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Charles W. Colson Papers

Identifier: CN 275

Brief Description

Correspondence, memos, book, article and editorial manuscripts, texts of speeches, legal papers, newspaper clippings, testimony transcripts, magazine articles, audio tapes, and photographs, all documenting many of the major phases of Colson's life, including his work as a political advisor to President Richard Nixon, his involvement in the Watergate scandal, his conversion to Christian faith that caused him to plead guilty to one of the charges against him, his imprisonment, and his life after incarceration as a leading Evangelical writer, speaker, and founder of the country's leading prison ministry.


  • Created: 1960-1990


Conditions Governing Access

Folder 18-13 is closed to users until December 31, 2025.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Name:  Charles Wendell Colson

Born: 10/16/1931, Boston, MA

Died: 2012 April 21, in Falls Church, VA

Parents: Wendell Ball and Inez (Ducrow) Colson

Spouses: Nancy Billings, 1953-1964, divorced; Patricia Ann Hughes, 4 April 1964-

Children: Wendell Ball II, Christian Billing, Emily Ann


  • 1949 - Browne and Nichols (private secondary school)
  • 1953 - B.A., Brown University
  • 1969 - J.D., with honors George Washington University

  • Military Service: Marine Corp, 1953-1955, reaching the rank of Captain

    Select list of positions held:
  • 1948 - Volunteer in the campaign effort of Governor Robert Bradford of Massachusetts for re-election
  • 1955-1956 - Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Material)
  • 1956-1961 - Administrative Assistant to U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall (R, MA)
  • 1961-1969 - Partner with the firm of Gadsby and Hannah
  • 1968 - Member of presidential candidate Richard Nixon's Key Issue Committee
  • 1969 November 6-1973 March 1 - Special Counsel to the President
  • 1973-1974 - Senior partner with the firm of Colson and Shapiro (Washington, DC)
  • 1975-1976 - Associate of Fellowship House
  • 1975 - Founded Prison Fellowship
  • 1976-1984 - President, Prison Fellowship
  • 1979 - Chairman of the Board, Prison Fellowship International
  • 1983 - Founded Justice Fellowship
  • 1983-1984 - Chairman of the Board, Justice Fellowship
  • 1983 -  Contributing editor, Christianity Today magazine
  • 1984-2005 - Chairman of the Board, Prison Fellowship
  • 1992-1994 - With Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus was instrumental in bringing together the consultation that created the statement, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together"

  • Syndicated columnist

    Radio commentator on the nationally syndicated program "Break Point"

    Watergate-related events:
  • 6/7/72 - Seven men arrested for burglary at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate building in Washington, DC
  • 3/1/1974 - Indicted in Watergate break-in case on one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of obstruction of justice
  • 3/7/74 - Indicted in Fielding break-in case on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights
  • 3/9/74 - Pleaded not guilty in Watergate break-in case. Charge dismissed by government after plea bargain reached related to Fielding break-in trial.
  • 6/3/1974 - Indictment in Fielding break-in case dismissed after Colson pleaded guilty charging one count of obstruction of justice
  • 6/21/1974 - Sentenced in Fielding case to one to three years and fined $5,000. Served from 7/8/1974 until 1/31/1975, when he was freed due to a court order reducing sentence to time already served.
  • 10/2000 - His civil rights (to vote, practice law and serve on a jury, etc.), lost because of his felony conviction, was restored by Governor Jeb Bush of Florida (where Colson was living at the time)

  • Conversion: August 12, 1973

    Selected Books:
  • Born Again, 1976
  • Life Sentence, 1979
  • Loving God, 1983
  • Who Speaks for God: Confronting the World With Real Christianity, 1985
  • The Role of the Church in Society, 1986 (later expanded and renamed Faith on the Line, 1994)
  • Kingdoms in Conflict (with Ellen Santilli Vaughn), 1987
  • Convicted: New Hope for Ending America's Crime Crisis (with Daniel Van Ness),1989
  • Against the Night, 1989
  • The God of Stones and Spiders: Letters to a Church in Exile (with Ellen Santilli Vaughn), 1990
  • Why America Doesn't Work (with Jack Eckerd), 1991
  • The Body (with Ellen Santilli Vaughn), 1992
  • Dance with Deception: Revealing the truth Behind the Headlines (with Nancy R. Pearcey), 1993
  • A Dangerous Grace (with Nancy Pearcey), 1994
  • Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission (co-editor with Richard John Neuhaus), 1995
  • Gideon's Torch (with Ellen Santilli Vaughn), 1995
  • Burden of Truth, 1997
  • Justice That Restores, 2001
  • Your Word is Truth: a project of evangelicals and Catholics together (edited by Colson and Richard John Neuhaus) 2002
  • Being the Body (with Ellen Vaughn), 2003
  • Human Dignity in the Biotech Age: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, edited by Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, 2004
  • Good Life (with Harold Fickett), 2005
  • What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (with Harold Fickett), 2008

  • Selected Honors:
  • Outstanding Young Man of Boston, Boston Chamber of Commerce, 1960
  • Religious Heritage award from the Freedom Foundation, 1977
  • Named Layman of the year by the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983
  • The Others Award, Salvation Army, 1990
  • Humanitarian Award from Dominoes Pizza Corporation, 1991
  • Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, 1993
  • Presidential Citizens Medal, 2008
  • Honorary degrees from many colleges and universities, including Wheaton College, Taylor University, Geneva College, Asbury College
  • Extent

    79.25 Linear Feet (159 document cases; Audio Tapes, Oversize Materials, Photographs, Video Tapes)

    Language of Materials


    Arrangement and Description

    [Note: In the Arrangement and description section, the notation "folder 28-2" means box 28, folder 2.]

