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John Covode Papers

John Covode was a prominent Westmoreland County businessman and member of the United States House of Representatives in the mid-nineteenth century. He was born in Fairfield Township in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. As a young man, Covode engaged in several business pursuits, including wool manufacturing, and the lumber, brick, lime, and coal industries. In 1847, he co-founded the Westmoreland Coal Company with William Larimer. Covode also became a major stockholder in the Pennsylvania Railroad and enjoyed a close relationship with the railroad’s founders, J. Edgar Thompson and Herman Haupt.

John Covode entered politics at the age of 24 in 1832 and remained active in Pennsylvania and national politics until his death in 1871. He began his career with an appointment as justice of the peace for Fairfield and Ligonier townships in Westmoreland County. Starting with the 1845 election, Covode ran two unsuccessful candidacies on the Whig Party ticket for the Pennsylvania Senate. Covode was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1854 and served until 1861. In 1861, he became a member of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which sought to advise President Lincoln on war strategy. After the Civil War, Covode rejoined the House and served from 1865 until 1868. His congressional career perhaps is best known for the investigation of corruption in the Buchanan administration and the impeachment of President Johnson in 1868. A prominent national figure in the Republican Party, Covode was a member of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania from 1869 until his death in 1871.

The Covode Papers consist of business records, personal correspondence, and political correspondence and materials. The collection is a particularly rich source of political correspondence, ranging from local to national politics. They touch on important events such as the Dred Scott case, the violence in Kansas, the 1860 Republican national convention, secession and civil war. They also cover such issues as slavery and emancipation, and loyalty and dissent during the war. Of particular note is the correspondence between Covode and James G. McQuaide of Philadelphia. McQuaide, a native of Westmoreland County, was a wealthy merchant and prominent member of the Whig and Republican parties. He was one of the founders of the Union League and went on to become a long-serving member of Pennsylvania’s Republican state central committee. His role as an advisor and political strategist for Covode is reminiscent of Thurlow Weed’s work for William H. Seward in New York and sheds light on campaign strategies and party organization in this period.

Arrangement of the Collection

The John Covode Papers are housed in two archival boxes and are arranged alphabetically by folder title. These papers include incoming correspondence with political associates and businessmen throughout Western Pennsylvania, correspondence from family members and other sundry material. These papers primarily document Covode's political concerns in three basic areas. First, there are letters requesting Covode's assistance in securing government positions, including numerous requests by James McQuaide throughout these papers. Many of these letters are primarily of an introductory or patronage nature. Second, there are letters which discuss the political climate of the United States and Pennsylvania with regard to local elections, presidential elections of 1860 and 1864 and the reconstruction of the Confederate States of America after the Civil War. Third, there are letters concerning the local and national Republican Party. Relatively little documents Covode's role with the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War, the investigation of President Buchanan's administration, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Material relating to Covode's business interests primarily includes material documenting his role in the coal and railroad industries throughout Western Pennsylvania. Correspondence between Covode and prominent businessmen Herman Haupt, William Larimer and J. Edgar Thompson have been separately arranged within these papers and contains information on the growth and operation of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Westmoreland Coal Company. Also included are numerous letters from associates in Indiana (Indiana County), Kittanning and Brady's Bend (Armstrong County), Pennsylvania. Correspondence with family members primarily includes incoming letters from Covode's son, Colonel George Covode, during George Covode's service during the Civil War. These letters contain information regarding promotions, staff changes and personal information rather than George's experience on the battlefield.

Further Reading:

The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987)

Michael F. Holt, Forging a Majority: the Formation of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, 1848-1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969)

James Huston, "Economic Change and Political Realignment in Antebellum America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 113, no. 3, pp. 347-395; and “The Demise of the Pennsylvania American Party, 1854-1858,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 109, no. 4, pp. 473-497


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