Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Press Conference

December 10, 1938

THE PRESIDENT: Have you had a chance to read this? [Indicating mimeographed copies of Press Release.]

MR. EARLY: They have not, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Now, I think possibly you might let me explain first, and then read it, and then get a complete picture.

For the last two years I have been considering more and more the final disposal of what amounts to probably the largest collection of original source material of almost anybody over the last quarter of a century. It is very voluminous. It includes all of my papers when I was in the State Senate, all of my personal papers when I was in the Navy Department, including the war period. It includes the Vice Presidential Campaign of 1920 and the Convention of 1924, the Convention of 1928, the four years as Governor. I have, up in Albany, sixty packing cases full of those papers of the Governorship. It includes the Campaigns of 1928 and 1930, the Presidential Campaigns of 1932 and 1936, plus all the Presidential papers and the file I operate.

I have been taking the advice of many historians and others. Their advice is that material of that kind ought not to be broken up, for the future. It ought to be kept intact. It ought not to be sold at auction; it ought not to be scattered among descendants. It should be kept in one place and kept in its original form, because, so often in the past, Presidential papers and other public papers have been culled over during the lifetime of the owner, and the owner has thrown out a great deal of material which he personally did not consider of any importance which, however, from the point of view of future history, may have been of the utmost importance.

Therefore, in looking around as to what to do with it, because this relates not just to the Federal Government but to a great many other activities, such as my service in Albany a quarter of a century ago, all the papers as Governor, a great many personal papers that have no relationship to the Federal Government, it became a question as to where they should ultimately be deposited, if deposited in toto, in one place.

Then came the question as to whether it would not be better to put them somewhere where I could personally help the ultimate owner of the papers in going over them, listing them and so forth, annotating them. That made it almost imperative that they should be placed at Hyde Park, and, at the same time, that the ownership and title of all the papers, books, et cetera, should be in the Federal Government itself. Therefore this plan: (Reading)

"Since 1910—or in other words for a period of twenty eight years—I have carefully preserved all of my correspondence, public papers, pamphlets, books, etc. This includes all incoming material and copies of practically all outgoing material. These papers cover my service of nearly three years in the New York State Senate; seven and onehalf years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, including the World War period and two trips to Europe; my business and legal correspondence; much political material between 1920 and 1928, including my campaign for the Vice Presidency, the 1924 Convention, and the 1928 Convention; my campaigns for Governor in 1928 and 1930; all of my personal papers as Governor of New York, 1919-1933; the campaigns for the Presidency, 1932 and 1936; and all of my Presidential papers from March 4, 1933, to date.

"Because these papers relate to so many periods and activities which are not connected with my service in the Federal Government, I do not wish to break them up, leaving a portion of them to the National Archives and dividing the rest among the State of New York Archives, the New York State Historical Society, the Dutchess County Historical Society, the Harvard College Library."

And I might add to that the Naval Records Office here.

"In other words, it is my desire that they be kept as a whole and intact in their original condition, available to scholars of the future in one definite locality.

"I have carefully considered the choice of locality and for many reasons have decided that it would be best that they remain permanently on the grounds of my family home at Hyde Park, Dutchess County, New York.

"I realize that the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the New York State Library, Harvard University and the New York State Historical Society—

" and others "

"—would probably be glad to have the whole collection intact. It is my thought, however, that an opportunity exists to set up for the first time in this country what might be called a source material collection relating to a specific period in our history."

That is a very important thing because, so far as we know, it has never been done before.

"That part of my family's country place at Hyde Park on which we live will, without doubt, eventually go to the Federal Government to be maintained for the benefit of the public by the Federal Government.

"It is, therefore, my thought that funds can be raised for the erection of a separate, modern, fireproof building to be built near my family's house at Hyde Park, so designed that it would hold all of my own collections and also such other source material relating to this period in our history as might be donated to the collection in the future by other members of the present Administration.

"Well, of course, that would include also members of the Administration when I was in Albany. Fred Storm, for instance, could leave his papers as part of that Administration.

Q. [Mr. Storm] I have a lot of them, Mr. President.

Q. [Mr. Durno] Only after he is dead. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: He would not part with them before that?

Q. [Mr. O'Donnell] It is a question of libel if published before that. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: (Reading)

"I forgot to mention that in addition to the very voluminous correspondence, I have also two rather specialized collections which are of some definite historic value: a collection of paintings, drawings, prints, manuscript letters and documents, log-books, pamphlets and books relating to the American Navy from 1775 to date; and a smaller collection of similar material relating to the Hudson River, and especially Dutchess County and the town of Hyde Park. These collections would be placed in the proposed building, together with the public papers, etc.