    The files in this collection contain include legal and trial documents, book manuscripts, correspondence, reports, newspaper clippings, transcripts of testimony, and other materials. They are arranged in series established by the archivist but following the basic order that the materials seemed to be in when received. These series are:

  • Professional and Ministry Files
  • Watergate Files
  • Manuscript Files
  • Ellen Santilli Vaughn Files

  • Within each series, the folders were put in alphabetical order by the archivist, based on key words in the title of folders. In a few folders, because the header of the folder had many words crossed out or written over, it was difficult to determine the original title, so the archivist assigned a title. In most cases, materials have been left in their original folders, because these folders often have notes or comments scribbled on them which would also be of interest to a researcher. Where the archivist has added anything to the original folder, other than the inclusive dates of the documents in the folder, those additions are in pencil in brackets []. In several cases, two or more folders were themselves together in a larger folder, kept together apparently because of similar content or because they were going to be used together. In these cases, the archivist kept these folders together inside the larger folder, as can be seen from the container list of this guide and the group was alphabetized by the title of the larger folder, which is in brackets {} in the container list. In cases where there were loose materials in the larger folder in additional to other folders, these materials were put in a folder labeled "loose materials."

    The materials in this collection deal with Colson's service as Special Counsel to the President from 1969-1973, his involvement in the Watergate political scandal (including being a defendant in some of the trials and a witness in some of the Congressional investigations growing out of Watergate), his experience of being "born again" in Jesus Christ, the development of Prison Fellowship, a ministry that he started to work with prisoners, his influence as a leader in the Evangelical community, and his authorship of several books giving his personal testimony of his conversion and Christian life, and on the meaning of being a Christian in a fallen world. There is also a material (apart from the narrative of the book manuscripts) about his pre-White House life and about the origins and development of Prison Fellowship.

    Series: Professional and Ministry Files

    Arrangement: Alphabetical by significant word

    Date Range: 1960-1987

    Volume: 7.0 linear feet

    Boxes: 1-13, 144

    Geographic coverage: United States. Clippings in box 144 include reports on trips to England, Ireland, and Canada

    Type of documents: Correspondence, memos, reports, newspaper clippings, speeches, call sheets, legal papers

    Correspondents: Officials of the Richard Nixon presidency, including Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edward Brooke, Patrick Buchanan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jimmie Carter, William Casey, Archibald Cox, John Ehrlichman, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Alexander Haig, H.R. Haldeman, Henry Kissinger; other correspondents include Douglas Coe, Harold Hughes, Albert Quie, Thomas Phillips, Ronald Reagan, Fred Rhodes, Roy Wilkins

    Subjects: Colson's career as a politician and government official, his service in the Nixon Administration, his part in the Watergate scandal, his conversion to the Christian faith, his prison sentence, and the founding of Prison Fellowship and its early development.

    Notes: This group of files is mainly concerned with Colson's work as Special Counsel to the president from 1969-1973, and the development, fruits, and analysis of the Watergate scandal, although there are also several folders that contain material about his development of his Christian ministry, such as his early association with Fellowship House and the early development of Prison Fellowship. There are also a very few items about his pre-White House legal career.

    The few materials on Colson's pre-1969 life consist of some biographical sheets and similar data (folders 5-6, 11-2), speeches, usually on some political occasion (folders 11-8 to 14), and letters, notes and other materials relating to his political interests (folders 5-15, 6-9 to 22, 9-2 to 9). (Other series in the collection also include information on Colson's early life. For example, folder 79-1 and 79-2 contain letters written to the court officer put together a sentencing report on Colson for the judge in 1973. These letters from family, friends, and work colleagues provide various details on Colson's career, as well as describing his personality and character.) Most of these last category are concerned with his involvement as a campaign worker and advisor for Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign. His work as special counsel was largely concerned with maintaining a liaison with various organized groups outside of the government, administrative responsibility (after 1971) for management of the White House communication agencies, giving advice to the president on the political aspects of major issues, and serving in various situations as a troubleshooter on behalf of the president.

    Colson's own description of his responsibilities can be found in a memo in folder 79-3. Most of the material in this section deals with the period 1971-1973, although there is some material from earlier years, including the congratulatory notes and letters Colson got when he was appointed special counsel (folder 1-2), political strategy memos (folders 5-24, 10-1), and materials relating to speeches he gave which usually included defenses of the President's policies on matters such as the war in Vietnam, federal economic policies, etc. (folders 11-12 to 12-14).

