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Thomas Collier Platt papers

 Collection
Call Number: MS 727

Scope and Contents

This collection of Thomas Collier Platt papers is by no means complete. Though there is correspondence with family members from as early as 1851, the majority of the papers are from the period 1896-1902, with scattered items dating from the 1870s and 1880s. Correspondence comprises four-fifths of the papers, with bills, testimony, speeches, and biographical material making up the remainder. The papers are arranged in three series as follows:
  1. I. CORRESPONDENCE
  2. II. BILLS, TESTIMONY, AND SPEECHES
  3. III. BIOGRAPHICAL AND MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS
CORRESPONDENCE is a series rich in materials on the inner workings of the political system of New York State. Comprising seven boxes, the series is arranged as follows:
  1. 1-2 Roosevelt-Platt Correspondence. Letters exchanged between Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Platt between 1896 and 1909 revealing a long and politically intimate relationship. The original incoming letters from Theodore Roosevelt have been placed in the security file and have been replaced by typed or [electrostatic or photostatic] copies.
  2. 2 Secretary to the President-Platt Correspondence. Letters exchanged between George B. Cortelyou and William Loeb, Jr., both personal secretaries to Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Platt between 1899 and 1909. Letters from Platt to Roosevelt were often answered by these secretaries.
  3. 3 Barnes-Platt Correspondence. Letters exchanged between William Barnes, Jr., President of the Albany Journal, and Thomas Platt between 1889 and 1908. Of special interest are letters from Barnes seeking patronage positions for loyal Irish-American Republicans.
  4. 3 Family Correspondence. Letters exchanged between Platt and members of his family between 1851 and 1915 arranged alphabetically.
  5. 4 Selected Correspondence. Letters exchanged between Platt and seventy important political personages between 1878 and 1908. The letters are arranged alphabetically. Of special interest is correspondence with Levi Morton on the consolidation of Greater New York. The growing split between Benjamin Odell and Platt can be seen in the Odell correspondence.
  6. 5-6 General Correspondence. Approximately eight hundred and fifty letters from various persons addressed to Platt and Platt's replies. These letters are arranged chronologically and date from 1875 to 1909. In the 1896 correspondence Platt's participation in efforts to prevent the nomination of William McKinley can be seen in the exchanges with James S. Clarkson. The 1898 correspondence contains many letters from state and county leaders as well as individual citizens voicing their impressions of the decision to nominate Theodore Roosevelt for governor. The 1898 correspondence also reveals Platt's efforts to maintain the support of the American Protective Association while also encouraging immigrant participation in the Republican party. See the correspondence with James Coote. In 1899 Platt opposed a bill providing for taxation of public utilities and transportation franchises. But the correspondence reveals that the general public felt otherwise for Platt was inundated with letters favoring the bill. The 1899 correspondence also reveals some of Platt's feeling about civil service reform. The 1902 correspondence contains a good example of Platt's efforts to protect business interests, in this case a railway tunnel for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Correspondence in other years reveals similar efforts for the New York Central Railroad and the Third Avenue Railroad.
  7. 7 Patronage Correspondence. Fifteen letters to Senator Platt between February and April, 1881, asking his assistance in obtaining patronage positions.
  8. 7 Copies of Letters Sent to Benjamin Harrison. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison was understood to have promised Platt the Secretaryship of the Treasury if he was elected. This correspondence contains copies of approximately seventy-five letters addressed to President-elect Harrison recommending Platt's nomination. These copies were apparently sent to Platt to show him that loyal New York Republicans were supporting him.
BILLS, TESTIMONY AND SPEECHES consists of copies of United States Senate and New York Assembly bills, testimony before congressional and state investigative committees, and the texts of five speeches delivered by Thomas Collier Platt.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND MISCELLANEOUS MATERIAL consists of drafts of an article on Senator Platt, an excerpt from answer of amended complaint, William Barnes vs. Theodore Roosevelt, a report of the events surrounding the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt for governor in 1898, and miscellaneous printed material. There are also five volumes of scrapbooks of mounted clippings relating to Platt's life. The scrapbooks contain a marvelous collection of political cartoons depicting Platt, the cadaverous "Easy Boss".

ACCESSION note

In the spring of 1974 Thomas Collier Platt's grandson, Collier Platt, of Laurel Hollow, Long Island, donated a collection of his grand-father's papers to the Yale University Library. These papers had been in his family's possession and had been stored at the Laurel Hollow residence. Manuscripts and Archives subsequently arranged the papers for use in the fall of 1974.

The addition consists of two bound letterpress volumes of outgoing correspondence relating to the business, personal, and political life of Thomas Collier Platt.

Dates

  • 1851-1915

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Collier Platt, 1974; Mrs. Byrd S. Platt, 2017; and Timothy (Timo) Collier Platt, 2019.

Arrangement

Arranged in three series and two additions: I. Correspondence. II. Bills, Testimony, and Speeches. III. Biographical and Miscellaneous Materials.

Extent

11.92 Linear Feet (15 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

https://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0727

Overview

Correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks, political cartoons, newspaper clippings, printed material, and other personal and family papers of Thomas C. Platt, New York businessman and Republican politician. The collection deals primarily with the inner workings of the Republican party in the state of New York from the 1870's to 1910, with emphasis on the period from 1896 to 1909.

