Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents

Scott Ogden

History 336



A source report for Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents

What is it?  Describe its form and contents.

The Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents is a twenty volume set that contains all of the presidential proclamations, addresses, messages, and communications to Congress beginning with President George Washington and ending with President Woodrow Wilson.  Excluded from these records are nomination reports for persons to higher offices and reports issued by government departments which do not contain a recommendation from the Executive.  A picture and short biography of every President is included as an introduction to their papers.  Following their papers, there is a set of questions and suggestions that may help the guide the reader to important events during his respective administration.  The first volume also contains a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.  It is important to note that only the Presidential papers and messages sent to Congress have been recorded in the compilation.  Thus, most inaugural addresses and farewell addresses are not included.    


When was it made?  By whom?  Why?

The compilation was established by a resolution from the 52nd Congress's Joint Committee on Printing, which charged the Honorable James D. Richardson with the task of preparing and compiling the records.  It was published by the Bureau of National Literature, Inc. in New York in 1897.  Two thousand copies of the records were specially designated for use of the Senate and four thousand for the House of Representatives.  The purpose of the compilation was to present the records of the President to the public posterity in an easily accessible manner.


Who appears in it?

Being that the volumes contain the messages and papers of the Presidents, it is obvious that every President from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson appears in the compilation.  The records also contain mention of high public officials ranging from foreign leaders to the heads of government departments and members of Congress.  The mentioning of other persons is only stated in documents written by the Presidents themselves and not aides or advisors.


How is it organized?

The compilation is organized in chronological order beginning with President George Washington and moving to each successive president until Woodrow Wilson.  The papers and messages themselves are also in chronological order, beginning with each President's first message to Congress and ending with his last.  Each record is appropriately titled.  For example, if the President issues a proclamation to Congress, it is thus entitled as that, or if he sends a message, it is thus titled as such.  Each record contains the date the document was written. 


How do you use it?  Does it have finding aids or supplemental material?

There is no table of contents to begin a volume of the compilation.  The spine of each volume lists the volume number, the beginning page number, and the ending page number.  For example, volume one spans pages one to 475, which is listed on the spine.  To help the reader, the last two volumes of the compilation are an encyclopedic index and a biographical index.  The encyclopedic index references the statements of the Presidents combined with encyclopedic articles on American history and politics pertaining to the subjects discussed in the papers.  It also contains valuable information such as summaries and histories of every branch of American government, a history of each state, synopsis of political parties, accounts of wars fought by the United States, and analyses of every administration.  The biographical index contains biographical information of distinguished statesmen and leaders throughout the compilation's timeframe.


How do you get access to it?  Where is it physically located, and what strictures (if any) are planed on access?

The compilation is located in the reference section of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (call number J81.B96g) in the back left corner on the first floor.  None of the volumes are circulating, which means that they can not be checked out for a period of time and can not leave the library at all.  Although Bowdoin does not have an electronic version of the compilation, a simple Google search revealed several university websites that do offer it, such as the University of Pennsylvania at .


What kinds of questions can it answer?

The compilation is an extensive documentation of the messages being sent from the President to the Congress.  It would be useful in examining and helpful in understanding nearly all facets of policy positions ranging from domestic issues to foreign issues and the presidential arguments driving each.  It is also an invaluable source in understanding the Presidential-Congressional relations for each administration.  It is also important to note that the compilation only consists of messages sent by the President to Congress and not the reciprocal, which could make an analysis of the aforementioned relations difficult.

The encyclopedic index would be extremely helpful in researching a wide range of topics, any of which have been mentioned in the Presidential papers while also offering information on states histories, branches of government, and accounts of wars fought by the United States.  The biographical index offers information on eminent leaders and statesmen existing between President George Washington and President Woodrow Wilson.