Joe Rubinfine recently released his List 171 of American Historical Autographs. This selection brings us back to the time of the American Revolution. They range from the days just before the Declaration of Independence, when a few of the colonies were already in open rebellion, to the early days of the new republic. Most signed documents fall into three categories: notable leaders, such as Washington, Hancock, Franklin and Adams; generals and other military leaders (and a few enlisted men); and signers of the Declaration of Independence (or Constitution). These are the patriots who earned America her independence the hard way, although, there are a few traitors in here as well, or people who were at one time on one side of the aisle, but ended up on the other. There is much in the way of important and collectible material to be found, such as these examples which follow.
We will start with a truly amazing piece of American history. It connects three of the greatest names from the American Revolution – Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette. It was written by George Washington on December 28, 1778, from Philadelphia, where he was meeting with Congress. He writes to Benjamin Franklin in Paris, who was serving as America's Minister to France. The letter is an introduction for Lafayette, still a young man of 22, but a trusted aide of Washington. With France now going to war with Britain, Lafayette wanted to serve his own country, but also wanted to round up more aid for America back home. “It is with pleasure that I embrace the opportunity of introducing to your personal acquaintance a Gentm whose merit cannot have left him unknown to you by reputation,” writes Washington. He notes that Lafayette's “Zeal, Military ardour & talents...have endeared him to America, and must recommend him to his Prince.” On a personal note, Washington adds that he wishes to “endulge my own feelings to add that I have a very particular friendship for him...” While in France, Lafayette would work with Franklin to obtain more aid and to send French forces headed by Rochambeau to assist the Americans, before returning himself to America for the successful conclusion of the war. It is unlikely any other foreign citizen has ever been as honored in America as Lafayette. Item 2. Priced at $250,000.
Lafayette was not the only person to cross the Atlantic to assist the Americans. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, most often known as “Baron” von Steuben, was a Prussian military officer who came to America on a recommendation, this time the recommendation flowing from Franklin to Washington. Von Steuben volunteered his services to Washington at Valley Forge, where the latter's ragtag army was barely surviving the brutal winter. Von Steuben took on the task of training the Americans into a real army, teaching discipline and techniques unknown by Washington's volunteers. It must have been a trying time for both von Steuben, speaking little English, and his pupils, but with help from translators, along with young Alexander Hamilton and General Nathanael Greene, he turned the Americans into a serious fighting force. After the war, von Steuben remained in America, became a citizen, and was granted property and a pension for his services. One of his properties was in Herkimer County in upstate New York. On March 27, 1793, von Steuben wrote to Peter Smith, “As the season is now advancing in which I retire to your neighbourhood, I address myself to you to assist me in arranging the necessaries for my summer residence.” Von Steuben was 62 years old at this time and died the following year. Like Lafayette, the “Baron” is still a highly honored historic figure in America. Item 43. $1,500.
Taxes have never been beloved by the American public. We want the services; we just don't want to pay for them. Item 16 is a letter from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, George Clymer of Pennsylvania, from 1787. He expresses the opinion that if more taxes are necessary, they cannot be raised in Pennsylvania. He explains, “I do not say that the people cannot bear greater burthens, but if they will not 'tis nearly the same thing, for they are an Ass that will not travel with a greater load than what he is pleased himself to take up....it is vain to beat or to reason with the animal.” $8,500.