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Washington, D.C. in the Manuscript Reading Room

Presidential Papers

Thomas Jefferson. George Washington, March 31, 1791, Proclamation of Federal District with Map. Thomas Jefferson Papers. Series 1: General Correspondence.

Researchers will also find significant resources related to the social, political, and cultural life of Washington, D.C. within the Manuscript Division's Presidential papers. Relevant material includes family papers, documents of social engagements, maps, and plans, such as Thomas Jefferson's 1791 plan of the District, and a letter to Abraham Lincoln concerning liquor sales to soldiers in the District. Collections also include the activities of first ladies and their children, such as letters concerning Helen Taft's public image, and Edith Roosevelt's correspondence that are in her husband's papers.

The collections range in size from Zachary Taylor papers with 650 items, to William H. Taft papers containing 676,000 items. These collections typically include a range of materials such as correspondence and letterpress books, diaries, speeches and addresses, presidential and judicial files, legal files and notebooks, family papers, business and estate papers, engagement calendars, guest lists, scrapbooks, clippings, printed matter, memorabilia, photographs, and other papers.

The Manuscript Division began acquiring presidential papers soon after the Library occupied the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1897. In 1903, the descendants of Francis P. Blair gave the division its first presidential collection, the papers of Andrew Jackson. Shortly after the Jackson Papers arrived, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the executive order transferring to the Manuscript Division the State Department's historical archives, which included the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. In the years after Roosevelt's order, the division assiduously acquired other presidential papers, obtaining some by purchase--the papers of James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson, for example--and many more by gift--those of Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge, to name a few.

For those pre-presidential-library collections that the Manuscript Division does not have--the papers of John and John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Warren G. Harding--the division has obtained microfilm copies, with the result that scholars can consult in our reading room in one format or another a virtually unbroken line of papers from the administration of George Washington to that of Calvin Coolidge.

Many presidential papers have been transcribed and published, and are available through external websites:

Presidental Papers Collections at the Library of Congress

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections and digital collections, are included when available. Collections not available online are available on microfilm. Many institutions own copies of the microfilm collections, and copies are also available for use in the Manuscript Reading Room. The papers of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Warren G. Harding are not in the custody of the Manuscript Division, but microfilm editions of these collections are available in the Manuscript Reading Room.

Most presidential collections include an index to correspondence, which may be found under "Expert Resources" for the digital collections and in the bibliographic descriptions and catalog records.