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Robert T. Stafford Papers

Identifier: mss-524

Scope and Content Note

The collection covers Stafford's years in U.S. Senate, U.S. House, as Vermont Governor, Vermont Lt. Governor, and Vermont Attorney General. These papers include the following record groups: Constituent correspondence, case files, project files, campaign records, legislative assistants, education subcommitte records, speeches, voting records, legislative records, as well as records from Stafford's Rutland and Winooski Offices. Material types present include correspondence, reports, memos, speeches, public statements, drafts, office notes, cases, newspaper clippings, campaign ephemera, invitations, audiotapes, videotapes, microfilm, photographs, printed material, and voting records. The collection is arranged in twenty-three series. The bulk of the papers consist of constituent correspondence. Correspondence is arranged in two major ways. First, blue slips are typewritten copies of items written by Stafford’s office in response to constituent requests. Copies of blue slips are commonly also present in case files. Second, acknowledgements are copies of typewritten correspondence to constituents on matters over which limited action could be taken. An acknowledgement that Stafford received the correspondence was often the only possible response. The material in the acknowledgements series include the sender’s correspondence attached to Stafford’s reply. Research material is also well represented, especially on the topics of environmental pollution, education, and issues faced by people with a mental or physical handicap. Congressional processes are represented through correspondence (including input from constituents, professional organizations, and fellow lawmakers) and printed versions of committee business including hearings, versions of legislation in progress, and public laws. Arrangement is generally alphabetical by case, topic, or author’s last name and commonly with the most recent material presented first.

Note that not all containers are numbered sequentially. Some cartons do not exist as the contents have been consolidated or redistributed into adjacent containers. The following cartons no longer exist: A9, C69, E3, E14, F5, G21, G24, H13, H15, K59, K65, L12, P2, Q11, R3, ZZ3, and ZZ20. Carton AA66 was labeled as both AA66 and AA74; it is now treated as AA66.


  • circa 1955-1988



Collection is open for research, except for case files which are closed.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

Robert T. Stafford was born August 8, 1913 in Rutland, Vermont. A graduate of Rutland High School in 1931, Governor Stafford received his B.S. from Middlebury College in 1935. After one year at the University of Michigan, Stafford transferred to Boston University and received his LL.B. in 1938. Returning to Rutland that year, Governor Stafford won his first elected office, Rutland City Grand Juror. Stafford served in that position until 1942, when he joined the Navy.

After his service during World War II, Stafford returned to Vermont and won election to the office of Rutland County State's Attorney in 1946. War once again interrupted Stafford's political career, this time in 1951 with the Korean War. Returning again to Vermont in 1953, Stafford was appointed Deputy Attorney General. Then Stafford won a series of state wide elections: Attorney General in 1954, Lieutenant Governor in 1956, and the Governor's office in 1958. The Governor's race was very close, as Stafford beat his Democratic opponent, Bernard Leddy, by only 719 votes. 1958 was also the year that the Democrats won their first state wide race in one hundred years with the election of William Meyer to the U.S. House of Representatives.

With the lone Vermont Congressional seat held by a Democrat, Stafford had an open path to Washington by not having to wait for a Republican Congressman to retire. Thus, as one political observer noted, Stafford was to use his Governorship was a two year campaign for the House of Representatives. Governor Stafford inherited a two million dollar deficit in 1958, but by 1960 he had turned this into a surplus. This result was accomplished through increases in the state rooms and meals tax, state gas tax, and "sin" taxes as well as reductions in the operating expenses of the state government. Governor Stafford also created programs to attract industry and tourists to the state with development incentives and the expansion of the state park system.

