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Russell Cornell Leffingwell papers

Call Number: MS 1030

Scope and Contents

Between 1941 and 1955 Russell Cornell Leffingwell donated a large collection of Leffingwell family materials including a few items of his juvenilia and personal memorabilia to the Yale University Library, now MS Group No. 320. Almost all of Russell Cornell Leffingwell's own papers, however, were donated to the Yale University Library by Edward Pulling, Mr. Leffingwell's son-in-law, in December, 1979. This gift, which included Leffingwell's "personal files" from his office at the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. but which excluded any correspondence with the immediate family, had been in the Pullings' possession since the death of Leffingwell in 1960. Pulling had used this correspondence with friends and business associates as the basis for his volumeSelected Letters of R. C. Leffingwell, published by Exposition Press, Inc., in 1979. After the Pulling donation arrived in Manuscripts and Archives, a few additional items (a scrapbook and photo album which had been donated to the library by Mrs. Pulling soon after her father's death) were incorporated with the recent accession to form MS Group No. 1030.

The Russell Cornell Leffingwell Papers as now constituted are a substantive but incomplete record of Leffingwell's career. When Leffingwell designated items for his "personal file" he did not include papers from his legal practice or any quantity of correspondence concerning the day-to-day functioning of the office of the assistant secretary of the Treasury for fiscal affairs. (In his will Leffingwell donated forty-six letterbooks of official letters from the Treasury period to the Library of Congress. The researcher will find other files for this period in the National Archives.)

The majority of Leffingwell's business papers probably remain in the files of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. Though many memoranda and letters to Morgan directors are included in the Leffingwell Papers, they are only a fraction of those produced by Leffingwell in his thirty seven years with the company. Furthermore, it is not clear what proportion of Leffingwell's correspondents are represented in these papers. The researcher will find letters from Leffingwell in the W. A. Delano, Harold Phelps Stokes, Paul M. Warburg, Samuel C. G. Watkins, and Henry Stimson papers in Manuscripts and Archives, yet none of these correspondents appear in the Leffingwell Papers. Even the existing correspondents' files are incomplete; Leffingwell's outgoing letters often refer to incoming correspondence not found in the files.

The papers are arranged in four series: I. Correspondence; II. Memoranda; III. Writings and speeches; IV. Photographs, memorabilia, and writings about Russell Cornell Leffingwell.

Correspondence is by far the largest series and includes all incoming and outgoing letters as well as intraoffice memoranda. The files, composed of correspondence carefully selected by Leffingwell for its substance, are characterized by strong statements on the important issues of the day as well as genial letters to friends of long standing. There is nothing trivial in these files, none of the usual autograph requests, publishers' circulars, or charitable solicitations.

In terms of quality and quantity Leffingwell's most significant correspondents were Thomas Lamont, his chief at the Morgan Bank; S. Parker Gilbert and Albert Rathbone, colleagues from Treasury days; Carter Glass, the former secretary of the Treasury and senator from Virginia; journalists Walter Layton editor of the BritishEconomist; Walter Lippmann; and Morris Ernst. With all these men Leffingwell maintained a steady correspondence, freely expressing his views on important contemporary topics.

In response to Lippmann's queries on difficult economic questions, Leffingwell wrote long explications on subjects such as the control of postwar inflation. (Many additional letters between Lippmann and Leffingwell are included in the Walter Lippmann Papers in Manuscripts and Archives, MS Group No. 326).