    The folders labeled "Personal" (folders 7-1 to 9-1) include some correspondence with family and friends, but they too consist mainly of notes, letters, and memos that relate to Colson's activities as special counsel, such as personal thank-you notes to the president of a group that invited him to speak or letters to and from friends and associates inside and outside the White House dealing with the issues of the day.

    There are also some letters from people apparently unknown or little known to Colson, supporting or criticizing President Nixon's policies and Colson's involvement. The bulk of the material in this series concerns Colson's political activities from 1971-1973, particularly his involvement in Watergate.

    There are materials that illustrate other aspects of his White House duties. Folder 1-14 (as well as folders 16-17 to 17-3) contain his call sheets, which list the phone and other messages he received when absent from his office and give a sketchy idea of the projects he was involved in and the people he was in contact with. In 1971 and 1972, he was especially concerned with the upcoming presidential election and numerous files include material relating to his work, including folders 5-17, 6-2, 9-11, 10-4, and 11-16-17.

    Other relevant material can be found throughout this section and the next. There is also material on the Vietnam conflict in several folders. Of special interest are the notes and transcripts in folder 13-2 which deal with an interview Colson gave to journalist Nick Thimmesch about President Nixon's use of negotiations and force to bring an end to the conflict (see also audio tape). Also of interest is Colson's piece for the New York Times opposing amnesty for opponents of the war who broke the law. Folders 1-3,4,5,6 include material about an attempt to orchestrate a series of newspaper ads run around the country run during the 1970 elections attacking Democratic opponents of the President's policies.

    There are also several files (folders 5-3 to 5-11) on what was in effect Colson's last official duty, a trip he took to Europe in early 1973 as a representative of the president. This included discussion with Soviet officials to urge more generous policies for Jews who wished to emigrate from the USSR and a meeting with President Nicole Ceausescu of Romania. (See also letter to Henry Kissinger in folder 2-7.)

    Watergate is touched on or is the main subject of the documents in many, many folders. The content is usually obvious from the folder title and this should be a sufficient guide to the researcher in most cases.

    Most of the files mentioned containing material from Colson's government work in 1972 and 1973 include documents related to the operations of the White House covered by the general rubric of "Watergate" as well as to the trials and investigations of the scandal and the public debate about it in a variety of venues.

    Especially interesting is folder 13-6, which contains a memo Colson wrote for John Ehrlichman describing his suggestions for handling the crisis, and another memo giving the background of the first memo. Several files, such as folders 5-12, 13-1 and 13-3, concern public appearances Colson made largely to talk about Watergate-related issues.

    The correspondence in folders 2-5 through 4-5 include letters to and from Colson and his secretary responding to people's questions, comments, or support related to the effect of Watergate on Colson's own life, as well as the larger dimensions of the scandal. Folder 5-22 contains letters that he wrote to children at various times, including one explaining his initial decision to plead not guilty to charges brought against him by the Watergate special prosecutor.

    After leaving the White House, Colson started a legal partnership with his friend David Shapiro. Folder 2-3 contains some of the congratulatory letters received on the occasion of the official announcement of the law firm. Folders 2-5 through 2-20 contain material from this period. However, all correspondence relating to Colson's law practice was returned to him by the archivist.

    The remaining correspondence deals mainly with his return to private life, the conclusion of various matters left over from his time as Special Counsel and with his ongoing involvement in the developing Watergate controversy. There are some letters to President Nixon in these files, as well as others to Spiro Agnew, Edward Brooke, Patrick Buchanan, William Casey, Archibald Cox, Gerald Ford, Alexander Haig, H.R. Haldeman, and Henry Kissinger, among others.

    Also of interest are letters in folders 2-11,12 to Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about allegations that Colson had opposed the appointment of a Black man while on the White House staff. It was in August 1973 that Colson experienced a religious conversion which he shortly afterwards publicly proclaimed and which was the basis for his decision to plead guilty to an information (as the technical legal term was called) charging one count of obstruction of justice related to the break-in in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Colson's conversion and public reaction to it is referred to in many of the letters in folders 2-12 through 4-5, 8-2 and 9-1. Folders 2-8, 2-11, 2-15 and 2-18 contain letters Colson wrote to Thomas Phillips, who played an important part in his conversion. Folder 11-7 contains letters Colson wrote to parole officer Edward Soden in June 1974, about ten months after his "born again" experience in which he describes what happened to him and how it affected his life.

    Almost all of the letters in 2-21 through 4-5 appear to be from people across the country unknown to Colson, but they provide some very interesting indicators of grass roots perceptions of Watergate in general and Colson in particular. Many of these letters were from people who wanted to encourage Colson in his new life and faith.

    Folder 1-1 contains a very supportive letter from a British member of Parliament, Michael Alison. Folders 8-2 and 9-1 include material to and from people in Colson's prayer fellowship, such as Albert Quie and Fred Rhodes, which was helping him as he tried to apply his faith to his response to Watergate (see also letter to Quie in folder 2-12).

