Skip to main content

Charles Nagel papers

Call Number: MS 364
Scope and Contents
The Charles Nagel Papers consist of correspondence, letterbooks, scrapbooks, writings, topical files, photographs, and clippings which document the career of Charles Nagel. The papers focus on Nagel's role as a lawyer, public servant, cabinet officer, and civic leader and contain few references to his family, childhood, education, or personal life. The papers highlight Nagel's legal practice and detail his role as counsel to Adolphus Busch and the Anheuser-Busch breweries. Nagel's early activities in Missouri and St. Louis politics are not well documented, but files from Nagel's cabinet term include discussions of Nagel's involvement in the Republican Party and his role in election campaigns. Nagel's concerns as secretary of commerce and labor, including the 1910 census, the abolition of pelagic sealing, and fair enforcement of immigration laws, are also represented.

The papers reveal Nagel's love for German culture and his agonized attempts to understand the events preceding World Wars I and II. Nagel's activities on behalf of German-Austrian relief efforts and German and German-American ethnic and cultural organizations are documented as is his involvement in the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Industrial Conference Board, Inc., and numerous St. Louis civic, educational, cultural, and charitable organizations.

Nagel's son Charles Nagel, Jr. and his wife donated the Nagel Papers to the Yale University Library in 1940 and 1942. The papers are arranged in two series:
  1. I. Correspondence, 1884-1940
  2. II. Topical Files, 1880-1939
Series I: Correspondence, 1884-1940 is voluminous and is complemented by fifty volumes of letterpress copies of Nagel's outgoing letters. The letterbooks comprise 32 reels of microfilm (FILM HM94). This film includes an additional reel of scrapbook clippings relating to Nagel's cabinet term. The original volumes of letterbooks and scrapbooks were discarded after microfilming in 1979.

The letterbooks contain the earliest materials in the Nagel Papers. They begin in 1877 and form a nearly continuous record of Nagel's legal practice in St. Louis through 1922. Correspondents include attorneys, judges, clients, investment advisers, and public officials. Almost all of these volumes begin with an index, which lists the personal or corporate names of correspondents.

Nagel's service in the Missouri House of Representatives is not discussed in these letters and there are few items which mention politics. There are no letters concerning Nagel's family, and correspondence addressed to Louis D. Brandeis (Nagel's brother-in-law) and other Brandeis family members concerns legal cases or financial investments.

Prominent among Nagel's clients was Adolphus Busch and the Anheuser Busch Brewing Company. There are letters throughout these volumes concerning the interests of the company. Nagel offers advice in the face of a growing temperance movement and demand for restriction or prohibition of intoxicating beverages. Volume 20, in particular, has many letters concerning the production of American hop ale. In volume 17 Nagel copied some correspondence relating to political and civic concerns, and he signed several letters as president of the St. Louis City Council.

There are fewer volumes for the years 1904-1909 and these are almost entirely related to Nagel's legal practice, though at this time he became more involved in Republican Party politics at the national level. Letterbooks 26-40 contain letters relating to Nagel's service as secretary of commerce and labor. These volumes include letters to President Taft, Charles Dewey Hilles, other cabinet officers, and government employees. Letters relate to routine matters such as invitations and public appearances, but there are more substantive letters on Republican Party politics, the administration of the 1910 census, the completion of treaty negotiations to abolish pelagic sealing, and the enforcement of immigration laws. The volumes include memoranda of Nagel's decisions in the cases of individual immigrants. (Similar memoranda are located in Series II, folder 39.) Additional information about Nagel's first two years in the Taft cabinet can be found in the scrapbooks of clippings on reel 33. Volumes 41-51 relate to Nagel's legal practice in St. Louis after his return from Washington. Many letters relate to his duties as a trustee of Adolphus Busch's estate.

Series I contains one box of letters for the first twenty-five year (1884-1909) period and eight boxes of letters documenting Nagel's service as secretary of commerce and labor. The majority of the correspondence dates after Nagel's return to his St. Louis law practice in 1913, and consists of Nagel's outgoing letters. It is probable that some of Nagel's incoming letters remained within the confidential legal files in his office. The INDEX TO SELECTED CORRESPONDENTS at the end of this register serves as a partial guide in identifying and locating incoming letters.

The correspondence is fragmentary until 1907 when there begin to be letters concerning William Howard Taft. Numerous exchanges with Arthur Isaiah Vorys contain discussions of the Taft presidential nomination campaign. The correspondence continues after Nagel's assumption of his cabinet position and includes exchanges with the president, Charles Dewey Hilles, cabinet members such as Philander Knox, George W. Wickersham, and Frank Harris Hitchcock, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Labor Benjamin Stickney Cable. A frequent correspondent at this time to Thomas J. Akins, an assistant U.S. treasurer in St. Louis and later U.S. postmaster, with whom Nagel discussed Missouri Republican Party politics and patronage appointments. Similar matters are discussed with St. Louis attorney, later to be congressman, Cleveland A. Newton. The 1912 correspondence contains Nagel's views on the political prospects of Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in Missouri.

The cabinet era files contain many discussions of problems surrounding the administration of immigration laws. Some of this correspondence is with government employees such as William Williams, the commissioner of immigration, but a larger quantity is with lobbyists from various ethnic benevolent groups. There are many exchanges with Simon Wolf concerning Jewish immigrants, and Nagel's most frequent correspondent is Louis Nicholas Hammerling of the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers. Hammerling represented the interests of twenty million readers, and Nagel and Hammerling's exchanges on administration policy and foreign language press editorials reflect their understanding of the political implications of specific actions.

