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Collection William McKinley Papers

About this Collection

The papers of army officer, U.S. representative, and governor of Ohio William McKinley (1843-1901), who became the twenty-fifth president of the United States, consist of 131,000 items (121,435 images) most of which were digitized from 98 reels of previously produced microfilm. Spanning the years circa 1847 to 1935, with the bulk dating from 1897 to 1901, the collection contains correspondence, speeches, messages, scrapbooks, printed matter, and other papers pertaining primarily to McKinley’s presidential administration. Subjects include Ohio state politics, presidential elections of 1896 and 1900, the gold standard, the McKinley tariff, progressivism, the Spanish-American War (1898), the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), territorial expansion, and McKinley’s assassination. The collection also includes copies of outgoing letters signed by presidential secretaries John Addison Porter and George B. Cortelyou.

Notable correspondents include Alvey A. Adee, R. A. Alger, John Rutter Brooke, Joseph Hodges Choate, Grover Cleveland, Henry Clark Corbin, Shelby M. Cullom, Charles Gates Dawes, William R. Day, Joseph Benson Foraker, John Fowler, Lyman J. Gage, James A. Garfield, James Albert Gary, Murat Halstead, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, John Hay, Rutherford B. Hayes, Garret A. Hobart, Philander C. Knox, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Davis Long, John Tyler Morgan, Henry C. Payne, Thomas Collier Platt, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root, John Sherman, William H. Taft, James Wilson, Leonard Wood, and John Russell Young. Additional correspondents represented in the Addition series include James G. Blaine, William E. Chandler, Charles Foster, Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, Robert Todd Lincoln, and Levi P. Morton.

The Index to the William McKinley Papers (PDF and HTML), created by the Manuscript Division in 1963 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 letters received by the Library after 1963 are not listed in this index.

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

Brief History of the William McKinley Papers

“Generally speaking, President McKinley did not write letters on important government matters. When occasion arose, members of Congress or others interested were asked to call at The White House, where the matter would be discussed.” This was the comment of George B. Cortelyou in a letter written on October 21, 1935, to J. Franklin Jameson, chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, a few weeks after the McKinley Papers were sent to the Library.

Cortelyou served as an executor of McKinley’s estate with Supreme Court Justice William R. Day, but Cortelyou took the responsibility for most matters relating to McKinley’s literary remains. Cortelyou was devoted to the memory of the martyred president and intended to write a biography of McKinley, but a busy and distinguished career of his own left him no time for this task. For a generation, the Library of Congress corresponded with Cortelyou about the McKinley Papers. In March 1905, Worthington C. Ford, then chief of the Manuscript Division, first wrote to Cortelyou about the papers. In reply, Cortelyou declared his intention to present the papers to the Library but deferred action. Other Library officials communicated with Cortelyou from time to time until 1935, when he retired and sent the papers to the Library. The papers were then organized and the more important manuscripts were bound in a series of 86 volumes. Some years later, the press copies of outgoing letters were rebound into 99 volumes. Cortelyou controlled access to the papers until his death in 1940, after which his son, George B. Cortelyou, Jr., continued to exercise such control until 1954. Additions to the papers of William McKinley are comprised of material received by the Library after the original portion of the collection was prepared for description and microfilming in 1963.

Besides the records created during the years when McKinley was governor of Ohio, no other large group of McKinley manuscripts is known to exist. The paucity of McKinley Papers is explained in part by his personality and his habits. He excelled in private conference and personal interview but avoided letterwriting whenever possible, and when letters had to be written he wrote them with great caution and circumspection. His official biographer explained that “. . . as a rule, McKinley did not commit to paper his plans and purposes, nor his inmost thoughts and aspirations. He much preferred a meeting, face to face, and a confidential talk.” As a member of Congress in the late nineteenth century, he had neither office space nor a secretary. His Washington office was no more than an extra room adjoining a small suite at the Ebbitt House. Only in his last term, while writing the tariff bill, did he have the regular services of a stenographer. It may be that McKinley, like many members of Congress of this period, discarded at the close of a congressional term most of the files accumulated in the preceding two years, for there is no evidence of any deliberate destruction of any of McKinley’s papers after his death.

A fuller history of the provenance of the collection was prepared for the Index to the William McKinley Papers, pp. v-vi (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 William McKinley Papers.

