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Historical Article on the President's Library



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(Ohio History, Volume 48, no. 2, page 127, April 1939)
from the Annual Ohio History Conference: Proceedings
of 1939

Private libraries, like figures, often lie. It is hazardous to judge a man by the contents of his library. Thus the possession of Herodotus by Grant, and the possession of Gibbon by Lincoln arouses contrary feelings. And yet, we should study the circumstances which led to the acquisition of these volumes and the evidences of their use, before we pass judgment.

To those interested in such matters I commend a paper read beforethe American Antiquarian Society in 1934 by Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, in the preparation of which he was assisted by Dr. Clarence S. Brigham, titled “The Libraries of the Presidents of the United States” (Worcester, 1935). I felt sad as I read therein of the dispersal of Presidential collections. Dr. Rosenbach can see some good in it, for note his last word: “It is a pity that the great institutions of the United States do not contain more books that at one time belonged to our Presidents, for it is possible to obtain volumes from the private libraries of all of them.” Thus, you have the opposite point of view of collector and librarian, and I am not sure but that Dr. Rosenbach is right.

Three Presidential libraries, of all those from Washington through Grant, were handed down intact: Jefferson’s, John Quincy Adams’, and Grant’s. Jefferson’s, numbering over 7,000 volumes, was two-thirds destroyed in the Capitol fire of 1851; John Quincy Adams’, numbering about 6,500 volumes, is still preserved in the structure adjoining the Adams House in Quincy, Massachusetts, together with some 750 titles in the Boston Athenaeum; and the small and unimportant Grant collection is in the California Building in Balboa Park. We may deduct from this that the Hayes Library at Spiegel Grove, Fremont, together with the John Quincy Adams Library, stand out as the two most important collections still intact and still open to the student public. Strange to say, all the important collections after Hayes’ time are closed to the public. Those which would it any way compare - Benjamin Harrison’s, Theodore Roosevelt’s, Taft’s,Wilson’s, and Hoover’s - are in private possession. We might except the Hoover War Library at Leland Stanford, but this is obviously not his entire personal library.

When Hayes died he handed down about 8,000 volumes besides several thousand pamphlets, a few leading files of newspapers, over a hundred volumes of clippings, and a good collection of manuscripts. This library with its additions was deeded to the state of Ohio in 1912 and is jointly maintained in its own building by the State, acting through the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, and the Hayes Foundation. It has been arranged and cataloged.

Catalogs, lists and bibliographies are intended to be printed and not read aloud, so the most painless process of assimilating your mind to the meaning of this collection is to sketch briefly the reading and acquisition habits and background of Rutherford B. Hayes.

In November, 1875, when many referred to him as the next President, Hayes finished reading a biography of William H. Seward and noted in his diary: “’He was not a scholar but he had scholarly tastes and aptitudes.’” He had quoted this from the book, and added, “This is my case.” The library which he had then accumulated was a scholar’s library, but Hayes’ estimate of himself is correct. He was well balanced between the student and the man of action. His appetite for print was not guided by esthetic considerations. All of his books are cut. He revered study and source books and great writers as the record of our national history, but he did not substitute the symbol of the printed page for the idea.

His father having died several months before his birth, an uncle, Sardis Birchard, saw Rutherford through preparatory school, Kenyon College, and Harvard Law School. His uncle illustrates for society in general the transit of culture to the trans-Appalachia. He was an early storekeeper, Indian trader, merchant, and banker of Lower Sandusky. In his well-selected library of best read authors in English and American literature, Ruskin strikes the predominating note. He also became interested in Emerson. The great historians and philosophers of the day, including Bacon, Robertson, and Hume, were present and were read. In common with the educators of the age, he believed thoroughly in the Greek and Latin classics, and in ethics. Xenophon, Livy, Cicero, Tacitus, Plato, Herodotus, and Virgil must have developed tough mental fiber in collegians, and seemed to have done little harm. To balance this fare Rutherford enjoyed himself with Gibbon, Milman, and other ponderous histories. He worried little over his studies. They came easily to him. The lives and exploits of his fellow students furnished the main stuff for his diary. In his junior year he became much affected with the beauties of Edmund Spenser, which led to further poetical reading - Pope, Byron, Thomas Moore, and Milton lumped together. Let us hope this neutralized the classics.

