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James McHenry papers, 1777-1832

3 linear feet

The James McHenry papers contain correspondence and documents related to the political career of James McHenry. The majority of the materials pertain to his tenure as Secretary of War from 1796 to 1800.

The James McHenry papers contain over 800 items related the life and career of James McHenry. Included in the materials are approximately 670 letters and 106 documents, primarily related to McHenry's political career, as well as financial records and miscellaneous documents, including poetry and genealogical materials. The majority of the correspondence and documents are drafts or retained manuscript copies.

The Correspondence and Documents series spans 1777-1832, with the bulk of materials concentrated around 1796 to 1803. The first box of the collection contains documents and correspondence related to McHenry's service in the Revolutionary War, including correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton. The materials include a draft of a letter to British general Henry Clinton regarding his military failures, written in McHenry's hand but signed "Z" (October 26, 1779), as well as a copy of a letter allegedly written by Clinton to Lord George Germain, which McHenry sent to Samuel Louden of the New York Packet to be published (March 24, 1780). The postwar materials in the collection pertain to McHenry's tenure as a Maryland statesman. Along with documents related to McHenry's political career during those years is a letter dated August 13, 1794, which relates news of the massacre of French colonists at Fort Dauphin in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), led by Jean-François, an important figure in the Haitian Revolution.

The bulk of the collection, representing 1796 to 1803, documents McHenry's tenure as secretary of war under presidents Washington and Adams. The correspondence and documents relate to military structures, provisions, international relations, treaties, politics, and relations with Native American tribes. The collection contains frequent correspondence with other cabinet members and politicians, including Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott as well as President George Washington, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette. McHenry served as secretary of war during the Quasi-War with France and, as a staunch Federalist, favored positive relations with Britain over France. A large portion of the correspondence during this period relates to the ongoing feud with that country. A letter from James Winchester to McHenry describes the suspicion with which the Federalists regarded Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, who favored closer relations with France: "…tho' they will not openly shew at this time their predilection for France, they will discover it in the first calamitous event which may happen to our Country. Depend on it they are not to be trusted. I speak of the party here" (April 18, 1789). Several months later McHenry wrote in an unaddressed letter draft that he believed the President should recommend a declaration of war with France to Congress. He also expressed his concerns over "a faction within the country constantly on the watch and ready to seize upon every act of the Executive which may be converted into an engine to disaffect the people to the government" (November 25, 1798).

In addition to national and international politics, many of the items relate to U.S. relations with Native American tribes, including the Creek, Chickasaw, and Miami. The materials frequently concern attempts to maintain peace and create treaties with the tribes, as well as to prevent them from giving their loyalty to other countries, such as Britain, France, or Spain. Box 2 contains a copy of a "Talk of the Chickasaw Chiefs at the Bluffs represented by Wolf's Friend, Ugalayacabé" regarding the tribe's concerns about the Americans: "Tell me if I may return to my Nation to appease the tumult of their minds. Shall I tell them the talk of the Americans is falsehood? Shall I assure our warriors our children and our women that your flag will always wave over our land, or tell them to prepare to die?" [1797]. This box also contains a small series of letters from General Anthony Wayne, written from his headquarters in Detroit, where he was stationed before his death, after successfully leading U.S. troops in the Northwest Indian War (August 29 to October 3, 1796). After the war, Miami Chief Little Turtle, became a proponent of friendly relations with the Americans. McHenry wrote to him upon his resignation as secretary of war, thanking him for his friendship: "…I shall carry with me the remembrance of your fidelity, your good sense, your honest regard for your own people, your sensibility and eloquent discourse in their favour, and what is precious to me as an individual, a belief that I shall always retain your friendship" (May 30, 1800). Other documents include an extract of a letter from Major Thomas Cushing to Brigadier General James Wilkinson, writing that he had given gifts to the Native Americans in order to prevent them from siding with the Spanish at New Orleans, who were attempting to win their favor (February 15, 1800).

Boxes 6 through 8 contain correspondence and documents written after McHenry's resignation as secretary of war at the end of May 1800. Though he retired from politics, his letters document that he maintained a keen interest in domestic and international issues. Senator Uriah Tracy wrote regular letters to McHenry in February 1801, keeping him up-to-date on the daily events regarding the presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. After the election, McHenry wrote a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands William Vans Murray, in which he discussed the election and why public opinion had shifted from the Federalists to Jefferson: "I still am of opinion, that we should have gained nothing by the election of Mr. Burr, could it have been accomplished by federal means. The general sentiment is so strong and ardent for Mr. Jefferson, that experience alone can correct it" (February 23, 1801). This section of correspondence also contains a draft of a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives containing McHenry's defense against charges brought against him regarding disbursements while secretary of war (December 22, 1802), as well as his opinions of current political happenings, including the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and the Embargo Act of 1807. Several of the letters written during this period also relate to McHenry's low opinion of John Adams, who forced him out of office. In a series of letters exchanged by McHenry and Oliver Wolcott in 1800, McHenry described his anger regarding Adams, and expressed regret that Adams remained in office after George Washington left. Over ten years later, McHenry wrote a letter to Timothy Pickering, responding to a series of memoirs Adams had printed in the Boston Patriot . He accused Adams of making significant errors and misrepresentations, and mused, "How many recollections have these puerile letters awakened. Still in his own opinion, the greatest man of the age. I see he will carry with him to the grave, his vanity, his weaknesses and follies, specimens of which we have so often witnessed and always endeavored to veil from the public" (February 23, 1811).

