Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center
Charles F. Conant
Scope and Content
The papers of Charles F. Conant (1835-1886), who served in various capacities with the U.S. Treasury Department during the administrations of presidents Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, were acquired by The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in the fall of 1998. The collection, the bulk of which focuses on Conant's career with the Treasury Department but also contains diaries, correspondence and financial papers relating to the Conant family, measures 4 linear feet. Conant's correspondence and Treasury Department papers are of particular interest to the Center because they reflect important economic and political issues during the Gilded Age -- a key area of the Center's collection focus.
Most significant of the collected papers are eight letter press books containing copies of Conant's outgoing correspondence for the period of 1870 to 1886 and approximately 500 letters Conant received from business and political colleagues between 1869 and 1885. His correspondence reflects the development of policies and procedures within the Treasury Department as well as attitudes relating to financial conditions throughout Europe and Russia during the 1870's and 1880's. The correspondence, along with a collection of news clippings, also offers insight into the political strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Many pieces of correspondence also focuses on the controversy Democratic presidential candidate Samuel Tilden rose regarding corruption within the Treasury Department during the presidential election of 1876. The controversy, which ensnared Conant and many of his colleagues, lingered through the end of the decade.
Additional information and materials about Conant and the Conant family are available at the Wadleigh Memorial Library in Conant's hometown of Milford, New Hampshire.
Charles Francis Conant was born in Milford, New Hampshire, on April 22, 1835. He was the son of Benjamin I. and Louisa H. (Gutterson) Conant. His father was a prominent Milford mercantile and lumber dealer, and upon the completion of his education in the community's public schools and the Milford Academy, Conant served as bookkeeper in, and for a short time, ran his father's store. In 1860, he and Bainbridge Wadleigh, who would later serve New Hampshire as a U.S. senator, organized the Lincoln Young Men's Wide Awake Club, an organization for young men who supported Republican principles. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Conant enlisted in a local regiment for three months' service. He fulfilled his obligation on garrison duty at Fort Constitution. He then enlisted for three years' service, but an illness precluded him from completing his term.
In 1863, Conant was appointed to a clerkship in the U.S. War Department, where he served until 1865, when he accepted a position in the Treasury Department. After several promotions, he was appointed chief of the Division of Estimates, Warrants, and Appropriations in April 1870. As chief of the warrants division, Conant was responsible for completing the monthly debt statement of the United States and preparing the Book of Estimates. In July 1874, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, being the first man to rise to the position after having served a clerkship. This fact is significant, for it reflected changing attitudes in civil service. Reformers supported a more professional approach to staffing government offices. While not a traditional political appointment, Conant's placement was upon the recommendation of future President James Garfield, with whom he had developed a close friendship while Garfield was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. His appointment was viewed favorably by the press and civil service reformers. While he was assistant secretary, Conant also often served as acting secretary during the illness of Secretary Benjamin Bristow, attending Cabinet meetings and completing other duties in Bristow's absence.
Immediately upon Hayes taking office in March 1877, Secretary John Sherman appointed Conant as the department's funding agent, replacing John P. Bigelow, and placed him in charge of the financial transactions of the government in London in relation to refunding the national debt. He spent three years in London, overseeing the sale of U.S. bonds in the European financial market. He worked closely with the Rothschilds and Drexel, Morgan. His correspondence to Sherman was transmitted to Congress and was published in 1880 under the title Specie Resumption and Refunding of the National Debt.
In 1879, Conant and his wife and children returned to the United States, settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although he and Garfield had cultivated a close working friendship in the mid-1870's, Conant for some reason did not receive an appointment when Garfield became president in 1881. Conant instead retired from public life, preparing a number of articles on financial subjects for publication. He also acted as financial agent for a group of investors who intended to develop a rapid transit system between New York and Boston.
Conant died at Cambridge on July 26, 1886, leaving his widow, Harriet Lincoln Shaw, and children Clara Louise, Charles Edward and Arthur Straiton Conant. He was buried in Milford.
Scope and Content
The core of the collection consists of eight letter press books containing Conant's outgoing business, personal and political correspondence from 1870 until shortly before his death in 1886. Each volume contains between 250 and 500 pages, and all but the first and the last are indexed by the names of the correspondents. There is a two-year gap between two books and a nine-month gap between two others. All of the books are to varying degrees difficult to read due to sections of blurred or faded ink and wrinkled pages. The pages are fragile; the book covering the period of 1879 to 1881 is particularly at risk as the pages tear at the slightest touch. In addition to the bound pages, several of the books also contain loose letter press copies. The 1879 to 1881 book also contains a few newspaper clippings; the originals have been replaced with photocopies on acid-neutral paper.
The letter press books contain outgoing correspondence to colleagues in the Treasury Department, political acquaintances, government officials, Congressmen, bankers and brokerage houses as well as family and friends. There is also a smattering of financial reports, mainly in the earliest volume. The letters and reports reflect Conant's grasp of the nation's financial matters and the high level of respect he earned from colleagues, politicians, Cabinet members, brokers and foreign dignitaries. His letters covered a range of subjects, including appointments, day-to-day operations of the Treasury Department, Customs issues at various ports, financial data requested by Congressmen and government officials, job recommendations, financial dealings with banking houses on behalf of the government, the silver issue, greenbacks, political and economic conditions in Europe, the U.S. debt structure, European and Russian perceptions of the U.S. economic and political situation and his personal life in England. A number of letters are directed to John Sherman, Grant, Wadleigh, Garfield and Bristow. At least one letter, regarding a political appointment, was written to Hayes while he was governor of Ohio. The Center has the original copy of the letter that appears in Conant's letter press book in the Hayes incoming correspondence collection).
The bulk of the correspondence deals with day-to-day operations of the Treasury Department and covers the period between 1875 and 1881. Letters of interest include a May 1876 letter regarding the resumption of specie payment, hoarding of silver and the shortage of coin -- particularly in San Francisco; a May 1879 letter to a Treasury Department colleague about his relationship with the Rothschilds and Sherman's deft handling of the U.S. debt; an October 1879 letter to Sherman focusing on the European perception of the U.S. economy; and a January 1880 letter to a department colleague offering his thoughts on Garfield's candidacy, the Democrats' strategy and states that would be significant in the upcoming election. One folder containing approximately a dozen drafts of letters Conant was writing is also included in the collection.
In addition to the letter press books, the collection contains approximately 500 letters of incoming correspondence between the years 1853 and 1886. The bulk of the letters cover the period between 1874 and 1881, when Conant was most active in Treasury Department affairs, and mainly involve business and political matters. The incoming correspondence mirrors the subject matter of outgoing correspondence, often, if not always, being replies or initiates to Conant's letters. Because provenance has been lost, the letters have been arranged mainly by chronological order, with the correspondence of 11 men separated out on the basis of volume. The incoming correspondence also includes roughly 25 letters addressed to other officials in the Treasury Department and apparently forwarded to Conant for his input or decisions. Approximately 45 letters have been categorized as personal correspondence, relating to reports from friends and family and a smattering of private business matters. Both business/political and personal correspondence in the collection includes a handful of telegrams issued to Conant. The telegrams have been interfiled chronologically with the letters.
Financial reports prepared by Conant are also included in the collection. Much of the reports are in the form of looseleaf letter press copies, although there are also handwritten and published reports. The reports range from 1868 to 1882 and include such items as information on the redemption of the 5-20 bonds issued to fund the Union's cause in the Civil War, statement of the public debt, and travel expenses incurred in 1878 and 1879 in relationship to Conant's work as financial agent in England. The bylaws and a small amount of minutes for the Lincoln Young Men's Wide Awake Club are included in the collection, as are notes and publications related to the development of the New York-to-Boston rapid transit system. There are also two scrapbooks and hundreds of loose newspaper clippings covering Conant's career, Treasury Department matters, the accusations of and replies to the corruption scandal -- including a response by Conant to Tilden -- the shooting and death of Garfield, and articles of general interest. All of the clippings have been photocopied using acid-neutral paper, and the loose clippings have been discarded.
The collection has been arranged according to records groups and series, with some alterations to reflect materials that have different content and context than the core portions relating to Conant's career.
This second section of the collection relates to Conant's family and includes various correspondence dating from 1831 to 1913, three diaries kept by Conant's wife, Hattie -- including one she maintained in 1878 while living in England -- family financial records, early business and financial records for three firms (there is no provenance regarding these businesses), approximately 30 invitations and programs for social events and a collection of about 40 calling cards. A file of miscellaneous materials includes a number of envelopes that have become separated from their letters; all envelopes matched with letters have been attached to them with plastic paper clips.
Two maps, one published in 1886 and illustrating the direct line of the railway being planned by the New York and Boston Rapid Transit Co., and the other an undated blueprint of rail lines running through New York City, have been placed in the archive's oversize manuscript area.
Also, some items in the collection have been transferred to other departments within the center. Two brass plates -- one in a yellow paper wrapper -- for printing Charles F. Conant calling cards have been sent to the museum curator for cataloging and storage. Also, the following pamphlets and publications have been transferred to the library for cataloging: Overdue Interest on Registered Bonds of the United States, Report of the Director of the Mint (first six pages missing); Tariff and Tax Commission: Speech of Hon. John A. Kasson of Iowa in the House of Representatives, Tuesday, March 28, 1832; The Reform of the Civil Service: A Report to the President (1871); Credit of the Nation in 1860 and 1876: The Democratic Platform and Tilden's Letter Answered by an Official Letter from the Treasury Department (written by Conant, 1876); Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the finances for the year 1884; Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury Transmitting in Compliance with Law, List of Employees in the Treasury Department for 1885; Letter of the Secretary of the Treasury to the speaker of the House of Representatives ... Respecting Coin Payments of Interest-Bearing Debt (1886); Prospectus for a Direct Railway Line Between New York and Boston (1886); Journal of the Institute of Bankers (March 1883 and April 1883); Diocese of Massachusetts 93rd Annual Meeting of the Convention (Protestant Episcopal Church, 1883); and Diocese of Massachusetts Commemorative: Discourses, Centennial Year (Protestant Episcopal Church, 1885).
4 linear ft.
Correspondence, Outgoing: September 9, 1870, to June 16, 1875. No index; 485 pages; two loose letter press copies in front.
Correspondence, Outgoing: June 2, 1875, to May 20, 1876. Indexed alphabetically; 497 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: May 22, 1876, to December 9, 1876. Indexed alphabetically; 493 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: Dec. 11, 1876, to April 3, 1877. Indexed alphabetically; 327 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: April 26, 1879, to January 20, 1881. Indexed alphabetically; 500 pages; three loose letter press copies and newspaper clippings in back.
Correspondence, Outgoing: Jan. 21, 1881, to Aug. 18, 1882. Indexed alphabetically; 500 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: July 25, 1883, to April 30, 1885. Indexed alphabetically; 494 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: May 1, 1885, to June 24, 1886. No index; 249 pages.
Correspondence, Outgoing: 1863 to 1877. Drafts.
Correspondence, Incoming: E.P. Champlin, Philadelphia and New Orleans banker; September 1875 to August 1876.
Correspondence, Incoming: F.G. "Tom" Collins, Treasury Department Loan Division; November 1875 to March 1885.
Correspondence, Incoming: Charles E. Coon, London financial agent; August 1874 to September 1879.
Correspondence, Incoming: Frank Haven Jr., Assistant Treasurer of the United States; January to August 1876.
Correspondence, Incoming: Thomas Hillhouse, Assistant Treasurer of the United States; May 1876 to January 1877.
Correspondence, Incoming: S.W. Kellogg, Waterbury, Connecticut; January to October 1876.
Correspondence, Incoming: R.H. Patterson, London; August 1879 to June 1885.
Correspondence, Incoming: E.H. Rollins, Union Pacific Railroad Co.; September 1875 to March 1877.
Correspondence, Incoming: John Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury; August 1876 to October 1879.
Correspondence, Incoming: W.A. Simmons, Collector of Customs; August 1874 to February 1877.
Correspondence, Incoming: John Straiton, Straiton and Storm, New York; November 1877 to March 1882.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; 1869 to 1875.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; January to July 1876.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; August to December 1876.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; 1877 to 1878.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; 1879.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; 1880 to 1885.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political; undated.
Correspondence, Incoming: Business and Political, forwarded; 1857 to 1879.
Correspondence, Incoming: Personal; 1853 to 1886.
Reports: Treasury Department, Financial; 1868 to 1871.
Reports: Treasury Department, Financial; 1876 to 1880.
Reports: Treasury Department, Financial; Redemption of 5-20 Bonds; 1877 to 1878.
Reports: Treasury Department, Financial; Bonds; 1879.
Reports: Treasury Department, Financial; Statement of Public Debt; 1881 to 1882.
Reports: Treasury Department, Legislative; 1879.
Reports: Treasury Department, Travel Expenses; 1878 to 1879.
Literary Productions: Form Book, London; May 14, 1878.
Literary Productions: New York & Boston Rapid Transit Co., Notes and Publications; 1882 to 1886.
Proceedings: Lincoln Young Men's Wide Awake Club, Bylaws and Minutes; April and May, 1860.
Financial Documents: Personal Account Book; 1866 to 1874.
Photographic Material: Positive Print of Charles F. Conant; undated.
Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Materials: Scrapbook; 1875 to 1877.
Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Materials: Scrapbook; undated. Clippings glued to one page; loose clippings removed and photocopied on acid-neutral paper; envelopes and stationary in back of book.
Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Materials: News Clippings, Treasury Department and Financial articles; 1868 to 1883.
Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Materials: News Clippings, Treasury Department Corruption Accusations; 1877 to 1878.
Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Materials: News Clippings, C.F. Conant Career and Obituaries; 1874 to 1886.
Scrapbook and Scrapbook Materials: News Clippings, General Interest; 1873 to 1886.
Conant Family Papers: Correspondence; 1885 to 1913.
Conant Family Papers: Correspondence, addressed to Charles Allen; 1843.
Conant Family Papers: Correspondence, addressed to Silas Clark; 1831 to 1860.
Conant Family Papers: Correspondence, addressed to Clara Louise Conant; 1873 to 1901.
Conant Family Papers: Correspondence, addressed to Hattie Conant; 1868 to 1888.
Conant Family Papers: Diary kept by Hattie Conant; January to June 1878.
Conant Family Papers: Diary kept by Hattie Conant; 1886 to 1887.
Conant Family Papers: Diary and Address Book kept by Hattie Conant; 1890 to 1891.
Conant Family Papers: Financial Documents, Asset Ledger belonging to Hattie Conant; May 1887.
Conant Family Papers: Financial Documents, Assorted Financial Records; 1837 to 1901.
Conant Family Papers: Financial Documents, Account Book of Gilman Shattuck Co.; July to December 1850.
Conant Family Papers: Financial Documents, Business Records of Silas Pierce & Co.; 1863 to 1870.
Conant Family Papers: Financial Documents, Business Records of Swift's Store; 1840 to 1856.
Conant Family Papers: Printed Materials, Invitations and Programs; 1869 to 1905.
Conant Family Papers: Printed Materials, Calling Cards; undated.
Conant Family Papers: Miscellaneous; blank stationary, envelopes that cannot be matched to letters.
Conant Ancestral Chart
go to top of page