The Harvard Law School was probably the most important era in Hayes’ life. It broadened him to sit at the feet of Justice Joseph Story, to hear his comments on men and events, his reminiscences of great debates, his moral, legal, and common sense obiter dicta. Whig political meetings, where John Quincy Adams and Webster thundered, the variety of churches, the literary lectures of Longfellow, Boston in the flux of the transcendental movement, raised him to a higher mental sphere. All this time he continued the reading of the poets. Nathaniel P. Willis, Byron, and Scott were giving way to Goethe and Schiller. Harvard gave him mental stimulation and equipment, but the western student with Vermont relatives wandered on the periphery of the hub, impressed by the outlook, but not enough to addle his clear vision and judgment.

In 1850 he made the most decisive change in his life by starting afresh in Cincinnati, after four desultory years in Lower Sandusky. In our own time we cannot fully appreciate the importance of our opportunities for freeing the mind from the petty encirclements of a small community. Someone has recently pointed out that New York is now more provincial than the small town. But when Hayes entered Cincinnati it was as with the winged feet of Hermes. His mind ceased to read books as lessons. The old favorites served as a springboard. He continued his Byron to give him that “copia verborum and power of intense expression” no jury advocate should lack. His favorite Shakespeare plays were re-read, and Bulwer’s Schiller gripped him peculiarly. How the reading orgies of our youth return when we see in his diary that on December 1, “Unshaved and unshirted spent the day in reading David Copperfield.”

Possibly the greatest stimulus to his mental life came in the personal contact with Emerson in May, 1850. Emerson’s visit to Cincinnati, the cultural center of the West, to deliver his lectures on “England,” “Instinct and Inspiration,” and “Nature,” was the most exciting adventure the members of the Literary Society had experienced. Hayes was a member of the delegation which waited on him and conducted him to the society’s rooms. The twenty-eight-year-old critic writes his sister, “There is no logic or method in his essays or lectures. A Syllogism he despises. The force of a connected chain of reasoning, his mind seems incapable of appreciating ... He strikes me, contrary to my preconceived notions of him, as a close, keen observer, rather than a profound thinker.” He goes on to analyze his philosophy, but time will not permit quotation. Forty-two years later Hayes reflected on his very real debt to Emerson. This time he wrote without analysis: Logic is the weapon of youth. The reading noted above means also acquisition. Everything of Emerson, for instance, is in the Hayes Library, sometimes in several editions, and lined throughout. But this after all represents assorted congeries of volumes without any particular plan. The year 1856 is the critical one for the Hayes library. When Fremont was defeated in the election of that year, his anti-slavery interest crystallized. He decided, “further work is to be done and my sense of duty determines me to keep on in the path I have chosen - not to dabble in politics at the expense of duty to my family and to the neglect of my profession, but to do what I can consistently with other duties to aid in forming a public opinion on this subject which will ‘mitigate and finally eradicate the evil.’ I must study the subject, and am now beginning with Clarkson’s ‘History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.’ ” His collecting interests became channelized. From books on the liberation of man he ramifies into exploration and American empire making. Jessy Quinn Thornton’s Oregon and California, Sir George Simpson’s Narrative of a Journey around the World, Charles Wilkes’ Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during ... 1838 ... 1842, arouse an oratorical exuberance. “What a prodigious growth this English Race, especially the American Branch of it is having! How soon will it subdue and occupy all the wild parts of this continent and of the islands adjacent. No prophecy, however seemingly extravagant, as to future achievements in this way are likely to equal the reality.” Two weeks later he says he is “housed up all day trying to keep warm reading Lewis and Clark’s ‘Expedition up the Missouri in1804-5-6.’ ” He then swings back to Frederick L. Olmstead’s A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, the life of Wilberforce, Frederick Douglass’Life and W. G. W. Lewis’ Biography of Samuel Lewis. This was the best of his reading on the subject until he substituted the bayonet for argument, and volunteered for the Civil War.

The men who won the war should see that its peace secured the victory. This was a natural philosophy. Hayes gladly accepted the opportunity to practice it, and was elected, even while in the field, to a seat in Congress from Cincinnati. On December 1, 1865, having settled down in his Washington office, he prudently noted his perquisites, the most important being all the back numbers of the Congressional Globe, a small library of some value, and fifty dollars for newspapers. Ten days later he noted that he had been appointed a member of the Joint Library Committee. “It is one of the no-account committees in a public sense,” he writes, “but has some private interest ... It brings one in association with the bookish.” For the remainder of his term in Congress and during his two terms as Governor, he probably read a preponderance of documents and newspapers. Scarcely out of the governor’s chair, in January,1872, however, he writes, “One of my pet schemes for the future will be to form - to collect - a complete library of Ohio books ... I may hope,at least for twenty years of life. In that time I may gather what in the State Library, or other fit place, will be of much interest.” His hope was fulfilled. He had twenty-one years of life. He did gather the library, not especially on Ohio, for his interests ultimately transcended the State. Within two years he acquired in one group, that part usually referred to as the Clarke purchase.

During his Cincinnati days Hayes had met Robert Clarke, the bookdealer, publisher, and bibliophile. Very little has been written about him and we are indebted to Dr. Reginald C. McGrane’s sketch in the Dictionary of American Biography. Justin Winsor, in the first volume of his Critical and Narrative History, published in 1889, believed that “the most important Americana lists at present issued by American dealers are those of Robert Clarke & Co., of Cincinnati, which are admirable specimens of such lists.” Clarke issued about eight catalogs from 1869 to 1889, and sold at least two large collections of books, the one purchased by Hayes in 1874, and a later lot by Newberry Library. Hayes had just come into the estate left him by his uncle, Sardis Birchard, and looked forward to a life of scholarly and historical activity.

It is quite clear that it was his private collection which Clarke sold to Hayes. On October 27, 1874, he wrote to him from Glendale: “I have packed all of my Americana & shipped them last night as per enclosed B/L ... I have marked in the catalogue the contents of each box ... Ohio is in no. 13, Central West in No. 14 ...” Something more than the student and something more than the collector speaks in the next paragraph: “It is only by handling the books that one can appreciate their value. I feel certain that no individual or society in the west has such a collection, and they are worth much more than the price I placed on them. I hope & have no doubt that you will have as much pleasure in them as I have had. I have had the blues terribly in packing them, they are like old friends. In some cases I have retained my old copies & given you new ones, but in all cases better than the ones retained.”

The appraisal he put on his library was no idle boast. There must have been over four thousand volumes in the lot. As now arranged American local history occupies over three-fourths of the shelving devoted to the Clarke purchase. It is arranged geographically commencing with New England and the Atlantic seaboard, followed by the Southern States, then the states of the Central West, the Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coast, and a small collection on Canada and Mexico. There are also good sections on the Indians, general American travel and description, general historical works, collections of statesmen, and the wars from 1754 to 1815. Clarke built the collection on the foundation of source books. It is preponderantly a series of descriptions and narratives of participants and observers of the contemporary scene, or compilations of such writings. It is not altogether a book collector’s paradise. If we had to use only those books which collectors in their whimsy hand us as rarities, I would fear for the future of our historical writing. To illustrate, let us take a shelf on general description, travel and history of the Mississippi River and Valley as classified by the Library of Congress scheme F 351 to 354. There are about fifty works in this section. I note in general works, we have Jacob Ferris’ The States and Territories of the Great West, 1856; Timothy Flint’s Condensed Geography and History of the Western States, 1828; the same author’s History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley, 1832; John W. Foster’s The Mississippi Valley, 1869; James Hall’s The Romance of Western History, 1857; and the same author’s Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the West, 1835; Milburn’s Pioneers, Preachers and People of the Mississippi Valley, 1860; and Monette’s well known work in the first edition of 1846. Selecting a few of the outstanding in the next class, F 352, comprehending works of exploration before 1803, we have Daniel Coxe’s Description of the English Province of Carolana, 1741; Father Hennepin’s Discovery, the London edition of 1698; and the first, second, and third editions of Gilbert Imlay’s Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America, 1792, 1793, and 1797. Thomas Ashe’s travels are also here, and John D. Gilmary Shea, H. M. Brackenridge, John Bradbury, Zadok Cramer’s Navigator, and so on. On Ohio, I doubt if there are any works not found elsewhere in the State, but use of the Union Catalogs in Columbus and in Cleveland might prove me mistaken. The “Maxwell code” of laws relating to the Northwest Territory, 1796, the first book printed in Cincinnati, is in the Ohio section.