Description of Series

  • The William McKinley Papers are arranged in eighteen series. 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 Items, 1847-1902 (Reels 1-16)
    Composed of letters received and a few related documents, all of which are arranged chronologically. Within each day, the arrangement of all incoming and outgoing correspondence is alphabetical by sender with one exception—copies of all manuscripts signed by William McKinley appear at the beginning of each day.
  • Series 2: Letterpress Copybooks, 1894-1901 (Reels 16-57)
    Comprised of letterpress copybooks containing copies of outgoing correspondence, most of which are arranged chronologically. Almost all of these letters are signed by McKinley’s secretaries John Addison Porter and George B. Cortelyou. All of the pages within each volume are numbered, and there is an alphabetical list of entries at the beginning of each volume. Very few letters before the presidency are contained in this series.
  • Series 3: Additional Correspondence and Related Items, 1867-1901 (Reels 57-81)
    Consists of correspondence and related material not included in Series 1. Prominent topics concern McKinley’s trips, White House social functions, political patronage not of national significance, military patronage, letters of introduction, financial and business matters, deaths and funeral announcements, White House business, and various requests. The material is arranged chronologically.
  • Series 4: Speeches, 1878-1901 (Reels 81-85)
    Contains speeches by McKinley, including press releases, reading copies, printed speeches and galley proofs, annotated typed drafts, handwritten drafts, shorthand notes dictated by McKinley, and background memoranda. Included are copies of speeches delivered by officials who introduced McKinley and speeches by cabinet members who accompanied the president on his speaking tours. The material is arranged chronologically. When more than one speech was made within a day, arrangement is by order of delivery. Miscellaneous undated speeches are arranged alphabetically by author at the end of the series.
  • Series 5: Messages, 1897-1900 (Reels 85-87)
    Contains President McKinley’s messages to Congress and presidential proclamations, including some final printed copies, press releases, typed copies, galley proofs, drafts, shorthand notes, memoranda, and background data. The material is arranged chronologically with the final copy appearing first.
  • Series 6: Record of Letters Received, 1897-1901 (Reels 87-90)
    Consists of seven volumes containing lists of letters received at the White House and forwarded to other departments of the government. Each entry includes a short subject description and the name of the department to which the original letter was sent. The volumes are arranged chronologically. Entries are listed alphabetically within each volume, and the correspondents are listed in chronological order according to date received.
  • Series 7: Shorthand Notebooks and Notes, 1898-1901 (Reels 90-92)
    Comprised of shorthand notebooks and loose shorthand notes of dictation taken by presidential secretaries John Addison Porter and George B. Cortelyou. The material is arranged chronologically. Most of the notes cover periods when McKinley was on a speaking tour.
  • Series 8: Guest List for Receptions at the White House, 1901 (Reel 92)
    The official White House guest list includes several separate lists of names and addresses. The list is organized in the following categories: Cabinet, diplomatic corps, Supreme Court, courtesy list, those invited to all receptions, newspaper correspondents, Congress, President and Mrs. McKinley’s personal list, military officers, clergymen, society list, and miscellaneous.
  • Series 9: Photographs, 1901 (Reel 92)
    Consists of a framed raised photographic portrait of McKinley and a bound volume of photographs of the McKinley administration (including photographs of McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, the Cabinet, and United States Senate), transferred to the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in 1981.
  • Series 10: Assassination Records, 1901 (Reel 92)
    Includes a scrapbook containing the tickertape reports of the attending physicians on McKinley’s medical progress from the time he was shot on September 6, 1901, until he died on September 14; a pocket memoranda book of Pressley M. Rixey, surgeon general, covering the period from September 1900 to July 1901, when he attended President and Mrs. McKinley; and a volume of letters, memoranda, and speeches by prominent men, 1936-1943, most of which were printed in William McKinley Commemorative Tributes (1942), compiled by Charles U. Gordon.
  • Series 11: Miscellaneous Manuscripts, 1897-1901 (Reels 92-93)
    Contains undated memoranda arranged alphabetically by subject; poetry arranged alphabetically by author; undated Presidential Office staff résumés arranged alphabetically by correspondent concerned; a few legal briefs and court decisions, arranged chronologically; check stubs arranged chronologically; two pocket notebooks; and a banner of the state of Ohio. Also included are annotated calling cards arranged alphabetically, envelopes arranged alphabetically by writer; and several miscellaneous membership certificates.
  • Series 12: Scrapbooks, 1897-1901 (Reels 94-98)
    Consists of bound scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. The first nine volumes are classified “Current Comment” and consist of newspaper editorials. Following these are two volumes entitled “Social and Personal,” two volumes labeled “Personal,” two volumes labeled “Social World,” one volume covering “At the White House,” two volumes on McKinley’s inaugural addresses, ten volumes covering foreign affairs, one volume of speeches and comments of William Jennings Bryan during the 1900 campaign, and two volumes of clippings covering miscellaneous affairs. The volumes are arranged under subject headings and therein chronologically.
  • Series 13: Newspaper Clippings, 1898-1901 (Not microfilmed or scanned)
    Comprised of loose miscellaneous clippings not included in the scrapbooks. The clippings are unorganized, and were not scanned for online presentation.
  • Series 14, Printed Matter, 1883-1902 (Not microfilmed or scanned)
    Composed primarily of printed addresses, campaign material, government documents, reports of government agencies, resolutions and bills by Congress, pamphlets covering foreign relations, and travel information. These materials were not scanned for online presentation. Researchers should consult the collection finding aid for a list of printed materials contained in Series 14 of the McKinley Papers.
  • Series 15, Bound Volumes and Books, 1880-1901 (Not microfilmed; scanned from originals)
    Features books, bound volumes, and a bound scrapbook concerning the assassination and funeral of William McKinley in 1901.
  • Series 16, Duplicates, 1897-1901 (Removed from collection; not microfilmed or scanned)
    This series previously included duplicates and carbon copies of letters, speeches, and messages of McKinley. The material subsequently was removed from the collection.
  • Series 17, Additions, 1869-1935 (Not microfilmed; scanned from originals)
    Composed of family and general correspondence, printed material, a photocopy of McKinley’s last will and testament, a presidential pardon commuting the prison sentence of William H. White, and a file concerning the donation of McKinley’s papers to the Library of Congress. The material is organized according to the year each addition was processed, and thereunder alphabetically by type of document.
  • Oversize, 1891-1901 (Not microfilmed; scanned from originals)
    Consists of a scrapbook, petition, and printed material. The material is arranged and described according to the series, container, and folder from which the items were removed.
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