In February 1960, Stafford declared his intent to run for the United States House. In September, he easily won the Republican primary, with Congressman Meyer defeating Fred Richmond in the Democratic primary. While Stafford was able to emphasize his success as Governor, the race between the Governor and Congressman quickly focused on Meyer's record. In 1960, defense and foreign policy issues were dominant at both the national and state levels. Stafford used Meyer's criticism of defense expenditures and support for admitting Communist China into the United Nations as an opportunity to declare Meyer weak against the "reds." Stafford's positions on a strong defense and vigilance against the Communist threat fit the mainstream views of Vermonters, and he easily defeated Meyer in November. Arriving in Washington, the new Congressman was appointed to the Armed Services Committee.

In 1961, Congressman Stafford quickly showed the limits of his anti-communism. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961 Stafford opposed the calls for a naval blockade of Cuba and advocated that the issue of Cuba be negotiated within the Organization of American States. Also in early 1961 Stafford opposed American military involvement in Laos. However, the Congressman was a strong supporter of President Kennedy's policy of building up America's military to such a point that the United States would not be threatened by the Soviet Union. While in general support if President Kennedy's foreign and military policy, Stafford was critical of the President's policy of deficit spending to increase economic growth.

In 1964, Stafford was part of an effort by moderate Republicans to nominate someone other than Barry Goldwater for the presidency. One step taken by Stafford was his signing, with 44 other Republican house members, of a statement of principles, which called for Republican support for civil rights, social security, and efforts at controlling the nuclear arms race. While their attempt failed, the effort confirmed Congressman Stafford's reputation for holding moderate views within the Republican Party. Another example of this disposition was Stafford's role in the creation of the "Wednesday Group," a group of moderate Republican Congressmen who formed a caucus in the hopes of influencing the Republican leadership.

Throughout the rest of the 1960s the war in Vietnam dominated politics. In 1964 Stafford supported the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as did all members of the House of Representatives, and the broad aims of the Johnson administration. During his reelection campaign in 1966, Stafford expressed support for the presence of American ground forces in South Vietnam to help the South Vietnamese in their fight against the communist North Vietnam. At the same time, Congressman Stafford had doubts about the air campaign against the North. In mid-1967, Stafford joined with eight other Republican members of the House in releasing a plan to reduce the air war over North Vietnam if the North Vietnamese decreased the number of fighters infiltrating into South Vietnam.

In the spring of 1970, after the United States military invasion of Cambodia, Stafford became disillusioned with President Nixon's Vietnam policies, and voted against the funding for the United States military effort. While his new position created a minor backlash within the Vermont Republican Party, Stafford easily won reelection in November 1970.

One of Congressman Stafford's main accomplishments while in the House was to raise the question of whether the United States should continue with the military draft or begin the process of moving towards a voluntary Army. In 1967, during Congressional debate on extending the Selective Service Act, Stafford led an effort to ease the transition to a voluntary force over the next four years. His efforts were futile, but they did lead him to write his one major publication: How to End the Draft. Stafford's main argument was that through increased pay and incentives, particularly education benefits, there would be enough volunteers to meet the nation's manpower needs, and that the all-volunteer system would in the long run prove cost effective. In May of 1969, the new Nixon administration put forward policies that would lead to an all-volunteer force by 1973, policies similar to the ideas Stafford advocated in 1967.

The debate over the draft played a role in Stafford's climb to the Senate. On September 10, 1971, Vermont's junior Senator, Winston Prouty, died. At the same time, the Senate was about to vote on extending the Selective Service law, and the vote was expected to be close. In early August, Congressman Stafford had voted in favor of the extension in the House of Representatives, and therefore could be counted on by the Nixon administration to support the extension in the Senate. After six days Vermont Republican Governor Deane Davis had still not appointed a replacement for Senator Prouty. At this point the White House stepped in, with President Nixon calling the governor on September 16. By 7 p.m. that evening Stafford was sworn in as United States Senator, and on the morning of the 17th, Senator Stafford voted in favor of extending the Selective Service law.

Upon arriving in the Senate, Stafford assumed Prouty's seat on the Labor and Human Resources Committee, and was appointed to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. While Stafford had put much of his focus while in the House of Representatives on military matters, he was now to focus upon domestic affairs, in particular the environment and education. Winning a special election in 1972 to serve out the rest of Senator Prouty's term, Stafford was to win reelection in 1976 and 1982.

