New-York Historical Society Library Exhibitions

Recent Acquistions

This exhibit was curated by Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations and Curator of Printed Collections.

Carlo Maria Flumiani

The Wall Street Cook Book

Springfield, MA: Library of Wall Street, 1966

This peculiar publication combines recipes with extended commentary about the stock market. While the graphic design and irreverent tone suggests the work of a hippie collective, the author did not truck with the counterculture of the 1960s. Indeed, Carlo Flumiani first gained recognition in the United States in the 1930s through his lectures and radio broadcasts promoting Italian Fascism. In the 1940s, after misrepresenting himself as a legitimate commercial publisher when in fact he ran a vanity press and required authors to pay the cost of publishing their books, he was convicted of fraud and jailed. He seems to have bounced back in the 1960s and 1970s with self-published such as this, along with Teenagers’ Guide to the Stock Market and The Secrets of the Short Sale and their Profitable Application.

$50 Reward. Missing Since July 13th, 1889. A Chinaman Named Lee Some.

New York NY: Police Detective Bureau, August 1, 1889.

A few days after this notice was issued, the New York Times reported that the police were “beginning to think that enemies have him under keeping somewhere.” At the end of September, Some was found in Philadelphia and “delivered to his nearest friend” at 1 Mott Street in New York. The friend paid Some’s capturer the $50 reward. The next day, Lee Some “escaped again.” The saga of Lee Some took place against the background of the so-called Tong Wars in New York’s Chinatown. Originally  secret brotherhoods, some tongs transformed into gangs that fought to control lucrative networks of brothels, gambling halls, and opium dens. A largely corrupt police force was paid to look the other way.  Was Lee Some an informer? If so, who was he informing on? Someone powerful among the tong gangs? Someone in the police force? Or both? We have no record of what became of Lee Some.

The New Broadside. A Feminist Review of the News

Volume 1, Number 3 (1970)

New York: American Broadside Corp.

Notice Regarding Sex Discrimination in New York City Restaurants

New York: Committee for Equal Opportunities, New York Women’s Bar Association, ca. 1970

In 1969, New York City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer introduced a legislative bill to end the practice of banning women from certain restaurants and bars in Manhattan. The bill was approved by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor John Lindsay on August 10, 1970. Among the many outcomes of the new law was the admission of women to McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village for the first time in its 116-year history.

Peace Illumination Walk, 6pm from Washington Sq., Fri. Dec. 23

New York: New York Veterans and Reservists to End the War in Vietnam, 1966

Victor H. Green

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book

New York, NY : Published by Victor H. Green & Company, 200 West 135th St., 1959

During the 1930s, as automobiles became more affordable and more highways were built, Americans began to travel recreationally. These trips differed greatly, however, depending on the color of your skin. Throughout the United States, in the north as well as in the south, black Americans were refused service at many motels, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and gas stations. At best, they faced the humiliation of being turned away; at worst they risked bodily harm. Some towns even banned blacks from visiting after nightfall, citing “sundown laws.”  In 1936, Victor Green, a Harlem postal worker, compiled and published the first Negro Travelers’ Green Book, a directory of businesses that welcomed black travelers. It was a much-needed resource that helped eliminate some of the worry blacks faced while on the road. The last Green Book was published in 1966.

Register Book of New York City Public School 31, 1870-1921

Public School 31 was located on Monroe Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The number of foreign visitors to the school increased after 1906, suggesting that it may have been viewed as a model school.

The Woman Suffrage Cook Book

Boston,  MA: In Aid of the Festival and Bazaar, 1890

This cook book was created to raise money for the Women’s Suffrage Association.  Contributors included Alice Stone Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone, Frances Willard, and other prominent suffragists.  While contributors resided throughout the country, the majority were from the Boston area and many of the recipes reflect the regional cuisine of New England: brown bread, Parker House rolls, Irish stew, Boston fish chowder, berry pudding, and cream pie.

Sale of Italian Marble, in New York: Pells & Co. Will Sell, on Thursday, May 4th, 1865…

New York: printed unknown, 1865

Ships arrived on the East River docks with massive cargoes of marble and other core building materials as the city’s growth soared in the nineteenth century. This company was still supplying marble to N.Y.C. in 1893, according to a notice in American Architecture and Building News, May 18, 1893.