Files after Nagel's return to St. Louis contain a continuous run of outgoing letters, most concerning Nagel's legal practice. There are few letters relating to politics, but there are many relating to Nagel's participation in civic, cultural, and educational organizations in St. Louis, in national associations concerned with business and finance, and in German and German American ethnic and cultural groups. The absence of incoming correspondence is noticeable, especially so in the 1920s.

At the outbreak of World War I Nagel was in Europe. The correspondence reveals the deep distress that Nagel suffered in the face of growing anti-German war propaganda. With other German Americans he discussed the need for the United States to observe strict neutrality and for participation in relief organizations such as the Red Cross and on the St. Louis War Relief Committee. Some correspondence with George Sylvester Viereck in the spring of 1917 concerns his plans for agricultural labor relief to employ displaced German and Austrian workers on farms owned by German Americans. Later discussions with Viereck and others concern Nagel's reasons for opposing the League of Nations.

During the early 1920s there is correspondence concerning the organization of the Central Committee, Inc. for the Relief of Distress in German and Austria. There is also correspondence concerning Nagel's efforts to secure the return of clients' property held by the Alien Property Custodian and claims presented to the Mixed Claims Commission. Other legal matters are commented on in letters to Louis Brandeis Wehle, Edward Rumely, August Anheuser Busch, and Rome G. Brown. With Brown Nagel discussed the work of the Bar Association Committee to Oppose Judicial Recall. During this period Nagel was also corresponding with Oswald Garrison Villard, Edmund Dene Morel, and Albert Jay Nock concerning his writings. The correspondence reflects his interests in the fate of political prisoners, the fund raising activities of Franz Boas to create the Germanistic Society of America, and the administration of Washington University and the Germanic Museum at Harvard. There is some discussion of Missouri politics in exchanges with Democratic Senator James A. Reed.

The correspondence of the 1920s also documents Nagel's continuing involvement with the business community. His service to the Chamber of Commerce of the United States is portrayed in correspondence with Chamber President Joseph Holton Defrees. Nagel served on the chamber's committee to study immigration laws, and there is correspondence with John Ihlder and F. Stuart Fitzpatrick concerning the committee's work. The activities of the National Industrial Conference Board, Inc. are discussed in the correspondence with Magnus W. Alexander, particularly Nagel's work as chairman of a joint commission with the Chamber of Commerce to study the condition of American agriculture. (A copy of the commission's report is in Series II, folders 10-20.) Correspondence in the 1930s with Alexander's successor Virgil Jordan also concerns the board's work. The correspondence of the late 1920s and 1930s reveals Nagel's sustained interest in St. Louis cultural and philanthropic organizations, German American understanding, and the worsening international economic and political situation. Nagel's work for the Community Chest, the St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee, and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association is documented. Correspondence with William Scarlett concerns the Episcopal Church in St. Louis. With Hans Gramm, A.B. Faust, and others Nagel discussed the establishment and operation of the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation and with Nicholas Murray Butler he reflected on the work of the Committee for the Consideration of Inter-Governmental Debt. His concern over worsening international conditions is depicted in numerous letters to friends and associates, both German and American, to whom Nagel stated his views on the Hitler government. Examples can be found in exchanges with George Ahrens, the former German consul in St. Louis and Alanson Bigelow Houghton, former U.S. ambassador to Germany.

During the 1930s several works by or about Nagel were undertaken. Correspondence with Otto Heller concerns publication of a two-volume edition of the speeches and writings of Charles Nagel, while exchanges with Edwin Mims relate to his research for a biography of Nagel. The 1935 and 1936 correspondence contains acknowledgements for Nagel's autobiographical volume of his Texas upbringing, A Boy's Civil War Story. Other correspondents include educators who were or had once been affiliated with Washington University such as Robert Brookings, Wiley Rutledge, and Henry Smith Pritchett, and Missouri or German American friends and associates such as Frank Taussig, Leonidas Dyer, Rudolph Hecht, Robert E. Lewis, Isaac Lionberger, Ernst Behrend, and Otto Tittman.

Series II is composed of writings, speeches, notes, printed material, photographs, and memorabilia relating to many of Nagel's legal, civic, and philanthropic interests. The series contains topical files which relate to Nagel's work for the National Industrial Conference Board, the Chamber of Commerce Committee on Immigration, the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, and the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association. Folders 36-37, 67-68, and 87-89 reflect Nagel's civic and cultural activities in St. Louis and war relief work. The files on the "sealing controversy" refer to Nagel's endeavors as secretary of commerce and labor to end pelagic sealing. These files also contain a large collection of postcards and photographs from Nagel's 1910 visit to Alaska. Memo books in folders 59-66 contain over forty small volumes of Nagel's hand-written notes. Nagel's speeches and writings are scattered through the topical files. Folders 8-9 and 72-76 comprise a series of articles and reviews by Nagel, while folders 107-167 contain a concentration of handwritten and typescript copies of Nagel's speeches and reports. Subjects of these speeches include immigration, neutrality, war relief, politics, and charitable causes. Material in folders 84-86 reflects Nagel's concern for civil liberties and may have been used in preparation of a review of Felix Frankfurter's book on Sacco and Vanzetti.
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 Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nagel, Jr., 1940, 1942; gift of John Hague, 2000.
Arranged in two series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1884-1940. II. Topical Files, 1880-1939.
28.5 Linear Feet
Related Names
Nagel, Charles, 1849-1940
Language of Materials