Skip to main content

James Rockwell Sheffield papers

Call Number: MS 446
Scope and Contents
The James Rockwell Sheffield Papers consist of correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia documenting the political and diplomatic career of James R. Sheffield, a New York City lawyer, Republican Party and civic leader, and ambassador to Mexico during the Coolidge administration. The papers, a 1957 gift of Frederick Sheffield to the Yale University Library, span the dates 1768-1969 and include family memorabilia from Saybrook, Connecticut. The bulk of the papers date from 1893 to 1938.

The papers are arranged in three series: I. CORRESPONDENCE, 1768-1969; II. SCRAPBOOKS, 1893-1940; III. PERSONAL PAPERS, 1868-1938.
Series I includes James R. Sheffield's political and diplomatic correspondence as well as correspondence of other family members. Series II contains scrapbooks which document Sheffield's entire political and diplomatic career. Series III, which is the smallest of the series, is composed of biographical material, memorabilia, subject files, and Sheffield's writings.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, is divided into four sections: General; Letterpress copybooks; Family; and Miscellanea. The first two sections span Sheffield's long career in public life and trace his friendships, political training, and party alliances. They also concern Sheffield's civic and Yale alumni interests and personal family business. There are no letters concerning Sheffield's legal practice or the law firm of Sheffield and Betts. Only a few letters to family members appear in the papers. General correspondence is arranged in chronological order and consists of both incoming and outgoing letters, though in the beginning of the section there are only scattered copies of outgoing letters. A list of selected correspondents is included in this register as an appendix. Letterpress copybooks contains bound copies of Sheffield's outgoing letters for the period 1914-1916 and 1920. Each volume contains an index of correspondents.

General files begin with letters from Sheffield's political mentor and close personal friend, Senator William Boyd Allison of Iowa. From the early 1890s, when Sheffield began his law practice in New York City, there are notifications of meetings and political literature showing Sheffield's interest in the Republican Party and the Good Government Club movement. The correspondence throughout the 1890s is dominated by political topics including Sheffield's successful campaign for the New York Assembly (1893), constituent mail and advice from Republican leaders such as Elihu Root, on legislation, particularly civil service re-form (1894), and letters concerning Sheffield's service on the New York City Board of Fire Commissioners (1895-1897).

While Sheffield served on the Fire Commission, he formed a close association with Theodore Roosevelt, who was then on the Police Commission. Letters from Roosevelt date from his service on the Police Commission through two presidential terms. Sheffield wrote Roosevelt regarding New York appointments, tariff reform, the 1904 reelection campaign, and his own desire for a political appointment.

Beginning with folder 27, there are letters showing Sheffield's 1908 campaign efforts to nominate and elect William Howard Taft as Roosevelt's successor. The files from 1908 to the end of the correspondence contain many exchanges with Taft. Letters in folder 33 explain Sheffield's support for Taft's reelection and his break with Roosevelt in 1912.

Folders 33-35 contain many letters from Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White. These same folders document Sheffield's service as president of the National Republican Club. Sheffield supported the nomination of Elihu Root in 1916, and the files attest to his work on Root's behalf. He eventually campaigned for the party nominee Charles Evans Hughes. Correspondence with both Hughes and Root continues into the 1930s. Sheffield's outgoing letters during his term as president of the National Republican Club are contained in five letterpress copybooks (boxes 8-9).

Numerous letters from Nicholas Murray Butler, Charles Dewey Hilles, and James R. Wadsworth begin in 1919. In 1920 Sheffield attended the Republican convention as a supporter of Butler for president. He also chaired Wadsworth's successful senatorial campaign. Letters from these years comment on convention politics, campaign issues, and the problems facing Republican politicians over the enforcement of the Volstead Act. One letterpress copybook (folder 79) primarily concerns the Wadsworth campaign.

Beginning with folder 47, the primary subject of the correspondence shifts from Republican politics to American relations with Mexico. In 1924 Sheffield was appointed ambassador to Mexico, a position he held through 1927. The correspondence is most extensive for the years 1926-1927 (folders 49-55). As ambassador Sheffield responded to the Calles government's nationalization of American property, and he staunchly defended American property rights. The correspondence demonstrates Sheffield's efforts to explain the situation to Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and President Calvin Coolidge and his frustration with a perceived lack of support from the Coolidge administration. Frequent correspondents at the time include Chandler P. Anderson, H. F. Arthur Schoenfeld, and Yale classmate William Lyon Phelps. Following Sheffield's resignation in 1927, there are exchanges with Robert E. Olds, Alexander W. Weddell, and Sheffield's successor, Dwight Morrow, on the situation in Mexico.

Sheffield held one other diplomatic appointment. In 1930 he served as a special ambassador to Venezuela on the occasion of the dedication of a Henry Clay statue. There are letters concerning travel arrangements and Sheffield's report on the celebration.

The correspondence from 1930 until Sheffield's death in 1938 includes discussions of Republican prospects in the 1932 and 1936 elections. There are also Sheffield's reminiscences of Senator Allison and Elihu Root which he wrote for biographers. On the occasion of Sheffield's 70th birthday in 1934 there are numerous letters of congratulation from colleagues, friends, and politically prominent people of the day, while folder 71 contains a few letters of condolence after Sheffield's death.

The Family and Miscellanea sections contain correspondence and items relating to Sheffield's family and others. Material relating to Frederick William Hotchkiss, Sheffield's great-grandfather, concerns Saybrook, Connecticut and the Congregational church he led there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Letters to Sheffield's parents, Frederick William and Sarah Kellogg Sheffield, include several from William Boyd Allison. The files for Sheffield's son Frederick Sheffield contain many letters of greeting to James R. Sheffield on his 70th birth-day. Folders 97-99 consist of letters to non-family members. Some of these are addressed to Oliver Jennings and D. B. Delevan as financial agents in Sheffield's 1893 election campaign. Also included are letters of introduction and testimonials written for a 1915 dinner honoring Sheffield.

Series II, SCRAPBOOKS, is composed of fifteen scrapbook volumes, which begin in 1893 and span Sheffield's subsequent political and diplomatic career. The scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings, as well as campaign publicity, printed material, invitations, correspondence, photographs, and other types of memorabilia. They are particularly thorough in their coverage of the 1893 election, civil service reform legislation authored by Sheffield, the New York City Fire Commission during Sheffield's tenure, and Sheffield's tour of duty as ambassador to Mexico. Folder 117 contains an album of photographs from Mexico and Venezuela as well as family pictures.

Series III, PERSONAL PAPERS, contains biographical material, memorabilia, subject files on New York politics, and Sheffield's writings. Folder 118 includes a 79-page memoir by Sheffield which details his service in Mexico and a 44-page autobiographical sketch. Additional biographical material can be found in the memorials included in folder 119 and the obituaries in folder 136. Folders 131-132 contain political memorabilia similar to that found in the scrapbooks. The series also includes typed and printed copies of Sheffield's writings, primarily his speeches, which affirm his reputation as a toastmaster and banquet speaker.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. 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 Frederick Sheffield, 1957; and James R. Sheffield, 1990, 2002.
The papers are arranged in three series: I. CORRESPONDENCE, 1768-1969. II. SCRAPBOOKS, 1893-1940. III. PERSONAL PAPERS, 1868-1938.
9.75 Linear Feet
Related Names
Sheffield, James R. (James Rockwell), 1864-1938
Language of Materials