Happy Anniversary Lincoln Papers!

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


The Lincoln Papers collection in the Library of Congress includes not only correspondence to and from Lincoln but other items as well, such as this "patriotic envelope" featuring the images of Lincoln and his vice-presidential candidate Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, produced during the 1864 presidential campaign.


Today, July 26, marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.


Robert Todd Lincoln had deposited the Lincoln Papers with the Library of Congress in 1919 and on January 23, 1923, he deeded them to the Library. The deed stipulated that the Lincoln Papers remain sealed until 21 years after his own death. He died July 26, 1926, a week before his 83rd birthday. On July 26, 1947, the Lincoln Papers were officially opened to the public.


The younger Lincoln had arranged for the organization and care of the papers shortly after his father’s assassination. At that time, he had the Lincoln Papers removed to Illinois, where Judge David Davis of Bloomington, Ill., Abraham Lincoln's longtime associate, directed the first organization of the documents. Later, Lincoln's presidential secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, assisted in the project. In 1874, most of the Lincoln Papers returned to Washington, D.C., and Nicolay and Hay used them in the research and writing of their 10-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A History (New York, 1890).


The papers contain approximately 40,550 documents dating from 1774 to 1948, although most of the collection spans from the 1850s through Lincoln’s presidency (1861-1865). Approximately one-half of the collection (or more than 20,000 items) and transcriptions for approximately 10,000 documents are online.


Treasures in the collection include Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses; his preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation; the two earliest known copies of the Gettysburg Address (the Nicolay and Hay copies); his August 23, 1864, memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated for re-election in the upcoming presidential contest; and a condolence letter written to Mary Todd Lincoln by Queen Victoria following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.


The papers also include a large number of correspondences, from friends and associates from Lincoln’s Springfield days, well-known political figures and reformers, and local people and organizations writing to their president.


The Abraham Lincoln Papers are arranged into series. All of the documents contained in Series 1-3 are reproduced online, as are the original materials contained in Series 4. Series 1 consists of manuscripts inherited by Robert Todd Lincoln, which have been designated “The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.” This series includes the so-called “Carpet Bag Documents,” which were stored in a carpet bag that suffered water damage.


Correspondences from the period 1858 to 1865 and retained by Lincoln’s secretary John G. Nicolay, items which remained with the Nicolay Papers (received by the Library in 1947) until August 1959, when the letters were removed and reincorporated with the Lincoln Papers, are located in Series 2. Series 3, covering the period from 1837 to 1897, includes single or small numbers of manuscripts which have been acquired by the Library of Congress from a variety of sources. Series 4 also contains miscellaneous documents.


The Library of Congress website contains extensive information about the Lincoln Papers and Lincoln Research Resources. If you haven't already, take time to explore these historic treasures.


(Image credit: Library of Congress)