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Letter in Response to Report of the National Historical Publications Commission.

June 16, 1951

Dear Mr. Larson.

I have read with great interest the preliminary report of the National Historical Publications Commission which you sent me on May twenty-fourth. I am highly pleased at the Commission's proposals for the publication of some of the vital records of American history which are not now generally available. I particularly hope that the Commission's interest in the papers of James Madison will bring results and that definite plans for their publication can be completed this year, the 200th anniversary of Madison's birth. I would also like to see plans made soon for the publication of Benjamin Franklin's papers. Franklin did as much as any man in our history to shape the kind of country we live in today, and yet some of his most interesting and valuable writings exist, I am told, only in manuscript.

Since I first asked the Commission, a year ago, to see what could be done to make more of the basic source materials of our history available to the general public, we have found it necessary to take up arms again in the defense of freedom. This seems to me to make the work of the National Historical Publications Commission more important than ever. The lives of men like Madison and Franklin--as well as many others discussed in the Commission's report--are full of meaning today. Madison and Franklin fought for human rights and they helped create the first government in modern times devoted solely to the well-being of its citizens. The period of danger we are in may last for many years. I am convinced that the better we understand the history of our democracy, the better we shall appreciate our rights as free men and the more determined we shall be to keep our ideals alive. Publications such as the Commission recommends will greatly help to further this understanding.

As I have said before, the editing and publishing of the papers of national leaders should be carried out principally by private means. I agree with the Commission that most of this work can be done at universities, historical societies, and other non-Federal institutions throughout the country. The Federal Government should, however, assist in every appropriate way. The facilities of the Library of Congress, the National Archives and other Federal agencies will, of course, be made freely available for this work. Perhaps the Federal Government might also assist by sharing the printing expenses of some of the materials which have been collected and edited elsewhere, but the publication of which is blocked by high costs.

I hope that the Commission's report will be widely distributed among historians and other scholars and freely discussed by them so that we may have the benefit of their views. I shah await with interest further reports of the Commission's activities.

Sincerely yours,


[Honorable Jess Larson, Administrator, General Services Administration, Washington 25, D.C.]

Note: Mr. Larson's letter of May 24, transmitting the report of the National Historical Publications Commission, was released with the President's reply.

The Commission (established in 1934 (48 Stat. 1123), and reconstituted by the Federal Records Act of 1950 (64 Stat. 583)) was directed by Congress to cooperate with and encourage other agencies, both governmental and nongovernmental, in collecting, preserving, and publishing papers important for an understanding and appreciation of the history of the United States. The Commission was transferred to the General Services Administration in 1949.

On May 17, 1950, when President Truman accepted the first volume of "The Papers of Thomas Jefferson" in a ceremony at the Library of Congress, he expressed the hope that the volume would "inspire educational institutions, learned societies, and civic-minded groups to plan the publication of the works of other great national figures." He announced at that time that he was requesting the National Historical Publications Commission to report to him on what could be done to make available the public and private writings of other prominent Americans (see 1950 volume, this series, Item 136).

In its preliminary report to the President, entitled "A National Program for the Publication of the Papers of American Leaders" (1951, 47 pp.), the Commission listed 66 persons whose papers were recommended to historians for publication. Included in the group were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

In April 1954 the Commission submitted a further report to the President entitled "A National Program for the Publication of Historical Documents" (Government Printing Office, 1954, 106 pp.).

Harry S. Truman, Letter in Response to Report of the National Historical Publications Commission. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230147

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