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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 1

Charles Sumner correspondence


Letters to Charles Sumner, lawyer, Republican senator from Massachusetts, and anti-slavery campaigner; with a smaller number of letters from Sumner to others.


  • Creation: 1829-1874

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Readers must first use the microfilm edition of Sumner's correspondence. Access to the originals in this collection requires permission of the Curator.

The collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Readers who have permission to use it should check with Houghton Public Services staff for retrieval policies and times.


43.1 linear feet (33 boxes)

The collection includes letters from anti-slavery leaders and other reformers, letters from constituents in Massachusetts, and letters describing conditions in the south during Reconstruction. The letters from Sumner include those to his family and to Edward L. Pierce, his biographer and executor.

Biographical / Historical

Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was a Republican senator from Massachusetts and a principal figure in the anti-slavery movement.


The letters are arranged alphabetically by the name of Sumner's correspondent. Unknown and anonymous correspondents are at the end of the series, as are the empty bindings in which these items were formerly housed, and from which they have now been removed. Within each item, all the letters are addressed to Sumner except where it is stated that letters from Sumner are included. In this case, the letters in both directions have, as far as possible, been interfiled in a single chronological sequence.

Please note that item numbers 385, 755-756, 766, 1323-1332, 4162-4166 were inadvertently omitted from this finding aid.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Chiefly the gift of Edward L. Pierce, 1874, with later additions from the Pierce family in 1918 and 1942.

Existence and Location of Copies

Sumner's correspondence in Houghton Library and other libraries was microfilmed and published as The Papers of Charles Sumner (Chadwyck-Healey, 1988). See the accompanying Guide and index to the papers of Charles Sumner, by Beverly Wilson Palmer. The microfilm and guide are available in Houghton Reading Room. Please note that the arrangement of the letters on the microfilm is chronological and different from this collection as it is now ordered.

Related Materials

See also: Papers regarding the 1872 resolution of condemantion against Charles Sumner (MS Am 1225).

Separated Materials

Sumner's bound volumes of correspondence contained some papers that were not letters to or from him. These papers have been removed from the present collection and are now MS Am 1.67 plus a few items in MS Am 1.60.

General note

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Benjamin Roesch, Joy McNally, Melissa Lo, Katherine Farley, Matthew Berube, and J. F. Coakley.

Charles Sumner's archive of correspondence, kept by secretaries, filled 170 albums. At Harvard, these albums were given call numbers MS Am 1, MS Am 1.2, MS Am 1.3, MS Am 1.4, MS Am 1.5, MS Am 1.6, MS Am 1.7, MS Am 1.8, MS Am 1.9, MS Am 1.10, MS Am 1.11, MS Am 1.12, MS Am 1.13, MS Am 1.14, MS Am 1.15, MS Am 1.16, MS Am 1.17, MS Am 1.18, MS Am 1.19, MS Am 1.20, MS Am 1.21. The contents of the albums were later disbound, and supplemented from other small collections of Sumner letters deriving from Pierce (formerly MS Am 1.61, MS Am 1.62, MS Am 1.63, and MS Am 1441 (=42M-500 to 566)) to form the present collection.

Oversized letters are housed in carton 28.

Empty album bindings are item (7073).

Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in April 2024 to address outdated and harmful descriptive language. During that revision, contextualizing processing notes were added to the description of an item. For more information on reparative archival description at Harvard, see Harvard Library’s Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874. Charles Sumner correspondence, 1829-1874: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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