William F. Buckley, Jr. ’50 Papers Join Yale’s Permanent Collection

Christopher T. Buckley ’75 addresses members of the Class of 2009 as the Class Day speaker.

The papers of William F. Buckley, Jr. ’50 are now part of Yale University’s permanent collection, thanks to the generosity of his son, Christopher T. Buckley ’75. Credited with launching the modern conservative movement in America, the elder Buckley deposited more than seven tons of unpublished material at the Yale University Library prior to his death in February 2008, with the intent that it eventually be donated to the University. The papers have been part of Manuscripts & Archives since the mid-1960s where they have been accessible to scholars and students for over forty years.

Christopher Buckley also donated his correspondence with his father that will be a separate manuscript collection in Manuscripts & Archives. Christopher Buckley was this year’s Class Day speaker at the Yale Commencement Ceremonies at the end of May.

“As a prolific author, editor, and television host, William F. Buckley, Jr. helped shape public dialogue in America for more than five decades,” said Yale University Librarian Alice Prochaska. “He redefined and reinvigorated the conservative movement and was one of the most articulate and eloquent voices this country has produced. His papers are an important source for research into American conservatism in the twentieth century, as well as the personal and intellectual development of Buckley and his wide circle.”

The William F. Buckley, Jr. Papers span more than sixty-five years, beginning with personal correspondence from Buckley’s time at Millbrook Preparatory School. The collection also holds material from his days at Yale, including photos, awards, commendations, and editorials from his tenure as chair of the Yale Daily News. But its largest section is Buckley’s correspondence written during the time he served as editor-in-chief of the National Review. Documents from his 1965 New York City mayoral campaign provide important insight into the rise of conservatism, and manuscripts of his books are also a highlight of the collection.

A cultural and political icon, Buckley first gained national attention in 1951, when he published God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom. Immediately controversial, this book cemented his place as a young and inspired conservative voice. It also launched the crusade that would dominate his subsequent career: advancing conservatism in America.

Following this first success, Buckley founded the National Review, a conservative news and opinion magazine that gained recognition by bringing together differing factions of conservatism into one voice. Buckley stood at its helm for three decades and helped launch the careers of many renowned journalists and politicians. The National Review celebrated its fiftieth year in 2005. 

William Buckley was inarguably prolific. He wrote more than 5,000 columns, authored more than fifty books, and edited at least five; his last work, The Reagan I Knew, was published posthumously. An avid speaker and lecturer, Buckley gave by his own count seventy speeches a year for forty years. From 1966 to 1999, he taped 1,504 episodes of public television’s Firing Line, the longest-running program with a single host, surpassing even The Tonight Show. This tireless ability to produce is evidenced by the size of Buckley’s collection. It stretches to more than 598 linear feet of material—approximately forty-three feet higher than the Washington Monument.

A devoted Yale alumnus, William F. Buckley received an honorary degree from the University in 2000 on the 50th anniversary of his graduation. The citation praised him as “a leading conservative spokesman,” who for fifty years had “passionately defended individual liberty, traditional values, and the free market.” The William F. Buckley, Jr. Papers at Yale will open his writings and enduring philosophies as a leading conservative voice in America to every new generation of students and scholars.

(The image on the Yale Tomorrow front page is William F. Buckley, Jr. at a press interview during his 1965 campaign for Mayor of New York.  William F. Buckley, Jr. Papers, 1951-2005. Manuscripts & Archives.)

(June 26, 2009)

June 26, 2009