"I have also a very large number of books and pamphlets—far more than my children could possibly use, many of them inscribed by their authors to me. The bulk of these books would also be added to the contents of the building and, incidentally, they form the nucleus of a library relating to this period which would be available to students in the future."Well, for example, I was just talking to Ernest Lindley and he said, "Have you got all the books relating to this Administration?"

I said, "I checked and I have here in the House about three-quarters of all the books that have been written in the last six years about this Administration. That is a good nucleus to start with. Most of them have been given to me by the authors themselves and that would mean the adding only of what is missing, which is about twenty-five per cent."

"It is my thought that if a building such as I suggest is erected and the material—not only my own but that of others who would contribute their own material— is placed there, the title to the building and all the material would be vested in the United States Government and placed under the primary responsibility of the Archivist of the United States." (Dr. Connor.)

"This would insure permanent care and the provision of adequate facilities for its use. At the same time, being somewhat familiar with historical material, its preservation and its availability for students and scholars, I should much like to have the assistance of recognized scholars in American History and Government, past and present. That is why I believe that a collection of this kind should be under the supervision of a committee of historians working in cooperation with the Archivist and the Librarian of Congress.

"It is my hope that during my lifetime I shall continue to live in the family home at Hyde Park, and if a period collection of this kind is permanently domiciled on what is my own place, I shall be able to give assistance to the maintenance of the collection during my lifetime. As I have said before, it is my expectation that while the title to the collections would vest immediately in the Government, my family's house and that portion of the place on which we live would revert to the Government on my death.

"All of this has the approval and consent of my Mother who owns the property during her lifetime.

"I may mention that the place at Hyde Park is located on the New York-Albany Post Road— two hours from New York City by train or motor, and four and one-half miles from the City of Poughkeepsie, which has good hotel and other accommodations.

"Now, don't be—(laughter) don't slam that last statement. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, I am not quite clear. Do you mean the entire Hyde Park estate eventually?

THE. PRESIDENT: I mean that portion on which we live, that portion from the Post Road down to the foot of the hill. . . .

Q. What prompted your decision to do this at this particular time?

THE PRESIDENT: I have been thinking about it for the last three years, three or four years. I suppose the amount—you see, here is one thing about it: The amount of material that I have is so infinitely larger than that of any previous President that it creates a new problem.

As I remember it, when we came in here we were told that President Hoover's mail averaged about four hundred letters a day. My mail has averaged, as you know, about four thousand letters a day. Well, there is all the difference in the world. The result is that just my Presidential files alone are so big, that you couldn't possibly put them in any private house; and I do not want to put them just into storage.

Q. The cataloging of your books has progressed pretty well. Have you an), idea, approximately, how many books you have?

THE PRESIDENT: Just on books alone I would estimate about seven thousand here and about seven thousand at Hyde Park.

Q. How about the New York house?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, very few, only a few hundred, perhaps a thousand. About fifteen thousand all told. And then, of course, in addition to that, if you get down to the question of pamphlets, I suppose just in my American Navy collection alone there must be, of old pamphlets, four or five thousand at least in addition, and, of course, in my files there are a great many other pamphlets and documents which have been going to files rather than into slip cases—book cases.

Q. Of course this has never been done before in the history of the Government on the collection of papers. We wonder if you took the immediate step because of the recent developments in the past years with respect to the Lincoln papers, and the concern felt with respect to those of other Presidents, where there has been a bewildering lack of facts.

THE PRESIDENT: I have been interested in the subject a great many years of what happens to the papers of public officials.

Q. We still haven't got Lincoln's papers. Didn't T. R. save his and build a special vault?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. . . .

Q. Of course his collections are nowhere near as extensive as yours.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, because people did not write as much in those days. Curiously enough it [referring to T. R.'s collection] covered approximately the same period of years, a little over a quarter of a century, as mine does.

Q. There is no reference to the filing of a diary?

THE PRESIDENT: There is not. I think you will find among the papers three diaries that started on the first of January in three different years, far apart. I think the most voluminous one ran to the fourth of January.

Q. That is like Mark Twain. He kept it up for a week, got up, washed and went to bed. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I tried it once and it went on for four days, I believe.

Now, I invited to lunch the list which you have here. You know them all or know about them all. There is Ambassador Dodd; President Graham of North Carolina University; Archie MacLeish, a writer, and I think he has been connected with "Fortune"; Randolph Adams, Librarian of the University of Michigan; Edmund E. Day; Dr. Connor, Dr. Flick, State Historian at Albany; Dr. Charles A. Beard; Professor Frankfurter; Stuart Chase; Samuel I. Rosenman, who knows more about my papers than anybody else; Ernest Lindley, who has written more about the Administration than anybody else; President Paxson of the American Historical Association; Dr. Boyd, of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Mrs. Helen Taft Manning, of Bryn Mawr; Miss Marguerite Wells, President of the League of Women Voters; Professor Morison, of Harvard University; and Frank Walker, of New York.

