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Francis Lieber papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-0324

Chiefly family letters, many written in German, with son, Oscar Lieber and others; correspondence and reports to presidents and the Board of Trustees of South Carolina College with suggestions and comments on conditions; together with journals, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, and other papers. Includes correspondence re publication of the Encyclopedia Americana. Lieber's teaching positions at S.C. College and Columbia University; the publication and editing of Lieber's writings; the education of his son, Oscar, in Germany and Oscar's subsequent career as a geologist and Confederate Army officer, Oscar's views of the political, economic, and social life of South Carolina; and, during the American Civil War, the military service in the Union Army of Lieber's other sons, Hamilton and Norman. Topics discussed include state and national politics; issues related to university and campus life; antebellum sectional tensions, the secession crisis, Civil War; Copperhead movement in the North; the death of his son, Oscar, while fighting for the Confederacy, National Democratic Convention of 1866, and other topics. Other persons represented include Lieber's wife Matilda Oppenheimer Lieber, Hamilton Lieber's wife Hetty, and his daughter Mary. Correspondents include Henry Clay, Dorothea Dix, John England, A.H. Everett, Edward Everett, Henry Hallam, James Hamilton, James Henry Hammond, Wade Hampton III, Joseph Henry, George S. Hillard, Samuel Gridley Howe, Hugh Swinton Legare, Henry W. Longfellow, Benson John Lossing, James McFarlane Mathews, Joel R. Poinsett, William H. Prescott, William C. Preston, and Joseph Story. Letter, 4 February 1841 (Columbia, S.C.) from Lieber to Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) of the United States Supreme Court, discussing his recent writing projects and forwarding an inquiry from Carl Joseph Anton Mittermaier (1787-1867), Professor of Law at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), as to location of books apparently lost in transit, that Story had promised to loan to Mittermaier, which he needed for his "work on the present state of criminal science." Lieber offers praise for Mittermaier and his important work on criminal law, summarizing, that there were "very few, I believe, possessed of greater capability, both moral and scientific, to aid it, than our excellent friend"; Lieber also discusses recent correspondence with John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), "nearly six years ago I told him that it would be worth his while to consider... establishing some professorship… in N.Y. for the furtherance of German Knowledge, science, &c …to serve as one of the bridges for international exchange of knowledge." Lieber expressed surprise that after not hearing from Astor again on the subject he had lately "received suddenly a letter, informing me that upon inquiry he had found that Columbia College, N. York, had ample means of its own to establish a chair of the kind we had spoken of," although he believed that Astor’s "whole attention is directed to the establishment of a Library, and that those who aid him in this, mean to exclude all other foundations." Collection includes correspondence with American businessman and politician Elliot Christopher Cowdin (1819-1890), including letter, 10 October 1846, declining an invitation to speak at the Mercantile Library Association of Boston; letter, 19 Jun. 1866, written on letterhead of the War Department, Archive Office (Washington, D.C.), requesting that E.C. Cowdin (a New York merchant active in the silk trade) provide Lieber with the mailing address for "his Chinese Excellency"; and letter, 29 Feb. 1872, thanking Cowdin for having sent a copy of his publication on the early history of the Third Republic during the Franco-Prussian War and the and the establishment of the Paris Commune: "France in 1870-71: An Address Delivered Before the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, Feb. 10, 1872," with advice that Cowdin forward copies of the publication to A.R. Spofford (the Librarian of Congress), as well as the Astor Library and several other repositories. Lieber also suggests that Cowdin consult his 1841 publication: "As to Communism I wish you would read my Essays on Labour and Property first published in 1841, when Mr. [Orestes A.] Brownson [(1803-1876)], the Unitarian minister ... wrote what he intended to publish an election pamphlet ["Laboring Classes," on behalf of incumbent Martin Van Buren] in favor of the lapse of private property into the common fund at the death of each person...." Places represented include South Carolina (Charleston, Columbia, Pendleton, and York); Boston (Massachusetts); Charlottesville (Virginia); New York (N.Y.); Newport (Rhode Island); Philadelphia (Pennsylvania); Washington (D.C.); as well as Germany (including Berlin) and elsewhere in Europe.


