Guide to the George Colin McKee Papers

MSN/MN 0501


Collection Summary

Title: George Colin McKee papers
Dates: 1860-1934 (bulk 1864-1883)
Collection No.: MSN/MN 0501
Creator: McKee, George Colin, 1837-1890
Extent: 149 folders; 3 containers; 1.25 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Personal, professional, and political correspondence and other papers of the Mississippi lawyer, planter, and politician George Colin McKee (1837-1890). McKee was a "carpetbagger" and moderate Republican who represented the Vicksburg district in Congress during Reconstruction. Most of the material dates from the 20 years following the Civil War, though there are McKee family papers extending into the 20th century.

Selected Search Terms

McKee, George Colin, 1837-1890
Mississippi -- Politics and government -- Sources
Mississippi -- Race relations -- History -- Sources
Mississippi -- History -- Sources
Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950
Reconstruction -- Mississippi

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: George Colin McKee Papers, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The George Colin McKee Papers were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame in 2011, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List No. 113, item 37). Arranged and described 2011, by Kieran Wasserman. Finding aid 2011, by Kieran Wasserman and George Rugg.

Biographical Note

George Colin McKee was a Reconstruction-era politician from Mississippi, representing the Vicksburg district in the 41st, 42nd, and 43rd U. S. Congresses (1870 to 1875). McKee was born on 2 October 1837 in Joliet, Illinois. He was educated at Knox College and admitted to the bar in 1858, thereafter serving as city attorney of Centralia, Illinois (1858-1861). With the outbreak of war McKee enlisted in the 11th Illinois Infantry, rising to captain (Co. C., 1861) and major (1863). In 1864 he was commissioned brigadier general of Mississippi militia, charged with raising four regiments of freedmen. After the war he remained in Mississippi, practicing law in Vicksburg and planting cotton in Hinds County. He also became a prominent figure in the moderate wing of the state's Republican party. "[F]ew carpetbaggers during Reconstruction", William C. Harris has written, "proved more consistent or more active in the advocacy of moderation and conciliation than McKee." (The Day of the Carpetbagger, 1979, 122). Among the chief poltical goals of the moderates was the cultivation of a strong white constituency within the Republican party, to complement its black majority. McKee was a delegate at the (failed) state constitutional convention of 1868, and was elected to the House, for the first of three consecutive terms, when Mississippi was readmitted to the Union in 1869. As a member of the House McKee worked for legislation to rebuild the Mississippi levees and improve the Yazoo River, to refund the Federal cotton tax of 1865-68, and to overturn political disabilities imposed on white Southerners. He also served as chairman of the Committee on Territories (43rd Congress). In the struggle for power within the Mississippi Republican party between the radical Adalbert Ames and the moderate James Lusk Alcorn, McKee typically aligned himself with Alcorn. Even after the Democratic "redemption" of Mississippi in the elections of 1875 (and after suffering a politically motivated assault on the streets of Canton in 1876) McKee remained in his adopted state. He married Anita Hortense Camp (b. ca. 1854), of New York, with whom he began raising a family. He stayed active in Republican affairs. During the Garfield and Arthur administrations McKee served as postmaster at Jackson, a position to which he was appointed, amid some controversy, over the black Republican leader James J. Hill. Later, in 1889-90, he served as receiver of public monies at Jackson. In 1877 he was granted a patent for a cotton press. McKee died at Jackson on 17 November 1890.

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes more than 240 pieces of George Colin McKee's correspondence, virtually all of it directed to McKee. The correspondence spans the period 1864 to 1883; at least 77 of the letters (and telegrams) date from 1877-78, shortly after McKee left the House of Representatives. Among the many letters whose content is primarily personal or business-related are many others from individuals active in public life, which reference the politics of Reconstruction-era Mississippi and the greater nation. Most are written by Republican colleagues, including Joshua S. Morris, James Lynch, Eugene P. Jacobson, Edward J. Castello, Henry R. Pease, John L. Morphis, Albert T. Morgan, James J. Hill, and Ridgley C. Powers. Party figures of true national prominence are for the most part absent. There are also a good many patronage letters. Also present are some 80 manuscript pages of speeches, speech drafts, and speech notes, in McKee's hand. Perhaps the most significant is a 15-page speech delivered by McKee at the 1868 Mississippi constitutional convention. There are also numerous speech notes that appear to date from the period of the 1872 elections (when McKee received the Republican nomination for the Vicksburg Congressional district over Secretary of State James Lynch). Among the 90-odd legal and financial papers of McKee's are several affidavits (1876-77) testifying to the persecution of Madison County Republicans, white and black, by Democratic "night riders". Also in the collection is an accumulation of printed ephemera and clippings, some of it political in nature; a group of (mostly unidentified) photographs; and assorted papers of McKee family members, especially Anita Hortense McKee, George's wife, and Hortense McKee Gaither, George's daughter.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged into seven series, as follows: 1) George Colin McKee: Correspondence; 2) George Colin McKee: Speeches and Notes; 3) George Colin McKee: Business, Financial, and Legal Records; 4) George Colin McKee: Miscellaneous Manuscripts; 5) McKee Family Papers; 6) Miscellaneous Printed Matter; 7) Photographs. Folders within series are typically arranged chronologically.

Container List