Signs from March for Our Lives, New York City, March 24, 2018



The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on view through March 4, 2018

This exhibit was curated by Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations and Curator of Printed Collections.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life as a civil rights leader was characterized by tolerance, inclusiveness, and patience. He built coalitions among individuals and groups by focusing on commonalities rather than differences. King first came to national prominence in 1955 as a spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a political action that began after the arrest of Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a city bus. Inspired by the success of the 381-day boycott, King and others formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. He delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a gathering of close to 250,000 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In late March 1965 he led thousands of marchers from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery to demand voting rights for black citizens. King was working on the Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative that sought economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds, when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. An attempt to continue King’s work on the Poor People’s Campaign soon lost momentum. Just last month, however, Reverend William J. Barber II and Reverend Liz Theoharis announced their revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. lives on.

Rosa Parks, with Ralph Abernathy at left; Gelatin silver print, Stephen Somerstein Collection

Martin Luther King delivers the “I Have A Dream” speech from the podium, August 28, 1963; Bob Adelman Collection

“Selma: Beatings Start the Savage Season”
Life, March 19, 1965

“Selma: Beatings Start the Savage Season”
Life, March 19, 1965; interior

Dear Neighbor, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign Is Continuing with Even Greater Momentum Since His Death; New York, N.Y.: West Village Poor People’s Campaign, 1968; SY1968.2

Martin Luther King Has Been Murdered : Protest and Memorial= 1 P.M., Friday, April 5 Central Park Mall; New York, N.Y. : 5th Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, 1968

Path to Citizenship: Selections from the New-York Historical Society Library

This exhibit was curated by Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations and Curator of Printed Collections.

The United States Constitution, drafted in 1787, established a new nation. It also introduced national citizenship, the eligibility for which would be determined by the United States Congress. The Naturalization Act of 1790 offered citizenship to “free white persons,” who had resided in the country for two years, and could prove they were of good character. Naturalization is the process through which someone becomes a citizen.

Although eligibility for United States Citizenship has changed repeatedly since 1790, three aspects of naturalization have remained the same: the act of petitioning or applying for citizenship, taking an oath of allegiance to the United States, and receiving a document that certifies citizenship.

Court of Common Pleas, Ulster County, of the Colony of New York
Henry Beekman, Esq, Judge of the Court of Common-Pleas at Kingstone in the County of Ulster, Do hereby Certifie and Make Known . . .
Kingston, N.Y., 1715

Before the ratification of the United States Constitution, there was no consistency in regard to citizenship in the thirteen colonies. Some residents were British citizens; others were not.  Citizenship in a specific colony was also a possibility.  King George I of England, who ascended to the throne in late 1714, directed the Colony of New York to pass a law in 1715 requiring all Protestants of foreign birth to abjure (renounce) citizenship in countries other than Britain. This document, signed and sealed by Judge Henry Beekman in Kingston, New York, certifies that Arien Gerritsen, a Dutch citizen, appeared before him and took the Oath of Abjuration.


Henry Astor (1754–1833)
Petition to the [New York] legislature
New York, February 7, 1786

In this document Henry Astor, a butcher, petitions to become a citizen of the State of New York on behalf of himself and two others. The petition states that all three are natives of Germany but have “for many last years past resided in this Country,” and have “formed connections, purchased Real Estate, and are settled with their Families in the City of New York.” Although national citizenship would not become a reality until 1790, the petitioners are “zealously attached to the Freedom and Independence of America.” Henry, originally Heinrich, signed his surname as “Ashdore,” a phonetic spelling of how his name would have been pronounced in the dialect of his hometown of Walldorf, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.

Henry Astor was the older brother of the more famous John Jacob Astor, who founded the American Fur Company in 1808 and, based on profits from that company and significant real estate investments, became the first multi-millionaire in the United States. He too emigrated from Germany.


Qualifications for Naturalization
New York, N.Y.: James P. Wright, 1828

Certificate of Naturalization for Esther Levy
New York, March 2, 1840

Laws governing eligibility for citizenship have changed repeatedly since the enactment of the Naturalization Act of 1790.  Summaries of six different laws, enacted between 1802 and 1828 were printed on the very clear and helpful handbill, Qualifications for Naturalization, in 1828. On the certificate verifying that Esther Levy was naturalized in 1840, there are numerous references to prior acts, and repeals of acts, governing naturalization.