    Fellowship House (sometimes called Fellowship Foundation or International Christian Leadership), the group that he was involved with and which provided him much of his Christian nurture in the weeks and months after his conversion, is touched on in some of these letters and is described, from a very unfavorable point of view, in an article in folder 5-14. Folder 11-3 (as well as folders 102-7 and 102-8) contains clippings of some of the press coverage his conversion received. After his sentencing, Colson served a little over six months in prison, mostly at Maxwell in Alabama.

    Folder 5-16 contains some notes for a talk he apparently gave at a dinner given for him by his family and friends just before he went in. Folder 10-6 contains notes for the book that eventually became his autobiography, Born Again. According to the folder title, he wrote these notes while in prison. Folder 10-7 has letters he sent and received while incarcerated. Especially interesting are the copies of the letters he sent to his prayer fellowship group, which included Douglas Coe and Harold Hughes.

    There are a few documents in this series on Colson's life after he left prison in January 1975. Box 144 contains eight folders of newspaper clippings of stories about Colson from 1973-1987. Most of these are from 1977 or later and are from various local papers covering a Colson speech or appearance at a local event.

    There are also several articles providing retrospective on Watergate and a few about Prison Fellowship activities. These folders also contain a few transcripts of radio or television stories about Colson. Folder 1-19 contains correspondence he had with convicted Watergate burglar Howard Hunt in which Colson shares about his faith in Christ and how his experience of God's love and mercy helped him during his trial and imprisonment.

    Folder 1-9 contains a transcript of an attack on Colson by a television reporter and folder 10-9 contains a clipping from the New York Times about Prison Fellowship and the mixed response of chaplains to it. Folder 11-1 contains clippings, reports, memos and other background material on various approaches to prison reform which the Prison Fellowship staff was considering in their own efforts to what kind of changes and improvements in the prison system the organization should support. Folder 11-15 contains a speech which Colson gave to the National Religious Broadcasters which includes many comments and reflections on his experience in government. The speech is entitled, "Dare We Speak for God" and deals with how Christians should present themselves and their faith in public forums. Folder 1-7 contains signed letters that Colson received from various famous people, including Spiro Agnew, George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

    Folder 144-8 contains notes for a meeting he had with former President Nixon. These notes were apparently prepared before the meeting and are perhaps suggestions on the attitude that he (Nixon) should take toward the scandal and his resignation of the Presidency. The two subseries Manuscripts series in this collection contain documentation of Colson's activities and influence as an author and speaker. Colson's involvement in the continuing development of Prison Fellowship is reflected in these records and is even more extensively documented in Collection 274, the records of Prison Fellowship. Most of the files dealing strictly with Prison Fellowship matters are in that collection.

    Series: Watergate Files

    Date Range: 1962-1981

    Volume: 37.4 linear feet

    Boxes: Boxes 14-87, 143

    Arrangement: Alphabetical by significant words

    Geographic coverage: United States

    Type of documents: Memos, correspondence, transcripts of testimony, xeroxes of newspaper clippings, call sheets, logs, notebooks, legal documents such as motions

    Subjects: The Nixon presidency, the Watergate scandal

    Notes: These folders contain material that relate to Colson's involvement in the so-called Watergate political scandal that started as an investigation of a break-in at the Democratic headquarters during the 1972 presidential election and broadened to include a whole series of trials and Congressional investigations into alleged abuses of authority and criminal acts by President Richard Nixon and his staff, including Colson. The vast majority of the files appear to be material gathered by Colson and his lawyers in preparation for his defense at various trials and his testimony at investigations. The material in most of the files go no later than 1974, but a few have later materials, usually newspaper clippings or other material about new information that turned up on various aspects of Watergate. Some files are photocopies of various documents from Colson's White House days. Often these were bound by the lawyers into notebooks for earlier reference, such as the materials in folders 17-5 or 23-3. In other cases, photocopies of White House documents used by the defense are mingled together in folders with lawyers notes, motions, and reference materials. In short, White House material can be found throughout this section.

    Of particular interest are Colson's call sheets (folders 16-17 through 17-4), his appointment book (folder 23-1), and the notes and logs of conversations he had with President Nixon (folders 65-1, 65-3, 65-4). Most of the material in this series consists of files or sets of files on particular topics, topics that are usually obvious from the folder titles. Types of material in a file or set of files might include White House documents, testimony transcripts, media coverage, etc. Folders 42-2 through 42-8, for example, consist of material dealing with the alleged improper use of influence on behalf of the corporation ITT in an antitrust case.

    The folders in boxes 15 and most of 16, labeled "Best Files," apparently consist of the best copies or the best information on a variety of topics relevant to the defense. Perhaps this set was intended to be kept close at hand in the courtroom. Worth noting are the large number of folders relating to John Dean in box 20 and to E. Howard Hunt in box 40.

