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William L. Marcy Collection

An inventory of his correspondence at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Apr 1989

Biographical History

William Learned Marcy (1786-1857) was an American politician and public figure who served as U.S. Secretary of War under President James K. Polk and U.S. Secretary of State under President Franklin Pierce.

1786 Born in Sturbridge (presently Southbridge), MA
1808 Graduated from Brown University in Providence, RI
1811 Admitted to the bar; Began practice in Troy, NY
1812 Married Dolly Newell
1823-1829 New York State Comptroller
1829-1831 Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court
1831-1833 U.S. Senator
1833-1839 New York State Governor
1839-1842 Member of the Mexican Claims Commission
1845-1849 U.S. Secretary of War
1853-1857 U.S. Secretary of State
1857 Died in Ballston Spa, NY

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The William L. Marcy Collection consists of biographical material and correspondence.

Biographical material consists of two lithograph portraits of Marcy.

Correspondence contains 42 letters, written between 1821 and 1857, which illuminate Marcy's career in public life as a U.S. Senator (1831-1833), New York State Governor (1833-1839), U.S. Secretary of War under James K. Polk (1845-1849), and U.S. Secretary of State under Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). A Selected Index to the Correspondence is located at the end of the finding aid.

Included here are discussions concerning appointments to the newly established New York State Geological Survey (G. W. Boyd, T. A. Conrad, John Delafield, Lardner Vanuxem); a proposal for a Black River canal project (Henry A. Foster, J. B. Francis); the settlement of the New Jersey-New York boundary dispute (Andrew Jackson); and the proposed establishment of a State institution for the mentally handicapped (James B. Richards). In addition, there are a series of three letters written in 1846 between the U.S. Secretary of War Marcy and New York State Governor Silas Wright concerning clarification of the recently passed legislation providing for the use of volunteers for military service during the war with Mexico. Also included in the collection is a letter to Colonel Henry Stone (6 May 1836) relieving him of his duties:

Having a desire to make a change in my military staff I take the liberty to suggest to you that I am willing to accept your resignation as one of my aides. I presume it will readily occur to you that the disclosure recently made by the Senate on the charge against one of its members growing out of a gambling transaction between yourself & him has had an influence in inducing me to make the forgoing [sic] suggestion. This step has caused me some unpleasant sensations but I could not forbear to take it because [I] have not been able to doubt of its propriety.

There is also an item to Assistant Treasurer of the United States William C. Bouck (3 Jan 1848) ordering him to deposit in the name of the Secretary of War $24,032.50 "on account of 'Trustfund' interest" for a number of Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Chippewa, Creek, Menomonie, Ottawa, Seneca, and Shawnee. The letter provides a breakdown of the deposition of funds, indicating the allotments for treaty agreements, schools, and orphanages for the various tribes.

Among the more personal letters are acknowledgements of receipt of nine volumes of Thomas Jefferson's works (Asbury Dickins) and gifts of wine and a snuff box. There is also a polite refusal (Joseph Hoxie) to attend a festival sponsored by the New England Society of the City of New York commemorating the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. And pursuing a more didactic course is a single item to his younger brother-in-law, George W. Newell, in which Marcy expounds (25 Oct 1821):

The great art of epistolary correspondence is to say common things (for on such this correspondence usually treats) in an easy plain and elegant style. I have no reason to complain that such has not been the character of the stile of your letters. I must however say, though you may not think this remark "plus juste" that occasionally there is some omission of words, mistakes in the date or place when & from whence they are written and some times a sentence occurs which is bunglingly formed, and a too general neglect of punctuation; but justice requires that I should at the same time say that this as seldom happens in your writings as those of any one your age and experience. It is of the utmost importance that, in early life, we should contract habits of correctness - that we should accustom ourselves never to pass any thing without thoroughly understanding it.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection contains two series: Biographical material and Correspondence, which is arranged chronologically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Baldwin, Ebenezer, d. 1837.
Bouck, William C., 1786-1859.
Boyd, George W.
Buchanan, James, 1791-1868.
Campbell, James, 1812-1893.
Campbell, Robert Blair, 1809-1862.
Conrad, T. A. (Timothy Abbott), 1803-1877.
Delafield, John, 1786-1853.
Dickins, Asbury, 1780-1861.
Foster, Henry Allen, 1800-1889.
Francis, John Brown, 1791-1864.
Hale, Artemas, 1783-1882.
Hoxie, Joseph, d. 1870.
Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845.
Macomb, Alexander, 1782-1841.
Marcy, William L. (William Learned), 1786-1857.
Richards, James B.
Sprague, William Buell, 1795-1876.
Stone, Henry.
Stone, William Leete, 1835-1908.
Towle, George M. (George Makepeace), 1841-1893.
Vanuxem, Lardner, 1792-1848.
Walker, Robert James, 1801-1869.
Woodbury, Levi, 1789-1851.
Wright, Silas, 1795-1847.

Corporate Bodies

Democratic Party (N.Y.)
New York State Geological Survey.


Governors -- New York (State)
Mexican War, 1846-1848.
Military service, Voluntary.


New York (State) -- History -- 1775-1865.
New York (State) -- Officials and employees -- Selection and appointment.
United States -- History -- 1815-1861.

Genres and Forms




Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

William L. Marcy Collection
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents

Biographical material


Selected Index to Correspondence


Selected Index to Correspondence