Scope and arrangement
The Samuel J. Tilden papers, dating from 1785 - 1929 (bulk 1832 - 1886), emphasizes Tilden's public life and works rather than his private life. Correspondence comprises a significant portion of the collection as a whole, reaching from his student days through his death in 1886, and following the arc of his career from student to veteran politician. Family correspondence focuses on his father, Elam, and on his nephew, Col. William Tilden Pelton. The General correspondence represents a full roster of political, social, and financial luminaries, and covers an extensive range of topics. The legal series contains case files and related material illustrating the highlights of Tilden's legal career, while his stint as Counsel for the Corporation is documented in a limited fashion through official documentation of violations of city ordnances.
Tilden's activities with the Democratic Republican Party and Free-Soil movement are given little coverage. His efforts to curb political corruption are presented in the New York State Assembly files, and the fall of the Tweed Ring is recorded through financial and legal documentation. Gubernatorial files relate to his executive and legislative activities, and contain reports, statistics, petitions, and drafts of assembly bills. The prosecution of the Canal Ring receives particular attention. The contested Presidential Election of 1876 does not receive significant coverage beyond Tilden's correspondence with his confederates, and in the records of voting returns from the Electoral College.
Tilden often maintained multiple iterations of his written works and speeches, although this collection is not a definitive record of his writings. Many manuscript drafts and revisions have been preserved, but some works are represented only by published reprints.
Tilden's personal papers contain little to illuminate his life or interests outside the political sphere. Material consists predominantly of financial and legal documents, and a small quantity of school work and juvenilia. Family papers contain early deeds and printed matter dating prior to Tilden's birth, but are mainly comprised of genealogical research.
The Samuel J. Tilden papers are arranged in eleven series:
- 1810 - 1919, n.d.35 boxes 14.5 linear feet
This series, the largest and most comprehensive in the collection, includes Family Correspondence, General Correspondence, and Subject Files generated throughout the course of Tilden's legal and political career. The vast majority of the correspondence relates to his professional life. The General Correspondence is strong in documentation of Tilden's political career, but contains few insights into his personal life. Representation of Tilden's term as Counsel of the Corporation is limited to one folder. Tweed Ring material covers Tilden's investigation into the corrupt political machine through communications with colleagues, bankers, and members of the Ring. New York State Assembly Correspondence is notable for its coverage of the impeachment of New York State Supreme Court judges. Gubernatorial Correspondence includes material relating to the dismantling of the Canal Ring, material relating to state legislation, and a significant quantity of letters from Tilden's constituents. Subject files refer to files of correspondence segregated by Tilden relating to specific topics, such as canals and coastal defense.
- 1839 - 1844, n.d.3 boxes 2 volumes 1.5 linear feet
Documentation of the office of Corporation Counsel for the City of New York includes fines for violations of city ordinances; complaints lodged against individuals charged with weighing articles without a weighmaster's appointment; lists of summonses returnable to various judges; subpoenas; and registers of monies received by Tilden on behalf of the Corporation Counsel. Additional records relating to the Counsel of the Corporation may be found in Series I.
- 1832 - 1891, n.d.20 boxes 3 volumes 8.6 linear feet
The Legal series is comprised mainly of case files, transcripts of testimonies, drafts of Tilden's arguments, and other administrative documents relating to his cases. Material covering various corporate cases is also present, demonstrating not only Tilden's expertise in the area of corporate law, but his personal interest in the industries through which he made his personal fortune. Material is arranged chronologically by case.
- 1832 - 1853, n.d.1 folder
Material representing Tilden's activities with the Democratic Republican Party and the Free-Soil Movement includes meeting minutes, by-laws, and drafts of a plan of organization of the Democratic Republican Party for the election of 1844.
- 1868 - 18721 folder
Very little material concerning the Democratic National Committee has been preserved in this collection. Extant material includes circulars and printed material relating to the Democratic party, and to the Democratic National Conventions of 1868 and 1872.
- 1868 - 18755 boxes 2 linear feet
Tilden's actions against the Tweed Ring are represented through Financial and Legal files. The Financial files represent forensic accounting of Tweed's shell companies performed by banks and by members of Tilden's office. Material includes deposit slips, cancelled checks, ledgers, and "Statements of Plunder." In addition to William M. Tweed, other notable figures subjected to Tilden's audits include James H. Ingersoll, Ingersoll & Co., New York Printing Company, Richard Connolly, A. J. Smith, and Peter B. and James M. Sweeney. Also includes an analysis of city expenditures to 1871, and registers of county liabilities.
Legal files include a bill of complaint against James H. Ingersoll, and a copy of Judge Allen's opinion on the case against Ingersoll & Co., one of the Tweed Ring's largest shell companies. Also contained here are the opinions of Judge Folger regarding the People v. Thomas C. Field et. al; a transcript of Tilden's testimony in the Tweed trial; memoranda regarding Peter B. Sweeney's money transferring activities; subpoenas; and drafts of legislation aimed at "providing more effectual remedies in cases of the fraudulent acquisition, payment, disposition, or conversion of public money or property."
Additional material related to the Tweed Ring may also be found in Series I.
- 1872 - 1873, n.d.1 box .5 linear feet
Tilden's 1872 term in the New York State Assembly is represented by files documenting the impeachment of three New York State Supreme Court Justices; by one file of material relating to New York City charter reform; and by material relating to the exposure of corruption within the Customs House. Correspondence relating to the New York State Assembly may be found in Series I.
- 1864 - 1877, n.d.6 boxes 2.5 linear feet
The Gubernatorial Papers consist of files maintained and material collected by Tilden during his term of office. His successful effort to break up the Canal Ring is reflected through financial reports, legal files, and printed matter. Executive files cover a range of topics such as canals, railroads, demographics and statistics, remarks on assembly bills, and vetoes. Legislation drafted or enacted during Tilden's tenure is represented in the legislative files, which include drafts, often in multiple iterations, of bills relating to annexation and incorporation of towns and villages, appropriations, political reform, and public health.
- 1876 - 18783 boxes 1.25 linear feet
This series focuses on the aftermath of the 1876 Presidential election, particularly the recount of the electoral ballots. Some campaign material is extent, but the series is predominantly comprised of official voting returns from the Electoral Colleges of various states. Files for some states, particularly Florida and Louisiana, contain reports, memoranda, and other supporting documentation of the Tilden camp's research into election fraud or elector misconduct in those states. Such material includes drafts of related legislation, research on legal precedents, affidavits, and minutes of the proceedings of the Florida Electoral College.
- ca. 1820s - 1886, n.d.9 boxes 3.75 linear feet
This series contains both manuscript drafts and published copies of Tilden's writings and speeches. Published copies are often annotated or corrected. One folder of interviews with Tilden is also included, as is an index of his published speeches. Some unidentified material cannot be definitively attributed to Tilden, and due to the prolific nature of his writing, this series is not necessarily a complete representation of his work.
- 1785 - 192921 boxes 6 volumes 9.4 linear feet
This series contains material relating to Tilden's personal financial and legal activities; his investments in real estate and railroad companies; family papers and genealogical research; and a collection of personal miscellany such as school work, ephemera, and photographs.