Thursday, December 11, 2008


Yesterday, after Cort Wrotnowski and I filed the supplemental brief at the Supreme Court, we dropped by the Library of Congress and took a look at the index of papers for Chester Arthur. Compared to most of the other Presidents, there’s barely anything on Chester. The index is a skinny little pamphlet, thirteen pages long. The introduction to the index begins with a letter from Chester A. Arthur III:

“You may be sure that I am as interested as you are in having the Arthur papers finally come to rest in the Library of Congress. The ones that I have in my possession have traveled a good deal — over to Europe, back to Colorado, California, and now here. During his lifetime, my father would never let anyone see them — not even me. When they finally came into my possession. I was amazed that there were so few…

Charles E. McElroy, the son of Mary Arthur McElroy who was my grandfather’s First Lady, tells me that the day before he died, my grandfather caused to be burned three large garbage cans, each at least four feet high, full of papers which I am sure would have thrown much light on history.”

It’s quite a dramatic start for a Library of Congress index document. The intrigue continues as follows:

“For many years President Arthur was represented in the Manuscript Division by a single document… Beginning in 1910 and continuing to the present, successive chiefs of the division have done what they could do to assemble surviving Arthur manuscripts. For the first of these chiefs, Gaillard Hunt, who in that year intitiated the search for the main body of Arthur Papers, there was little but discouragement as a result of his inquiries. However, his persistence and what he was able to learn were to encourage his successors.

He wrote first to Col. William G. Rice and learned the address of Mrs. John E. McElroy, Arthur’s sister and official hostess during his administration. Mr. Hunt wrote to her and learned from her that Chester A. Arthur, Jr., controlled the papers. After several attempts, Mr. Hunt learned Mr. Arthur’s address and wrote to him. The reply — written on March 13, 1915, five years after the search began — provided the first concrete but frustrating evidence:

‘I beg you will excuse my tardiness in replying to your letter of November 4th [1914]. The question of my father’s papers is a very sore subject with me.

‘These papers were supposed to be in certain chests which were stored on their receipt from Washington, in the cellar of 123 Lexington Avenue. After my father’s death, they were removed, I believe, by direction of the executors to a store house recommended by Mr. McElroy at Albany. Several years ago on making my residence in Colorado, I sent for these chests of papers and found in them nothing but custom house records of no particular value or importance. Where the papers they were supposed to contain have vanished, is a mystery.’ “

The story just keeps getting stranger.


by Leo D’Onofrio

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2008

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