The correspondence with Thomas Lamont begins in 1920 with Lamont asking Leffingwell's views on the revival of the War Finance Corporation and continued until Lamont's death in 1948. After Leffingwell's acceptance of a Morgan directorship in 1923, the files are composed almost entirely of his letters and memoranda to Lamont. This correspondence is concerned more with world events than with any internal functions in the Morgan Bank and is characterized by Leffingwell's tone of absolute certainty concerning Britain's position on the gold standard, the Reparations Commission, the political situation in France, Franklin Roosevelt's first term, Italy's "venture" in Ethiopia, the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher, and the evils of installment buying. In 1938 he praises Neville Chamberlain for saving the world from the "imminent hazard of a catastrophic war" but changes his view in the spring of 1939 and predicts that war is likely though he hopes the United States will stay out. To Lamont he confides his views on Palestine and Zionism, his anti-United Nations Association stance, and his concerns about the treatment of postwar Germany. With the same confidence that leads him to write of Charles DeGaulle, "he has never shown statesmanship, judgment, or common sense", Leffingwell, the Yale man, lectures Lamont on standards for scholarship candidates at Harvard. Because the Lamont files contain only Leffingwell's letters to Lamont, the reader will have to guess at certain references and look elsewhere for information.

Important letters and memoranda concerning the actions of the Morgan Co. will be found in the files of other Morgan directors. When the post-World War I financial situation in Europe was most precarious, Bernard Carter and N. Dean Jay relayed the views from the Paris office. Dwight Morrow was also in the Paris office, and his correspondence at this time as well as when he became ambassador to Mexico reflects his concern for the financial condition of Europe. At the same time E. C. Grenfell in the office of Morgan, Grenfell & Co. in London was reporting on developments there. After Lamont's death the correspondence with Henry Alexander, officer and later chairman of Morgan Guaranty Trust, becomes fuller. In particular, it contains Leffingwell's views on the consequences of government spending during the recession of the late 1950s. Other Morgan correspondents include Arthur Marvin Anderson, H. P. Davison, C. D. Dickey, Thomas Stillwell Lamont, J. P. Morgan, R. G. Wasson, and George Whitney.

During the period between the two world wars Leffingwell discussed with Parker Gilbert, Albert Rathbone, and Carter Glass specific actions of the Treasury as well as the revival of the War Finance Corporation, reparations payments, policies of the Federal Reserve, the Bonus Bill, and the legality of the post-armistice loans. The Rathbone correspondence contains retrospective defenses of actions taken by the Treasury during World War I. This is particularly true in the exchange of letters in 1936 concerning the activities of Gerald Nye's Senate committee investigating the munitions industry. These letters are far more informative than the correspondence with Nye, which is of a routine administrative nature. The files of Treasury officials William Gibbs McAdoo, D. F. Houston, and Nicholas Kelly, those of Senator Frank Kellogg, and of Federal Reserve Governor Benjamin Strong, all contain correspondence on similar contemporary topics.

Because Leffingwell considered himself neither a Republican nor a Democrat, he felt free to criticize any administration policy he did not support and in particular instances to tell each side how to campaign against the incumbent administration. (For examples of such letters see the correspondence with Cordell Hull and Wendell Wilkie). Yet he tried to establish a good relationship with each new administration. The papers include correspondence with all presidents from Wilson to Eisenhower except Coolidge, with eight secretaries of the treasury (William G. McAdoo, Carter Glass, D.F. Houston, Ogden Mills, Henry Morgenthau, John Synder, George M. Humphrey, and Robert Anderson) and with other administration appointees such as Daniel W. Bell, W. Randolph Burgess, John W. Hanes, Robert Lovett, John J. McCloy, and Edward Stettinius.

The correspondence with Roosevelt is the most extensive and interesting of any with the presidents. During Leffingwell's Washington years he had known the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. In later years Leffingwell felt free to address his letters "Dear Frank" and in 1932 to chat at length about the upcoming election campaign. He cautioned Roosevelt to keep an open mind to the possibility of readjusting war debts downward, and he later praised Roosevelt's move to take the United States off the gold standard.