    Other files consist of the motions and other legal preparations Colson and his attorneys were making. This could include copies of the actual motion, drafts of motions, along with notes for revision, and research materials. Boxes 48, 49, most of 50, 69, and part of 70 consist of these types of files and other motion documents and files are scattered throughout the section. Similar groups of files include those on sentencing (folders 79-16,17,18,19). A large portion of the series consists of files on records from various Watergate trials and investigations, often with annotations about points that could relate to Colson's defense efforts. Boxes 21 and 22 include materials from the trial Democratic National Committee vs. McCord et. al.; boxes 23 though 27 include material from the United States vs. Ehrlichman et. al, which concerned the break-in into Dr. Lewis Fielding's office; boxes 28 through 37 include material from the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, otherwise known as the Watergate Committee or the Ervin Committee; box 38 includes material from the Watergate grand jury; boxes 42 and 80 include folders with memos and other records relating to contacts between Colson and the Watergate special prosecutor (folder 80-11 includes what appears to be an index to Ervin committee testimony relating to Colson as well as other odds and ends. The folder title given by archivist); boxes 46 and 47 include materials from the United States vs. John Mitchell, et. al.

    As part of the preparation for trial and in particular as preparation for a motion for dismissal on the grounds that publicity had made a fair trial impossible, Colson and his attorneys and their staff gathered an enormous amount of newspaper clippings on Watergate. A set of forty-five notebooks, covering the period from June 1972 until May 1974, was put together and these are in boxes 70-78. These notebooks are not in folders, so they should be requested by their box and volume numbers. Other clippings are in boxes 55 to 64. They cover the period from 1971 to 1980, although obviously for the period from 1972 to 1974 they largely duplicate the clippings in boxes 70 through 78. However, this second set of clippings is also largely concerned with Watergate, although the later years include some clippings on social or religious stories. The clippings were probably originally collected also as part of the process of supporting the excessive publicity motion.

    Another set of documents that was boxed with them and probably was also used in the same effort is a series of daily "News Summaries" for the first half of 1974 in boxes 51 through 54. These each cover the period of one day and describe a selection of the stories that appeared in major newspapers and over broadcast media (mostly television). This includes news stories and commentaries. Usually, but not always, the stories are divided in categories, such as "Foreign Stories, "Domestic Stories," "Admin.," and "Political." The summary usually includes a liberal sprinkling of actual quotes from the stories and are especially concerned with any story that relates in some way to the White House. This was a news summary service run by the White House which Colson continued to receive after he left the government.

    Series: Manuscript Files


  • Book Manuscripts
  • Other Manuscripts

  • Arrangement: Folders relating to one book are grouped together and then arranged either alphabetically or according to the order that material appeared in the book.

    Date Range: 1971-1989

    Volume: 31.45 linear feet

    Boxes: 88-143, 145-153

    Type of documents: Manuscript of books, articles, speeches, radio scripts; research notes, reference materials, correspondence from publishers and readers, newspaper and magazine clippings

    Subjects: Colson's life and ministry, prison ministry, the criminal justice system in the United States, the application of Christian faith to contemporary more, morals and ethics

    Notes: This series consists of the manuscripts that reflect the variety of Colson's outreach - books, articles, scripts, speeches, as well as supporting materials.

    Series: Manuscript Files | Book Manuscripts

    Arrangement: Folders relating to one book are grouped together and then arranged either alphabetically or according to the order that material appeared in the book.

    Date Range: 1971-1989

    Volume: 27.1 linear feet Boxes: 88-137, 140-141, 143, 145-146

    Geographic coverage: United States

    Type of documents: Manuscript of books, research notes, reference materials, correspondence from publishers and readers

    Subjects: Colson's life, conversion and ministry, development of Prison Fellowship, living a Christian life, applying Christian principles to secular society, the writing and publishing of Colson's books

    Notes: This group of materials relates to Colson's writing since 1976, especially the books Born Again, Life Sentence, Loving God, and Kingdoms in Conflict. There are also some folders relating to magazine articles, lectures, and other books. For each of the four titles listed above, there are numerous drafts of the book by Colson, as well as suggested changes, drafts, comments and ideas from a variety of people who worked with him on the book or with whom he consulted, including, of course, his editor from the publishing house for each book. It was not usually possible to determine the date of each draft, but where drafts were labeled "lst draft", "2nd draft", etc., they were filed in that order.

    For each book first comes any research material which was gathered, then drafts of individual chapters if there are any, then drafts of the entire book, then any other material relating to the book that might have been in the files, such as thoughts on promotion, reader's reactions, etc Boxes 88 through 104 and some folders in 143 and 145 contain materials that relate in one way or another to Colson's autobiography, Born Again, which was published in 1976. This includes correspondence with literary agents and possible publishers, research materials of various types, outlines and drafts of chapters, book galleys, book reviews, copies of segments of the book that were reprinted in various magazines, and information on the film made of the book. In the early stages of the book, Colson planned two books, as indicated by the fact that many folders refer to a planned "Nixon book," which is largely a political memoir of his White House years and his experience of working for Richard Nixon (folders 88-5 through 92-12), while there are a few items labeled "Religious book" which deal primarily with his conversion and his attempts to live a Christian life. Most of the material from both "books' was combined in the final volume, although the political memoirs type material was condensed.

