|Creator:||Dix, John A. (John Adams), 1798-1879.|
|Title:||John A. Dix Collection|
|Quantity:||0.75 linear ft.|
|Abstract:||Papers of the Army officer; U.S. Senator (1845-1849); U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. During the Civil War, President Lincoln commissioned Dix a major-general, and ordered him to take charge of the Alexandria and Arlington Department, then reassigned him to the Department of Maryland. Dix later served as commander of the Department of the East. After the Civil War, Dix was named Minister to France (1866-1869), and following his return to the U.S., the life-long Democrat became the Republican Party nominee and the successful candidate for the Governorship of New York State (1873-1875). Includes more than 130 items of outgoing correspondence, more than half of which were written to Edwards Pierrepont between 1861 and 1877. Subjects include the Civil War, Reconstruction, New York State and national politics, and French politics and foreign relations preceding the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.|
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010
John A. Dix was a 19th century U.S. army officer and Senator. Dix's initiation into politics began with his election to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1845 to 1849. A major national financial crisis following the secession of South Carolina from the Union led to his appointment as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under James Buchanan. Commissioned a major-general by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Dix was ordered to take charge of the Alexandria and Arlington Department, later reassigned to the Department of Maryland, and finally appointed commander of the Department of the East. After the Civil War, Dix served as minister to France from 1866 to 1869, returning to the United States with the expectation of retirement in New York. However in 1872, at the age of seventy-five, Dix, a Democrat, became the Republican Party's nominee and successful candidate for the Governorship of New York State, a position he occupied from 1873 to 1874. The John A. Dix Collection reflects the erudition, integrity and dedication to public service of this extraordinary individual.
The John A. Dix Collection consists of an assortment of letters, writings and memorabilia which illuminates both the public career and private life of this American army officer and statesman.
The Correspondence consists of more than 130 letters, chiefly outgoing, written between 1831 and 1877, more than half of which are to Dix's long-time friend and political associate Judge Edwards Pierrepont. Writings are an excerpt from a public address given in 1851, and Memorabilia consists of two illustrations and one military order regarding Dix's funeral.
Two of the most significant letters in the collection precede the onset of the Pierrepont correspondence in 1861. Aware of the country's mounting fiscal problems and fearing the increased burden of the rapidly escalating public debt, Dix writes to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie (27 June 1853):
The large and constantly augmenting accumulation of coin in this office is a source of very serious anxiety with considerate men, and especially with those, who are concerned in the maintenance of frugal government...
I see no practicable mode of cutting off the supplies, to which hosts of speculators throughout the country are turning with eager eyes, but by paying off the public debt. The payment of debt, as a general rule, is the best of all investments for individuals as well as governments. It is eminently so with us, when there are so many schemes in and out of Congress intent upon getting possession of the public treasure & applying it to objects, which could never have been contemplated by the framers of the Constitution.
And in a letter to Robert B. Minturn, Dix proposes the establishment of a National Institute of Art based on the Nye collection (22 May 1850):
I have for a year been familiar with Mr. Nye's collection, and have formed a very high estimate of its value - not only from my own comparatively limited knowledge of pictures - but from the concurrent opinions of all our artists, who have seen them. I believe such an opportunity of forming a national collection has never before presented itself. I much fear such an opportunity will not again occur. These pictures have now been exhibited for more than a year in this City; and I really think it would be a reproach to us if they were to be permitted to go back to Europe. First in national liberty - increasing beyond all precedent in wealth - why should we not take a lead in the cultivation of art?
While there are a number of significant single letters in the collection to various individuals, the scope of Dix's political career is best reflected in the Pierrepont correspondence which spans the Civil War period through 1877. The earliest letter to Edwards Pierrepont begins with an expression of frustration with General Winfield Scott's reluctance to assign Dix a command while agreeing to retain him as a "consultant" (17 July 1861):
So gross an indignity was, I venture to say, never offered to a military officer before. I am patient - & can bear a great deal - but I am losing my own self-respect.
The early Civil War letters to Pierrepont discuss most of the major figures during the conflict, including President Lincoln, described as having "no independence or courage" (4 Feb. 1862), U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, "the man of all others for the place he fills" (24 Jan. 1862), and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (4 Feb. 1862): "He has firmness and executive ability, and I believe he is desirous of retiring from the military service, for which he seems to have no qualification." The 1862 letters contain a series of references to political prisoners, with special attention focused on Major Ludlow who was accused of taking bribes to secure the release of some inmates. Dix's letters to Pierrepont also document the progress of the war on the battlefield. With the northern army suffering a series of setbacks, Dix writes (4 July 1862):
Our army is very much exhausted and I am sorry to say a good deal demoralized, but I hope for the best. Some officers are returning from the army, who are very despondent. I do not give it up at all, tho' we are horribly outnumbered. All of Jackson's & part of Beauregard's army are opposed to McClellan.
And less than two weeks later, Dix writes even less optimistically (13 July 1862):
I confess I feel great anxiety as to the future; and it is not diminished by the violent attacks on Mr. Stanton in the newspapers & on Gnrl. McClellan in Congress. Mr. Stanton's effectual and prompt reform of the War Department, which was ruining us in reputation & resources, entitle him to the gratitude of the country; and whatever fault may be found with Gnrl. McClellan, he has the entire confidence of the army before Richmond, and he cannot be withdrawn from the command without the most serious consequences.
During the Civil War, and throughout his public career in national affairs, Dix maintained an interest in New York State Democratic Party politics. Approached by Pierrepont and a few of his Democratic friends to consider becoming a candidate for the Governorship of New York, Dix writes (24 July 1862):
If I can be put forward, without being placed in opposition to the administration with which I am now acting to put down rebellion, well. But I would rather be Senator, member of the House, Mayor, or a private citizen than Gov. so far as my personal inclinations are concerned.
Aware that any opposition to a Republican candidate during the Civil War might be perceived as treasonous, Dix explains (10 Aug. 1862):
... I doubt the possibility, as I have from the beginning, of inaugurating a political movement, which can be distinguished from hostility to the government and the war.
Repeatedly urged by party officials to relinquish his military post in the interest of securing a Democratic victory in the New York State gubernatorial contest, Dix asserts (6 Sept. 1862):
... if, in this crisis of public calamity - the greatest that has ever fallen upon any people - we cannot rise above all party considerations and rally around the Chief-Magistrate of the Union for the maintenance of our nationality, there will be little left for us in the future but disaster and disgrace.
Writing of the nomination of Democrat Horatio Seymour, Dix notes (15 Sept. 1862):
For the party I regret it. He is a time-server and without fixed political principles. The nomination is bad for the democracy if he is beaten, and it will be worse if he succeeds.
Also approached by the Republican Party, many of whose leaders were also in opposition to Lincoln's handling of the war effort, Dix writes to an unspecified party official (17 Sept. 1862), a copy of which was sent subsequently to Pierrepont (24 Nov. 1862), about his decision not to seek the Governorship:
... I desired to see the whole people united in upholding their government and Union.
If such a result could have been secured in N.Y. I would have taken any place, which the people should have tendered to me. But I fear party distractions are to be superadded to the calamities under which the country is staggering and I see no course for myself but to give to the government, wherever it may place me, my best efforts.
In addition to the Civil War letters to Pierrepont, there are a number of other items written during that period which suggest both Dix's involvement with military strategy and his preoccupation with the morality of the conflict. A series of three multi-paged letters written in August of 1861 to Colonels E.D. Townsend and G.W. Cullum as well as Major-General George B. McClellan discusses the strategy for the defense of Baltimore. In addition, there is a separate enclosure to the letter of the 17th of August which includes an annotated map of the city and an explanation of the defensive plan. Yet, though committed to a military victory for the Union cause, Dix, in a letter to Charles K. Tuckerman (18 Jan. 1862) considers the morality of the use of slaves to fight against their masters:
I think the views of Gnrl. [Simon] Cameron on this subject have had a good deal to do with his forced retirement from the Cabinet. The country disapproves the project, and it will not have the countenance of either House of Congress. It is, no doubt, true, on the other hand, that armed slaves have been employed to a limited extent, in the Confederate Army, and we should be pitiless in doing the same thing by way of retaliation. I trust and believe that, notwithstanding any provocation of this sort, we shall conduct the war on principles of humanity.
Following the Civil War, Dix, although relieved by the Union victory, predicted continuing upheaval for the country. Regretfully declining an invitation from Boston Mayor F.W. Lincoln to participate in a celebration commemorating the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Dix observes (14 June 1865):
It is right that the country, which has just put down by courage & self-sacrifice the most gigantic treason the world has ever witnessed, should make a demonstration of its thankfulness, which shall correspond with the magnitude of the perils it has escaped.