The correspondence with Harry Truman starts on a humorous note; Truman sent Leffingwell his congratulations on the election of the company candidate to the presidency. A clipping enclosed with the note indicates that the paper saw Truman as the choice of the house of Morgan. The Truman correspondence contains a discussion of the President's Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights, which Leffingwell supported, and criticism of the administration's meddling with the Federal Reserve. For other correspondence on the former topic, see the files of John A. Danaher and Chester Nimitz; on the latter controversy, see also the files of John Synder and Thomas McCabe. Leffingwell's interest in the Federal Reserve system is also reflected in his earlier correspondence with Allan Sproul.

Through the years the Leffingwells developed a long list of British friends, many from the banking community. The Leffingwells were perhaps friendliest with Dorothy and Walter Layton and saw them and their children on several occasions. But there is also a sizeable correspondence with Robert Brand, Montague Norman, Edward Peacock, and T. J. C. Gifford concerning Anglo-American relations and post World War II conditions in Britain. Many letters in fact begin as acknowledgements for the food packages sent by Leffingwell to his friends in shortage-riddled Britain.

The Morris Ernst correspondence is probably the most lively in the papers. Ernst, the crusading civil libertarian, often expressed views quite the opposite of Leffingwell's. On the question of the dissemination of birth control information Leffingwell teasingly called Ernst a "bigoted liberal". He failed to understand Ernst's criticism of the banking houses for their lack of Jewish partners and was vocal in his opposition to what he saw as the Zionist threat to the British Empire. They also disagreed over the necessity of certain McCarthy era investigations. Still the two remained friends, and in May 1960, shortly before Leffingwell's death, Ernst wrote, "I don't say I take everything that comes from your lips as gospel but as you must know you have deeply affected my moods and thinking."

SERIES II, Memoranda, includes only memoranda without a designated recipient. It is possible that some of these items were the basis for later speeches or writings. There are few manuscripts in Leffingwell's hand, so that most of the Writings and speeches series is composed of reprints of articles and addresses. An album of family photographs, a scrapbook of memorabilia from Leffingwell's years at Yale and Columbia, and a copy of Edward Pulling's book comprise Series IV.

Juvenile diaries (1893-1894) of Russell C. Leffingwell are in the Leffingwell Family Papers Mss 320.


  • 1883-1979


Conditions Governing Access

Any researcher who wishes to use the Collection to write a full-scale biography must first obtain written permission from Thomas L. Pulling. Said letter of permission will be delivered to the Director of Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. This stipulation shall govern the use of the Collection during the lifetime of Thomas L. Pulling.

Conditions Governing Use

Thomas L. Pulling retains during his lifetime all literary and other property rights in the unpublished writings in the papers (including letters) and other materials donated to the Yale University Library. Upon his death, the literary rights will become the property of the Yale University Library. 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 Edward Pulling, 1979.


The papers are arranged in four series: I. Correspondence. II. Memoranda. III. Writings and speeches. IV. Photographs, memorabilia, and writings about Russell Cornell Leffingwell.


4 Linear Feet (12 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Chiefly correspondence (1917-1960) between Leffingwell and colleagues in banking and the legal profession, and with important American and British government officials on contemporary economic and political events. Following his service in the Department of the Treasury (1917) where he helped to float the Liberty Loan, Leffingwell continued to correspond with his colleagues, S. Parker Gilbert and Albert Rathbone, as well as Carter Glass, Secretary of the Treasury (1918-1920). As a partner in the firm of J.P. Morgan from 1923 on, he received reports on economic conditions from officers of the firm in London, Paris, and Mexico. There is also a voluminous correspondence (1935-1948) with Thomas W. Lamont, his chief at the bank. He was asked for advice by every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, with the exception of Coolidge. Among these letters, his correspondence with Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the most extensive. He was also consulted by eight secretaries of the Treasury and other government officials. Important journalists with whom he corresponded regularly are Walter Layton, editor of the British Economist, Walter Lippmann, and Morris Ernst. The papers also contain memoranda and speeches (1919-1958), photographs, and memorabilia.

Biographical / Historical

Russell Cornell Leffingwell, lawyer, public servant, and banker, was born on September 10, 1878, in New York City. Except for his service in Washington, D.C., as assistant secretary of the treasury for three years during World War I, New York -- in particular the Wall Street office of J. P. Morgan & Co. -- would remain the focal point of Leffingwell's career.

Leffingwell was one of three children born to Charles Russell and Mary Elizabeth (Cornell) Leffingwell. His father, an executive in the Cornell family's iron business, sent the young Russell to private schools, first to the Yonkers Military School and then to the Halsey School in New York. Graduating in 1895, he attended Yale where, according to his own evaluation, he did "nothing significant either socially or in athletics or in studies." A scrapbook from the period indicates that Leffingwell was fond of evenings at the theater and the opera and took an interest in the work of the YMCA.

On entering Yale Leffingwell had indicated his intention to become a lawyer, and on graduation in 1899 he enrolled in Columbia Law School. Here he became a member of Phi Delta Phi fraternity and distinguished himself as editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review. Upon completion of his training in 1902, he accepted an offer from the firm of Gutherie, Cravath and Henderson and after five years was made a partner. During this period he courted and in January 1906, married Lucy Hewitt of Brooklyn. Their only daughter Lucy (Leffingwell) Pulling was born in 1907.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Leffingwell volunteered for military training at Plattsburgh. Paul Cravath, sensing that Leffingwell's abilities and experience as a lawyer would be wasted if he became just another junior officer in the Army, wrote Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo recommending Leffingwell for a position in the war-time government: he "is one of the best lawyers at our Bar, with no superior as a contract lawyer." The words had the desired effect; three days after the May 4 letter McAdoo telegraphed Leffingwell asking him to come to Washington.

For the first several months Leffingwell served as McAdoo's special counsel in charge of floating the First Liberty Loan. Then in October 1917, Leffingwell became assistant secretary of the Treasury for fiscal affairs with responsibility for the Commission of Public Debt, the comptroller of the Treasury and the War Loan Organization. Working closely with McAdoo and his successor Carter Glass, Leffingwell was instrumental in the determination of America's wartime and immediate postwar financial policies and was directly involved in the vast bond issues and loans to European allies so important to the war effort. He remained in his post until May, 1920.

Leffingwell resumed his New York law practice in the firm of Cravath, Henderson, Leffingwell and de Gersdorff, but he remained there only three years. In July, 1923, he was offered and accepted a partnership in J. P. Morgan & Co. Challenged by the problems of Europe's and America's postwar economy, Leffingwell became a keen analyst of the financial woes that were to plague the nations in the years between the wars. Memoranda in his self-assured style concerning the stability of various European economies, silver policy, the gold standard, deflation, allied war debts, and the Federal Reserve policy flowed from his pen and were circulated among the Morgan partners. In 1940 he became vice-chairman of the Morgan executive committee and in 1943 its chairman. After the death of Thomas Lamont in 1948 Leffingwell was made chairman of the board. Although he retired officially in 1955, he continued to be an active director at the Morgan Co. until his death in 1960.

Leffingwell's interests ranged beyond his duties at the Morgan Bank. An avid compiler of family history, he built a collection of Leffingwell Family Papers which he donated to Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. A founder of the Council on Foreign Relations, he served seven years as chairman of its board. After many years as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation, he was named chairman in 1946. For a short time in 1951, he served on President Truman's Commission on Internal Security and Individual Rights.

Though early in his career Leffingwell had belonged to the Republican Association in New York and spoke of himself as a latter day mugwump, he never considered himself either a Democrat or Republican. More often he called himself a "free trader." With his independent views he could support Franklin Roosevelt and then Wendell Wilkie, praise Truman for maintaining civilian control over the military and then vote for General Dwight Eisenhower. But to all presidents as well as to numerous journalists, members of the banking community, and other public officials he offered the benefits of his scholarship and experience in dealing with the most complex economic issues of his day.

Guide to the Russell Cornell Leffingwell Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane Kaplan
January 1980
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

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