Mrs. Comer's influence, but were temporarily left in the arrangement in which they came for the benefit of Dr. Brown; they were available, however, to all readers. Later in October, Edward W. Garfield sent nine boxes of shorthand diaries which the family had mistakenly assumed the Library would not want. Mrs. Rudolph Hills Garfield found additional material in 1964.

Both Mrs. Comer and Mrs. Herbert Feis are donors, but their greatest service to the Garfield papers was the invaluable help given during many hours spent in the Manuscript Division identifying which papers belonged to the various members of the family. Both of the President's granddaughters published books based on their family papers; Mrs. Feis is the author of Mollie Garfield in the White House (1963) and Mrs. Comer published a partial biography of her father, Harry Garfield's First Forty Years; Man of Action in a Troubled World (1965).

Unlike many families of the period who had no interest in their own papers, for almost a century and a quarter the Garfields have taken the keenest interest in preserving the unique documentation of a public-spirited family. A draft of Lucretia R. Garfield's will, written in the hand of James R. Garfield and endorsed by Mrs. Garfield, includes this bequest to her five children: ". . . my library, papers and correspondence and manuscripts belonging to the estate of my husband James Abram Garfield, or relating to his life and public service. . . . My Trustees shall use said papers correspondence and manuscripts for the publication of such biographies or for such literary purposes as they or a majority of them may determine."53

With the publication of this index and the completion of the microfilm of the James A. Garfield papers at the Library of Congress, the concern for preserving the papers from generation to generation will be satisfied, and the papers will be widely available to all.


  1. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  2. Unless otherwise noted, quotations from James A. Garfield's unpublished diaries and letters, as well as letters addressed to him, are in the James A. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  3. Harry J. Brown and Frederick D. Williams, eds., The Diary of James A. Garfield, vol. 1, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967), p. 267, 318. [Return to text]
  4. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  5. James A. Garfield to Salmon P. Chase, May 5, 1863. Chase papers, LC. [Return to text]
  6. Brown and Williams, vol. 2, p. 187. [Return to text]
  7. Whitelaw Reid papers, LC. [Return to text]
  8. The Republic, vol. 4, no. 17 (June 30, 1880): 262-63. [Return to text]
  9. There is a facsimile copy in the James A. Garfield papers. Another Garfield facsimile, the dying President's famous last letter to his mother, was widely circulated to reassure the people about the President's condition. The original letter is in the Garfield papers, as well as a copy of the facsimile. [Return to text]
  10. Gilfillan was in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the Treasury Department. [Return to text]
  11. Almon F. Rockwell papers, LC. [Return to text]
  12. Ibid. Rockwell to Garfield, December 19, 1880. [Return to text]
  13. Whitelaw Reid papers, LC. [Return to text]
  14. James R. Garfield papers, LC. The 15-year-old boy's interest in the papers continued throughout his life; when he was deciding what to do after he graduated from Williams College in 1885, he wrote to his mother (February 18, 1885):"I should like to read law in some office, read Literature, study German and help you look over Papa's papers. . . . The last one I intend to do anyway." [Return to text]
  15. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  16. New York Times, November 19, 1881. [Return to text]
  17. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. Henry H. Satterlee to Mrs. Garfield, October 3, 1881 had already suggested this. [Return to text]
  18. Ibid. [Return to text]
  19. Almon F. Rockwell papers, LC. [Return to text]
  20. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  21. John G. Nicolay papers, LC. [Return to text]
  22. This index has been retained in the James A. Garfield papers, Series 4B. [Return to text]
  23. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  24. James R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  25. Ibid. [Return to text]
  26. Ibid. [Return to text]
  27. Harry A. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  28. Administrative files, Manuscript Division. Hereafter, unless otherwise indicated, quotations from correspondence between officers of the Library and the Garfield family will be from this source. [Return to text]
  29. Harry A. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  30. Ibid. [Return to text]
  31. Ibid. [Return to text]
  32. Ibid. There are several feet of James A. Garfield's papers in the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. The Society has recently announced the acquisition of the Abram Garfield papers. [Return to text]
  33. Ibid. [Return to text]
  34. Ibid. [Return to text]
  35. Ibid. [Return to text]
  36. Ibid. [Return to text]
  37. Ibid. [Return to text]
  38. Ibid. [Return to text]
  39. Ibid. [Return to text]
  40. Ibid. [Return to text]
  41. James R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  42. Harry A. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  43. Ibid. [Return to text]
  44. Ibid. [Return to text]
  45. Ibid. [Return to text]
  46. James R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  47. Administrative files, Manuscript Division, LC. [Return to text]
  48. Ibid. [Return to text]
  49. Harry A. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]
  50. Ibid. [Return to text]
  51. Ibid. [Return to text]
  52. Ibid. [Return to text]
  53. Lucretia R. Garfield papers, LC. [Return to text]