    The notes in folder 10-6 appear to be some early thoughts on the "religious book." The "Nixon book" was divided into sections, a format that did not carry over into the final volume. Folders 93-3 through 95-10 contain one set of chapter drafts that seem to go together; another set is in folders 96-1 through 98-2. Other drafts of the whole book or of multi-chapter sections of the book including carbon copies, final drafts, publisher's final manuscript, etc.) are in folders 98-3 to 101-2.

    These manuscripts, as other manuscripts in this section, are often annotated with deletions, additions, and other changes from Colson, his staff and friends. Or there might be memos with the manuscript suggesting changes. Ken Adams was one of Colson's associates particularly involved in preparing Born Again and this is reflected in material in folder 14-3 and other places. Material that was used to help prepare the book included transcripts of tapes he made while he was in prison and afterwards (folders 89-2, 95-11-12) and clippings of stories that appeared when he first talked publicly about his new found faith (folders 102-7,8).

    In addition, folder 102-8 has some interesting material on the National Prayer Breakfast. Colson's preliminary thoughts and plans on what became Born Again, which began before he started his prison sentence, can be found in folders 88-1,2,3,4.

    Correspondence with his literary agent, Harold Matson, is in folders 88-2,3, including a proposed book outline. Douglas Hallett worked with Colson as an aide in the White House and worked briefly on the book project in its preliminary stages. Some of his correspondence with Colson is in folder 88-4.

    Other Hallett material, including an article on his experience in the White House, can be found in folders 2-16, 39-11 and 40-1. Correspondence with his publisher, Chosen Books and Revell Company, which distributed the books, can be found in many folders, especially 101-9,12,15, and 102-3,4,10. Much of this correspondence is with the book's editor, Leonard LeSourd, and can be found in folders 88-1 and 103-31.

    Also of interest is the correspondence with various publishers in folder 14-3. The rest of the files deal with reactions to Colson's book and/or his conversion, especially his public proclamation of it. Response from readers of the published book are in folder 140-1.

    Folders 102-11 through 103-19 contain articles from publications ranging from Christian Life to Playboy that deal in whole or in part with Colson's Christian faith or his involvement in Watergate or both. Folders 101-10, 103-24,25, and 145-1 contain book reviews or stories about the book. Folders 101-11,16, among others, contain information on the film based on the book. Folders 103-32 through 104-9 contain samples of excerpts from the book that ran in various magazines.

    A comic book version of Born Again is in folder 145-2. The materials for the book Life Sentence, which told the story of Colson's life since the end of Born Again, concentrating on the development of Prison Fellowship, parallel to some extent what is available for the earlier book, although there is almost no material on reaction to the book.

    Correspondence with the publisher can be found in folders 104-14,21, among other places. Colson contacted various Evangelical leaders, such as Ted Engstrom, Mark Hatfield, Richard Halverson, Carl F. Henry, Paul Henry, Wesley Pippert, R. C. Sproul, Robert Walker, George Wilson, and Sherwood Wirt, to get their thoughts on whether he should write a second book (the preliminary title of which was The Cost of Being Born Again). Their responses and suggestions can be found in folders 104-14 and 116-5. Material that he consulted while working on the book probably included a manuscript written by his friend Fred Rhodes about his own Christian faith and experiences in prison ministry (folder 104-13). Folder 116-2 contains much interesting material, such as copies of Colson's booklet He Sets the Prisoner Free as well as his 1978 Gordon College commencement address and newspaper and magazine articles by and about him, such as Garry Wills' profile for the Sunday magazine of The New York Times. There are many separate drafts of the book. What appear to be some of the more important stages in its development can be found in the drafts, with comments from a variety of sources, in folders 105-3 through 106-12, 106-13 and 106-14, 107-1, 107-2, 107-3, 108-1 and 108-2, 108-3 and 108-4, 109-5 and 109-6, 110-3 and 110-4, 111-2 and 111-3, 116-1, and 145-4, 145-5, 145-7 to 145-11. Responses from readers of the published book are in folders 140-2 through 141-4 and 145-6. The last folder also contains correspondence with the publisher. Reviews are in folder 145-12. Colson's next book was Loving God, which included separate segments telling the story of how various people expressed their Christian love in the world. For example, there is material in several folders, especially in 117-1, on Agape House, a ministry to families of prisoners and some of this material was used in the book.

