Skip to main content

Personal Papers


Personal Papers are divided into eight sub-series: General, Business and Financial Records, Campaign Records, Diary and Memoirs, Family, Military Service, Schedules, and Topical Files.

Personal General Files chiefly hold correspondence, 1938 to 2004, with friends and associates from throughout West‘s life and career, relating to his personal, business, and political activities. This material includes both incoming and outgoing letters, many of the latter handwritten by West, a prolific correspondent. The files also contain tributes to friends and public figures who were retiring, as well as remembrances of friends who had passed away. Also of note are letters and cards received by West in 2003, when many friends and admirers, having learned that West was ill, wrote to express what he meant to them. Additional correspondence appears under Personal, Topical, in the Persons files. Among those represented in the Persons files are Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Business and Financial Records document West‘s work with Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Seibels Bruce, and his legal practice. The sub-series also includes material relating to his charitable donations and his investments in real estate and in communications.

Campaign Records relate to West's 1954, 1966, and 1970 campaigns as well as the presidential campaigns of Hubert Humphrey, 1968; Jimmy Carter, 1976; and Michael Dukakis, 1988. There is also material pertaining to Marshall Parker‘s 1962 campaign for lieutenant governor. Campaign records are divided into General, Financial Records, Organization Files, Publicity, and Topical Files.

West's successful campaign for Lieutenant Governor is well documented. General files consist chiefly of correspondence detailing support and opposition across South Carolina, discussions of campaign strategies, letters of congratulations, and correspondence between West and Earle E. Morris, Jr., Chairman of the state Democratic Party. Organization files contain correspondence between Harry Lightsey, West's campaign manager, and his county chairmen across the state and provide accounts of results by precinct. Included in these files are details of the county organizational structure of West's various volunteer and support groups. The publicity files contain correspondence between West, Lightsey, and the Bradham Advertising Agency exploring ideas and strategies for ad campaigns, as well as copy for television advertisements. The Marshall Mays Topical File contains brochures and other material from Mays's campaign, a biography, his 1960 legislative record, and correspondence concerning Mays' questionable involvement with the Pulp Paper Company. Of interest are Mays' allegations that West distributed campaign money from the National Democratic Party for Lyndon Johnson during his 1964 presidential campaign.

The 1968 Hubert Humphrey Presidential Campaign files chiefly consist of correspondence and campaign materials from both Humphrey‘s campaign and that of his rival for the Democratic nomination, Eugene McCarthy. West and Humphrey had a warm friendship, as documented by letters in the files, and West maintained his support for Humphrey throughout the campaign season.

West‘s 1970 gubernatorial campaign is also well documented. General files contain correspondence regarding current issues, campaign events, and suggestions for and assessments of the success of the campaign. Of particular interest are letters concerning the incident in Lamar, and a letter, February 24, 1970, from Hubert Humphrey, who wrote, "I hope and pray that your friendship with me will not be a political liability in your state." West replied on March 3: "My public support for you was the right thing to do and I will never feel other than proud of it."

Gubernatorial organization files contain information on county organization, chairman‘s manuals, and the state campaign organization. Also included is information about "South Carolinians for West," a group of West's supporters who allowed their names to be used in advertisements for West across the state; lists of volunteers; and voter registration comparisons. Of particular interest is correspondence from members of the Strategy Committee regarding West's and Watson's strengths and weaknesses. Press Releases contain announcements of West's campaign activities and excerpts from his speeches. Several were issued by West supporters. Schedules, August 1969 to November 1970, list the many campaign events in which West participated.

Topical Files concern subjects such as the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, textile imports, and school desegregation. Files also relate to West opponent Albert Watson and potential opponent Lester Bates. The Bates file includes analyses of his success as mayor of Columbia, Bates quotes, and his announcement of his decision not to run for governor. The Watson file contains newsletters, quotes, and information West requested on Watson's travel expenditures as a member of Congress.

Jimmy Carter‘s 1976 presidential campaign is documented by General files consisting chiefly of correspondence on the progress of the campaign, fundraising, and the shaping of Carter‘s foreign policy positions. Beginning in 1975 West worked actively in Carter‘s campaign. While leading the 1976 South Carolina trade mission to the Middle East, West collected campaign contributions for Carter. He also wrote Carter on May 10, 1976, with some observations about the region, concluding: "Since I feel the Mid-East will be one of the key areas of your concern when you are elected, I would like the opportunity of sitting down with your foreign policy advisors and giving them the information and ideas which we gleaned during our trip." As a result of his letter, West met with Cyrus Vance, who became Carter‘s Secretary of State, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became National Security Advisor. He later worked closely with both men in his role as ambassador.

Carter Campaign Topical Files consist of appointment and talent files containing West's recommendations for positions within Carter's administration. The appointment file contains the recommendations of those candidates who Carter chose for a position. The talent files contain West's recommendations of unsuccessful candidates. Among those recommended by West was Marshall Mays, his former opponent in the lieutenant governor‘s race. Despite some contentious exchanges during the race, West and Mays were able to remain on friendly terms afterwards, with West suggesting to Carter that Mays be retained as leader of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. West wrote that "Both before and after that election I have considered him to be a gentleman and a friend." Mays returned the favor by writing the State Department in 1977 to support West‘s nomination as ambassador.