Biographical / Historical

(adapted from Richard L. McCormick's article in the Spring, 1975, Yale Library Gazette)

Thomas Collier Platt was born on July 15, 1833, in Owego, Tioga County, New York. His father William was committed to making his youngest son, Thomas, a minister. "Not at all favorably impressed" with the prospect Thomas, nevertheless, entered Yale College in 1849 with the expectation of proceeding for the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Poor health cut short his college education after a single year. (In 1876 Yale awarded Platt, then a congressman, an honorary Master of Arts degree.)

Returning to Owego, Platt began his business career as a druggist entering into a partnership with Frederic K. Hull. Late in 1852, Platt married Ellen Lucy Barstow of Owego. Though the drug store prospered, Platt's preoccupation was with politics. An early supporter of the newly-formed Republican party, Platt cast his first vote in 1856 for John C. Fremont. Despite nationwide defeat, the fledgling Republicans established their dominance in Tioga County, and Platt prospered politically with his party. Due to his ill health Platt did not serve in the Civil War, but remained at home raising money to support Union troops and persuading voters to support the Republican administration. By the late 1860s, Platt was Republican County Chairman in Tioga, and already a political power in the Southern Tier

From 1870 until 1881, Platt tied his political career closely to that of Senator Roscoe Conkling. State party conventions in the early 1870s saw a succession of battles for leadership between Conkling and Reuben E. Fenton. At each convention Platt worked wholeheartedly for Conkling, marshalling the votes of the "Southern Tier" in the Senator's support. Conkling's triumph over Fenton continued Platt's political advancement. Platt was elected to Congress in 1872 and 1874 but declined re-election in 1876. That year saw Platt's first attendance at a National Republican convention, not surprisingly as a leader of the movement to nominate Conkling for President. In recognition of his loyalty Conkling made Platt chairman of the Republican State Committee.

Platt's rise to power in the 1870s was not based on his identification with any abstract political principles or espousal of any significant policies. Rather, Platt had made himself a careful student of the leadership tactics of Thurlow Weed, Reuben Fenton, and Conkling. He had learned well the details of party management, the day in and day out business of rewarding loyalty and punishing infidelity, granting patronage, collecting campaign funds and getting the faithful out to vote on election day.

During the decades when he was party boss, Platt added a significant new element to the techniques of his predecessors by rationalizing and centralizing the flow of corporate campaign funds to the party coffers. Rather than allow favor-seeking businessmen to deal individually with members of the legislature, Platt collected the contributions, distributed funds to friendly candidates, and masterminded the passage of legislative rewards for the generous corporations. Theoretically, all contributions were thereafter received at party headquarters. In practice, however, the Platt system failed to eliminate bribery entirely and it systematized the domination of the New York Republican party by business and financial interests.

Platt himself did not profit financially from his political dealings. He made his money elsewhere. He became president of the Tioga County National Bank and held substantial lumbering and railroad interests. Platt's advancement to the state party chairmanship coincided with his appointment as general manager of the United States Express Company, and in 1880 he became the company's president, a position he would hold for the next 30 years.

In January, 1881, the New York State legislature elected Platt to the United States Senate. As state party chairman Platt had distributed patronage and party funds wisely, and many members of the State Assembly were under personal obligation to him. What is more, he had won Chauncey Depew's support by campaigning strenuously for the election of Garfield, though he had originally preferred the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for an unprecedented third term.

Scarcely two months after Platt's election, President Garfield chose William H. Robertson to be Collector of the Port of New York, a post which represented the most lucrative patrongage position in the country. Robertson was a member of the anti-Conkling faction of the New York Republican party, and his selection was a rebuff to Conkling by Garfield. At Platt's suggestion, both he and Conkling resigned from the Senate to seek vindication through re-election by the state legislature. Conkling and Platt failed to be renamed; the episode ended Conkling's political career.

After Conkling's demise, the New York state Republican party was leaderless, disoriented, and frequently beaten at the polls. Platt, having changed sides in the factional struggle going on in the party reemerged as a party leader in the mid-1880s. In supporting James G. Blaine for the presidency in 1884 Platt indicated that he was now allied with the forces who had always opposed Conkling.

By 1893 the New York Republican party's fortunes were rising and for the next sixteen years, the party would win every state and national election save one. As Republican boss Platt would lead an organization that controlled the government of New York state. His most significant political accomplishments came between 1894 and 1904. During that period Platt selected each of his party's successful gubernatorial nominees, including Levi Morton, Frank S. Black, Theodore Roosevelt, and Benjamin Odell. He presided over the legislative program, notably the consolidation of Greater New York City, state control of liquor traffic, and the improvement of the Erie Canal. In 1897 he was elected to the United States Senate.

During Theodore Roosevelt's term in Albany Platt's power gradually decreased as the governor insisted on choosing his own appointees and pushing his own programs through the legislature. It was Platt's plan to shelve Roosevelt by nominating him for the vice-presidency in 1900, thereby regaining control of the state party. The plan became a failure when Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency, and his successor as governor, Benjamin Odell, proved equally independent of the aging senator's domination. Though reelected to the Senate in 1904 Platt's real power was gone.

He died in New York City in March 6, 1910.
Title
Guide to the Thomas Collier Platt Papers
Status
Under Revision
Author
compiled by Mark Habersang and Diane Kaplan
Date
September 1974
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
Yale University Library
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Location

Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours