Digitized Documents: the Hackett Papers
Attorneys Henry T. and John M. Hackett handled the personal legal affairs of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, and many of their Hudson Valley neighbors. The Hackett family came to the Hudson River Valley in 1852 and served for more than a century as "country lawyers" to the region's aristocracy, managing the day-to-day affairs- both legal and practical-of the estates of the great "River Families." Descendants of Irish immigrants, the Hacketts established a law office on Union Street in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1876. In so doing they helped shape the history and traditions of the Hudson Valley through the preparation of wills, deeds, conveyances, quit claims and all of the other legal necessities of wealth and land ownership.
The Hackett Papers are part of the collection of archival material in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. They came to be part of the Library's collection seven years after attorneys Charles J. Corbally, John J. Gartland, Jr. and Charles L. McCann purchased the Hackett family practice from the widow of John Mulford Hackett in 1954. The new partners in 1961 prepared to move from the old firm's offices on Union Street to new quarters. Moving the voluminous records, documents, and correspondence of more than three-quarters of a century was a daunting task and much of the Hackett material appeared destined for disposal until two archivists from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library secured their preservation as part of the Library's collection. In 1962 fifty-three boxes of the Hackett records were donated to the Library. Two more accessions were added and today the Hackett Papers consist of 21 linear feet or approximately 42,000 pages. The full collection, which contains historical material on many Hudson Valley estates, is available to researchers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
This website contains a selection of correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Hackett. It portrays an intimate connection between the two men and contains letters that link Hackett and Roosevelt throughout FDR's career. The documents were selected from the Hackett Papers, the Governorship Papers, and the President's Secretary's File, which contains correspondence that President Roosevelt kept in his personal secretary's office.
Hackett was a middleman and an estate boss. In this correspondence we see that Roosevelt involved Hackett not only in larger matters such as real estate purchases, but also used him a myriad of ways. For Roosevelt as well as his neighbors, it was Hackett to whom they turned to settle a dispute with a disgruntled tenant farmer, to make sure the water pipes did not freeze, that the telephone lines did not run down the Post Road, and that the smell of neighboring pigs was kept in check.
Hackett got FDR to pay his land taxes on time, assisted Sara Roosevelt with details of constructing the Hyde Park public library, and induced their tenant Moses Smith to pay his back rent. His outgoing letters are for the most part concise and formal, but the letters from his Roosevelt clients are quite the opposite. They reflect their trust in his judgement, dependability and tact, as well as their dependence on his advice and physical presence in handling local matters. The President's letters were always addressed "Dear Henry," whether they concerned mutual historical interests, plans for the Presidential Library FDR planned to build, or the wording of a deed.
"The President and His Lawyer" is a special project made possible by a grant from the McCann Foundation. We are indebted to William F. Gekle's The Hacketts and the Roosevelts and Other River Families (Poughkeepsie, NY, Cunneen-Hackett Trust, 1984) for information on the history of the Hackett family.