Library of Congress Completes Digitization of 23 Early Presidential Collections
Washington, D.C. — The Library of Congress has completed a more than two decade-long initiative to digitize the papers of nearly two dozen early presidents. The Library holds the papers of 23 presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge, all of which have been digitized and are now available online.
The Library plans to highlight each presidential collection on social media in the weeks leading up to the next presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.
“Arguably, no other body of material in the Manuscript Division is of greater significance for the study of American history than the presidential collections,” said Janice E. Ruth, chief of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. “They cover the entire sweep of American history from the nation’s founding through the first decade after World War I, including periods of prosperity and depression, war and peace, unity of purpose and political and civil strife.”
The 23 presidential collections in the Library’s holdings, acquired through donation or purchase, are of such significant value that Congress enacted a law in 1957 directing the Library to arrange, index and microfilm the papers, an enormous job that concluded in 1976. With the dawn of the digital age, the collections of presidential papers were among the first manuscripts proposed for digitization. The conclusion of this effort marks the addition of more than 3.3 million images to the Library’s online archives.
“The writings and records of America’s presidents are an invaluable source of information on world events, and many of these collections are the primary sources for books and films that teach us about our nation’s history,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We are proud to make these presidential papers available free of charge to even more researchers, students and curious visitors online.”
The collections include some of the nation’s most treasured documents, including George Washington’s commission as commander in chief of the American army and his first inaugural address; Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence; and Abraham Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses, along with many others.
The digitized presidential collections offer a robust set of primary resources and easy access for researchers, educators and students studying America’s early presidents.
For presidents who followed Coolidge, the National Archives and Records Administration administers the system of presidential libraries that house and manage the presidential records from President Herbert Hoover onward. The Library does not hold the original papers of all 29 presidents before Hoover, however. The papers of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, for example, are housed at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
With the digitization of papers from Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland and Coolidge, the Library’s complete set of presidential collections is now available online for the first time.
Newly Digitized Collections
Papers of President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) The Harrison collection includes 69,600 items (178,479 images), with the bulk of the collection dating from 1853 to 1901. The collection contains correspondence, speeches, articles, notebooks in shorthand, legal papers, financial records, scrapbooks, memorials, printed matter, memorabilia, and other papers, covering every aspect of Harrison’s life and career.
Papers of President William Howard Taft (1857-1930) The Taft collection includes approximately 676,000 documents (785,977 images), with the bulk of the material dating from 1880 to 1930. These papers constitute the largest collection of original Taft documents in the world and the largest among the Library’s presidential papers. The collection contains family papers, personal and official correspondence, presidential and judicial files, speeches and addresses, legal files and notebooks, business and estate papers, engagement calendars, guest lists, scrapbooks, clippings, printed matter, memorabilia and photographs.
Papers of President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) The Cleveland collection includes 108,200 items (192,602 images), with the bulk of the material dating from 1885 to 1908. The collection contains correspondence, diaries, messages to Congress, speeches, writings, printed materials and other papers relating chiefly to Cleveland’s presidencies and presidential campaigns.
Papers of President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) The Coolidge collection includes 179,000 documents (218,513 images), constituting the largest collection of original Coolidge documents in the world. The collection contains incoming correspondence with attachments, notes, carbon copies of outgoing letters from Coolidge or one of his secretaries, telegraph messages, appointment books and names and addresses of White House guests.
Full Set of Presidential Collections The Library of Congress holds the following collections of presidential papers and has made each available online.
- Papers of President George Washington (1732-1799)
- Papers of President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
- Papers of President James Madison (1751-1836)
- Papers of President James Monroe (1758-1831)
- Papers of President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
- Papers of President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)
- Papers of President William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)
- Papers of President John Tyler (1790-1862)
- Papers of President James K. Polk (1795-1849)
- Papers of President Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)
- Papers of President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)
- Papers of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
- Papers of President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)
- Papers of President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
- Papers of President James A. Garfield (1831-1881)
- Papers of President Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886)
- Papers of President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)
- Papers of President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901)
- Papers of President William McKinley (1843-1901)
- Papers of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
- Papers of President William Howard Taft (1857-1930)
- Papers of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
- Papers of President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
The digitization of these collections reflect advancement toward a goal in the Library’s user-centered strategic plan to expand access, making unique collections available when, where and how users need them. Learn more about the Library’s five-year plan at loc.gov/strategic-plan/.