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Archive for 'Letters in the National Archives'

A letter to the President—in Braille

Letter in Braille from John Beaulieu to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 10/1958 (ARC 594353)

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The National Archives holds many records that relate to American citizens with disabilities. From personal letters to historic legislation, these records from the Presidential Libraries provide insight into disability history.

For the opening of the Public Vaults exhibition at the National Archives Building in 2004, public affairs specialist Miriam Kleiman was assigned to track down and bring to Washington some of the people mentioned in the exhibition. This is her account of her search for John Beaulieu.

I was intrigued by the letters from children in the “Dear Uncle Sam” section of the “Form a More Perfect Union” vault. One unusual letter in the stack interested me a great deal—a letter written in Braille to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by a young boy in the fall of 1956.

Thirteen-year-old John Beaulieu offered the President the following campaign stump speech: “Vote for me. I will help you out. I will lower the prices and also your tax bill. I also will help the negroes, so that they may go to school.”

The return address listed Perkins School for the Blind (Helen Keller’s alma mater) in Watertown, Massachusetts. After my Internet searches led nowhere, I called the Perkins School but was … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes (part IIb)

John Adams arrived in Paris arrived to find Benjamin Franklin being showered with attention (Ben Franklin at the Court of Versailles, ARC 518217)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

In the last post, we introduced the story of Adams and Franklin coming into conflict over the handling of U.S. relations with France. More specifically, Adams’s unsubtle and sometimes contentious conversations and correspondence with the French Foreign Minister, the Count de Vergennes, who was dealing with problems with his own government and a troublesome Spain.

Vergennes had little time for advice and questions, but Adams’s commission authorized him to enter upon peace and trade talks with Great Britain, and he felt it was within his authority to do so on his own. Vergennes argued the time would not be right until the military position of the U.S. and France was stronger. The Adams-Vergennes correspondence from February to July of 1780 came to an abrupt halt with this crushing letter from Vergennes:

I have received, sir, the letter which you did me the honor to write on the 27th of this month. When I took upon myself to give you a mark of my confidence by informing you

[ Read all ]

In their own words: Thomas Jefferson and the Storming of the Bastille

This post is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

King Louis XVI of France, via Wikipedia.

On July 14, 1789, the U.S. Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, was a witness to the events of  a day in Paris that is commonly associated with the beginning of the French Revolution. Jefferson recorded the events of the day in a lengthy and detailed letter to John Jay, then Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

The American Revolutionary War began as a conflict between the colonies and England. In time, what began as a civil disturbance turned into a world war drawing France, Spain, and the Netherlands into the hostilities. France would send troops, ships, and treasure to support the American effort.   During the war, one of the first priorities of the French government and its allies was to raise funds to fight the war.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, France was virtually broke and on the edge of social catastrophe, the result of decades of war with England and other countries. The poor suffered hunger and privation. By 1789, revolution would come to France.

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris to replace Benjamin Franklin, who was retiring … [ Read all ]

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part IIa

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

The leadership of John Adams in the independence movement and the publication of his “Thoughts on Government” in the same year (1776) made him an international figure, although today he is probably less famous than his cousin: patriot, beer brewer, and Boston tea party participant Sam Adams.

Adams was often described as vain or pompous, but the following diary passage from 1779 exemplifies a keen wit and self-deprecation.

When I arrived in France, the French Nation had a great many Questions to settle.

The first was—Whether I was the famous Adams, Le fameux Adams? —Ah, le fameux Adams?—In order to speculate a little upon this Subject, the Pamphlet entituled Common sense, had been printed in the Affaires de L’Angleterre et De L’Amérique, and expressly ascribed to M. Adams the celebrated Member of Congress, le celebre Membre du Congress. . . . When I arrived at Bourdeaux, All that I could say or do, would not convince any Body, but that I was the fameux Adams.—Cette un homme celebre. Votre nom est bien connu ici.—My Answer was—it is another Gentleman, whose Name of Adams you have heard. It is Mr. Samuel Adams,

[ Read all ]

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part I

Portrait of Ben Franklin (ARC 532834)

Portrait of John Adams (ARC 532843)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in National Archives Exhibits.

John Adams of Massachusetts and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania crossed paths during “critical moments” in the earliest days of the republic. They met for the first time at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774, the first joint meeting of 12 American colonies (Georgia did not attend). Both were supporters of independence, Adams most publicly and Franklin more behind the scenes, though both were equally masterful wordsmiths.

During the Revolutionary War, Adams and Franklin worked together in Paris to obtain French support for the American cause, sometimes clashing on how best to do so. ­And they successfully negotiated peace with Great Britain. They saw each other for the last time in 1785, when Adams left Franklin in Paris for his assignment as the first Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain from the United States. During the years in between, their relationship had its ups and downs.

Their most intimate experience probably happened during an unsuccessful peace mission in September 1776. The British forces had recently raced across Long Island (New York) and almost destroyed the American Army. The British … [ Read all ]