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Collection Franklin Pierce Papers

Provenance of the Franklin Pierce Papers

How did the Franklin Pierce papers come to the Library of Congress? This essay, originally written for the Index to the Franklin Pierce Papers (Washington, D.C., 1962), pp. v-vi, tells the story.

New Hampshire was silent for half a century on the subject of Franklin Pierce. Not until 1915 when the feelings and emotions of the Civil War and Reconstruction had subsided did the state extend recognition by erecting a statue to its only President. The record is equally silent on the fate of his personal papers from 1869, the year he died, to 1903, when Worthington C. Ford for the Library of Congress found surviving documents in the possession of a nephew of Pierce. In the President's will, dated January 22, 1868, there were numerous specific bequests but no reference to his personal papers. He bequeathed "All of the rest and residue of my Estate of every kind & description whether real personal or mixed . . . to my nephew Frank H. Pierce."1 Frank Pierce served as U.S. Consul at Matanzas, Cuba, and at Vancouver, British Columbia, and later practiced law in New York. Probably because of his absences from New Hampshire, his brother, Kirk D. Pierce, had possession of President Pierce's personal papers in 1903 and later sold them to the Library of Congress. The Library organized the manuscripts and published a calendar of them in 1917.2

In 1922 and 1926 other manuscripts from the Pierce family were acquired by the New Hampshire Historical Society. This organization generously permitted the Library of Congress to obtain photostats of these items, and by a repetition of that courtesy the photostats are included in the microfilm reproduction and in this index of the Pierce Papers. Similarly, the Henry E. Huntington Library, which possesses a diary kept by Pierce during the Mexican War, generously permitted the Library of Congress in 1924 to photostat this valuable item and now to include it in the microfilm and in the index.

The assembled papers and photostats were microfilmed in 1959, and the film was released in 1960; the papers were subsequently rebound in 26 volumes.3 These surviving Pierce Papers represent but a small part of what must have existed when Pierce left the White House. Mr. Ford, while Chief of the Manuscript Division, characterized the collection in 1904 as "a small one in size . . . merely a remnant of what was probably a large collection of Pierce Papers. I saw little of special historical value. There are some good letters from members of his cabinet, from his political advisers, and such journalists as Edmund Burke. There are drafts of Pierce's State papers; but I saw few of his own letters."4

In the dozen years of his life after retiring from the Presidency, Pierce may have disposed of or destroyed many of his own papers.5 Dr. Roy F. Nichols, his biographer, writes that he "seemingly destroyed his papers for those four years (1853-1857), carefully saving a few odd pieces . . ." Since few letters from Mrs. Pierce to her husband survive, Dr. Nichols suspects "that Pierce before his death destroyed what must have been a voluminous correspondence between himself and his wife."6 The "Prefatory Note" to the Calendar (p. 3) refers to a fire which is said to have destroyed many of the Pierce Papers. No other reference to this fire has been found, and members of the Pierce family do not recall hearing of such a fire.7

Since it is evident that many Pierce manuscripts have not survived, researchers may wish to examine the following papers and collections in the Library of Congress which contain one or more letters written by, to, or about Pierce:

In addition to the Pierce manuscripts in the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif., and in the New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord N.H., which are included in this index, the latter library has added in recent years more than 25 manuscripts to its Pierce collection. Other libraries known to possess one or more Pierce manuscripts are the Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine; the William L. Clements Library of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.; the Concord Public Library, Concord, N.H.: the New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, N.J.; the New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. A Guide to Archives and Manuscripts in the United States, edited by Philip M. Hamer (New Haven, 1961), which includes references indexed under "Presidents, U.S.," may lead a searcher to other Pierce manuscripts. The National Union Catalog of Manuscript collections now being assembled at the Library of Congress may in due course reveal the whereabouts of other Pierce manuscripts.

Note: Grateful acknowledgement is made to Dr. Roy F. Nichols who read and commented on a draft of this essay.

1. Photostat in John B. Murphy Collection of Presidential Wills, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

2. Calendar of the Papers of Franklin Pierce (Washington, 1917).

3. The Pierce Papers were evacuated from the Library of Congress late in 1941 to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Three years later, when the war danger was past, the papers were returned to Washington. A statement concerning the evacuation appears in Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, 1945, p. 59.

4. Memorandum to Herbert Putnam, December 3, 1904, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

5. Roy F. Nichols to David C. Mearns, March 31, 1959, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

6. Nichols, Franklin Pierce, Young Hickory of the Granite Hills (Philadelphia, 1958), pp. 553-554, 576. Quoted with permission of the University of Pennsylvania Press.

7. Miss Mary K. Pierce to David C. Mearns, December 8, 1961, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

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