  • 1808 - 1969


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from the Francis Lieber papers must be obtained from the Director of the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, 910 Sumter Street, Columbia, SC 29208.


4 Linear Feet

Biographical / Historical

Educator, author, political philosopher and professor of history and political economy at South Carolina College [now University of South Carolina] and Columbia University. A native of Berlin (Germany), Lieber fought with Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher at Waterloo, 1815, participated in Frederick Jahn's Turner movement, joined an ill-fated expedition to fight in the Greek Revolution in 1822, and served as a tutor for the children of historian Barthold G. Niebuhr in Rome, 1822-1823. During this period, Lieber studied for brief periods at Berlin, Jena (where he received a Ph.D.), Halle and Dresden, always under the eye of the Prussian authorities who frequently questioned and twice imprisoned him. In 1825, Lieber traveled to London in 1825, where he met Matilda Oppenheimer whom he married in 1829, and then to Boston in 1827, where he managed a gymnasium and swimming school. To support himself, Lieber wrote for German newspapers; edited, translated, and wrote much of the 13-volume Encyclopedia Americana, 1829-1833; prepared numerous articles and lectures; promoted prison reform along the lines of the Pennsylvania system; translated and annotated Beaumont and deToqueville's On the Penitentiary System (1833); prepared a Plan of Education for Girard College (1834) and authored a travel journal, Letters to a Gentleman in Germany, published in 1834. Despite credentials as an author, his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1830, and the assistance of his friends correspondents, Lieber was unable to obtain a permanent position until the fall of 1835, when he joined the faculty of South Carolina College, where he taught, 1835-1856, and published his more significant works: Political Ethics (1838-1839); Legal and Political Hermeneutics (1837-1838); Essays on Property and Labour (1843); and Civil Liberty and Self-Government (853). These titles reflected Lieber's support for freedom of the will; individualism; rights and obligations (or as Lieber phrased it, "droit oblige") growing out of natural law; a limited state except when the public interest is involved; the importance of property; free trade; monogamy and the family; and opposition to organized labor. In 1856, Lieber left South Carolina College after once again failing to secure the presidency of the school. Settling in New York, Lieber accepted a position teaching history and political science at Columbia University (1858-1865) and later in the Columbia Law School (1865-1872). He became involved in politics, organized the Loyal Publication Society during the American Civil War and drafted legal briefs for colleagues who included Edward Bates, Hamilton Fish, Henry Halleck, Edward Stanton and Charles Sumner (who frequently shared Lieber's ideas with Abraham Lincoln). During this period, he also published, 24 April 1863, what became known as the Lieber Code, titled General Orders No.100, "Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field," this directed soldiers' personal conduct when faced with various ethical dilemmas in the field. Following the war he served as archivist for captured Confederate documents, 1865-1867; as an official for the United States and Mexican Claims Commission, 1869-1872 and as organizer of conferences on international law.


This collection is arranged chronologically.

Physical Location

This collection is held by the South Carolinina Library. Contact the library at 803-777-3132 or to inquire about scan-and-deliver options or to set up a research appointment. Please provide at least three business days’ notice for in-person appointments.


Also includes accession numbers 0846, 1001, 1157, 1433, 1458, 1584, 1685, 1688, 1689, 1938, 2000, 2013, 2347, 2348, 2534, 2744, 2943, 2534, 3199, 3335, 3376, 3486, 3496, 3843, 3999, 4500, 4540, 4559, 5262, 5326, 5473, 5609, 5610, 5647, 5767, 5849, 6046, 6043, 6045, 6047, 6213, 6464, 6656, 6877, 6272, 6655, 6898, 7177, 7350, 7386, 7485, 7501, 7768, 8333, 8362, 8595, 8869, 9665, 10109, 10183, 10218, 10495, 10532, 13830, and 15756.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

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