European and American Employment Office, 287 Broadway, corner Reade St.: New York, November, 1853: We Beg to Inform You, That, through Our Arrangements and Connexions All over Europe, We Have Constant Application Made to Us for Employment by Thousands of Emigrants, Chiefly Germans, on Their Arrival in this Country . . .
New York, 1853

Employment agencies worked on commission, receiving fees from those hoping to immigrate to the United States and those who hired them. These agencies often targeted specific immigrant groups. Following the German Revolutions of 1848-1849, many people fled Germany; many more hoped to do the same. There was certainly plenty of available German labor. It is notable, however, that while reference is made to “connexions all over Europe” and the availability of “British, French and German help” there is no mention of Irish immigrants who, fleeing the Famine of 1847, arrived in New York in similarly high numbers as the Germans in the middle of the nineteenth century.


New York City Board of Education
Short Unit Syllabus for Special Naturalization Classes in Evening Elementary Schools
New York: Stillman Appellate Printing Co., 1922

Among the many night classes that the Board of Education established in New York City in the 1920s were ones devoted to studying for the United States naturalization exam. For immigrants laboring long hours, these evening classes were key to their paths to citizenship.


Ogilvie’s Book on How to Become an American Citizen
New York: J.S. Ogilvie Publishing Co., 1929

Looking much like an entertainment guide or vacation souvenir, this how-to book promises questions “that are usually asked by the Judge to the person applying for citizenship.” J.S. Ogilvie was a commercial publisher of dime novels and how-to books, including Fighting Bill, Sheriff of Silver Creek; Josie the Little Madcap; and One Hundred Prize Dinners. Considering the number of immigrants who had arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book was a quick and easy sale for J.S. Ogilvie.


Erika Stone (b. 1924)
Boys Reading, 1951
Gelatin silver print
{PR 267 Box 1}

Erika Stone (b. 1924)
Playing Cards, 1951
Gelatin silver print
{PR 267 Box 1}

Erika Stone emigrated from Germany to New York City in 1936.  She studied photography with both Berenice Abbott and George Tice at the New School for Social Research and has had a long career as a commercial photographer.

In 1951 she spent a day at Ellis Island, documenting newly arrived immigrants in various waiting areas. The titles of her photographs are basic—identifying what’s going on but without indication of the race or ethnicity of her subjects. Without those designations, the emphasis is on the profound commonality of waiting at Ellis Island, often for prolonged and nerve-wracking periods of time, rather than the differences among the people waiting there.

All the News That’s Fit to Print – By Hand: Manuscript Periodicals from the New-York Historical Society



Vermont Autograph and Remarker, 1854

James Johns (1797-1874), Vermont Autograph and Remarker (Huntington, Vt.), 1 December 1854.

Were it not for its upward slanting lines of text, one might guess this tiny newspaper rolled off a press, but it was “pen printed.” Pen printing was a form of precise penmanship which strove to mimic type. A master of the art, and the creator of this issue of the Vermont Autograph and Remarker, was James Johns, self-appointed (and largely self-educated) chronicler of the Green Mountain State. For nearly sixty-five years he churned out stories, poems, sermons, and acrostics, but his occasional newspaper enjoyed the widest circulation. He distributed it for token sums (but more frequently gratis) between 1833 and 1873. Although Johns acquired a hand press in 1857, it lacked sufficient type to ink all four pages of the paper simultaneously, so he reverted to his tried — and quicker — method of pen printing.


Port Foulke Weekly News, 1860

Port Foulke Weekly News (Foulke Fjord, Greenland), vol. 1, no. 3 (25 November 1860).

Between November and December 1860, the crew of the schooner United States, on an Arctic exploration under Isaac Israel Hayes, issued seven numbers of a handwritten periodical from their base at Foulke Fjord, Greenland. The Port Foulke Weekly News included poems, essays, and humorous observations, but the submissions only went so far toward alleviating the frigid monotony. As the editor waxed darkly on 25 November (his tongue in shivering cheek):

Our readers no doubt think it very funny to write an Editorial; thermometer below zero, ink frozen, imagination congealed, memory gone with the summer, thoughts in the sunny south, and feet wrapped up in furs. But there’s no fun about it. . . . The Editor has a very uneasy chair. His bed is not a bed of roses, but a bed of ice. He eats ice, he drinks ice and he even smells ice. His editorial brethren have abandoned him to his fate, and he feels that there is nothing but ice in all the world. Ice! Ice!! Ice!!!


Prison Times, 1865

Prison Times (Fort Delaware, Delaware City, Del.), vol. 1, no. 1 (April 1865).

In April 1865, near the end of the Civil War, the Confederate detainees at Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch Island, created a manuscript newspaper, the Prison Times, which so closely mimicked printed publications that it included a masthead, motto (“en temps et lieu,” or “in time and place”), and advertisements for shoemaking, dentistry, and other services available in the camp. There were even debating clubs. The contributors’ wish to be “far away in our loved Sunny South” before they could have time to produce subsequent numbers came true: the hostilities ceased soon after this issue came out, so it remains an anomaly. Four copies are known to survive, each in the meticulous script of Captain J. W. Hibbs of the 13th Virginia Infantry, C.S.A.


Boys’ Gazette, 1879


The Yankee Boys, 1878

William Wright Patterson (1865-1887), Yankee Boys, vol. 1, no. 4 (19 October 1878) and The Boys’ Gazette, vol. 1, no. 3 (2 September 1879).

Some children of the nineteenth century, like Brooklynite William Wright Patterson, were inspired by publications such as The Youth’s Companion and St. Nicholas Magazine to write and illustrate their own periodicals. William’s contained a mix of sporting news (“Racing at Jerome Park”), advertisements (“BOSTON BAKED BEANS!”), and “photographs” of eminent Americans (note the toothless George Washington in the issue of Yankee Boys). Judging by the pictures of trains scattered throughout his Boys’ Gazette, William clearly fancied travel. Sadly, though, it seems his only major journey came near the end of his short life, when his parents sent William and his wife (he married at nineteen) to California in a futile attempt to fight off an illness. He died back in Brooklyn at age twenty-two.


The People’s Paper, 1887


The People’s Paper

Richard H. Gosman (1875-1946), three issues of The Peoples [sic] Paper, March, April, and June 1887.

Richard “Dick” Gosman was born in 1875 and raised on a farm in Blissville, Queens. Between ages ten and fourteen (1886-1889) he produced several handcrafted periodicals, of which his monthly Peoples Paper ran the longest, from January 1887 through at least February 1888. Dick (whose self-portrait graces the cover of the March 1887 issue) copied stories from printed journals like Harper’s Young People and Golden Days for Boys and Girls, but he also “published” original tales, local news, and funny pictures, like the one below from April 1887 of John L. Sullivan, the Boxing Elephant, a genuine circus attraction of the day. Advertisements on the back page of the June 1887 issue hawked real stores like Ridley’s, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, as well as Dick’s own poultry and egg business. A regular “Household Column” carried recipes, but one senses how the editor must have pestered his mother once too often for ideas: he announced conclusively in July 1887 that “NO RECEIPTS WILL BE IN THE PEOPLES PAPER ANY MORE.”


Eight anonymous manuscript “dime novels,” late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

The creator(s) of these miniature “dime novels” clearly had that genre in mind: their alliterative titles, exotic settings, and graphic cover illustrations (all drawn freehand!) mimic the adventure-filled serials that sold for ten cents around the turn of the twentieth century. Compare the leopard mauling a man on the cover of Will Wizard: Or, The Young Hunter Afloat (bottom row, second from left), to the lion mauling a man on the cover of A New-York Boy Out With Stanley; Or, A Journey Through Africa, issued in 1901 (below). Although these diminutive works were purportedly written by “E. T. Ellis,” “Liuetenant T. Mark,” “Ned Perce,” and “Captain Starbuck,” those names are probably pseudonyms for one or two authors who may or may not have copied from existing publications. Unlike most dime novels, which followed the cliffhanging exploits of their characters week to week, these little magazines are each “complete in one number.”


Pluck and Luck, 1901

This exhibit was curated by Joseph Ditta, Reference Archivist, Manuscripts Division


Inventing the American Presidency

Now on view in the Reading Room of the Patricia Klingenstein Library: Inventing the American Presidency.  

This exhibition is being presented as a part of the Society’s Presidency Project.

Locke Civil Government

Locke, John, 1632-1704

An essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government. Boston: Re-printed and sold by Edes and Gill, in Queen Street, 1773

As the executive office has evolved, its powers have expanded considerably. Among the most contested, “executive prerogative” derives from the political philosophy of John Locke, though it does not explicitly appear in the Constitution. Locke’s concept gives discretionary, extra-legal power to the executive in exceptional circumstances, and originated in his Two Treatises of Government (1689). On the eve of revolution this edition of the second treatise, which includes his theory, appeared in Boston. It is the frequent references the framers made to Locke which underpin the argument that this special power is implied in the Constitution, if not specifically expressed.

