A Presidential Library for Ulysses S. Grant?

Last month Mississippi State University declared that its collection of the files of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, including the research files for The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, were now part of what would now be known as the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.  Its head will be John Marszalek, best known for his biography of William T. Sherman.  Marszalek offered his take on the news here and here; others speculated that it could lead to a boost in tourism.

So far, so good … until Dimitri Rotov raised some interesting questions.  Poking around the links in Dimitri’s blog brings forth some other interesting information.

Years ago on Civil Warriors I explained what Mississippi State had in its possession.  At the core of the new presidential library (which should not be confused with the presidential libraries established under the National Archives) are the files of a documentary editing project, an interesting set of research materials (including Pete Long’s research notes for Bruce Catton, especially for Grant Takes Command), a number of interesting artifacts, and some collections of original documents (including the very interesting papers of Ulysses S. Grant III, along with more of his papers in the District of Columbia Historical Society).

Grant material and artifacts are scattered around the nation, from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library (another private library, but filled with originals from Hayes’s papers), but the main collection of Grant papers remains in the Library of Congress, with a good deal of additional material at the National Archives.  What one will encounter at MSU consists of copies of those documents (which are already available on microfilm), some original documents, and copies of other Grant material collected for the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (many of these documents are reproduced in those thirty-one volumes, with a final volume to come).

As for how the Grant papers made their way from Southern Illinois University to Mississippi State University, that’s a sad story, which may help explain the reluctance of some people to tell it.  You may consult this for some background: basically, Southern Illinois University and John Y. Simon were engaged in a rather nasty controversy when Simon passed away in 2008.  It appears that some people thought that the matter in question was near resolution when Simon died.  However, the people who shared the information framing Simon’s New York Times obituary decided to share those circumstances, and thus it became a matter of public record; although the original obituary (link updated) was modified to remove some faulty assertions, that information remained.  In the wake of Simon’s death, the Ulysses S. Grant Association, under its president, Frank J. Williams, decided to relocate the documentary editing project and other Grant-related material to Mississippi State University: here’s a report of the settlement that allowed that deal to go forward.

Here’s Simon himself discussing the project eight years ago.

So, now you know perhaps more than you wanted to know about the background of this story, as well as what exactly is at Mississippi State University, which now boasts that it hosts the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.  The project is in good hands with John Marszalek and Michael Ballard.