Yet, Dix also believed with U.S. Senator James K. Doolittle that if the Union was to survive the divisive atmosphere of Reconstruction which threatened the country, a National Union Convention seeking a greater participatory role for the states in the federal government was necessary (13 July 1866):
I long since expressed the opinion that the States were entitled to their representation in Congress; that their exclusion was a violation of good faith and of the obligations of the Constitution; and that a persistence in such a policy must lead to consequences most disastrous to the peace & prosperity of the country.
These and other considerations connected with the present unsatisfactory relations of the States to the federal government and to each other render most timely and proper such a meeting as you have recommended of the patriotic and reflecting men of the Union to consult together for the general welfare.
During his appointment as minister to France (1866-1869), Dix wrote a series of letters which reflect the political situation directly pre-ceding the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Yet while he had a front row seat in the European theater, Dix's chief preoccupation was with events in America and his own restlessness with the life of a diplomat at the French court. Writing to Edwards Pierrepont, Dix admits (11 Apr. 1867):
The truth is, the life of ceremony, not to say dissipation, which I am leading, is so diverse from all my habits that I do not think I shall ever become reconciled to it. Then there is no country like ours; and I begin to feel that the time spent away from it, unless one has some great occupations abroad, is very nearly time lost.
With his eye to the political struggles at home and the bitterness which threatened again to divide the country, Dix writes (12 Nov. 1867):
I have expected just what has taken place in the political condition of things at home. It was impossible that the ultraism of Sumner and Stevens should command the approbation of the country. My only fear was that the pendulum might vibrate to the opposite extreme and give the control of the government to the men who were hostile to the war.
... it seems to me that General Grant is the only man, who has any chance of success in the Presidential election next year, and the only one, who can carry into the government sufficient influence to remedy the distracted condition of the country. He has fortunately no party association, and will have no prejudices to overcome in organizing his administration. He can do precisely what he thinks best, and with sound and discreet advisers, I have no doubt of his success. - I give you these impressions entre nous and for what they are worth. I certainly have no wish beyond that of seeing the country freed from the ultraism in party politicks, in finance and in the regulation of our domestic industry, which is ruining us.
Forced to watch from afar as political instability loomed over the country, Dix observes (6 Feb. 1868):
Was there ever a country or a community on earth, in which the revolutions of opinion were so incessant as with us? Sixty days ago Grant seemed to be the choice of every body for the Presidency, and we were threatened with a general collapse of party machinery throughout the country. Now the old lines seem to be drawn as clearly and to be as sharply defined as ever, and he is denounced in democratic journals as a "lion," a "sneak," & all else that is contemptible. I confess I do not understand this; nor do I understand the course of things in Congress, and particularly the lower House. The proceedings there look to me like a sweeping Revolution, overturning all the safeguards and obliterating all the landmarks of the Constitution.
Frustrated by the course of events in America and with diplomatic life abroad, Dix looks forward to his return home (28 Feb. 1868):
I have no reason to find fault with my position here; but there is a great deal in it that is uncongenial. The Court ceremonial, the invitings, the dinings &c. are all exceedingly tiresome. The great charm is the climate ... But I am willing to take our rough climate for the many charms of home, which I miss here.
While still abroad, Dix was approached for his support of the Democratic Party nominees in the upcoming national election. Writing to Nahum Capen in what is one of many letters in the same vein, Dix registers his disgust with the corruption and mediocrity of the candidates. (2 Oct. 1868):
If you will read my letter of April last you will see that my support of the 4th of July platform is out of the question. My support of Mr. Seymour is equally so; and if you knew him as well as I do, you would not give him your vote.
I know Gnrl. Grant well, and my estimate of him differs entirely from yours.
It has been my earnest desire to see the democratic party reorganized & reinstated in the public confidence. With such leaders as the ... Seymours all hope of such a result must be abandoned.
In support of Edwards Pierrepont's corresponding disillusion with the Democratic Party bosses, Dix writes (28 Nov. 1868):
I was delighted with your letter and your speech. The latter was one of the best addresses you ever made. I knew how thoroughly you were disgusted with the state of politicks, and ... I feared you might not take an active part in the election. But it is all as I wished it to be; and I am glad moreover that you are out of Tammany Hall. With all the corruption, of which it must, on the Head Quarter of the dominant party, be the source - and I suppose there is no city on earth so shamefully plundered - it must be very difficult, however clean any man's hands may be, to keep them free from the general taint.
