John Mandt Nelson Papers, circa 1890-1977

Scope and Content Note

The Nelson Papers consist chiefly of constituent correspondence, 1928-1933; speeches and writings; work files; biographical materials; and visual materials.

The CORRESPONDENCE, which is arranged chronologically by month, consists largely of letters from constituents in the Third District expressing views on pending legislation or seeking preferment for federal positions, appointment to Annapolis or West Point, or copies of various government publications. Nelson frequently responded to such requests with form letters. In 1986 the correspondence was weeded to remove all such routine letters.

The collection contains little correspondence with political colleagues or opponents or other persons of state or national prominence. However there are letters from Louis Brandeis, Champ Clark, L.W. Claude, Thomas Alva Edison, William T. Evjue, James Frear, Zona Gale, Samuel Gompers, Ada James, Belle Case La Follette, Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert M. La Follette Jr., Louis P. Lochner, Nicholas Longworth, Michael V. O'Shea, R.T. Rawleigh, Theodore Roosevelt, Edward A. Ross, and Edwin Witte. Some correspondence of a more official nature pertains to his work as chairman of the Committee on Invalid Pensions. There are also miscellaneous letters pertaining to several of Nelson's election campaigns. Material pertaining to his work as manager of the 1924 La Follette campaign was apparently turned over to Basil Manly in 1925; as a result this collection contains only some rather routine material pertaining to literature distribution. There are also many letters of personal interest, primarily concerning research performed by Nelson's sister on the Philippine question, the care of his elderly mother, and the death of his son Robert in a Canadian train wreck.

SPEECHES AND WRITINGS includes notes and drafts of speeches on various political and religious topics, as well as a separate section of draft chapters and notes collected for an extended publication on the Philippines.

The WORK FILES include draft and annotated copies of bills considered by the Committee on Invalid Pensions, a history of the Rules Committee, and a commentary and minutes prepared by Nelson as part of the Insurgent group's offensive against the rules, 1908-1910. Other political material includes a segregated file of correspondence with William T. Evjue, minutes of the La Follette-Wheeler presidential campaign committee, lists of Dane County supporters, and a summary of Nelson's voting record.

BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS includes a lengthy biography prepared by his daughter Grace Nelson, who worked as his legislative assistant for many years; biographical clippings, campaign literature, and a “Commonplace book” or journal which Nelson kept in 1897.

VISUAL MATERIALS includes photographs, circa 1890-1950, of John Mandt Nelson. Images consist of portraits of Nelson and other family members and photographs of family residences. Of particular note are photographs of the train crash that killed son Robert Nelson in 1929, as well as small, commemorative albums made for Nelson by the family of son Byron in the 1950s. Photographs of Nelson at work include members of the Judiciary Committee and “Third Party Convention” with Robert “Bob” La Follette and Robert La Follette Jr. In addition, there is a campaign poster for John Mandt Nelson for Congress, 1918.