Oliver Otis Howard papers

Adam Baber
History 336
February 2005
Primary Source Report

Catalog Number M91, housed in Special Collections.

What is it?

The Oliver Otis Howard Papers collects the written correspondence, papers, and various records of General Oliver Otis Howard, Bowdoin class of 1850 and a prominent figure in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Howard fought in a number of prominent battles before serving as Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau after the war. He also helped found Howard University in Washington. There are also some images included in the collection.

The collection of papers is in nearly forty boxes amounting to 60 linear feet.

When was it made? By whom?

Howard's son donated the papers to the College in 1931, noting how fond the general had been of his alma mater. The papers arrived at the College is more or less their present form, with only small additions over the years.

Who appears in it?

While the papers are Howard's, much of the correspondence is with prominent figures of the era, including Presidents Garfield, Hayes, Grant, McKinley, and Roosevelt. Other correspondence was with Booker T. Washington, Charles Sumner, Dorothea Dix, and Andrew Carnegie, among others. The most frequent correspondence was with people from Howard University (J.E. Rankin), Lincoln Memorial University (Charles F. Eager, John Hale Larry), and the Freedman's Bureau (Wager Swayne).

How is it organized?

The papers are organized, in a general sense, chronologically. The correspondence is organized in big, period-specific chunks, beginning with the antebellum era and extending through Howard's retirement.

There are also several thematic sections, including a collection of articles and addresses, Howard's military records, his thoughts on religion and educational issues, his financial records, his diaries, and a collection of images, mostly undated photographs.

How does one use it? Are there finding aids or supplemental material?

There are general overviews of each section of the Howard papers on the Library's Special Collections web site. These overviews provide a sense of the substantive and thematic content of each section. The correspondence sections are indexed, though the researcher is cautioned that these indices are not consistently reliable.

How does one access it? What, if any, strictures are placed on access?

The Howard papers are available by visiting Special Collections, located on the third floor of H&L. Special Collections is open and staffed Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are no restrictions on access, but Ian Graham of Special Collections noted that some of the oldest correspondence has been placed on microfilm due to its fragile condition.

Of what use are the Howard Papers?

Given its breadth of material and sheer size, the Howard papers are rich in content concerning both the Civil War itself and, more importantly, the politics and policies of Reconstruction. Of lesser interest to this class would be details about Howard's personal relationships and family.

Howard's papers can illuminate the musings and motives of one of the "movers and shakers" of Reconstruction (and post-Reconstruction) America. They also serve as a window into the thoughts of many of the era's other prominent leaders.

Catalog Number KF 4756 A29 R4 1967a

What is it?

This is a compilation of the debates in Congress surrounding major pieces of Reconstruction legislation, mainly the three Constitutional amendments of the period: the thirteenth (abolition of slavery), fourteenth (citizenship rights), and fifteenth (voting rights) amendments. It appears as though the volume contains reprints from the Congressional Globe.

The compilation also contains the text of other relevant debates, including those on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 and the anti-Ku Klux Klan Act. It also contains contextual material in the form of antebellum debates, beginning in 1849.

When was it made? By whom? Why?

The compilation was published by the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government in 1967. The commission has a stated interest in the study of constitutional law, and its members felt that looking at materials beyond the typical "case law" of the discipline would be beneficial. The members also found the straight-up account of these debates in the Globe to be frustratingly dense and a victim of congressmen's penchant for tangential remarks. Thus, for the benefit of scholars, they extracted about 2,000 pages of the 20,000 Globe pages from 1849 to 1875.

Who appears in it?

The Reconstruction Amendments' Debates contains the remarks of all of the noted legislators of the period, including Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, William Fessenden, John P. Hale, Carl Schurz, Charles Sumner, William Seward, Lyman Trumbull, Benjamin Wade, Daniel Webster, David Wilmot, John Bingham, James Blaine, Benjamin Butler, and Thaddeus Stevens, among many others.

How is it organized?

The debates are presented chronologically. The Commission states that a thematic or topical organization would have proven tedious for the researcher and deprived him of a sense of context. Since members' opinions were shaped by the present circumstances, the Commission members felt that a sense of the historical progression of those opinions was an important feature to retain.

How does one use it? Are there finding aids?

There is a Table of Contents at the beginning. There are also several indices: one by subject, another by case law, and one each for members of the Senate and House.

Where is it located?

The volume is shelved in the law section on the third floor of H&L. It falls under the Library's standard circulation policies.

Of what use is the volume?

The subject index allows the researcher to look up members' statements by topic, which helps to narrow research questions. Significant index entries exist for topics such as "citizenship," "discrimination by law," "judicial power of federal courts," "equal protection," "racial inferiority," "schools," "social equality," "states' rights," and "voting qualifications."

This volume appears indispensable for research in Reconstruction legislative history, and offers a significant window on the political, economic, social, and intellectual context of the debates of the era.