Washington Livingston letter

George Washington Letter to Robert R. Livingston, May 31, 1789

Robert R. Livingston Papers

One of the powers the Constitution grants to the president is the appointment of executive officers. As adviser to George Washington and Chancellor of New York, Robert R. Livingston had hoped to secure a position in Washington’s government, eliciting this candid response from the newly inaugurated president. In it, Washington stresses his devotion to the “public good,” and his desire to remain “free from every engagement that could embarrass me in discharging this part of my administration.”  Whatever his “personal attachment,” Washington was keenly aware that his use, or abuse, of executive powers would shape the office under his successors.

Spirit of Laws

Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu

Complete works of M. de Montesquieu. Volume 1. London: printed for T. Evans, in the Strand, and W. Davis, in Piccadilly, 1777

The Constitution’s separation of federal powers among three branches, including an independent executive, offered a practical solution to the ineffectiveness of Congress under the previous Articles of Confederation. It was Baron de Montesquieu, the most cited Enlightenment political theorist during the convention, who proposed separating political powers into independent legislative, judicial and executive branches in his treatise De l’Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws), first published in 1748. This copy of his Complete Works includes the treatise and is from the personal library of founding father Robert R. Livingston.

Federal Hall

“View of the Federal Edifice in New York.” Massachusetts Magazine, [vol. I, no. VI], Boston: June 1789

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president at Federal Hall, the short-lived seat of the federal government in New York. This plate accompanied a Massachusetts Magazine piece describing the building, formerly City Hall, and recently adapted to accommodate the First Congress.

John Adams letter to Benjamin Lincoln

John Adams Letter to Benjamin Lincoln, May 8, 1789

With President George Washington barely a week into his first term, John Adams highlights the importance of the executive “as a Protector against a dangerous Aristocracy” still present in the legislature. He also counters the assumption that monarchy bears the greatest threat to the fledgling government. Instead, he acknowledges the “large Monarchial [sic] powers” that the founders reserved for the executive to strike a balance with the legislature.

Rufus King

Rufus King

Notes on the Committee of the Whole, June 1, 1787
Rufus King Papers

In this rare glimpse onto the drafting of the Constitution, Massachusetts delegate Rufus King records the debate over the nature of the executive office. James Wilson, of Pennsylvania, argues against a plural executive and emphasizes the importance of “vigour” in that office. In defending such a powerful executive, he offers that “The people of [America] did not oppose the British King but the parliament – the opposition was not [against] a unity but a corrupt multitude.” The resulting “presidential democracy,” defined by its strong, independent executive, is perhaps America’s most enduring contribution to modern republics.

HAMILTON: A Life in Documents

In conjunction with the success of the Broadway musical Hamilton, the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library at the New-York Historical Society is exhibiting a selection of original manuscript documents and contemporary printed works in the library reading room evoking the remarkable life of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (1757?-1804). Like a great number of his contemporaries, Hamilton wore many hats; he was an immigrant, scholar, soldier, statesman, and infamously, duelist. Several of these roles are represented in this selection of the documents on display.


[Alexander Hamilton]

The Farmer refuted: or, A more impartial and comprehensive view of the dispute between Great-Britain and the colonies… James Rivington: New York, 1775

Alexander Hamilton first ventured into the revolutionary fray with his pen while a student at King’s College, publishing two political tracts in response to “A.W. Farmer.” Shown here is his second effort which provides a glimpse of his evolving political philosophy. This copy contains annotations of Thomas Bradbury Chandler, a fiercely loyalist New Jersey clergyman who fled the colonies for England the year of its publication.



Alexander Hamilton

“Pay Roll for the Colony Company of Artillery commanded by Alexander Hamilton from March 1st to April 1st, 1776.” April 4, 1776

Fulfilling an ambition to prove himself on the battlefield, Alexander Hamilton commanded an artillery company in the earliest days of the revolution. He would reluctantly leave the field to join George Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp but Hamilton’s military exploits would prove an important step in his ascent into the ranks of the new nation’s founders.




[Alexander Hamilton]

“The Federalist. No. 1.” The Independent Journal, October 27, 1787

To orchestrate support for a federal constitution Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison published a series of eighty-five essays that comprise The Federalist, now regarded as among America’s chief contributions to political thought. The first, by Hamilton, debuted in this issue of the Independent Journal, a semi-weekly New York newspaper.  Later essays appeared only in the comprehensive two-volume The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favor of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, first published in the spring of 1788.



