Volume X · Spring 1955 · Number 3
Thomas E. Dewey and Contemporary History
--GLYNDON G. VAN DEUSEN
The gift of Governor Thomas E. Dewey's papers to the University of Rochester was not the result of an overnight decision on the part of the Governor, or of an overnight request on the part of the University. Rather, it was the consequence of careful thought, and conference, and slowly matured decision.
In one sense, an earlier Governor of the State of New York had a part in the disposition of the Dewey papers. The gift of the Seward papers by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Seward stimulated Alan Valentine, then President of the University of Rochester, to propose to Governor Dewey that he also should give his papers to the University. And probably the latter was not prejudiced against the gift of his own papers by the knowledge that they would be housed with those of another distinguished state leader.
It was in 1950 that I first went down to Albany to see the Governor about the papers. The Governor was interested. I was given permission to examine the materials then housed in the Capitol, and a day's work convinced me that it was a mine of great value. But any question of moving the papers from Albany was scotched by the Governor's decision to run for reelection, and for four years, though contact was maintained, no overt moves were made.
Then, on the day that Governor Dewey announced his decision not to run again, I wrote reminding him of the earlier negotiations and renewing our earlier request. The Governor was interested. We conferred. He made his decision swiftly and efficiently. And now the papers, all twelve tons of them, rest in a special room on the thirteenth level of the Rush Rhees Library stacks.* There is a considerable amount of important history housed on that stack level.
Throughout the negotiations, Governor Dewey's attitude can only be described as cooperative and in no way self-seeking. He showed a clear appreciation of the papers' historical value, and an earnest desire to see them used for the advancement of knowledge, and particularly for the benefit of those interested in the problems of local, state, and national government. The conditions of the gift will in no way prevent their use for these purposes.
In fact, plans are now well developed for a project that should be of great interest to scholars, politicians, and statesmen throughout the nation. We hope to be able to set up a study by a group of young scholars (historians, political scientists, economists, and sociologists) in the developments that have taken place and the problems that have arisen in the administration of the affairs of New York State during the past twelve years. A commmittee has been formed consisting of teachers from these various disciplines, teachers who are members of the faculty of the University. Mr. John Russell, the University's Librarian, is also a member of this committee. A list of subjects for investigation has been made up, subjects that vary from the state's anti-discrimination law to a study in party organization and leadership. We hope to gather together a group of research specialists, most of them candidates for Ph.D.s. in their respective fields, whether those fields be history, government, economics, or sociology.
The research done by these young people will lead them into all quarters of the state, and often to Washington as well, but their base of operations will be Rochester and the Dewey papers. They will have periodic meetings, usually once every two weeks, in which they will make progress reports, and discuss the problems that have arisen in their research, and in their writing, with one another and with the members of the committee. The whole operation will thus be interdisciplinary in character, and the young people engaged in it will be trained to talk and think across departmental lines. Such training should be of great value to them when they go out into the teaching field.
The end result of the project will be (1) a series of monographs on the administrative, economic, and social problems that confront the government of the state of New York in this modern age, and (2) a final volume summarizing the results obtained in the specialized studies and indicating the significant historical trends that have been established as the result of our research. In this way a considerable contribution can be made to our knowledge of the society in which we live, to the cause of good government, and to the democratic way of life.
*With the construction of an addition to Rush Rhees Library in 1970, and the processing of the Dewey Papers, the collection is currently available to researchers at Department of Rare Books and Special Collections on the second floor.