Q. Any idea of the amount of the fund to be raised?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we don't know, but Frank Walker has kindly offered to take charge of that part of it. There will be public subscription. All of this general list, all of these ladies and gentlemen have been good enough to say that they are very keen about it and go along. I am going to ask Professor Morison, who is here, to say a few words about that because that is their business rather than mine.

Professor Samuel Morison: I think I may say that the conference that the President called today was one hundred per cent favorable to his proposal; especially because we who work in American history know how difficult it is to get at the records of the Presidents, and know the lamentable mistakes which have been made in the past in disposing of and dealing with Presidents' records. It has been the custom for every President of the United States, starting with John Adams, the first who lived in this House, to take away all his papers with him. Some of them, for instance the records of the two Adamses, are shut in a vault in Boston where nobody can get at them.

THE PRESIDENT: Really? I did not know that.

Professor Morison: Nobody allowed in except the family.

Others have generally gone back to the President's old home, where they have been subjected to a great deal of dilapidation. The Presidents have sometimes passed their declining years in trying to rearrange them, with unfortunate results because the order of the documents has been entirely spoiled. And their widows have given them away as souvenirs, and children have played with them, and the rats have eaten them up. After a lapse of years, sometimes two or three generations, they are turned over to the Library of Congress, which is where the Jefferson, the Madison, the Monroe, the Washington and the Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt papers are now.

But that is an unsatisfactory system because, in the meantime, a great many of the papers have been disposed of. The Lincoln papers, for instance, which somebody mentioned, are scattered in numerous repositories, since Mrs. Lincoln gave them away, and the historian does not know where to turn to find the information he wants.

A great deal of the important evidence has been destroyed, some purposely, some by mere neglect and accident.

Thus President Roosevelt has proposed, for the first time, to keep all of his files intact. Of his predecessors, I believe President Hoover was the first one who did not destroy a considerable part of the White House files at the time he left. President Roosevelt proposes not only to keep his files intact, but to place them immediately under the administration of the National Archivist so that from the time they leave the White House they will be under public control and will not be subject to dilapidation or destruction or anything else. The whole thing will come down in its entirety to the historians of the future.

THE PRESIDENT: Sam, do you want to say anything about the Executive Committee, what we propose to do?

PROFESSOR MORISON: The Advisory Committee today is going to appoint a small Executive Committee to act in collaboration with Mr. Frank Walker to raise the necessary money for the building.

Later I presume another committee will be appointed under the National Archivist to aid him in arranging the collections and the archives.

I have spoken especially of the archives; but, of course, equally important are those collections of naval prints and pictures, and the President's collection of naval books and pamphlets, which is much the best collection of United States naval history in private hands today. That is a very important collection in itself, and that will be in the building with the rest.

THE PRESIDENT: Sam, do you want to say anything about the Advisory Committee having other people besides pure historians, or in other words, the economists?

PROFESSOR MORISON: The Advisory Committee today was just the nucleus, to which are going to be added men and women who represent economics, sociology and the various social sciences, that will be interested in these papers equally with historians. The historian of the future will be interested in the economic trends of our day, the social movements in a large sense, just as much as he is in the political history, even more so.

Q. Who are the members of that Advisory Committee?

PROFESSOR MORISON: That was the list that the President gave you. Others, representing the social sciences, for example, will be added to it as it is rather overloaded on the historian side right now. . . .

Q. Have you thought of the physical aspect of this building? Will it be of colonial style, in keeping with Dutchess County?

THE PRESIDENT: That is a thing we have not: got very far on, but the general thought on the part of several architects is that it should be in keeping with older buildings which are typical of the locality. It should be simple, not high, probably one story, and probably built of field stone, like the older buildings of Dutchess County.

Q. The Post Office?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Absolutely simple but, of course, absolutely modern, with fireproofing, and nowadays you have to have air conditioning, or you have to have the same temperature in the record room the year round.

[Mrs. Roosevelt entered the room at this point and spoke to the President.]

THE PRESIDENT: I have to dedicate a piano now.

Q. How many acres in that part of the estate which will eventually go to the Government?

THE PRESIDENT: A hundred acres.

Q. Which will leave how much which does not go?

THE PRESIDENT: I have a farm away over on the other side of the road, way back and that has five or six hundred acres in it.

Q. I thought your estate was more than a hundred acres where the family house is?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no. You see my sister-in-law's place is next door.

Q. This, of course, will be private during your lifetime?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no; Oh, my, no.

Q. The minute you leave here it goes to the public?

THE PRESIDENT: As soon as they can get it arranged.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209393

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