Alexander Hamilton

Letter to Philip Van Brugh Livingston, April 2, 1792

In the spring of 1792, facing a financial panic brought on by the wild speculation of men such as “King of the Alley,” William Duer, an exasperated Hamilton divulges his own remedy:

This [public shaming] must be cultivated among the friends of good government and good principles. The relaxations in a safe system of thinking, which have been produced by an excess of the spirit of speculation must be corrected. And contempt and neglect must attend those who manifest that they have no principle but to get money.

 As secretary of the treasury, Hamilton successfully mitigated the panic’s fallout while helping to build his reputation as architect of the nation’s economic system.

SLAVERY AND THE CIVIL WAR: Selections From a Private Collection

While the immediate abolition of slavery was not one of Lincoln’s aims as President, as the Civil War went on Lincoln saw the ending, or at least curtailment, of slavery as a potent weapon to use against the South.  Indeed, were it not for the Civil War, slavery would have continued for some time in the South and beyond.  Some of the threads in this complicated and momentous story are on display here in this marvelous show assembled from an important private collection.  It is being mounted in honor of Black History Month.

This exhibit reminds us that institutions such as libraries, archives, and historical societies don’t hold everything on a topic, that private collectors seek out and acquire the kind of primary documentation that is the stuff of research and learning.  It reminds us, too, that collectors are often public-spirited people, open to sharing their collections with others.

We are privileged to be able to present these documents on public display as well as on the web, and we are grateful to the collector for giving us the opportunity.





Michael Ryan





Abraham Lincoln
Letter to John M. Palmer, September 7, 1854

On January 4, 1854, the Committee on Territories reported a bill to the Senate that would lead to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The prospect of slavery spreading above the Missouri Compromise line displeased Lincoln who here encourages Democrat John M. Palmer to stand against the Kansas-Nebraska Act by appealing to his anti-slavery sensibilities. Palmer’s dissatisfaction over his party’s stance on slavery would lead him to join Lincoln as a Republican and found the Illinois Republican Party two years later.

Full Document



John Brown
Letter to Samuel L. Adair, April 22, 1856

As a result of the provisions of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, pro- and anti-slavery groups poured into Kansas in a scramble to control the territory’s fate. Abolitionist firebrand, John Brown, describes confronting a pro-slavery court in the Kansas Territory in this 1846 letter to his brother-in-law. As his letter suggests, Brown was preparing for the violent confrontations with pro-slavery settlers that would define “Bleeding Kansas,” as the ensuing battle over the territory came to be known. His first raid would take place a little over a month later on May 24 near Pottawatomie Creek, Franklin County.

Full Document



John McLean
Legal notes for the dissent in Dred Scott vs. John F.A. Sanford, 1856-1867

In 1846, Dred Scott, a slave who had accompanied his master through both a free state and free territory, began legal proceedings to obtain freedom for himself and his family. By 1856, the case had made it before the Supreme Court of the United States. Though the Court decided against Scott, Dred Scott vs. John F.A. Sanford fueled the intense national debate over slavery, becoming one of the most controversial decisions in the court’s history. John McLean, one of two justices who opposed the decision, made these notes in preparation for his dissent.

Full Document



William Tecumseh Sherman
Letter to J.E. Williams, November 16, 1858

Despite his role as a General in the Union Army, William T. Sherman was relatively tolerant of slavery, particularly in the lead up to the Civil War. In 1858, Sherman opined to the president of the Metropolitan Bank in New York about the political turmoil over the future of slavery. His objections to its northward spread are rooted in its appropriateness for the region and legality, rather than any ethical questions slavery prompted. This outlook likely served Sherman well in two years employed as superintendent at the Louisiana Military Seminary before he re-enlisted in 1861.

Full Document



John W. French
Letter to Jefferson Davis, December 9, 1860

Elected President of the Confederate States in November 1861, Jefferson Davis was initially reluctant to embrace secession. This may explain why just four months before South Carolina became the first state to leave the Union, the Rev. John W. French wrote this lengthy missive counseling his friend Davis, then a Mississippi senator, against secession. In the letter, French, West Point chaplain and professor, argues that “The sober second thought of the people will settle things to your satisfaction.” He considers that Davis’ mind is already settled though, fearing that his words “will have no influence.”