The Bound Items series consists of a diary, a published book of letters, a book of U.S. Army regulations, an account book, and a book of poetry. McHenry kept the diary from June 18 to July 24, 1778, beginning it at Valley Forge. It contains accounts of daily events, intelligence, orders, the Battle of Monmouth, and the march of Washington's army to White Plains, New York. The 1931 book, entitled Letters of James McHenry to Governor Thomas Sim Lee is the correspondence written by James McHenry to Maryland governor Thomas Sim Lee during the 1781 Yorktown Campaign. The book of army regulations spans ca. 1797-1798, while the account book covers 1816-1824. The book of poetry is handwritten but undated and unsigned.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a full list of letter-writers in the James McHenry papers: James McHenry Contributor List.


Levi Hollingsworth papers, 1803-1841 (majority within 1812-1815)

64 items

The Levi Hollingsworth papers consist of business letters and documents written by the prominent Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth to a firm run by James Thompson, of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania. The collection consists of 56 letters, 5 financial documents, and 3 newspaper clippings, and relates largely to trade in flour, whiskey, sugar, coffee, and other staples during the War of 1812.

The Levi Hollingsworth papers (64 items) consist of business letters and documents addressed to flour producer James Thompson of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania, from prominent Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth. The collection consists of 56 letters, 5 financial documents, and 3 newspaper clippings, and relates largely to trade in grains (wheat, rye, flaxseed, superfine flour, etc.), whiskey, sugar, coffee, butter, bees wax, and other staples, during the War of 1812.

The Correspondence series (56 items) is comprised of business letters from Hollingsworth to James Thompson relaying political and economic news concerning the War of 1812. Hollingsworth wrote 48 letters to James Thompson, three to Robert Thompson, and two to William Thompson. The remaining three letters, dated 1803, 1824, and 1841, include two addressed to James Thompson and one from Thompson to his brothers William and Robert.

Hollingsworth frequently discussed the war's effects on flour and food commerce. Because of war-time embargos to Europe and the British blockades along the Atlantic seaboard, American grain producers could only sell to domestic markets (bakers and retailers). The result was a prolonged period of low flour prices that resulted in much unsold and spoiled grain. Throughout the collection, Hollingsworth critiques the American government (both the President and Congress) for starting and perpetuating the war with England. Letters also document the changing price of flour, as well as methods for preserving wheat stores.

Below is a list of highlights and quotes from the collection regarding Hollingsworth's viewpoints on politics and the effect of the war on commerce. All letters are from Hollingsworth to James Thompson, unless otherwise noted:
  • September 29, 1812: "Should Mr. Madison's party prevail at the ensuing election it is believed they will stop our exports to Spain & Portugal agreeably to the Bonapartian system of destroying commerce…"
  • October 9, 1812: Letter concerning Congress' influence over the price of grain and flour.
  • March 2, 1813: Letter discussing President Madison's pressure on Congress to pass laws prohibiting exports, even to neutral countries in Europe; news that the British ( led by Sir George Rockburn) will soon blockade the port of Philadelphia
  • March 16, 1813: Letter criticizing the war and discussing the blockade: "Mr. Madison you found no difficulty in making War & we think without a just or sufficient cause…We hope you have little flour on the way"
  • March 23, 1813: "The British fleet in our Bay capture all our vessels they can catch. No sale for flour for exportation nor can we expect it while the blockade lasts and the war continues. We advise you to keep your wheat & rye in ground…"
  • August 3, 1813: "All hope of an armistice or commerce soon opening again is now vanished. Congress adjourns on the 2nd--nothing toward peace can take place at this time."
  • November 26, 1813: "The New York purchasers decline buying lest Congress should lay an Embargo before they can get the flour to New Haven & all trade be stopped"
  • December 23, 1813: "The Embargo was laid the 17th all River Bay Craft are stopped from Flying to their respective landing by an Order from the Secretary of War…all vessels are stopped. The law is for twelve months."
  • December 31, 1813: "This rash foolish war will make the United States poor, but inrich the enemy"
  • January 11, 1814: "The Presidents message to congress informing of his acceptance of the proposition to negotiate for Peace at Gottenburg was received on Saturday…uncertainty keeps everything dull…we cannot expect to enjoy trade before July even supposing no difficulty occurs in the negotiations…"
  • February 25, 1814: "Canada, if conquered, will not be worth the expense, & the Floridas [will] be a source of contest for years to come. We, however, seem determined to 'loose the horse or win the saddle'."
  • April 8, 1814: "A Bill for the repeal of the Embargo is now before Congress and expected to pass"
  • April 15, 1815: Letter containing news that Congress repealed the embargo on April 13th
  • May 2, 1815: "The price and demand for flour was greatly improved by the news of Bonaparte having taken possession of the government of France without bloodshed…"
  • July 27, 1822: James Thompson to William and Robert Thompson, concerning the bleak outlook for prices of New York wheat and corn because of additional supply from Virginia and North Carolina.
  • April 7, 1841: [H. Walters] to James Thompson describing mourning for President William Henry Harrison

The Financial Documents and Newspaper Clippings series (8 items) contains five accounts for flour trade between William and John Thompson, and Levi Hollingsworth (1810-1811).

The series also includes the following three newspaper clippings:
  • December 4, 1826: Review of the Baltimore Market
  • [1838]: Poems "From the Violet," such as The Grave of Franklin and The Dying Patriot
  • Undated: Reprint of a letter from George Washington to Lafayette on his returning from the Presidency on February 1, 1784