Politician, orator, lawyer and judge Richard Wiggington Thompson was born in 1809 in Culpepper, Virginia. He moved to Lawrence County, Indiana in the 1830s and began practicing law in Bedford. Thompson began his political career in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1834, moving into the Senate after one term. He was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1841 and 1847. He was a noted orator in Terre Haute and served as city attorney in 1846 to 1847. With a political career spanning 40 years, he saw many changes in the country. His political affiliations changed from Whig to American Party (Know Nothing) from the 1850s-1860 to Constitutional Union from 1860-1861, and finally, to the Republican Party from 1861-1900.
In addition to having a long career, Thompson was also serving the country during one of its most contentious periods. He was the commander of Camp Thompson in Indiana and provost marshal of the Terre Haute district during the U.S. Civil War. Then President Lincoln appointed him collector of internal revenue for the 7th Indiana District from 1864 until 1866. As judge, Thompson presided over the 5th Circuit Court before President Hayes appointed him to the cabinet as Secretary of the Navy. In 1881, he resigned to become chairman of the American Committee of the French Panama Canal Company and a director of the Panama Railroad Company from 1881-1889.
His digitized collection contains personal and official correspondence, speeches, his writings on various topics including slavery, suffrage, and Reconstruction, his wife, Harriet’s, diary, certificates and commissions, newspaper clippings and legislation. Major correspondents include Joseph A. Wright, John D. Defrees, Oliver P. Morton, Walter Gresham, John W. Foster, Rutherford B. Hayes and others.
Ranging from 1818 to 1931, this collection documents major changes in the American political landscape in the 19th century.
This blog post was written by Lauren Patton, Rare Books and Manuscripts librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”