Yale Research

I spent the past two days doing research at Yale for the Seward book.  Why, you might wonder, am I doing research when the book is in page proofs?  The short answer is to convert two “secondary cites” into “primary cites.”

In one place in the draft, I had cited to a book about Millard Fillmore for a quote from the Albany Morning Express.  The paper was noting that Millard Fillmore, the vice president from New York, was not doing well in getting his friends federal appointments; the appointments were going to New York friends of Seward.  “Where is Fillmore?” the Express asked.  “The recent appointments in New York and Albany answer this question in the most significant manner.  He is nowhere.”  It appears that Yale is the only library in the country which has the Albany Morning Express for this period; and I found the quote, although there was one minor change:  the book said “New York and Maryland” and the original was “New York and Albany.”

The Albany Morning Express proved an interesting newspaper.  It was a Whig newspaper which sided with neither of the main factions in the New York Whig party, the Seward and Fillmore factions.  If it had a hero, its hero was Daniel Webster.  In early 1850, for example, the paper was critical of President Zachary Taylor,  saying that although he was a virtuous man, he lacked the vision and administrative ability to be president.  A few months later, after Taylor’s death and Fillmore’s accession, the paper rejoiced that Fillmore appointed Webster as his secretary of state.

The other citation I went to Yale to “fix” was a letter from Seward to his friend James Watson Webb, at the time of the 1856 Republican convention.  I believed, based on a book about the early Republican party, that this letter directed Webb to remove Seward’s name from consideration for the presidential nomination.  But the actual letter did not quite say that; what it said was that Seward had written to another friend, John Schoolcraft “what meets the case.”  Since there is another letter, to his wife, saying that he removed his name from consideration, it seems that that is what he told Schoolcraft, but perhaps I need to qualify this somewhat.

Again, I spent some time poking around the Webb papers and found some letters I had not previously found.  Some were Seward letters, such as an interesting one in which he assured Webb that he would NOT publish the correspondence about how Governor Seward had pardoned Webb for dueling.  Others were letters from other people that really have nothing to do with my book.  I held in my hands letters from Zachary Taylor, when he was just a darkhorse candidate for president, and from James Buchanan, on the letterhead of the London legation, saying that he was not interested in becoming president.  I held and read letters from Daniel Webster and John Crittenden and Reverdy Johnson and others now long forgotten.

It is easy, after spending such a pleasant day in the library, to see how people research but then never write books.