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Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers

 Collection — Box: Duplicates
Identifier: MSS 0331

Scope and Contents

The Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers (1861-1927) includes documents from 1716 to 1928. Papers and legal documents belonging to Saulsbury's father, many dating from before 1861, are part of the collection, as well as items from the settlement of Saulsbury's estate by Hugh Morris and papers from cases handled by Saulsbury's law firm, which were not closed until after his death. The papers belonging to Saulsbury himself are primarily from the years 1883 to 1927, and the bulk of these are from 1908-1926, when Saulsbury was at his political and business peak. The collection consists mostly of papers, but also includes photographs, maps, and political memorabilia.

The collection has been assembled into five series: Legal, Politics, Business, Personal, and Family Papers. The arrangement for the collection, including the twenty-six subseries, have largely been retained from a previous organization of the collection.

The Legal series consist of the papers of Saulsbury's law office and subsequently his law firm for the years 1889-1926. The bulk of these papers are for the years 1907-1919 from his law firm. There is a lesser concentration around the years 1889-1893 from his law office. The papers represent the other members of the firm as well as Saulsbury himself, and, since a file may represent a case which precedes Saulsbury's involvement or was continued after the firm's involvement ended, some files contain documents from before or after these dates. The files contain cases of diverse types, giving a cross-section of legal practice in the first quarter of the 20th century. Property disputes, estate settlements, and divorce suits are common, but there are also cases involving personal injury, industrial and railroad accidents, insanity, and bribery. In later years, there are more cases involving business and financial issues as an increasing number of out-of-state companies seek Delaware incorporation and advice on Delaware corporate law. This series also contains a subseries of letter books with the bulk of the leaves pertaining to legal cases, although there is a great deal of overlap with Saulsbury's business, political, and personal life. Finally, this series contains a collection of wills and deeds, many of which predate Willard Saulsbury, Jr.

The Politics series covers the years 1895 to 1925 when Saulsbury was most involved in state and national politics. The bulk of these files fall in the years 1912 to 1923 covering the period from Saulsbury’s election to the U.S. Senate to the peak of his activity as an independent statesman representing the U.S. The "General Politics" subseries covers his political career most broadly, tracking his rise from local to state to national political circles including his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1924. Saulsbury’s involvement with Delaware politics, especially during the Addicks years, is emphasized in this subseries. The "Senate Membership" subseries documents various aspects of his years in the Senate, including his work on the Interstate Commerce, Foreign Relations, and Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico Committees. This subseries also details his interests and objectives for Delaware in the office including his amendments to budget bills and his efforts towards the establishment of a series of inland waterways. The "Senate Membership" subseries gives an insight into the processes of government because of the papers related to the Saulsbury-sponsored anti-Rent bill. Although Saulsbury was in the Senate throughout World War I, mention of the war is generally limited to issues of U.S. national defense. There is little record of events in Europe, with the exception of Saulsbury's limited involvement as legal counsel to the American delegation at Versailles. The "Letters" subseries contains Saulsbury's extensive political correspondence from his years in the Senate, and the "Addresses" subseries contains notes for and copies of various speeches he made throughout his career, but particularly after his election as Senator. There is also a file in which he collected biographical information about himself over the years. The final subseries details Saulsbury's role at the Fifth Pan-American Conference in Santiago de Chile.

The Business series contains series related to Saulsbury's financial affairs. Saulsbury was able to draw on his father's wealth and property, but he expanded his inheritance through successful business ventures throughout his life. The bulk of this series dates from the period 1910 to 1925 when Saulsbury was most active in business and expanding his investments across the country. A secondary group of material dating from 1890 to 1900 covers the period of Saulsbury's crucial involvement in the establishment of utilities in Wilmington. Several of today's most important corporations, including AT&T, Coca-Cola, DuPont, and Ford, were objects of Saulsbury's search for profitable investments although mining was the industry that interested him most. These interests are divided into two subseries, "Personal Affairs" and "Businesses Supervised," which cover slightly different time periods and/or types of investments. Together with related files in the other series, these subseries also contain an almost complete history of Saulsbury's involvement with the newspaper, The Delawarean. One investment of Saulsbury's, his attempt to development Fenwick Island, is set apart from the others in a separate subseries. Finally, the "Personal Affairs" subseries includes files related to the income tax, implemented through constitutional amendment during this time.

The "Personal" series consists almost exclusively of letters, the bulk of which are in the "Correspondence" and "Miscellaneous Letters" subseries, covering the periods 1912 to 1919 and 1918 to 1926 respectively. A third subseries, "Miscellaneous Correspondence," covers the period 1890 to 1913. There is also a file, "Intimate Letters" which includes Saulsbury's personal correspondence with May du Pont, as well as with other women who were important to him at different times in his life. The remaining subseries, "du Pont," is quite small and documents Saulsbury's direct involvement with the du Pont family. Most of this series concerns May's divorce form her first husband, her cousin William. One file relates to an anonymous threat to a member of the du Pont family who came to the Saulsburys for help.

The final series is a collection of papers belonging to other members of Saulsbury's family. Included are the estate settlement of his brother John, letters from his cousin Mary Ellen, newspaper clippings on the death of his uncle Eli, and letters from his mother Annie as well as papers concerning her estate. The bulk of this series, however, is comprised of papers belonging to his father, Willard Saulsbury, Sr., containing papers from the time of his first term in the U.S. Senate (1859-1865) and legal papers from his years as state chancellor (1873-1892). The earlier period, which includes both the birth of Willard Saulsbury, Jr. and the Civil War, contains material of political interest, including the outspoken Senator's opinions on state's rights.

Greater detail is provided with a description at the beginning of each series.


  • Creation: 1716-1930
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1908-1926


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical / Historical

Willard Saulsbury, Jr. was born April 17, 1861 in Georgetown, Delaware, when his father, Willard Saulsbury, Sr. was in the third year of his first term as a U.S. Senator. Five days earlier, the first shots of the Civil War had been fired by Southern troops on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Willard Saulsbury, Sr. was a complex and colorful politician who made impassioned speeches on the Senate floor against the abuses of the Union government during the war, protested limitations on states' rights, and boasted of being the last slaveholder in the North; yet he remained loyal to the Union. Willard, Jr. was the youngest of his three children. All three of those children would die without offspring, but his youngest son, perhaps fulfilling a prediction made by one of his father's fellow senators, would take his father's seat in the Senate almost fifty years after his father left it and fifteen years after his father's death. From the time Willard, Sr. entered the Senate to the time Willard, Jr. left it, the Saulsbury family was one of the leading political families in Delaware.

The family was established in America when Thomas Saulsbury arrived in the Virginia colony (Northumberland County) from Wales in 1645, although Willard Saulsbury, Jr. claims the presence of an even earlier relative. A branch of the family began to farm in Dorchester County, Maryland, near the Delaware line, and over the course of the next one hundred and fifty years the Saulsbury farms became established in central Delaware. By the nineteenth century, the Saulsbury family had a long and distinguished history in America, but was neither part of the aristocracy nor holders of great wealth.

Willard Saulsbury, Sr. (1820-1892) built on the advantages provided him to become a respected attorney in central Delaware. It was said that for a time no case in Sussex County and no case of importance in the entire state went to trial without Willard, Sr. serving as counsel. In 1850 at the age of 29, Willard, Sr. was appointed Attorney General of Delaware, thus beginning a family political dynasty. Three years later, his brother Eli (1817-1893) entered politics and was elected to the state legislature. In 1856 another brother, Gove (1815-1881), also entered politics and joined his brother Willard as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention. Shortly before being appointed Attorney-General, Willard, Sr. had married Annie Milby Ponder, a direct descendant of the first President of Delaware after the Revolution and a powerful woman in her own right. In 1853 they had their first son, John Ponder Saulsbury (1853-1889), and three years after that a daughter Margaret (1856-1875). In 1859, Willard, Sr. was elected to the U.S. Senate, beginning an unbroken string of thirty years with a Saulsbury representing Delaware in that body. In the third year of that term, the Saulsbury's third and final child, Willard, Jr., was born.

Willard, Sr. was a magnificent orator who had ample opportunity to exhibit his skill during the tumultuous years of the Civil War. His positions were popular in a state divided by the War, so he was returned to the Senate in 1865. His brothers also continued to be successful in Delaware politics. The same year, Gove was elevated to the Governorship when the Governor died, and he was elected to a full term the following year. Together, Senator Eli Saulsbury and Governor Gove Saulsbury put up a formidable resistance to the Reconstruction efforts of the Republican U.S. Congress. In 1871 Willard, Sr.'s second term was up, and he submitted his name to the state legislature as a candidate. Both of his brothers, Gove (whose term as Governor was also expiring) and Eli, also contested the seat. Sixteen votes were needed for a majority, and although Gove held fourteen or fifteen in every ballot, the race was finally decided when Willard, Sr. threw his support to Eli. Thus ended one of the most unusual Senate races in U.S. history. Eli went on to serve three terms as Senator, and Willard, Sr. was named two years later by his brother-in-law Governor Ponder to be State Chancellor, the highest legal position in the State of Delaware. He held that position with distinction until his death in 1892.

During this time the Saulsburys had great expectations for their three children. Willard, Jr. was educated in private schools in Delaware, and he was also a regular guest of his father's in Washington. When his father was appointed to the State Chancellorship, the family moved from Sussex to Kent County to be near Dover. Willard, Jr. received a secondary education at the Wilmington Conference Academy in Dover [sic]. From 1877-1879 Willard, Jr. began his study of law at the University of Virginia. For the next few years he read law with his father, and in 1882 at the age of 21 he was admitted to the Bar in Kent County.

Now on his own, Willard, Jr. moved to Wilmington and began practicing in the law office of family friend Victor du Pont. The Saulsburys had attended the wedding of Victor's daughter Mary Lammot du Pont (1855-1927) to her cousin William du Pont in 1878. Willard practiced in the office until Victor's death in 1888. By that time, Willard was a successful attorney and a respected member of the state Bar. He set up his own office and retained most of Victor's former clients. Saulsbury was also gaining a reputation for his business success in various enterprises he had started in Wilmington. The following year Willard's brother John died. He and his wife Mary Hayes Saulsbury had no children.

The year 1892 was pivotal in Willard's life. He took his first major political step that year by becoming chairman of the New Castle County Democratic Committee, a position he held until 1900. He also took on a case which was extremely important to him personally. He served as Mary du Pont's attorney in the divorce sought against her by her husband William, who had moved to South Dakota to expedite the proceedings. Willard sought to prove that William had been having an affair with Annie Rogers Zinn, who was also seeking a divorce from her husband George. Although he failed to prove his case in the courtroom, William and Annie were married later that year after their divorces were granted. The final significant event of 1892 was the death of Willard's father, Willard, Sr. Willard's mother was devastated by her husband's death, and Willard dedicated much time over the following several years to comforting and caring for her.

In 1893, Willard added to the scandal begun by William du Pont by marrying Mary in December. They honeymooned in Tampa, Florida, before returning to Wilmington. Under the circumstances, the wedding was considered a disgrace to the du Pont family, most of whom would never speak to the couple again. So harsh was the reaction of the du Pont family that the minister who performed the ceremony was reportedly forced to retire to Europe. Willard simply took to referring to his in-laws as "that clan." However, his new wife May Du Pont Saulsbury (as she chose to render her name), was clearly his partner and equal. Seven years his senior and financially independent, May was not overshadowed by the income or experience of her husband. She carried on many of her own business affairs and freely gave her opinion on Willard's various endeavors. Although Willard obviously respected the talents of both his mother and wife, who were probably the two dearest people to him, he opposed the introduction of women's suffrage. He believed that a national amendment breached the rights of the states and that the implementation of suffrage within Delaware was neither desired by women nor necessary. The issue would follow him to the closing days of his term as U.S. Senator.

Willard continued to pursue many interests. Combining an inheritance from his father with his own assets, Willard had already become one of the leading businessmen in Wilmington. He expanded the family farms held across Delaware and parts of Maryland. Willard also began providing business advice to others seeking to invest in Delaware and Philadelphia, including, curiously enough, his future nemesis J. Edward Addicks of Boston and New York. Most importantly, Willard began to take an interest in the development of utilities in Wilmington. Throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century, Willard developed projects to introduce new services to the city largely through Equitable Guaranty and Trust Co., which he founded and guided as a member of the board. His projects included the introduction of gas, electricity, railroads, and streetcars, as well as many other projects. It could be said that Willard Saulsbury, Jr. was responsible for lighting the streets and heating the homes of Wilmington. For years, the Equitable Guaranty and Trust building was a Wilmington landmark. His success with most of these projects opened up whole new worlds of investment opportunities for Willard, who was not slow to seek new projects.

At the same time, Willard began efforts to achieve his political ambition of taking his father's seat in the Senate. After serving as a delegate to the 1896 Democratic National Convention, he made his first effort in 1897, but the Democratic caucus in the State Legislature chose to support Richard R. Kenney who was duly elected instead. The next Senate election was in 1899, but by then the entire landscape of Delaware politics was warped by the arrival of J. Edward Addicks. Addicks, a minor tycoon of a type not terribly uncommon for the age, had decided he wished to become a U.S. Senator. A political novice, he could not possibly hope to be elected in either New York or Massachusetts where he lived and conducted most of his business. However, Delaware was a much smaller state where a man, particularly one with deep pockets, could hope to be noticed much more easily. Therefore, Addicks moved to Wilmington and began providing large amounts of cash for Republican candidates. His money would help to ensure Republican dominance in the state for over a decade. However, when Addicks sought to collect on his money by demanding election by the Republican-controlled Legislature to the U.S. Senate, he produced a split in the Delaware Republican Party between Regular Republicans and Addicks Republicans.

Though the two factions of the Republican Party significantly out-polled the Democrats in the early years of the 20th century, Willard was not about to allow himself or his party to be marginalized. Saulsbury regarded the entrance of Addicks into state politics as a fundamental threat to democracy in Delaware. Through the sittings of several legislatures over many years, Saulsbury was put forward as the Democratic candidate for the senatorship. Being willing to exploit the divide in the Republican Party, Saulsbury came close to being elected on several ballots, but his adamant refusal to make any deals with Addicks' men almost certainly delayed his election to the Senate. He was clearly willing to pay that price, and his consistent efforts were rewarded when he was made state party chair in 1900 and became the standing nominee of his party until his election in 1912. It was during this period that Saulsbury revived the newspaper The Delawarean as his political voice box. The bitter disputes that arose over the attempts to elect a U.S. Senator dominated several legislatures after the turn of the century, and for many years one or both of Delaware's Senate seats sat empty as a result. Eventually, things started to turn against Addicks. The blatancy with which he passed out money alienated many and isolated him politically. Furthermore, many of his investments turned sour and his source of funds dried up. Although he came as close as one vote, Addicks was never elected to the U.S. Senate By 1907, his efforts had run their course though he continued to present himself as a candidate as late as 1912. His obsession with becoming a U.S. Senator led him to neglect his investments, and Addicks died essentially penniless in New York in 1919. His legacy for Delaware was a state firmly held by the Republican Party.

Throughout the tumultuous politics of the first decade of the 20th century, Saulsbury had also continued his law practice. His stature had continued to grow, and he freely served important posts in the New Castle County Bar. In 1902, Saulsbury discontinued his personal practice to help form the law partnership of Saulsbury, Ponder, and Curtis. The three were among the most respected legal minds in the state, but already it was clear that Saulsbury’s name had the greatest draw. Over the years, the names of Saulsbury's partners changed, and those partners went on to become U.S. Judges or the State Chancellor while new legal minds were cultivated in the firm. After his election to the Senate in 1913, Saulsbury significantly curtailed his direct involvement in the firm. However, he continued to exploit the firm's resources, particularly its role as chief legal advisor to the Equitable Guaranty and Trust Co., to assist in managing his increasingly numerous business investments. The firm also continued to benefit from his name until his death.

Despite the chaos in Delaware politics at the time, Saulsbury continued his rise in the Democratic Party. In 1904, he was again a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and served on its committee on resolutions. In 1908, Saulsbury was made a member of the Democratic National Committee, where he served through 1920. It was in this capacity that Saulsbury achieved national recognition before ever holding a national office. Saulsbury helped to design and implement the strategy, which would lead to the Woodrow Wilson’s election in 1912. He became famous for his ability to read the national landscape and accurately predict outcomes months in advance. Despite expectations to the contrary, the nation eventually swung to Woodrow Wilson, whose election to the Presidency also brought a Democratic state legislature to Delaware. Unfortunately, during this period of Saulsbury's greatest rise, while he was in the midst of preparations for the 1912 campaign, his mother died. Though his political allegiance and drive would not allow the tragedy to sideline him, Saulsbury, who had been extremely close to his mother since his father died twenty years earlier, must have been devastated by her death. Nevertheless, after failing to be elected Senator in six previous legislatures, Saulsbury was made a U.S. Senator in 1913. However, bitterness remained the dominant theme in Delaware politics and when Saulsbury was to be seated in the U.S. Senate on March 4, Delaware's senior Senator, a Republican and a du Pont, refused to follow custom and seat him; Saulsbury was instead seated by a fellow Democrat.

In the U.S. Senate, Saulsbury quickly took to the task of consolidating congressional support behind the Wilson agenda. He was well-enough respected that in addition to his initial committee appointments he was also added to the Foreign Relations Committee, which handles many of the exclusive rights of the Senate guaranteed by the Constitution, such as the submission of treaties upon the death of one of its members. His other committee appointments while a U.S. Senator were Coast and Insular Survey (chair), Conservation of National Resources, District of Columbia, Engressed Bills, Expenditures in the Department of Justice, Interstate Commerce, Manufactures, Pacific Islands and Porto Rico, Pacific Railroads, Philippines, Public Building and Grounds, University of the United States, Joint Fiscal Committee on District of Columbia, and numerous special committees. After leading the re-election campaign of Woodrow Wilson, Saulsbury achieved the exceptional honor of being elected President Pro Tern of the Senate as a first term Senator. Despite the bitterness of party politics in his home state, many Senate Republicans expressed satisfaction with Saulsbury's selection.

In addition to his staunch support for the Wilson administration, there was much that Saulsbury sought to accomplish in the Senate. He sought the development of a national chain of Inland Waterways which would allow seagoing vessels to move between the major ports of the U.S. east coast without leaving the security of U.S. shores. This network would include the government purchase and expansion of the Delaware and Chesapeake canal. For Saulsbury, war spending was essentially defense spending. He freely supported the development of coastal forts such as Fort Saulsbury (named for his father) and similar projects, but he strongly opposed expenditures for "aggressive" defenses. Generally, however, Saulsbury concerned himself more with domestic issues as they affected Delaware. He was very successful at gaining funding for projects in the state and getting beneficial changes to the annual budgets, but he was less successful at gaining appointments to federal positions for Delawareans largely because federal functions in the state were often run out of offices in Maryland. Ironically, Saulsbury's most remarkable piece of legislation had little to do with Delaware. In response to pressures brought about by the war, Saulsbury introduced and guided legislation which restricted rent increases for the duration of the war to prevent price gauging.

When Saulsbury was up for re-election in 1918, the political landscape was much changed from that in 1912. Then, Woodrow Wilson had helped to swing Delaware to the Democrats; now he was now a liability for having broken his promise to keep the U.S. out of the war. Saulsbury suffered more than other Democrats since he had been fundamental in Wilson's elections and one of his leading supporters in the Senate. More importantly perhaps, by constitutional amendment, senators were no longer elected by state legislatures; they would now be directly elected by the people. Saulsbury had grown up politically in a world of party politics and was perhaps not well prepared for competing in a direct election in a state whose electorate leaned Republican. The vote was close, but Saulsbury was turned out of office. Saulsbury was not, however, disillusioned with politics. He became somewhat of an elder statesman. After losing the election, Willard and May took a vacation to Europe where Saulsbury served as legal council to the U.S. delegation to the Versailles Conference. In 1921, he returned to Washington as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments. Then in 1923, he served as a delegate to the Fifth Pan-American Conference in Santiago de Chile. Finally, in 1924 Saulsbury sought the Democratic Presidential nomination as a dark horse candidate.

While in the Senate, Willard Saulsbury had made many new contacts and had achieved greater recognition and prestige. For the most part, the years after leaving the Senate were dedicated to the pursuit of his business interests. Well before his election to the Senate, Saulsbury had outgrown the investment opportunities of tiny Delaware. He had long pursued enterprises in Philadelphia, but now the scope of his investments continued to expand. They grew to include many of the great names of American business such as AT and T and Coca-Cola, but also many young or experimental companies, particularly in automobiles and artificial fibers. By the time he left the Senate, Saulsbury had his pick of investments nationwide and the added resources of the Union National Bank for which he was a board member. His investments were made more and more simply based on the return they provided and so were limited increasingly to stock purchases. The bulk of these investments came to be in the mining industries. Saulsbury also continued to invest in Delaware, pursuing a number of property development projects and purchasing local companies.

After his failed Presidential bid in 1924, Saulsbury settled into what he considered retirement. He continued to be involved in his investments, to follow local and national politics, and to stay on top of important legal business, but he no longer dedicated so much of his time to work. Willard and May passed most of their time in Wilmington, although they made regular excursions to visit friends all along the east coast. Beginning in 1925 Willard and May were both intermittently ill. Willard was far more concerned with May's health despite his own deteriorating condition. They passed away within the same year. Willard Saulsbury died February 20, 1927, the last of his line in the distinguished and distinctly Delawarean Saulsbury family.


76.25 linear foot

3 oversize removal

2 oversize box


Willard Saulsbury, Jr. (1861-1927), was a prominent Delaware lawyer and a member of a a leading Delaware political family, serving in the United States Senate from 1913-1919 as as President Pro Tempore of the Senate from 1916 to 1919. The bulk of the Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers belong to Saulsbury himself, dating from 1908-1926 when Saulsbury was at his political and business peak. The collection, consisting of papers, photographs, maps, and political realia, also includes papers and legal documents belonging to Saulsbury's father, items from the settlement of Saulsbury's estate and papers from cases handled by Saulsbury's law firm, which were not closed until after his death.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John A. Munroe, 1954.

Related Materials in This Repository

MSS 0167, George Gray papers

MSS 0196, Hugh Morris family papers

Items from the collection appeared in the exhibition “Trail to the Voting Booth: An Exploration of Political Ephemera,” lauched online September 2020, University of Delaware – Morris Library. The exhibition can be viewed online at

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-65: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons

Box 66: Shelved in SPEC MSS shoeboxes

Box 67: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (15 inches)

Boxes 68-69: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes

Letterbook Boxes 1-43: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (15 inches)

Oversized removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)

Oversized removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize mapcases

Processing Information

Processed by Greg Franseth, 1995-1996. Revised by Shiela Pardee in 1996-1997. Additional encoding by John Caldwell, 2019.

Finding aid for Willard Saulsbury, Jr., papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2019 September 3
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Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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