For the first nine years of Stafford's tenure in the Senate the Republicans were the minority party, which limited Stafford's ability to lead legislation. However, Stafford was able to work well with the Democratic majority to pass bipartisan legislation in the areas of environmental protection, federal support for education, and rights for the handicapped. One of Stafford's main achievements while still a member of the minority was the passage of the Superfund Act in late 1980. With the Republican sweep of the White House and the Senate in the November 1980 elections, the future for hazardous waste legislation was dim. Working with the Democrats, Stafford was able to win approval for a bi-partisan bill in the Senate. When the bill stalled in the House, Senator Stafford used his privilege as a former Congressman to appear on the House floor, and he lobbied his former colleagues to gain the extra votes needed to pass the bill.

With the Republican assumption of the majority in the Senate in 1981, Stafford, for the first time in his 20 years in Washington, was to achieve a leadership role. As ranking member of both the Labor and Human Resources and the Environment and Public Works Committees, Stafford had a choice. Stafford elected to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee after reaching an agreement with Orrin Hatch, who assumed chairmanship of the Labor and Human Resources Committee while Stafford became the chairman of the Education, Arts, and Humanities subcommittee. With these two chairmanships, Stafford was able to play a leading role in the development of environmental and education policy in the Senate over the next six years.

In 1981, with President Reagan and conservative senators taking control of the executive branch and half of the legislative branch, there was much concern among liberals and moderates that the gains achieved in the environment and education over the previous years would be repealed. Senator Stafford would now use his influence as chairman of the two committees that had jurisdiction over the environment and education to maintain the status quo.

As chairman of the subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, Stafford immediately got into a dispute with the Reagan administration. In the spring of 1981, the Administration presented a budget that would combine 44 separate federal programs into two "block grant" programs, thus giving the states the ultimate authority for spending federal education money. Senator Stafford objected to this concept, believing that the states would not adhere to the intent of federal education programs, specifically the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The Reagan administration also sought to make changes in the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.

Using his power as the chairman of the subcommittee that oversaw federal education programs, Stafford held hearings where education advocates were able to argue against the changes sought by the new administration. Joining with moderate Republican Lowell Weicker and the Democrats on his subcommittee, Stafford was able to stall the Reagan block grant program. Ultimately, Stafford was able to reach a compromise with the administration that retained the independent status of the federal education acts and the full benefits of the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.

While the Senator was able to protect the integrity of the education programs, he was unable to protect level funding for them. The Senate Budget Committee passed a budget that cut 1.3 billion dollars from education, community health, and low income energy assistance programs. Concerned by these cuts, especially the education funding that was under his jurisdiction, Stafford joined with fellow Republican John Chafee to restore one billion dollars to these programs. Their effort was defeated; this was an important victory for the Reagan administration and a clear indication that while Senator Stafford maintained influence within his subcommittee his influence within the Senate as a whole was limited.

Senator Stafford's work as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee is the area where he garnered much of his publicity. In 1981, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was to expire. Stafford realized that at that moment there was no possibility of amending and increasing the oversight powers of the law, in particular concerning acid rain. With the new Reagan administration in power, and its bias against environmental laws and regulations, there was the possibility of the Clean Air Act's provisions expiring. However, Stafford was able to keep the provisions in effect through the use of continuing appropriations. In 1982, through patience and gentle persuasion, Stafford got the Environment committee to pass a new Clean Air Act by a vote of 15-1. The main new provisions in this act were regulations to limit acid rain. Due to stiff opposition from other members of the Senate, in particular Senate Majority leader Howard Baker and Senate Minority leader Robert Byrd, this new version of the Clean Air Act never reached the Senate floor. Therefore, Senator Stafford had to continue to work to defeat the administration's efforts to weaken the regulations of the Clean Air Act while he was stymied in this efforts to expand the powers of the act.