Anticipating with relief his return to America, Dix writes to Pierrepont (26 Feb. 1869): "I am very well, but a horse that has been worked hard, is always better for a few months of grass."
Once he returned home, Dix seemed content at first to retire from public life, with only an occasional foray into politics (14 Sept. 1871):
It would have afforded me the greatest pleasure to serve as one of the Committee of Ten to proceed at once to Albany to demand of the Governor his cooperation and aid in averting the disorder and frauds in the City and County finances ...
However, he sheepishly admits being drawn once again into public life (23 Nov. 1871):
A year ago I thought I would never consent to say another word in public. But alas! how weak are our resolutions!
And in 1872, this life-long Democrat accepted an extraordinary compliment, consenting to be the Republican Party nominee for the New York State Governorship. Thus, the honor which had so long eluded him as a member of his own party fell to him from the opposition. Securing not only the nomination, but the prize of election as well, Dix served from 1873 to 1874, and when he lost re-election in November, expressed few regrets to T. Apoleon Cheney (25 Nov. 1874):
I am not discouraged by the result of the election, and I cannot but think that the people will find that they have reposed in the men, who are coming into power a confidence they do not deserve.
Dix's last letters to Edwards Pierrepont center around family matters. Both Dix and his wife, Catherine, enlisted the support of Pierrepont and President Grant in an effort to have their son-in-law, Thomas Walsh, reassigned from a diplomatic post in the Far East to one in Europe. And Dix's final letter in the collection focuses on the family's recent loss (23 May 1877):
The death of my son was like cutting off my right arm. Beside the personal affliction, it has thrown upon me a heavy burden of affairs, and I look for no respite from labor for the rest of my life.
The remainder of the letters in the collection include recommendations for appointments (A.H. Bronson, Lewis Feuchtwanger, John Y. Mason, James K. Paulding); responses to invitations (W.W. Pasko. Henry E. Pellew, F. Seeger); letters of introduction (Hamilton Fish, A.C. Flagg, R. McClelland); and discussions about personal financial matters (John L. Lawrence, Charles Stebbins).
In addition to the general correspondence, there is a collection of letters and documents, produced between 1861 and 1864, most of which is addressed to Salmon P. Chase in connection with the removal of Dix's brother, Timothy Browne Dix, from the Warehouse Department of Boston Customs.
The collection is divided into three sections: Correspondence, Writings, and Memorabilia. Outgoing and incoming correspondence are grouped together, all ordered by date. A selected index of correspondents can be found at the end of this finding aid.
The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.
Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.
Preferred citation for this material is as follows:
Dix John A Collection
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
Created by: KM
Revision history: 15 Aug 2007 - converted to EAD (JPK)
|SC 86||1831 - 2 outgoing letters, one of which has an incoming letter on verso|
|SC 86||1836 - 1 incoming letter|
|SC 86||1838 - 1 outgoing letter|
|SC 86||1844 - 1 outgoing letter|
|SC 86||1845 - 2 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1847 - 2 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1848 - 3 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1849 - 2 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1850 - 1 outgoing letter|
|SC 86||1852 - 2 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1853 - 5 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1860 - 1 outgoing letter|
|SC 86||1861 - 9 outgoing letters with 1 enc., "Defenses of Baltimore"|
|SC 86||1862 - 23 outgoing letters with 1 enc. from Maj. Ludlow|
|SC 86||1863 - 4 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1864 - 6 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1865 - 2 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1866 - 7 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1867 - 7 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1868 - 7 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1869 - 3 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1871 - 4 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1872 - 4 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1873 - 4 outgoing letters, 3 incoming letters (one written to E. Pierrepont by J. Wadsworth with a message to Dix from Pierrepont at the bottom)|
|SC 86||1874 - 9 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1875 - 5 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1876 - 3 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||1877 - 4 outgoing letters|
|SC 86||Dix, Catherine M. undated - 3 outgoing letters to E. Pierrepont|
|SC 86||Dix, John W. 5 Oct 1874 - 1 outgoing letter to E. Pierrepont|
|SC 86||Series of letters and documents 1861-1864 - Many letters are to Salmon P. Chase, relating to the removal of Timothy Browne Dix from the Warehouse Department of Boston Customs|
|SC 86||Excerpt from an agricultural address 1851|
|SC 86||Illustrations - 2|
|SC 86||General orders #43 in observation of Dix's funeral Apr 22 1879 - issued by E.D. Townsend|