How Some Were Burned…

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It may be that Jameson knew about the cloud of smoke that accompanied the last going-over that Harding’s papers received in Ohio. At any rate, when Schaffner’s letter reached him he was on vacation in Maine and he tried to stall. The papers were so bulky; rather than ship them now, he suggested, could he not assign a “confidential man” to prepare an inventory? “Meantime,” said Jameson, “the papers would be kept closed to investigators, of course.”

Jameson’s choice of terms may not have been the best. During the search for facts in the Teapot Dome case, the word “investigators” may have suggested unpleasant ideas to Harding’s old friends. Schaffner was firm in his demands, although he assured Jameson that the officers of the Association, to whom he would turn over the papers, wished to “look through the files,” and that if there was nothing in them that they “cared for,” they would be glad to return them to Jameson at a later date. Meantime, to be sure that there was no further delay, Schaffner wrote on August 2, 1929, to President Hoover (incidentally an officer in the Association), requesting him to direct that the papers be packed and shipped. On September 24, 1929, the basement papers were shipped to Marion.

Thwarted but not defeated, Jameson began a campaign to convince the individual members of the Association that all these papers belonged in the national library. Former Cabinet members—President Hoover, Harry S. New, and Hubert Work—attempted to assist Jameson; and ex-Senator Frelinghuysen, president of the Association, agreed that the Library of Congress was the logical depository.

On January 1, 1932, Jameson paid a visit to Marion and went to see Hoke Donithen, secretary of the Association. By Jameson’s standards the Association was quite casual about its trust to preserve the Harding papers. In the back room off Donithen’s law office Jameson saw the basement papers, which then occupied some seventy feet of shelving. The shelves were wooden, the building not fireproof. It was a most unsuitable place. Donithen told him that the Association owned in addition “a trunk or box of other papers” which was then held at the late Mrs. Harding’s bank. One assumes these were what had survived her burnings in Washington and Marion. Donithen had agreed with him, Jameson wrote later, that both groups of papers should go to the Library of Congress but that it was difficult to bring about formal action by the trustees.

In 1934, Jameson almost succeeded. On a second visit to Marion, he found the papers had been removed to the basement of the Harding homestead—also a wooden, non-fireproof building—and he was emboldened to draw up terms for a transfer. According to the tentative agreement the papers would remain the property of the Association, but would be placed in the Library of Congress in the status of a “revocable deposit.” Until August 23, 1943 (twenty years after Harding’s death), scholars could see them only with permission of the Association’s executive committee. Then the papers would be opened to all without restriction.

Donithen favored the transfer, but before he could move to implement it he died, in April, 1934. Jameson was extremely disappointed, but his hopes took another great leap that fall when George Christian, whom he had gotten to know, admitted having in his possession a significant body of pre-presidential Harding papers which he was willing to turn over to the Library. On December 27, seven large and three small wooden boxes of papers arrived at the Library from Christian’s Washington residence. The shipment included papers which had been sent to Christian from Harding’s Marion office just before his inauguration on March 4, 1921. Eight of the boxes contained the presidential campaign correspondence arranged by state, recommendations for appointments, and congratulatory messages; and the other two were filled with personal and private papers.

The New Year of 1935 came, and perhaps Jameson made his resolutions. If so, we can almost guess what one of them might have been; then his conscience got the best of him, and dutifully he wrote to Frelinghuysen, notifying him of the Library’s good fortune. Meanwhile Christian had found more papers, and again the Library’s truck called at his Connecticut Avenue residence, returning with eighteen letter-file cases, giving the Library the collection of papers relating to Harding’s career as senator, as well as others dealing with his election as President. It must have broken Jameson’s heart, but on May 4 all the acquisitions from Christian had to be shipped to the Harding Memorial Association.

So matters stood when, in 1937, Jameson died, and the quest for the Harding papers passed into the hands of Dr. Thomas P. Martin, acting chief of the Library of Congress manuscript division. Martin visited Marion twice—in 1939 and again in 1943. Dr. Carl Sawyer, son of old Dr. Sawyer, had succeeded Joseph Frelinghuysen as president of the Harding Memorial Association. He was cordial but promised Martin nothing.

The war ended and a decade and more passed, but the Harding papers remained closed to all researchers, and the prospects of their coming to the Library of Congress remained dim. In 1958, Fred Shelley, head of the presidential papers section of the Library’s manuscript division, found nine pieces from the Harding papers which had been misfiled in the Coolidge papers. These were sent to the Association in the hope of reopening negotiations. In 1961, Daniel Reed, Martin’s able successor, spent a day with Dr. Sawyer, who hinted that his task of arranging and numbering the Harding correspondence was progressing well and that the Association might turn it over to the Library soon.