Full Document



Ulysses Grant
Letter to Jesse Root Grant, August 3, 1861

With civil war already under way, General Ulysses Grant, summarizes the situation in Missouri for his father. He labels those convinced that the war is fundamentally about the eradication of slavery as “entirely ignorant.” While Grant would later change his mind, he demonstrates the broadly held view, early on, that suppression of the rebellion was the war’s primary objective.

Full Document



Edward Everett Hale, et al.
Signed endorsement of Lincoln’s Proclamation of Prospective Emancipation, [circa September 1862]

While Lincoln officially issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he released a preliminary document to the press on September 22 of the previous year. He intended that document as a warning to rebels of the consequences of refusing to lay down their arms by the beginning of 1863. The preliminary proclamation met with a wide range of responses, including this endorsement, by a group of Unitarian ministers. Their firm support reflects New England’s critical role overall, and that of Unitarians in particular, in the pursuit of abolition.



William H. Seward
Letter to William P. Fessenden, January 27, 1863

In a victory for abolitionists, Secretary of State William H. Seward entered into the Lyons-Seward Treaty with Great Britain in early 1862. Ostensibly the treaty sought to end the African slave trade but it also provided an implicit assurance that the British would not assist the Confederacy. Writing to Senator Fessenden, Seward provides an estimate of the costs associated with fulfilling the American end of the agreement.

Full Document



James Harper Graham
Letter to Samuel Gordon, January 11, 1864

Full Document


George Bliss, Jr., et al.
Circular letter regarding the 26th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, January 13, 1864

Full Document


Vincent Colyer
Letter to James Harper Graham, January 14, 1864

Grasping the destabilizing effect it would have on the South, and slavery, Lincoln paved the way for recruiting African-American soldiers in his Emancipation Proclamation. This circular and letters regarding the 20th and 26th regiments document the successful recruitment effort that followed. New York would form three regiments of United States Colored Troops, with over four thousand men serving during the remainder of the war.



Abraham Lincoln
Annual Message to Congress, circa December 6, 1864

Among a number of subjects Abraham Lincoln covered in his last Annual Message to Congress, (now the State of the Union) on December 6, 1864 was his backing for the Thirteenth Amendment. At the time, the landmark amendment abolishing slavery had not yet passed; however, black men had already begun to enlist in the army, a fact Lincoln referenced in his typically eloquent address: “…while thousands, white and black, join us, as the national aims press back the insurgent lines.” A printer is reputed to have saved these leafs which are two of only three complete manuscript pages of the speech to have survived.

Full Document



The National Freedman, A Monthly Journal of the New York National Freedman’s Relief Association. Volume 1, Number 2. New York, December 15, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in those states in rebellion against the Union, but it was the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that officially abolished slavery throughout the nation. This issue of The National Freedman, the organ of the New York National Freedman’s Relief Association, includes the text of Secretary of State William Seward certifying the ratification. Curiously, although Congress adopted the amendment on December 18, 1865, this issue is dated December 15.



William Beverly Nash
Letter to Myles L.M. Myers, February 10, 1870

On February 3, 1870, Iowa’s ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was meant to enfranchise adult African-American men, provided the minimum twenty-eight states needed for final ratification. Here, a state senator for South Carolina, William Beverly Nash, celebrates the news. It was perhaps most satisfying for Nash, a former slave, who had gained his freedom only a few years before becoming senator.



Frederick Douglass
Autograph note regarding John Brown, 1883

Though Frederick Douglass regarded Brown’s failed raid at Harpers Ferry as imprudent, he remained an admirer, even sharing Brown’s views on the efficacy of violence in the abolitionist cause. This note, signed by Douglass, is excerpted from his “Lecture on John Brown” given in 1881 at the now-defunct Storer College, in Harpers Ferry. Established in 1867, Storer was open to all regardless of sex, race or religion.



Fitzhugh Lee
Letter to Magnus Lewis Robinson, December 12, [1885]

Despite its brevity, this letter signed by Virginia’s governor-elect, Fitzhugh Lee, suggests how the Civil War and reforms enacted during the Reconstruction era had ostensibly changed the position of blacks in the United States. Lee, a former Confederate general and nephew of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee, expresses his commitment as governor to “equal rights” for African-Americans in his response to Robinson, a journalist and the great grandson of Martha Washington’s personal slave.


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