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Papers of William H. Seward

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About this Collection

Introduction: The Papers of William H

Introduction: The Papers of William H. Seward

As lawyer, antislavery orator, reformer, governor of New York, United States Senator, and Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, William Henry Seward played a critical role in shaping the foreign and domestic policies of the United States during the periods of sectional conflict, Civil War, and Reconstruction. For this reason, Research Publications (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of Gale) microfilm edition of The Papers of William H. Seward is a valuable source of information on 19th-century politics. The approximately 150,000 items in the collection include some 50,000 letters, many to Seward from 19th-century political leaders; Sewards papers as Governor, Senator, and Secretary of State; his personal, financial, and legal papers; manuscript drafts of a number of his speeches; memorabilia related to his career; and related correspondence and papers belonging to members of his immediate family. The original papers, housed in the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Archives, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester have already provided primary source material for a number of books, doctoral dissertations, masters theses and scholarly articles. The Research Publications microfilm edition, which includes most of the original collection (though certain parts and some material acquired after the publication of the film have been omitted) will continue to provide students of social, intellectual, and diplomatic history, economics, and political science with new insights into 19th-century politics in general, and the life and policies of a distinguished American in particular.

Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester was chosen as the repository for the papers of William Henry Seward by his grandson William Henry Seward III of Auburn, New York. They were given to the Library as gifts between 1845 and 1951, and by bequest in 1951. Between 1951 and 1963 the Department of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives at the Rush Rhees Library organized, indexed, and inventoried the bulk of the some 150,000 items in the collection. For the most part, the microfilm edition follows the same organization.

The original collection of the papers of Seward is organized in several broad subject categories. These categories are further broken down both topically and chronologically, and contained in folders. The folders were assigned identification numbers by Research Publications and microfilmed along with the material. The annotations made on the folders themselves by the University of Rochester are relevant to retrieval.

Guide to The Papers of William H. Seward

The main section of the guide is an organizational breakdown of the entire collection on microfilm. In it, the four broad subject categories (Correspondence, Public Papers, Miscellaneous and Personal Papers, Family Papers) are further broken down topically or chronologically. The folder numbers, which serve in the collection as the bibliographic targets, are identified in this section, as well as the reels on which they appear. For example, part of Sewards public papers dealing with his governorship can be found on reel 148, and, more specifically, his appointments, in alphabetical order from Goldin to E. Hallenbake can be found in folder numbers 5721-5731 on that reel.


Contents of Reel - Appointments: Fontaine-Gold
Folder Numbers - 5710-5720
Reel Number - 147

Contents of Reel - Appointments: Goldin-Hallenbake, E.
Folder Numbers - 5721-5731
Reel Number - 148

Contents of Reel - Appointments: Hallet-Holley
Folder Numbers 5732-5743
Reel Number 149

This first section provides good access to most of the collection, but it is significantly enhanced by the second section of the guide, The Index to the General Correspondence.

Index to the General Correspondence

The University of Rochester had indexed the majority of the general correspondence, the result being contents lists of the items included in each folder. These lists were microfilmed with their corresponding folders and will prove useful when searching the film. Moreover, Research Publications has compiled a cumulative name index from these contents lists, which appears here as the first part of the index. The correspondence relating to each individual is identified by date, and the user can locate the item easily by looking up the name in the index, identifying the correspondence date or dates, and referring to the first section of the guide to determine in which folder and on which reel the desired item appears.

There is also a significant amount of general correspondence that was not indexed by the University of Rochester. Research Publications has compiled a second, discrete index to this correspondence, using the folder numbers as referents. The user can locate the desired item by looking up the name in the index, identifying the corresponding folder number, and referring to the first section of the guide to determine on which reel the folder appears.

In both parts of the Index there were many entries that could not be included in a standard name index. These items consist of anonymous letters, and letters in which the correspondent used only initials or a pseudonym. These entries can be found at the end of each part in alphabetical order. (For the online product, Parts I and II, as well as the anonymous entries were merged into one searchable, alphabetical index.) Also, an entry for Seward himself was omitted, as virtually all of the correspondence was either initiated or received by him.