Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2010 Issue

Political and Civil War Documents from Bruce N. Johnson

Johnson22

Historic Americana from Bruce N. Johnson.


By Michael Stillman

Bruce N. Johnson Historic Documents has issued Catalogue 22. Political & Civil War. This is a fascinating collection of Americana, much of it relating to presidential campaigns. Politics may not always have been quite as ugly as it is today, but it was often close. And while we seem to be in an uncivil cold war today, we were once in a civil hot one. This catalogue includes books, other printed material, and letters relating to politics and electoral campaigns, along with a collection of manuscript letters from soldiers and others concerned with the Civil War.

The catalogue starts with a section of presidential biographies. Of course you can read about Washington and Jefferson, Jackson and Grant, even President John Quincy Adams' biography of his predecessors, The Lives of Madison and Monroe, Fourth and Fifth Presidents of the United States (item 6, published in 1850, priced at $325). However, here you can find biographies, often published at the time the men were running for office, of the obscure, such as Martin Van Buren and Rutherford Hayes. There are the presidents taken by death long before there terms expired, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, and William Henry Harrison, whose tenure lasted but 30 days. Garfield has a biography from the famous rags-to-riches author Horatio Alger, From Canal Boy to President, Or the Boy and Manhood of James A. Garfield (item 29, published in 1881. $75). There are biographies of the three mediocrities who preceded the Civil War, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, and the three who took us from war to depression, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. There are several of Hoover from 1928. Herbert Hoover was a very popular man in 1928. Not so much in 1932.

Then there are the losers. Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan each carried major party nominations three times without ever winning. Winfield Scott was a great general, Charles Fremont a great explorer. Still, they lost to two of the worst presidents in American history, Pierce and Buchanan. George McClellan was a not-so great general and loser to Lincoln. No one remembers Horatio Seymour, but what chance did he have against Grant? About as much as Alf Landon had against Franklin Roosevelt. Then there is item 216, which sort of combines winners and losers. It's Twenty years in Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield. James G. Blaine tells of his years in Congress under several presidents, whom he hoped to succeed. Blaine was the Republican nominee in 1884 but lost to Grover Cleveland. Published 1884. $35.

If you prefer music to biographies, there is a section of sheet music. When was the last time anyone played the President Harding March? Probably not since Teapot Dome. $35. It may be even longer since anyone sang Henry Clay We Shall Never See His Like Again (written by "An Old Coon"). $225. Perhaps the president most honored in song was Log Cabin and Hard Cider Old Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison. Offered are The Log Cabin Song ($265) and The Harrison Song ($250).

Speaking of the first President Harrison, he was not a favorite of Lauson B. Teal of Ohio. On January 25, 1841, he wrote to a former friend (political differences evidently led to antagonisms) about politics. This was during the period after Harrison was elected, but had not yet taken office. Writes Teal, "...he is a coward he voted in Indiana for Negros to have a vote what next he takes his seat he nows nothing he will have to send for Tory Clay or tory Webster and a Nother thing he is so oald he cannot hear himself Fart..." For the record, Harrison was 67 at the time and within a few months he would be dead. Item 138. $125.

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