Letters Home

On December 31, 1837, Democrat Amasa J. Parker, congressman from New York, sat down in his quarters in Mrs. Pittman’s boarding house in Washington, D.C., to write a letter to his wife, miles away at their Catskills home in Delhi, New York.

You write that you are sick and have been for a fortnight and did not inform me before. Is this right? I should have informed you if I were sick…I have been meditating what I should do…I ought to be with you to take care of you for I am sure we can take care of each other better than any body else can.

Illustrated Letter, Amasa J. Parker to Harriet Parker…December 31, 1837. (Amasa J. Parker Papers). Manuscript Division

Delhi, N.Y. 1887. Drawn and published by L. R. Burleigh; Troy, N.Y.: Burleigh Litho., 1887. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division
Illustrated Letter, Amasa J. Parker to Harriet Parker…December 31, 1837. (Amasa J. Parker Papers). Manuscript Division

Parker’s letter of December 31 includes a seating chart indicating Mrs. Pittman’s regular diners, a group that included future presidents Millard Fillmore of New York and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.

The Amasa J. Parker Papers, 1836-1875 contain more than sixty letters written by Parker to his wife during his term of 1837-39. Perhaps Parker’s frustration at being far from his wife during her illness was a factor in his decision not to run for reelection. At the end of his term, he returned home to Delhi to private life.

Parker resumed the practice of law and continued his political service, but confined his activities to the state of New York. Parker went on to become a circuit judge in Albany and one of the founders of Albany Law School.

Learn More

  • Search the collection A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 to peruse the records and acts of Congress. Included is the text of the twenty-six volume series, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, which reveals, through letters to loved ones as well as to colleagues, the thoughts of individual delegates about the process they were involved in during this critical period of the founding of the United States.
  • Several of the Manuscript Division’s collections of Presidential Papers can be accessed through the Library’s Digital Collections. The correspondence between colleagues, loved ones, and other personalities of the times provides unique insights into these men elected to the highest office in our country. The papers of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and others, are available and yield a wealth of material.
  • To access the contemporary Congressional Record, go to Congress.gov, the Library of Congress’ legislative information site.
  • For further information about Members of Congress, search the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress created by the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • The “birds-eye view” maps in Panoramic Maps, just one category in the Maps collections, may be viewed at different magnifications with the “zoom” feature. This feature permits the viewer to take a closer look at the fine detailing of the images of the towns pictured. To experiment with the “zoom” feature, take a closer look at the map of Delhi, New York, home to Congressman Amasa J. Parker when he served in the Twenty-fifth Congress, as it appeared fifty years after he wrote this letter. Or, browse Maps by State to locate a map of your own hometown or a nearby location.

Letter to a Jailer

On December 31, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield, wrote a New Year’s greeting to his jailer.

New Year’s Greeting from Presidential Assassin Charles Julius Guiteau to his Jailer, December 31, 1881. (Charles Guiteau Collection). Manuscript Division

Guiteau shot newly elected President James A. Garfield in the back on July 2, 1881. He was quickly captured at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Depot in Washington, D.C., the scene of the assassination attempt. President Garfield died seventy-nine days later of infections resulting from his wound.

Guiteau’s trial was not only a national sensation but, as one of the first insanity pleas entered in a court of law, an important legal case. Guiteau’s attorney argued that his client was insane at the time that he shot the president and dozens of psychiatrists testified as expert witnesses. Nevertheless, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty in late January 1882, and Guiteau was executed the following June.

Guiteau’s March to Hades. By H.W. Stratton; Boston: L. E. Whipple, 1881. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885. Music Division

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