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Collection James Buchanan and Harriet Lane Johnston Papers

About this Collection

The papers of James Buchanan (1791-1868), representative and senator of Pennsylvania, secretary of state, and fifteenth president of the United States, and those of his niece and White House hostess Harriet Lane Johnston (1830-1903) contain approximately 1,600 items dating from 1825 to 1887. James Buchanan’s papers include correspondence, notes, drafts of remarks, commissions, land patents and other papers relating chiefly to Buchanan’s career in the United States Senate, as secretary of state, and as minister to Great Britain prior to his presidency. Subjects include politics in Pennsylvania and nationally, sectional disputes, nullification, the National Bank, relations with Mexico, the Oregon question, trade treaties, tariffs, and the Ostend Manifesto. Harriet Lane Johnston’s correspondence relates primarily to fashion, social affairs, family matters, and the selection of a biographer of James Buchanan.

Notable correspondents include George Bancroft, Jeremiah S. Black, Simon Cameron, Lady Chantrey (Mary Ann Wale Chantrey), John A. Dix, John B. Floyd, John W. Forney, Anson Herrick, J. Glancy Jones, Louis McLane, Stephen Pleasonton, George Plitt, Sophie Plitt, Isaac Toucey, Nicholas Philip Trist, Henry A. Wise, and Henry Elliot Johnston, the husband of Harriet Lane Johnston.

James Buchanan and Harriet (Lane) Johnston: A Register and Index of Their Papers in the Library of Congress, created by the Manuscript Division in 1979 after the bulk of the collection was microfilmed, provides a 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 1979 are not listed in this index.

A current finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the James Buchanan and Harriet Lane Johnston Papers is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

Brief History of the Buchanan and Johnston Papers

The papers of James Buchanan and Harriet Lane Johnston were given to the Library of Congress by Johnston’s cousin, May S. Kennedy, in 1918. Additional material was acquired by the Library through gift, transfer, and purchase, 1903-2010. The principal collection of James Buchanan’s papers is located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has been reproduced on sixty reels of microfilm. For more information on the history of James Buchanan’s papers, see Philip S. Klein, “Brief History of the James Buchanan Papers,” in Lucy Fisher West, ed., Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the James Buchanan Papers (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1974), and Homer T. Rosenberger, “Protecting the Buchanan Papers,” Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society 72, no. 3 (1968): 137-169.

Description of Series

The James Buchanan and Harriet Lane Johnston Papers are organized in five series. Series 1-2 were reproduced on four reels of microfilm, scans of which comprise a significant portion of this online collection. Materials in series 3-5 were scanned from the originals. A list of the series follows.

  • Series I: James Buchanan Papers, 1825-1868 (Reels 1-2)
    Contains general correspondence and other material, including notes and drafts of remarks made while Buchanan served in the House of Representatives and as president of the United States, commissions, land patents, petitions, and clippings. The material is arranged chronologically.
  • Series II: Harriet Lane Johnston Papers, 1846-1887 (Reels 2-4)
    Comprised primarily of letters received by Johnston, and concerning such topics as ladies’ fashions, social affairs, and romance. Also included are letters of her husband, Henry Elliot Johnston, and others concerning the selection of a biographer of James Buchanan and efforts to provide financial support for the work. The material is arranged chronologically.
  • Series III: Special Documents File, 1826-1861 (Not filmed; scanned from originals)
    Includes photocopies of selected James Buchanan material in other repositories and typed transcripts of Buchanan letters from various collections in the Library of Congress.  The materials are arranged chronologically. The 1979 published guide to the James Buchanan and Harriet Lane Johnston Papers (available in PDF and page view), offers an index that includes the photocopies in Series III.
  • Series IV: Additions, 1842-1867 (Not filmed; scanned from originals)
    Consists of two additions of correspondence, including a group of letters from Buchanan to his friend, J. Glancy Jones, a Pennsylvania lawyer, Democratic party activist, and member of the United States House of Representatives from 1851 to 1858.  A third addition is comprised of Buchanan’s 1858 State of the Union message, correspondence, and an inscribed copy of Presbyterian Historical Almanac (1860). Only the covers and title page of the almanac were scanned. The materials in Addition I and II are arranged in the date order in which they were processed, and therein chronologically for the first two additions. Addition III is arranged alphabetically by type of material and therein by the name of the correspondents as listed in the finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the collection.
  • Series V: Oversize, 1848 (Not filmed; partial scan from original)
    Contains an official patent signed by Buchanan while secretary of state, removed from Addition III.