Senator Stafford also faced fights in attempts to re-authorize the Superfund Act and the Clean Water Act. However, after the elections of 1984 the political landscape changed. Ronald Reagan was now a lame duck president and Republican legislators no longer needed to ride the president's coattails. In September of 1984 the Environmental and Public Works Committee passed a re-authorization bill for the Superfund, but Senate Majority leader Robert Dole killed it. Funding for the Superfund was restored in early 1985, and in 1986 President Reagan, facing a veto override, signed a re-authorization bill for the Superfund.

In later 1985, Stafford led a new Clean Water Act through the Senate. This legislation contained nearly 18 billion dollars in funding for sewer and pollution control projects, the second largest public works project in government history. President Reagan, arguing that the spending in the bill was too large and contributed to the increasing federal deficit, pocked vetoed the legislation. The new Congress of 1987 easily overrode the President's veto, and the Clean Water Act became law. As with the Superfund legislation, members of Congress again felt that they did not need to follow the lead of President Reagan on the environment. Also, a major incentive for legislators to support the Clean Water Act was the enormous funding for local public works projects.

While Senator Stafford disagreed with President Reagan over education and environmental issues, he supported the President in many other areas. Stafford voted for Reagan's economic program in 1981 and supported the President's Central American policies through the mid-1980s. This support that the Senator gave to the President led to the toughest reelection campaign he would wage. In the 1982 Republican primary, Stafford faced two opponents. One believed the Senator did not show enough support for President Reagan's conservative agenda and policies as witnessed in Stafford's pro-choice stance and the battles over education and the environment. Stafford's other opponent disagreed with the President's economic program. In the general election Stafford faced former Vermont Secretary of State James Guest, who based his campaign against the Senator on Stafford's support for the President's economic program. Stafford used his championing of education and environmental issues to garner enough support to turn back these challenged, but the 1982 election showed the growing split within Vermont politics at the time.

In 1984, Stafford's support for the administration's Central American policies led to the takeover of his Winooski, Vermont office by protestors. This takeover highlighted the perception that Stafford seemingly had lost interest in foreign affairs since joining the Senate and was just willing to follow along President Reagan's policies. This view is not entirely correct. While the Senator did support Reagan's Central American policies, he also sought a lessening of American-Soviet tensions and supported efforts to control nuclear arms. Stafford played a key role in passage of the Panama Canal Treaty during the Carter administration. He also served as a Senate representative to the Interparliamentary Union, and international organization that met twice a year, and also served on a United States-Canada commission that worked to solve disputes between the two neighbors. The one major issue of conflict between the United States and Canada that the Senator focused on concerned acid rain, and the drifting of pollution from the American Midwest to Canada.

Air pollution, and the destruction of the atmosphere, were the focus of a series of speeches Senator Stafford presented on the Senate floor in the fall of 1988, his last days in office. While the Senator had led the successful fight for approving a worldwide ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), he was very concerned that the Senate, and the nation as a whole, continued to neglect the dangers to the atmosphere caused by industrial pollution, the Greenhouse Effect, and damage to the Ozone layer.

During his last two years as Senator, Stafford had two honors bestowed upon him as recognition of his efforts for Federal aid to education. In December 1987 the Robert T. Stafford Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1987 was passed. And in April 1988 the Guaranteed Student Loan program was renamed the Robert T. Stafford Student Loan program. For Stafford, the honor was not necessarily that his name was attached to these two education programs, but that the Federal government was still playing an important role in educating the American people.


629 Linear Feet (629 cartons)

Language of Materials



Collection covers Stafford's years in U.S. Senate, U.S. House, as Vermont Governor, Vermont Lt. Governor, and Vermont Attorney General. These papers include the following record groups: Constituent correspondence, case files, project files, campaign records, legislative assistants, education subcommitte records, speeches, voting records, legislative records, as well as records from Stafford's Rutland and Winooski Offices.


Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Guide to the Robert T. Stafford Papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)