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Guide to the James Harper Papers
 MS 284

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Rachel Schimke

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 04, 2012

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Harper, James, 1795-1869
Title: James Harper Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1843-1855
Dates [bulk]: Bulk, 1844-1845
Abstract: James Harper (1795-1869) was one of the founders of the Harper & Brothers publishing company and served as the mayor of New York from 1844-1845. The collection is primarily correspondence written to Harper from his constituents during his term as mayor.
Quantity: 0.25 Linear feet (1 box)
Call Phrase: MS 284

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Biographical/Historical note

Although James Harper (April 13, 1795-March 27, 1869) is perhaps best known as one of the founders of what is today the HarperCollins publishing company, his other major achievement was serving as mayor of New York City. Harper was born in Newton, Long Island, New York, the oldest son of Joseph Harper, a farmer, carpenter, and storekeeper, and Elizabeth Kollyer, a Dutch burgher's daughter. He became drawn to the printing profession after reading Benjamin Franklin's autobiography as a young boy, and subsequently took on an apprenticeship at a print shop when he was sixteen. In 1817, he formed the J. & J. Harper printing company in New York with his brother, John. The other two Harper brothers, Fletcher and Wesley, joined the firm in the 1820s, prompting the company's name to change to Harper & Brothers in 1833. By 1830, the company was the largest book publisher in the United States. The company's success continued to grow towards the midcentury, as the brothers established the magazine Harper's Monthly and published the works of authors like Herman Melville, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving.

In 1844, James Harper was elected mayor of New York as a member of the American Republican Party, a nativist political organization which was the precursor to the Native American Party and laid the groundwork for the Know-Nothing Party. Founded in New York in 1843, the American Republican Party focused much of its anti-immigrant energies on Irish Catholics, and as mayor Harper removed Irishmen from the city's payroll. Though Harper was only in office for one year, during his term he created his own municipal police force (a year before the state established a system of city police wards), reduced animal traffic on the streets, and made garbage collecting and street sweeping more efficient. In accordance with his Methodist upbringing and membership in the Friends of Temperance, Harper also restricted the city's sale of liquor.

Harper ran for reelection reluctantly, stating in a letter to his party that though he could not "but think and feel that a more worthy candidate might be selected, I recognize also the right of my fellow citizens to call upon me, and my duty, as one who owes them much, to place myself at their disposal." The threat of violence that many New York voters feared after the outbreak of anti-Irish riots in Philadelphia, as well as the election of James Polk, the Democratic candidate for president in 1844, ensured that Harper was a one-term mayor. Following his defeat, Harper devoted the rest of his professional life to his publishing company. He never again ran for public office, and plainly wrote "I do not desire the office" in 1855 when he was rumored to be a candidate for the New York governorship (though he also conceded that he would accept the nomination if the "harmony" of the Know-Nothing party was threatened by lack of consensus). James Harper died in New York in a carriage accident in 1869.

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Scope and Contents note

The collection is mainly comprised of letters written to James Harper during his tenure as mayor of New York City from 1844 to 1845. The majority of the correspondence is requests for jobs (especially in law enforcement) or recommendations for jobseekers. The content of many of the letters is political in nature, with emphasis on the American Republican Party, a nativist political organization of which Harper was a member. Much of the rest of the correspondence to Harper consists of grievances, requests for social services, invitations to attend events or visit various institutions, suggestions for improving the city, and proposals for public projects.

The James Harper Papers contain five letters written by Harper himself, including a letter in which he accepts the American Republican Party's nomination for the 1845 mayoral election, as well as his drafts of several speeches. Also of note are the constitution, by-laws and other documents created by the American Republican Party which outline the party's goals and platform. The collection includes reports and press related to the proposed creation of a city bakery and a script for the initiation ceremony for the Friends of Temperance.

Arrangement note

The collection is arranged alphabetically by subject or form. Correspondence from constituents is arranged chronologically.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Harper, James, 1795-1869

Document Type

  • Correspondence
  • Speeches

Subject Organizations

  • American Republican Party.

Subject Topics

  • Bakeries -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Local elections -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Mayors -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Nativistic movements -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Nativistic movements -- United States
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Social conditions -- 19th century
  • Police -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Temperance -- New York (State) -- New York

Subject Places

  • New York (N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Politics and government

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access note

Open to qualified researchers.

Conditions Governing Use note

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote to: Manuscript Curator, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024.

Preferred Citation note

This collection should be cited as the James Harper Papers, MS 284, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Archival Materials note

Some of James Harper's personal papers are also located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 American Republican Party
1843, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 2 City Bakery: Reports and Newspaper Clippings
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Correspondence to Harper
1843, January-April 1844
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Correspondence to Harper
May 1844
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Correspondence to Harper
June-December 1844
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Correspondence to Harper
1845-1847, 1855
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Correspondence to Harper
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Correspondence Written by Harper
1844, 1854
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Criminal Sentences and Law Enforcement Records
1844, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Election Results (Tallies)
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Financial Papers
1844, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Friends of Temperance Initiation Ceremony Script
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Newspaper Clipping re: NYC Mayoral Election
Box: 1 Folder : 14 Proclamation from the Mayor's Office re: Fourth of July Booths
June 1844
Box: 1 Folder : 15 Speeches (Drafts)
Box: 1 Folder : 16 Subpoena

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