THE JOINT RESOLUTION approved July 18, 1939, establishing the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library authorizes the Archivist of the United States to prepare, publish and sell textual reproductions of the Library's materials. This authorization indicates that the framers of the resolution were aware that one of the most important responsibilities of an archivist is to make the papers in his custody widely and conveniently available for research use as quickly as possible. This can be done in a number of ways, but publication in book form is still the method best calculated to be of maximum help to the largest number of potential users.
There is no lack of precedent for the publication of the letters and public papers of American statesmen. It is, in fact, the method to which American scholarship has become accustomed in making use of such papers, and many projects of this kind are now under way. For a number of reasons, however, the publication of the papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt cannot be approached in the same manner as that which has been or is currently being followed in publishing the papers of earlier Presidents. President Roosevelt died in office, and in accordance with his wishes the Federal Government became the owner of the entire body of his papers almost immediately after his death, a situation without precedent in the history of this country, and one that presented unique problems as well as a unique opportunity. The opportunity is one that American scholarship has never had beforethe opening of a President's papers for research use only a few years after the expiration of his term of office. The problems are two in numberhow to reconcile the research use of contemporary materials with generally accepted standards of propriety in the use of personal papers, and how to cope with the enormous masses of papers that have resulted from the changes in the Presidential office during the last generation.
Both the problems and the opportunity take on even larger dimensions if publication in extenso is contemplated only ten years after a President has left office. None of the publication projects of this kind hitherto undertaken was begun until at least forty years after the President had left office. All follow a simple chronological arrangement and envisage the issuance within a few years after the commencement of the project of a multi-volume "set" of books of uniform size and binding, which will, bibliographically speaking, constitute a single item. This form of publication carries the authority of custom and long public acceptance. But when it is attempted to apply this formula to the Roosevelt papers, immense difficulties at once present themselves, particularly for the papers of the Presidential period. Here the length of his tenure, the recency of his tenure, and the profound changes in the nature of the Presidential office during the last generation make the question of the publication of the Roosevelt papers not only one of a different order of magnitude from that of all of his predecessors, but also a different kind of a problem.
The first and most obvious factor is that of sheer volume. If the letters and other papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt were to be published on the same scale and in the same fashion as that now being followed in the case of the Jefferson papers, they would fill not less than 200 volumes. More vexatious than the question of bulk is the change that has taken place in the nature of Presidential "papers" in the last twenty-five years. These changes are not peculiar to the incumbency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but will be characteristic of the papers of all Presidents hence-forward. The White House now has a large staff, including aides, secretaries, administrative assistants, and clerks, who together comprise an administrative organization through which papers move in prescribed procedural channels. This staff handles the immense volume of mail that now pours into the White House each day, mail that results in part from the habit formed by the general citizenry in the last twenty-five years of writing letters directly to the President, and in part from the expansion in the activities of the office itself during the past generation.
A large amount of Presidential correspondence also now results from the requirements of public relations activities, another new factor in the Presidential office. Our Presidents today sign many hundreds of letters containing anniversary greetings to service clubs, churches, civic organizations, trade unions, newspapers, and other public and private organizations. The Presidents also sign numbers of other communications, such as "thank-you" notes for small gifts, letters of condolence, letters of encouragement to ill and physically handicapped persons, and other missives, which, as a class, are hardly worth publishing in their entirety. Hence it is quite unrealistic to speak any longer of "complete" publication of a President's papers. And if one undertakes to begin publication only ten years after a President has left office, there are some letters bearing on personal, family, and financial matters which for reasons of propriety cannot be published while the affected persons or their close relatives are still alive.
None of these considerations, however, completely precludes publication if one conceives of the papers of a contemporary President, not as a uniform or monolithic mass to be published in its entirety, but rather as a great heterogeneous body of source materials of varying degrees of research value. Viewed in this way, it is apparent that the Franklin D. Roosevelt papers do contain certain rich seams that can be extracted for publication immediately. This approach led almost inevitably to the choice of conservation of natural resources as the subject of the first documentary publication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's biographers all agree that he held a lifelong belief in the necessity for conservation. His interest in this field had the natural result of producing among the Roosevelt papers an extraordinarily large and rich volume of documentation, all of which can now be published. The difficulty lay only in selecting from the huge mass those papers that are of sufficient significance to warrant publication.
These volumes are thus the first result of an attempt to formulate a new pattern for the publication of the papers of contemporary Presidents. It will be followed by similar volumes as soon as papers on other important subjects can be selected and edited.
The task of selecting, compiling and editing these documents has been carried out under my general supervision by Edgar B. Nixon of the staff of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
WAYNE C. GROVER
Last Updated: 20-Jan-2009