    Drafts of various chapters often include as well research material on the person whose story is being told or such research material might be a separate folder. Some of this research material is in boxes 117 and 118 (as well as a book outlined in 118-2 and 119-3). Actual drafts of individual chapters and several drafts of the book are in boxes 119-125 and folders 145-14 and 146-1. Some of the drafts are by Ellen Santilli (later Ellen Santilli Vaughn), a staff person who worked with Colson on the book. She also worked on Kingdoms in Conflict and Against the Night. (See also the Ellen Santilli Vaughn series in the collection)

    Reviews of the manuscript by R.C. Sproul and David McKenna are in folder 118-3. Responses from readers of the published book are in folders 141-5,6. A study guide to the book for use by individuals or small groups is in folder 117-10. Kingdoms in Conflict was a book that dealt with Christians in the political arena. The stories of various Christians who in one way or another stood at the intersection of faith and politics are documented in the research materials in the folders as well as in the book. For example, the story of Jerry Levin, a reporter who was kidnaped by Muslim nationalists during the civil war in Lebanon, can be found in folder 130-5.

    The material on the book in this collection consists to a large degree of various drafts of the book in boxes 126 through 136. Research material, book outlines (folders 125-5, and 146-3,4), reviews and correspondence about excerpting the book in various publications (folder 146-2), and comments by David Coffin, Carl Henry, Richard John Neuhaus and others (folder 125-6) are in boxes 125, 126 and 146. In 1988 Colson was the speaker at the Allies for Faith and Renewal lecture series, sponsored by the Center for Pastoral Renewal and held at Wheaton College in Illinois. His lectures were later expanded and published as the book, Against the Night/Living in the New Dark Age. The book described the growing moral decline of modern society and discussed how Christians should act, individually and as a community, to apply the Christian faith in the world today. Copies of the original lectures are in folder 136-1.

    The rest of boxes 136 and 137 contain drafts of the book and related materials, such as the correspondence with the publisher, Servant Books, in folder 136-3.

    Subseries: Manuscript Files | Other Manuscripts

    Arrangement: Materials are grouped by type: articles in box 147, radio scripts in box 148, and speeches and sermons in boxes 148-153. Articles are arranged alphabetically by folder title. Radio scripts and speeches are in chronological order by year and alphabetical within that year.

    Date Range: 1974-1989

    Volume: 4.35 linear feet

    Boxes: 138, 139, 143, 147-153

    Geographic coverage: United States, Australia, England, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore

    Type of documents: Speeches, radio scripts, articles, newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence

    Subjects: Christian ethics and morality as applied to modern society, especially in the United States, ministry to prisoners, prison reform, freedom of speech, the influence of celebrities on the general population

    Notes: Besides books, Colson was seemingly continually giving speeches and lectures, and writing articles. This subseries contains a wide assortment of these various productions. Other examples are in series IV. Boxes 138 and 147 contain many of Colson's articles and editorials.

    Folders 138-4, 147-7, 147-11 contains some of the columns he wrote for Prison Fellowship's newsletter, Jubilee. Other writing he did for Prison Fellowship is shown in the letters to donors in folder 138-3 and the manuscript of an introduction to PF's history and ministry in folder 138-5. Starting in 1983, he was a columnist for the Evangelical periodical Christianity Today and drafts of some of his columns dealing with a variety of social and theological issues are in folders 138-2, 147-1 through 147-6, 147-9, 147-14. Copies of articles that he wrote for religious, corrections and general interest magazines are in boxes 139 and 140 and folders 147-8, 147-10 and 147-13. Prison Fellowship published a pamphlet entitled "Is There a Better Way" on the prison system.

    Response from readers of the booklet are in box 142. Additional materials on prison reform and alternatives to incarceration can be found in the notes for a Prison Fellowship White Paper on the subject in folder 147-12 and in the transcripts and preparatory material relating to Colson's testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. The radio scripts in box 148 were from two different periods when Colson had a regular radio commentary. The first, called Another Point of View, was in the fall of 1979, when Colson made seventy-eight brief broadcasts on a variety of topics related to the application of Christian faith and morality to various issues in American public life such as the role of the government, education, handicapped access, etc.

    Beginning in the early 1980s, Colson had a regular radio commentary that appeared under the sponsorship of Prison Fellowship. This dealt with a wide range of topics similar to those covered in the previous commentary, but with special emphasis on questions related to the law, criminal justice and prisons. Scripts and notes for some of these broadcasts are in folder 148-5.

    There are numerous folders of Colson's speeches and sermons in boxes 148 through 153. (Some of these folders also contain reports on trips he made to various parts of the United States (folder 149-10), as well as Asia (folder 150-6, 150-9, 150-10, 153-2, 159-17), Australia and New Zealand (folder 150-5), and Europe (folders 149-12, 149-13, 150-4, ), on behalf of Prison Fellowship. In general he spoke about the Christian gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, the application of Christian morality to contemporary life, ministry to prisoners and prison reform. Among the organizations to which he spoke or the occasions for his speeches were Billy Graham evangelistic crusades (folder 149-6, 150-7), the Chicago Evening Club television program (150-2), the Christian Booksellers Association (folder 149-14, 151-3, 152-10), churches (folders 152-1, Dallas Christian Schools (folder 152-4), the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (folder 149-8), the Evangelical press Association (folder 151-9), Harvard University (folder 152-6), Moody Bible Institute (folder 151- 8, see also Tape T5), the Mt. Hermon Pastor's Conferences (folder 152-2), National Association of Evangelicals (folder 149-15), North American Baptist Conference (folder 152-7), People's Church of Toronto (folder 152-8), Praise Gathering (folder 152-3), prayer breakfasts on the city, state and national level (folders 149-1 through 149-4, 149-11, 149-16 ), Prison Fellowship International events (such as the international meeting in Nairobi, folder 152-11), prison visits (folders 150-6, 150-8, 150-10), the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (folder 149-5, 150-1), the Texas State Bar Association (folder 149-20).

