Abraham Lincoln Papers

Abraham Lincoln Papers: About the Collection

Abraham Lincoln is one of twenty-three presidents whose papers are in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The Lincoln Papers came to the Library of Congress from Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), who arranged for their organization and care shortly after his father was assassinated on April 14, 1865. At that time, Robert Todd Lincoln had the Lincoln Papers removed to Illinois, where they were first organized under the direction of Judge David Davis of Bloomington, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's longtime associate. Later, Lincoln's presidential secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, assisted in the project. In 1874, most of the Lincoln Papers returned to Washington, D.C., and Nicolay and Hay used the them in the research and writing of their ten-volume biography, Abraham Lincoln: A History (New York, 1890). In 1919, Robert Todd Lincoln deposited the Lincoln Papers with the Library of Congress and on January 23, 1923, he deeded them to the Library. The deed stipulated that the Lincoln Papers remain sealed until twenty-one years after his own death. On July 26, 1947, the Lincoln Papers were officially opened to the public. See Provenance for a history of the Lincoln Papers.

Items in the Abraham Lincoln Papers date from 1833 through 1916. But most of the approximately 20,000 items are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1860-65. Treasures in this collection include Lincoln's draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, his March 4, 1865, draft of his second Inaugural Address, and his August 23, 1864, memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated in the upcoming presidential election. Correspondence relating to these treasures is also included in the collection. (Lincoln's first draft and reading copy of the Gettysburg Address is in the John Hay Papers.) The bulk of the Lincoln Papers consists of letters written to Lincoln by a wide variety of correspondents: friends, and legal and political associates from Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois, days; national and regional political figures and reformers; and local people and organizations writing to their president.

Index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers

The Abraham Lincoln Papers have an unusual processing history. They were microfilmed and indexed in 1947, the same year they were officially opened to the public for the first time. In 1959, the microfilm and index were reviewed, corrections were made to the index, and additional items were added to both film and index. The Library of Congress published the edited index to the microfilm collection in 1960. In preparing the database from the index for the online presentation of the Abraham Lincoln Papers, further corrections have been made by the editors at the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. When the Lincoln Studies Center completes its work this online presentation will contain a definitive database index of the Abraham Lincoln Papers.

Established in 1997, the Lincoln Studies Center is headed by two noted Lincoln scholars, Rodney O. Davis and Douglas L. Wilson. They are assisted by three Knox College graduates: Matthew Norman, project leader, currently completing a doctorate in American history at the University of Illinois; Terry Wilson, researcher, a published Civil War scholar; and Joel Ward, transcriber, a recent Knox College graduate.

Transcription of Documents

The editors at the Lincoln Studies Center are creating annotated transcriptions for all documents in Lincoln's autograph and, in addition, annotated transcriptions for nearly 50 percent of the other items, which consist mostly of Lincoln's incoming correspondence. These annotated transcriptions are linked to digital images of each document.

Annotations for Lincoln's autograph documents usually include a headnote providing historical and documentary context, as well as annotations on the content of the document. Annotations for incoming correspondence typically identify persons and organizations writing to Lincoln or referred to in the documents, explain terms and events, and provide brief historical context. Together, these fully searchable transcriptions and annotations dramatically extend access to the Abraham Lincoln Papers and enhance their teaching and research value.

Annotated transcriptions will undergo corrections and updates throughout the length of the Lincoln Studies Center transcription project, which ends in late 2001.

Bibliographical Citation of the Abraham Lincoln Papers and Transcriptions

Because the index to the Abraham Lincoln Papers has been significantly corrected and updated for digital presentation of the collection, users should specifically reference the online version. The following form is suggested:

Abraham Lincoln to Hannibal Hamlin, November 8, 1869. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D. C.: American Memory Project, [2000-01]), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/alhome.html, accessed [supply date here].

Annotated transcriptions by the editors at the Lincoln Studies Center have not been previously published but constitute an original electronic edition of the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Bibliographical citations may take the following form:

Abraham Lincoln to Hannibal Hamlin, November 8, 1860. Transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D.C.: American Memory Project, [2000-01]), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/alhome.html, accessed [supply date here].

Digital Images of Manuscript Documents

The Library of Congress regards many of the early presidential papers collections as treasures and they are usually available for use only in microfilm format. The Abraham Lincoln Papers has been digitized in its entirety from microfilm to avoid handling the originals. Preservation Resources, a Division of Online Computer Library Center, Inc., digitized the Abraham Lincoln Papers from a duplicate negative of the archival 35-millimeter microfilm. In detail and levels of tonal range, the grayscale digital image is an improvement on the microfilmed document. However, the Lincoln Papers were microfilmed in 1947 and practices followed at that time differ from those observed in the later Presidential Papers Project, in which the George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other presidential papers were filmed and indexed. See Building the Digital Collection for more information.

Abraham Lincoln Papers