Papers of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, and William McKinley Now Online
The papers of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, and William McKinley have been digitized and are now available online for the first time from the Library of Congress. These papers can be accessed both at the loc.gov website and on the new LOC Collections mobile app.
The three presidencies represented in these collections all began or ended with the trauma of a presidential assassination. The papers of each president, however, offer different types and levels of documentation as to how each man faced the challenges of his administration and the style in which he governed.
Papers of President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)
The Johnson collection includes about 40,000 items mostly dating from 1865 to 1869, including correspondence, memoranda, diaries, speeches, courts-martial and amnesty records, financial records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and photographs. The collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/andrew-johnson-papers/about-this-collection.
As vice president, Johnson, a native of Tennessee, succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. Lincoln’s death plunged the country into further turmoil even as the end of the Civil War was within sight. The task of guiding the nation through Reconstruction fell to Johnson as he became the 17th president.
Johnson had been affiliated with the Democratic Party but was added to a unionist presidential ticket with Lincoln, a Republican, in 1864. Ideological and political differences between Johnson and members of the Republican Party became quickly evident as they debated the conditions for Confederate states to rejoin the union as well as the rights and protections of African Americans after emancipation.
The issues of Reconstruction dominated Johnson’s presidency, and his disputes with Congress ultimately led to Johnson’s impeachment in 1868.
Johnson’s perspectives on Reconstruction are particularly well represented in his papers especially in the series containing correspondence, messages, executive documents, and amnesty records.
Papers of President Chester Alan Arthur (1829-1886)
The Arthur collection includes about 4,400 items mostly dating from 1870 to 1888, including correspondence, financial records, scrapbooks and other papers related to Arthur’s presidency. The collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/chester-alan-arthur-papers/about-this-collection/.
Arthur had become vice president as part of a presidential ticket that combined opposite wings of the Republican Party with President James A. Garfield in the election of 1880. A mentally disturbed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, assassinated Garfield to install the more patronage-friendly Arthur as president. Garfield survived for 80 days before dying on Sept. 19, 1881. Arthur would become the 21st president.
While many presumed Arthur would follow the path of political cronyism he had displayed as collector of the New York Customs House, he surprised his detractors by serving out his term with competence.
While Arthur ordered that most of his personal papers be burned shortly before his death in 1886, the papers held by the Library offer materials relating to the 1880 presidential election, his presidency, his service as collector of customs for the Port of New York and his work with the New York Republican State Committee. The collection also includes a series of 23 letters written to Arthur between 1881 and 1883 by Julia Sand, who appointed herself as Arthur’s conscience and liberally offered him advice, criticism and praise.
Papers of President William McKinley (1843-1901)
The McKinley collection includes about 131,000 items mostly dating from 1897 to 1901, including correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks and other papers related to McKinley’s presidential administration. The collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/william-mckinley-papers/about-this-collection.
After serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and as governor of Ohio, McKinley won the presidency in 1896 and became the 25th president. His papers at the Library are especially strong on the predominant issues of the day, such as the presidential elections of 1896 and 1900, the gold standard, tariffs, progressivism, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War and territorial expansion.
Letterpress copybooks capture communications sent on McKinley’s behalf by secretaries John Addison Porter and George B. Cortelyou. McKinley’s own voice can be found in his speeches and messages, while scrapbooks and other papers preserve a record of his administration.
Despite warnings from friends who worried for his safety in unsettled times internationally, McKinley was shot on Sept. 6, 1901, by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley’s papers include documentation of the days until his death on Sept. 14, when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th president of the United States.
The Library of Congress holds the papers of 23 presidents. The digitization of these collections is part of a larger effort to make historical materials available online. Other newly digitized collections include newspapers edited by Frederick Douglass, news dispatches of The Associated Press, the papers or records of suffragists Anna E. Dickinson, the Blackwell Family Papers including those of Lucy Stone, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, President James A. Garfield, the records of landscape architects Olmsted Associates and others. The digitization reflects 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/.