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Domestic Letters, 1784-1906


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by Craig R. Scott, CG

This series of images consists of record copies of letters sent by the Department of State to officials and private citizens of the United States within the country, and to private subjects of foreign powers within the country. American officials include: the President of the United States, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the heads of executive departments, attorneys, judges, federal marshals, the collectors of customs, and state governors. The letters deal with both domestic and foreign affairs.

Domestic affairs relate to the duties of the State Department in territorial administration, printing and distribution of laws, registration of copyrights, and the taking of the census.

Foreign affairs include letters written concerning violations of neutrality, requests for legal interpretation from other senior US officials, assistance from military and naval forces in international relations, and related subjects. Some letters are addressed to governors, district attorneys, and other state and territorial officials on topics with an international aspect.

The images are from records in volumes which are normally arranged chronologically by date of correspondence. In several volumes, the arrangement is not exactly chronological. There are 292 numbered volumes and two un-numbered volumes (from 1829 and 1896). Some volumes are missing.

Document types

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There are two types of records found in this series: index pages and copies of letters sent.

Index Pages

Index pages are found at the beginning of each volume and may provide quicker access to the letters than using the search feature.

The first image shown here is an index page from Volume 54 (May 1, 1861 – December 9, 1861), letter G.

Copies of Letters

The second image shown here is a copy of a letter from Frederick W. Seward, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of State, to George Gould of Troy, New York, dated May 31, 1861. It states that the Minister of the United States in Paris has been sent "instructions to use his good offices towards obtaining the release" of Mr. Gould’s brother.

Using the collection

For the most part, the images are in chronological order. Locate an individual or an official through the alphabetic index found in the front of most volumes prior to 1870. Use the chronological hierarchy in the browse menu to select the time period of interest. Deviations from the chronological order of the documents may be corrected with the aid of the index located in the front of each volume.

The index to volumes 15 and 16 are located in Volume 13. 

Related records

This series of records was preceded by several others. It is the successor to Item No. 118 of the Papers of the Continental Congress which is titled "Transcript of Foreign Letters of Robert R. Livingston, 1781-1783." Earlier instructions are in Item 79, "Letters of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and of Robert R. Livingston, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 1776-1783." All are available at Fold3.com in Papers of the Continental Congress, NARA M247, which also contains many other early diplomatic and consular records.

With the separation of foreign and domestic letters, the records fall into two different series. The domestic letters are contained in the series described here. Foreign letters are found in Foreign Letters of the Continental Congress and the Department of State, 1785-1790 (M61) and are also at Fold3.com as a separate series.

This is a companion series to “Miscellaneous Letters Received, 1789-1906” (M179), which is made up of the responses to letters in this series found in Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.

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Search or browse the Domestic Letters of the Department of State, 1784-1906 here.


The records shown here are scanned from the National Archives microfilm publication M40, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, 1784-1906. The original records are located in Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State in the National Archives.

About the contributor

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Craig Scott
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A professional genealogical and historical researcher for more than twenty years, Craig R Scott is a Certified Genealogist who specializes in the records of the National Archives, especially those that relate to the military. He is a member of the Company of Military Historians, on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and has served in the past on the boards of the Virginia Genealogical Society and the Maryland Genealogical Society. He is the author of The 'Lost Pensions': Settled Accounts of the Act of 6 April 1838 and Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, Inventory 14 (Revised).

Contributor: fold3_catalog
Created: September 13, 2007 · Modified: August 30, 2011

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