    There are several folders of commencement addresses he gave, including those at Covenant College (folder 151-1), Eastern College (folder 151-6), Gordon College (folder 149-18), Houghton College (folder 151-7), Taylor University (folder 152-9), and Wheaton College (folder 151-2). Folder 149-20 contains the text and notes for the lectures he gave in London in 1979 on crime and society's response to it. Folder 151-5 contains the notes for an evangelistic campaign (The Life Together Crusade) Colson led at the Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Virginia.. A profile on Colson that appeared on the CBS television program, Sunday Morning (including comments by Bob Woodward) is in folder 152-12. Colson served as co-chair, with James M. Boice, of the 1987 Congress on the Bible II, sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Folders 152-13 through 153-1 contain correspondence, reports and other materials on planning of the program of this meeting. which included speakers such as R.C. Sproul, Ted Engstrom, Lorne Sanny, J.I. Packer, Lane Adams, Ray Stedman, Melvin Lorentzen, Vernon Grounds, Ron Sider, Daniel Van Ness, Bruce Wilkinson, Lem Tucker, John Perkins, Gordon Loux, William F. Buckley, and Gleason Archer

    Series: Ellen Santilli Vaughn Files

    Date Range: 1978-1989

    Volume: 3.4 linear feet

    Boxes: Boxes 153-159

    Arrangement: Alphabetical by significant word

    Geographic coverage: United States

    Type of documents: Manuscripts of articles, correspondence, memos

    Correspondents: Vaughn, Colson

    Subjects: The application of Christian morality to public life, the publication of PF's newsletter Jubilee, Colson's columns in Jubilee and Christianity Today.

    Notes: As mentioned above, Vaughn was a PF staff member and Colson assistant and colleague who help research and prepare first drafts of many of his books, articles and speeches. These are her files and they document the various projects she was involved in, such as editing Jubilee, writing assignments, helping prepare appeal letters to donors for PF, helping prepare PF's annual report.

    Exceptional items: Many folders have drafts of articles for CT or Jubilee on a variety of topics of current interest, such the bombing of abortion clinics (folders 153-3 158-14), free speech (folder 153-8), causes of crime (folder 154-1), the corrupting effect of celebrity (folders 154-3, 153-4), Christian patriotism (folder 154-8), the celebration of Easter (folders 155-2, 155-3), euthanasia (folder 155-4), Jane Fonda (folder 155-8), church and state (throughout, see folder 155-12), the homeless (folder 156-1), Gordon Liddy (folder 156-9), Pat Robertson's presidential campaign (folder 157-8), prisons and alternative forms of punishment (folders 157-16 through 158-2), the prosperity Gospel (folder 158-3), the meaning of Christ's Incarnation (folder 158-5), the Supreme Court (throughout, see folder 158-4), terrorism (folder 159-3).

    For a full list of topics, see the Box List. There are also a few commentaries prepared for use on the Christian Broadcasting Network (folder 154-2). Vaughn's work for Colson and PF is documented through, especially in her reports, schedules and memos in folders 153-4, 154-14, 157-2, 157-10, 158-7, and 159-6. People would often send Colson manuscripts of books they were publishing, so that he could provide a critique or write a forward or a blurb for the cover. Vaughn would often look these over and make her recommendations to Colson.

    There are examples of these types of materials in folder 153-5 (Ralph Allen), folder 153-7 (Roger Arienda), folder 154-5 (Francois Celier), folder 158-15 (R. C. Sproul), and folder 159-12 (Pat Williams). See also folder 159-18. Folder 157-9 contains materials on Colson's relationship with John Perkins, Mendenhall Ministries and Voice of Calvary Ministries, including the manuscript of Perkins' book, With Justice for All, which Perkins had sent to him for comments.


    The material in this collection was received by the Center in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, and 1991 as a series of gifts from Mr. Charles Colson. In March 1997, documents relating to Mr. Colson's 1973-1974 law practice, which had been in folder 2-5 through 2-20 were removed because of the attorney-client privilege, and returned to Colson by the archivist, as well as two purely personal items.


    Accessions: 84-75, 84-83, 84-105, 85-169, 86-97, 89-50, 91-82

  • April 10, 1997
  • Robert Shuster
  • Maria Bergstedt

  • Accessions: 91-81, 99-25
  • September 15, 2001
  • Robert Shuster
  • Ruth Estell
  • Wendy Valentine

  • Accession: 91-81
  • March 27, 2003
  • Robert Shuster
  • Title
    Collection 275 Papers of Charles W. Colson
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    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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    Repository Details

    Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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