Michael Dukakis‘ 1988 presidential campaign file chiefly regards West's fund-raising efforts on behalf of Michael Dukakis.

West‘s diary, 1967, 1971 to 1975, and 1977 to 1981, is composed of the transcripts of tape recordings dictated by West each evening, chiefly during his terms as governor and ambassador, discussing the day‘s appointments and events. Portions of the diary dating from the ambassadorial period which have been judged by the State Department to contain classified information have been removed and/or redacted.

West endeavored on at least two occasions to write a memoir. A short outline of a memoir of his time as ambassador bears the tentative title, "Don‘t Forget to Pack the Grits!" Drafts of a longer, untitled memoir largely cover West‘s childhood, military service, and early legal and political career, including his retelling of a tense and dangerous confrontation with the Kershaw County Ku Klux Klan in 1958.

Personal Topical Files cover issues and projects in which West was interested or involved as a private citizen. Middle East files, circa 1974 to 2003, consist chiefly of correspondence with businessmen, diplomats, and personal friends, as well as with American and Saudi Arabian government officials. Following his years as ambassador, West‘s continuing interest in the Middle East, its business opportunities, culture, and conflicts, is reflected in his ongoing correspondence with various Saudi citizens and officials, including members of the royal family. From the time of his return to South Carolina in 1981 until his death in 2004, West was frequently called upon as an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, whether for interviews with local or national media or as a special envoy of the State Department. West corresponded with a number of diplomats and State Department colleagues, offering advice to his successors in Foreign Service in the Middle East. The files also include West's response to The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection, a 1985 book by Steven Emerson. West‘s business interests in the Middle East included involvement with the Saudi American Business Roundtable and consulting work. His interest prior to becoming ambassador is depicted in substantial files relating to the 1976 South Carolina Trade Mission to the Middle East led by West. The Mission was designed to promote closer economic ties with the region. The group principally visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Other Personal Topical files reflect groups and institutions in which West was involved, such as the Presbyterian Church, the Southern Council on International and Public Affairs, and the Education Commission of the States‘ Task Force on Responsible Decisions about Alcohol, which West chaired. The Democratic Party files demonstrate West's involvement in the party throughout his life. Of particular interest is a confidential analysis of the political situation in South Carolina co-authored by West a few months before the 1960 presidential election. This report was written for the Democratic National Committee. Separate files on Political Candidates include information on West‘s endorsements of and contributions to both Democratic and Republican candidates, particularly in South Carolina races.

One of West‘s longtime endeavors was an effort to improve education in South Carolina, particularly at his alma maters, The Citadel and the University of South Carolina. There are extensive Personal Topical files on West‘s fundraising efforts for and involvement at the two schools. Among these are files on The Citadel‘s close-knit class of 1942, which included numerous well-known South Carolinians; in addition to West, other members of the class were Ernest F. Hollings and future Citadel presidents George M. "Obbe" Seignious and James A. "Alex" Grimsley. Further demonstrating West‘s commitment to education are files on the West Foundation, a non-profit corporation established in 1974 and designed to sponsor educational programs through grants both to institutions and to individual students. As a result of the Foundation‘s efforts, the John C. West Professorship of Government and International Relations was established at The Citadel. The Foundation has also distributed scholarships to undergraduates and sponsored numerous lecture series and seminars on international issues. More recently, the West Foundation helped bring into existence the University of South Carolina‘s John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, an initiative of the Department of Political Science (formerly the Department of Government and International Studies). West‘s longstanding support of USC and work for the department as a lecturer led to the naming of the Forum in his honor; according to the original proposal included in the West Forum files, the Forum‘s mission is to "promote and promulgate the civic values and political leadership exemplified in the career of Governor West." Also included in the files on USC is material relating to the Forum, as well as correspondence, lecture outlines, and research materials related to West‘s position as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Mid-East Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Family papers include correspondence with various family members, as well as files relating to West‘s mother, Mattie Ratterree West, and her interest in genealogy. Several nineteenth-century documents included seem to have belonged to ancestors, including an autograph album (c. 1857) and a copybook (c. 1840s). West himself took an interest in genealogy and corresponded with relatives, close and distant, throughout the country. Essays on West family history were apparently written by John West as a schoolboy.

Military Service records document West's military career, starting in 1942 when he began active duty as an Antiaircraft Artillery Battery Commander. Records trace West's rise in the military to Captain and later to Major. Military records are arranged chronologically and include West's special orders and other correspondence about his military career.

Schedules, 1966, 1976 to 1977, 1981 to 1998, and 2003, include invitations, information about appointments, and travel plans. Blank calendar pages have been removed. Materials relating to conferences and other events indicate West‘s continued involvement as an advisor to political leaders, state officials, and educational entities, as well as his popularity as a speaker, particularly on matters pertaining to South Carolina government and to the Middle East.


  • c. 1840s, c. 1857, 1905, 1924, 1938-2004


Library Use Only


From the Collection: 52.5 Linear Feet


Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA