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Finding Aid to the James William Denver Papers, 1832-1925 (bulk 1832-1892)
BANC MSS 92/759 c  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: James William Denver Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1832-1925
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1832-1892)
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 92/759 c
    Creator: Denver, James William, 1817-1892
    Extent: Number of containers: 7 boxes, 2 oversize folders Linear feet: 2.7
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Abstract: Consists of personal, political, business and family correspondence of James William Denver and his family. Topics reflect the political focus of Denver and his family, with speculation about political success, discussion of the nuts and bolts of politicking, and the ethical foundations of Denver's democratic beliefs. Correspondents include William McKendree Gwin, Thomas A. Hendricks, and members of the Democratic Party and other California, Ohio, and national political figures. Topics reflecting his Washington DC based legal practice are claims against the government such as Civil War claims, tax litigation, especially the cotton tax, and other cases from around the United States. Denver's ongoing involvement with Mexican War veterans and the military in general is reflected in other letters. Family correspondence reflects current affairs, as well as conveying regular news from home and includes letters from Denver's siblings, between him and his wife Louise and their children.
    Languages Represented: English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers

    Access

    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94270-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html. 
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], James William Denver Papers, BANC MSS 92/759 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    • Title: J. Ross Browne Letters,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS C-B 678
    • Title: James William Denver Papers and Diary, Kansas Collection, RH MS 19, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
    • Title: James William Denver Papers, WH85, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library.

    Separated Material

    • Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Photographs have been transferred to Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library. (BANC PIC 1992.062--PIC)

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Denver, James William, 1817-1892--Archives
    Gwin, William McKendree, 1805-1885--Correspondence
    Hendricks, Thomas A. (Thomas Andrews), 1819-1885--Correspondence
    Denver, Louise Rombach--Correspondence
    Denver family
    Democratic Party (U.S.)
    Politicians--United States
    Mexican War, 1846-1848
    Taxation--Law and legislation--United States
    Cotton--Taxation--United States
    Lawyers--Washington (D.C.)
    United States--Politics and government--19th century
    California--Politics and government--1850-1950
    Ohio--Politics and government--1865-1950
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Claims

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The James William Denver Papers were purchased by The Bancroft Library from L & T Respess Books, on March 25, 1992. Additions were also purchased or donated at various times including papers given as part of the T.W. Norris Collection; a gift of the Friends of the Bancroft Library in 1968; a purchase from Early American History Auction in 2004.

    Accruals

    No additions are expected.

    Processing Information

    Processed by David Kessler in 1993. Additions processed by Alison E. Bridger in 2006.

    Biography

    General James William Denver, born in Virginia in 1817, was an important figure in Democratic Party and national politics throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, until his death in 1892. After his family moved to Ohio in 1830, Denver adopted the series of professions available to young men on the frontier--he taught school in Missouri, and then moved back to Ohio to finish his education at Cincinnati College, where he took a law degree and joined the Bar. While practicing law in Xenia, Ohio in the early 1840s, he bought and edited a newspaper. When the Mexican War broke out, Denver joined the army and served as a captain in the Twelfth Regiment, United States Infantry. He immigrated to California in 1850, where he rose to prominence in politics, serving as State Senator from Trinity and Klamath Counties from 1851-1853, and as Secretary of State from 1853-1855. In August 1852, he killed Edward Gilbert, newspaper editor, in a duel which was the result of a political quarrel. Denver became U.S. Congressman from northern California in 1855, and served one term, through March 3, 1857.
    Despite Denver's extensive travels, he courted and, in 1856 married Louise Rombach, a local girl from a prominent family near his home in Clinton County, Ohio. Denver's legal residence and political ambitions would remain focused in Ohio for the rest of his life.
    After his term in Congress expired, Denver accepted federal appointments as Commissioner of Indian Affairs on April 17, 1857; then, as Governor of the Kansas Territory in June of that year; and finally, as Commissioner of Indian Affairs again from November 8, 1858 through March 31, 1859. He was commissioned Brigadier General in the Union Army on August 14, 1861, and served in the west during the Civil War until his resignation on March 5, 1863, when he left the army to practice law in Washington, D.C. That would remain his principle occupation for the balance of his life.
    Denver was twice mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for the presidency (1876 and 1884), and ran, in 1870 and 1886, unsuccessfully for Congress from his readopted home state of Ohio. During his service as Governor of the Kansas Territory, the city of Denver, Colorado was named for him after he "provided the machinery for the civil organization of Arapahoe County, at the time when the town site was laid out" [DAB]..
    [ Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress, 1774-1961]

    Scope and Content

    The James William Denver Papers consists of personal, political, business and family correspondence of James William Denver and his family. Topics reflect the political focus of Denver and his family, with speculation about political success, discussion of the nuts and bolts of politicking, and the ethical foundations of Denver's democratic beliefs. Correspondents include William McKendree Gwin, Thomas A. Hendricks, and members of the Democratic Party and other California, Ohio, and national political figures. Topics reflecting his Washington DC based legal practice are claims against the government such as Civil War claims, tax litigation, especially the cotton tax, and other cases from around the United States. Denver's ongoing involvement with Mexican War veterans and the military in general is reflected in other letters. Family correspondence reflects current affairs, as well as conveying regular news from home and includes letters from Denver's siblings, between him and his wife Louise and their children.
    The letters Denver received from friends, political and business associates, clients, and office-seekers, confirm a sense of him as a man who won and kept the friendship and respect of others. Numerous California correspondents, most prominently William McKendree Gwin and Thomas A. Hendricks, remained in close touch with Denver long after he ceased to participate directly in California politics. Others relied on Denver for advice, influence, and funds; the letters from Mike Delaney and Philip Pendleton reveal Denver's kindness and generosity. Personal friendship, political alliance, and family connections profoundly influenced the conduct of the nation's business, and the letters reveal numerous examples of political insiders plotting the passage of legislation or evaluating the likely success of an electoral bid, and place seekers and unhappy citizens pleading their special cases before Denver in their letters.
    Naturally, a man with connections so close to the powers of the Democratic Party attracted legal cases where government influence would be of special use. Denver's cases as discerned through these letters often involved claims against the government, especially claims arising out of Civil War confiscations and services rendered to the Union. Tax litigation, most prominently concerning the cotton tax, was also a specialty of the various Denver legal partnerships. His correspondence reflects the presence of clients and political cronies from all sections of the nation. Denver's interest in investing in new industrial inventions and his receptivity toward speculative mining ventures also are revealed in his business correspondence.
    Denver's geographically wide-ranging political career enabled him to establish friendships and construct political alliances in many parts of the country and enhanced his stature as a viable presidential candidate. The correspondence bearing upon Denver's unsuccessful races for the House of Representatives in 1870 and 1886, as well as his two failed bids for the Democratic Presidential nomination, in 1876 and 1884, reveal much of the mechanics and techniques of political organizing and campaigning in the late nineteenth century. Decisions about candidacy, details of how delegates were wooed, professions of support from local party functionaries, and worried letters penned in haste from political conventions are supplemented by printing bills for political propaganda, pamphlets designed to persuade voters, and adulatory articles from the partisan Democratic press. On a detailed level, there is much of interest to political historians of California, Ohio, and the United States as a whole.
    As a veteran of both the Mexican and Civil Wars, "General Denver" remained very attached to his military past. He served as an officer in the Ohio National Guard for many years and his son Will, Jr. followed him into this organization. The collection also documents the efforts of the Veterans of the Mexican War to secure adequate pensions, evidenced both in the correspondence with Alexander M. Kenaday, and among the documents in Series 3.
    The Denver family correspondence opens a window on a different aspect of nineteenth century life. The intense bonds that linked the nuclear and extended families of James William and Louise Rombach Denver reveal themselves in these letters. Communication among family members was valued highly and every effort was made to keep Denver abreast of the tiniest details of family life and village gossip while he was working in Washington, D.C. From their earliest years, the Denver children were both expected and eager to remain in regular correspondence with their absent father. Denver evinces a genuine desire to return home to Ohio from his work in the nation's capital and is obviously unhappy when the flow of letters from home is slow.
    Denver relied on his family, especially his own siblings, for advice and aid in politics and business. Most notably, he depended on his brother, Arthur, in Washington D.C., to take care of business and keep him abreast of political news when Denver was home with the family in Wilmington or off on business in New York, Philadelphia or elsewhere. Concerns about appointments, lobbying for the passage of legislation, and jockeying for elective office, as well as the nitty-gritty of legal cases, form the focus of Arthur St. Clair Denver's letters to his brother. In this political family, family correspondence often includes observations on public life. Notable as well is 20 year old daughter Kate Denver William's vivid eyewitness account (in a letter to her mother) of Republican James Garfield's inauguration festivities on March 5, 1881.
    The family correspondence also discloses Denver's warmth, his concern for his family, and a whimsical and philosophical side, including a fondness for composing verse for his wife and children. Denver's letters to his children show his effort to communicate to them his political ideals and belief in high moral purpose. His wife, Louise Rombach Denver, reveals herself as an astute observer and thoughtful writer. Her correspondence casts light upon the social relations in a small Midwestern city, especially the perspectives of and relations among women of the day.