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Nathaniel Prentiss Banks Papers

Identifier: MS-BC37


Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (1816-1894) was a Massachusetts state representative (1849-1852), Congressman (1853-1857, 1865-1873, 1875-1879, 1889-1891), Governor (1858-1860), Resident Director of the Illinois Central Railroad (1861), Major-General of Volunteers (1861-1865), and United States Marshal for Massachusetts (1879-1888). This collection includes 2,800 items, made up primarily of incoming correspondence, but also has a few letters by Banks, several special reports, petitions, telegrams, military documents, and a small amount of published material. Notable among the correspondence are 35 letters from Western explorer, Civil War general, and presidential candidate John C. Fremont and his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont.


  • Created: 1840-1896
  • Other: Date acquired: 06/00/1939


Conditions Governing Access

Open to research


2.52 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

1840-1848: (Box 1) 29 items. Letters deal with local politics in Waltham, Massachusetts, where Banks was four times an unsuccessful candidate for the state legislature, 1844-1849. Letters refer to speaking engagements, temperance, Democratic Party politics, and affairs of the Boston Custom House, where Banks gained an appointment in 1843. There is a dated letter from lawyer and reformer Robert Rantoul. 1854-1857: (Box 1), 98 items. Many of the letters refer to the controversy over the speakership of the United States House of Representatives in 1854, which Banks gained after a bitter contest. There are also letters about the Know Nothing Party and the sponsorship of John C. Frémont for the presidency in 1856. Among the correspondents are William H. Bissell, John Ericsson, Charles James, Samuel J. May, Theodore Parker, Frederick Perry Stanton, and John Sherman. A letter from Susan Rellet is a lengthy discussion of Mormon troubles at Salt Lake City, Utah. 1858-1860: (Box 1), 178 items. Letters to Governor Banks from the general constituency about: appointments, state affairs, and other subjects. Republican Party politics is a recurring theme, Banks representing the moderate faction of the Party as opposed to the more radical element. Some of the correspondents are: Charles Francis Adams, James Cook Ayer, George O. Ashmun, James G. Blaine, Ambrose E. Burnside, Anson Burlingame, Charles A. Dana, Charles F. Fletcher, John C. Fremont, Charles James, Eliakim Littell, Horace Mann, and Robert Toombs. January-June, 1861: (Box 1) 3 items. There is but a negligible amount of material concerning Banks’ short tenure as resident director of the Illinois Central Railroad. One of these letters dated December 1, 1860, is a request from an Illinois resident for an appointment with the railroad. 1861-1865: (Box 1) 162 items. Banks’ military papers consist mostly of correspondence, much of it political in nature, received while he was commander of the Department of the Gulf, December 1862-September 1865. There are only forty-one items dated prior to the assignment in Louisiana. Among the correspondents are George O. Ashmun, Henry Barnard, Salmon P. Chase, David G. Farragut, William Buel Franklin, John C. Frémont, William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln, George B. McClellan, Adrien E. Rouquette, Gerrit Smith, Edwin M. Stanton, Lyman Trumbull, Gideon Welles, and L. A. Wrotnowski. In a letter of January 21, 1865, William Lloyd Garrison, who was preparing an article for the North American Review, asks Banks for information regarding the rumors of discrimination in Louisiana against emancipated slaves. Banks answered on January 30th with a 45 page defense of his Reconstruction policy in the Gulf. Docket note on back of Banks’ letter states it is a true copy containing portions omitted from the published version in the North American Review. Also by Banks is a forty-four page draft of a report or memoir of the Texas military operations from August 1863 to April 1864. On February 20, 1877, General Thomas W. Sherman sent to Banks a twenty-seven page report, intended for the War Department, about his part in the defenses of New Orleans. 1865-1873: (Boxes 1-3) 810 items. Banks was chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1865 to 1873, and this part of his collection reflects his expansionist attitudes, especially toward Canada and Central America. In addition, constituents’ letters refer to appointments, soldiers’ claims, reorganization of the military, reconstruction, fisheries, and suffrage. There are also letters from former associates in Louisiana, detailing conditions there after Banks's departure. There are four special reports totaling some ninety pages giving economic and political characteristics of Canada, Haiti, St. Domingo, and North Mexico. Correspondents include Alexander Boyd, Charles Brooks, J.W. Fabens, Hamilton Fish, John C. Frémont, P. S. Gilmore, Charles Hall, Hinton Rowan Helper, Nathaniel Niles, William Henry Osborn, and Francis Thomas. 1875-1896: (Boxes 3-6). Correspondence concerns a variety of legislative matters, notably the Amnesty Bill, the Homestead Bill, the currency question, and increases in pay for government employees. William Young sent a resolution, April 20, 1876, calling for the military to protect U. S. citizens along the Mexican border. The National Labor Convention, meeting in Pittsburgh, April 17-19, 1876, sent an endorsement of the Homestead Bill. A legal document of October, 1877, concerns the government’s effort to recover excess of payment to John C. Frémont. There is a letter from Banks to Frémont, April 6, 1890. There is also a copy of his letter, in French, to Victor Hugo, written in May 1881. There is an undated application of citizens of California for homestead rights along the Great Atlantic and Pacific Railroads. Other correspondents include: Marcus Cook, Henry Evans, D.W. Flagler, G. H. Henderson, W. S. Horton, Robert Green Ingersoll, Edward Lowell, John Lynch, J. S. Mahony, Edward W. S. Rosencrans, J. P. Snow, and C. F. Winslow.

Arrangement Note

The collection is comprised almost entirely of correspondence, which is arranged chronologically from 1840 to 1896 (Boxes 1-6). Box 6 also includes undated letters, an autobiography of Banks's Civil War Years, one folder of miscellaneous writings, and one folder of printed material.

Accruals and Additions

May 1958, 1964, 1965, 1966
Archon Finding Aid Title
Karl Janssen
Description rules
Other Unmapped
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
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