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Collection Scope and Content Note

Jared Sparks (1789-1866) was a prominent American historian, educator, and Unitarian minister who served as President of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853.

Sparks is mostly remembered today as a historian of the America Revolutionary War. After extensive researches at home and in London and Paris, he wrote his most important work, "The Life and Writings of George Washington" (12 volumes, 1834-1837), and separately, "The Life of George Washington" (2 volumes, 1839-42.) His Herculean achievements also include "The Writings of Gouverneur Morris" (3 volumes, 1832), "The Writings of Benjamin Franklin" (10 volumes, 1840), and a "Life of Benjamin Franklin" (1857.) Additionally, Sparks compiled "The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution : Being the Letters of Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, John Adams, John Jay, [...], M. de Lafayette, M. Dumas, and Others, Concerning the Foreign Relations of the United States During the Whole Revolution" (4 volumes, 1829-30.)

His interest in France is less known, though not surprising, considering that the history of the two countries in the second-half of the 18th-century is intrinsically linked. Sparks had a regular correspondence with General Lafayette from 1827 to 1834 (see The Arthur H. and Mary Marden Dean Lafayette Collection at Cornell #4611, box 83.) He also met with Alexis de Tocqueville during his 1831 - 32 visit to the United States. Their extensive conversations and subsequent correspondence informed Tocqueville's book "Democracy in America," and in return they impacted Sparks's views about the American and French Revolutions.

In the course of his editorial and historical work, Sparks copied and collected thousands of documents; the focus of his collection was the American Revolution. Most original documents now constitute the Jared Sparks Collection of documents concerning the American Revolution at the Houghton Library in Harvard University :http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou00303

Containing spectacular autographs of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, the Cornell volume was prepared by Sparks himself ; each item is verified by his hand (directly on the documents!), reserved for private sale, and purchased by Cornell University in January 1872 [*]. The catalogue of the Library of Jared Sparks, written by Harvard librarians and edited by Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), then the Librarian of the Boston Atheneum, provided us with basic information for this online finding aide. However, a couple of manuscript documents listed here were not in the 1871 catalogue, and we know with certainty that some of them were acquired later and added to this collection(for example, the Washington letter to Lafayette in folder 6.)

The autographs were part of a much larger acquisition by Cornell President Andrew D. White and Cornell trustee Henry W. Sage: Cornell also bought Sparks's superb collection of books, which was intended "to be the nucleus of Cornell's collection in the history of the United States." As usual with White, this major acquisition for the Library was consistent with his educational plans for Cornell as a whole. Acquiring the library and best manuscripts of Jared Sparks was part of a strategy of promoting the teaching of American history, at a time when it was something of an innovation. When he was appointed in 1881, Prof. Moses Coit Tyler observed with delight that "Cornell is the pioneer in recognizing American history as worthy of a separate chair." [**] Though many letters are now published in digital collections of the papers of the Founding Fathers -- for example, http://resolver.library.cornell.edu/misc/6701841 -- retaining original documents is essential.

The first series "WASHINGTON" contains: 1/documents related to Washington's early career as public land surveyor and mapmaker in Virginia. After considering the prospect of a career in the British Royal Navy, George Washington began studying geometry and surveying, using a set of surveyor's instruments from the storehouse at Ferry Farm, taking many notes and making many drawings. Though his political and military involvement put an end to his career as a public land surveyor in Virginia, he made maps during his entire life, from his first survey exercise in 1747 to his last survey of the Mount Vernon lands [folders 1-3]; 2/ documents related to the Revolutionary War, with the order of battle and chain of command for light infantry set up by Washington for the Virginia campaign in 1781 [folders 4-6]; 3/ documents related to his tenure as President of the United States, including one important document about the Whiskey Rebellion, a popular uprising that had its beginnings in 1791 and culminated in an insurrection in 1794 in the Monongahela Valley in Western Pennsylvania [folders 7-8]; 4/ documents related to the management of his plantation at Mount Vernon, including the issue of slavery [folders 9-11]; 5/ signatures of Washington [folder 12.]

The second series "FRANKLIN" contains: 1/documents related to his personal and family life before the Declaration of Independence, especially "the religious Franklin," but also his relation with his wife who passed away in 1774 [folders 13-17]; 2/ the French-American alliance and Franklin's ambassadorship to Paris (1776-1785), including a witty "bagatelle" sent to his neighbour in Passy, composer and society hostess Anne Louise Brillon, whose salon Franklin frequented on a regular basis; instructions sent concerning a secret mission involving Franklin's 18-year-old grandson William Temple Franklin, who worked as secretary to the American diplomatic mission in Paris; and a 1780 letter from Franklin's daughter, Sarah "Sally" Franklin Bache, to George Washington, documenting the active role of women: both letters confirm that the whole family took part in the war [folders 18-24]; 3/Franklin's draft of his last speech in the Convention for forming the Constitution of the United States: Franklin stated his pragmatic support of the Constitution: "There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them... I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution... It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies." The result of many corrections, Franklin's speech "is perhaps the best ever written by anyone about the magic of the American system and the spirit of compromise that created it." [***] At some point (?) this final draft was addressed and passed to Daniel Carroll, an active member of the Constitutional Convention and one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States [folder 25.]

The third and last series "LAFAYETTE" contains: 1/ major documents related to Lafayette's captivity and exile during the French Revolution (1792-1799), including the famous letter of March 15, 1793 written with a tooth-pick (!), a painful sketch of the suffering and exhaustion of the General and his companions, illegally detained in a dreary state prison in the fortified city of Magdeburg, Prussia, before their transfer to another citadel in Olmütz, Austria. The Princess d'Henin confided the letter to John Barker Church, a well-connected businessman and former English Member of Parliament who had befriended the cause of the American Revolution and married the daughter of Philip Schuyler, a General and U.S. Senator, with the request that Church convey it to President George Washington -- which he did; she gave him the precious letter with the request that Church would convey it to President George Washington -- which he did. As Church wrote, "The Marquis' friends have no hope of procuring his liberation... I heartily wish it may be in your power to effect it" [folders 26-28]; 2/ a 1830 letter to Jared Sparks which accompanied copies of Lafayette's correspondence with Washington during the 1781 Campaign, and contains an account of recent revolutionary events in Paris [folder 29.]

[*] Catalogue of the Library of Jared Sparks, with a List of the Historical Manuscripts Collected by Him and Now Deposited in the Library of Harvard University, Cambridge: University Press, 1871, p. 211-2; Robert Morris Ogden (ed.), "The Diaries of Andrew Dickson White," Cornell University Library, 1959, p. 169. In a "job offer" to Tyler dated June 17, 1871, Andrew D. White already named the library and its growing collections as one of the great advantages of being at Cornell (Tyler Correspondence, Bd. Ms. 52++, vol. III.)

[**] Michael Kammen, "Moses Coit Tyler: The First Professor of American History in the United States," in "The History Teacher," Vol. 17, Nov. 1983, pp. 61-87.

[***] Walter Isaacson, "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003, p. 457.

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