If Hayes did not use these books as a historian, nevertheless very few are in the “prime unused condition,” of book-dealers’ parlance. Many bear his autograph on the title page.

Not all of Hayes’ collecting was in the realm of Americana. Subsequent to this purchase he invested mainly in contemporary politics and economics of the 1870’s and 1880’s. Few works of this type are rare, save for pamphlets. In his pamphlet collection of over ten thousand items are many titles on the continual political ferment, economic conditions,education, and immigration appeals. Immigration prospectuses are especially numerous on the South and West, the latter dating back before the Civil War. One of the strongest subjects in the file is prison reform. Many reports of penal, correctional, and welfare institutions were kept, for Hayes was president of the American Prison Association from 1882 to his death in January, 1893. We would expect to find a great deal on civil service, temperance, currency, Chinese immigration, and the election of 1876, and we are not disappointed.

The catalog is already too long, and I must close with a mention of the most important sources accumulated by Hayes, the bound clipping file, and his correspondence. The clipping file is contained in 130 quarto scrapbooks, of even size. They were compiled and arranged by White House secretaries, fitting onto a small series started by Hayes himself. Except for the first few volumes the clippings are for the most part dated and titled. They refer to reaction on administration policies and national events, from a wide spread of newspapers.

The Hayes Papers cannot be described in a brief way. Read the sketch of him by Allan Nevins in the Dictionary of American Biography and then seek for enlargement on national themes in the Papers, and you will not be disappointed. To a biographer they are disappointing for the lack of Hayes letters. Probably several hundred drafts and originals were retained or reclaimed, a mere handful to those he sent out. H. J. Eckenrode, in his interesting biography has a note on page 204 stating that “Many of these letters have been published, but thousands of them, mostly trivial, remain unpublished in ... Fremont, Ohio.” But, those published in the Diary and Letters are, with few exceptions, letters of Hayes. I am sure this note suffers from loose wording and does not mean what it might import, for in his bibliography he calls the Papers “an invaluable source.” There is very little but family correspondence before 1860, but the series between Hayes and his wife, Lucy, dating from 1852 are quite valuable. Several thousand pieces suffice to take us up to the year 1876, including some very important series of letters from Ohioans, and then the collection broadens nationally and stays on that plane until the end. The Presidency probably covers about two-thirds of the whole. One of the great virtues of this collection is the high relative quality of content. There are interesting series on almost any important question of the Presidency. Hayes dropped politics after leaving it, and devoted the last twelve yearsto education (including his work on the Peabody and Slater Funds), manual training, prison reform, and interest in the activities of the G. A. R. and the Loyal Legion.

There are over one hundred thousand pages of writing in the collection, and the whole has been filmed on 16mm single perforate film, in an alphabetical arrangement. The collection is now being arranged chronologically, and that task is nearly completed. It compares with the Cleveland Papers in the Library of Congress, and is larger than the Garfield and McKinley collections. It is quite similar in many respects to that of Benjamin Harrison.

A President is a public man, and his acts have no meaning apart from the public weal. As valuable as it is, the Hayes Library is valueless without use. Please help to make it more valuable.1

1 Citations to Rutherford B. Hayes’ reading and acquisition of books are toCharles R. Williams, ed., Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (Columbus, 1922-26). The other citations are mentioned in the text, except the letter fromRobert Clarke, which is in the Hayes MSS.