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Nelson W. Aldrich papers

Scope & content

The papers of Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich (1841-1915) span the years 1777-1930, with the bulk of the material concentrated in 1879-1915. The collection is composed primarily of The papers of Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich (1841-1915) span the years 1777-1930, with the bulk of the material concentrated in 1879-1915. The collection is composed primarily of correspondence, printed matter, and material relating to tariff legislation and the National Monetary Commission, supplemented by diaries, notebooks, speeches, research notes, serial publications, financial records, and miscellaneous items.

The collection focuses on Aldrich’s service as United States Senator from Rhode Island, 1881-1911 and reflects his involvement with national economic and fiscal policy. Tariff legislation is a recurring theme throughout the Correspondence> series, particularly during the years of major tariff revision in 1890, 1897, and 1909. The correspondence, mainly incoming mail from businessmen representing a wide range of economic interests, reveals the depth of feeling generated by the prospect of tariff revision and the importance of the issue during these years. The letters also provide an insight into American business practices and the economic views of a large segment of the American business community during this era of industrial expansion. Aldrich’s personal attention to the details of rate revision is revealed in the tariff file, while his speeches help document his attitude toward tariff duties as a source of protection for American industry from foreign competition.

Aldrich gave considerable attention during his last years in office to the problems of United States monetary policy. Following the Panic of 1907, with its accompanying rash of bank failures, he cosponsored the Aldrich-Vreeland Act of 1908, providing for the establishment of a National Monetary Commission to study banking and currency operations at home and abroad and to suggest changes in American practices.

The National Monetary Commission’s correspondence for the years 1908-1912 documents its activities and Aldrich’s role as chairman. Much of the commission’s correspondence was with bankers, public officials, financial experts, and academicians employed to prepare special studies, translate documents, and collect statistics on financial operations and monetary systems in foreign nations as well as in the United States. Aldrich and other members of the commissions visited England, France and Germany to consult with experts and collect data, and specialists representing the commission made similar visits to other nations and reported their findings. Hearings were held in selected American cities to solicit opinions from bankers and other interested parties, while numerous individuals sent unsolicited opinions and plans directly to the commission. Most of the letters were sent and received by Abram Piatt Andrew, special assistant to the commission; Arthur B. Shelton, secretary to the commission; and staff members Charles E. Alden, J. William Sheetz, and William A. Slade.

Aldrich’s personal views are reflected in occasional correspondence, speeches delivered to promote monetary reform, and in the final report of the commission soon labeled the “Aldrich Plan.” The commission’s correspondence is also a rich source of information regarding American financial institutions in the early twentieth century and the views of members of the financial community at the time. The National Monetary Commission file contains most of its publications as well as a sampling of the collected data and related material.

After the death of Senator Henry B. Anthony in 1884, Aldrich assumed Anthony’s former position as a powerful figure in Rhode Island politics. Letters in the collection from numerous state political figures, particularly Henry B. Gardner and Charles R. Bryaton, kept Aldrich abreast of local affairs and include requests for favors, advice, and patronage.

Aldrich’s personal affairs and family relations form a relatively small portion of the collection. A series of letters written to his future wife in 1865-1866 offers a glimpse into his personal relations and plans at this time. Letters written to Mrs. Aldrich during his first trip abroad in 1872-1873 describe family relations and reveal his initial impressions of European society and culture. Scattered letters in the Correspondence series and the financial records offer insight into his extensive financial ventures, particularly his investments in the rubber industry.

Principal correspondents include William B. Allison, Henry B. Anthony, Jonathan Bourne (1811-1889), C. R. Brayton, Jonathan Chace, William E. Chandler, Charles A. Conant, Henry Pomeroy Davison, Eugene Hale, Philander C. Knox, Charles Warren Lippitt, Stephen B. Luce, Orville Hitchock Platt, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), William H. Taft, Henry Moore Teller, Paul M. Warburg, and George Peabody Wetmore.