More Rare and Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their 93rd catalogue of Rare Americana. It fits right in the Lesser mold, catalogues of mainly pamphlets and other unusual American works predominately from the 18th and 19th century. These are mostly concerned with the immediate issues of the day, rather than thorough detailed historical works. The shorter, pamphlet form allowed for quick comment on current events. Here you will find many political works, some concerning issues great, others small and forgotten. Religious leaders thunder over the doctrinal controversies of the day, many of little concern anymore. There are numerous legal arguments, accounts of trials, business propositions, especially concerning railroads, arguments pro and con over slavery and women's rights, even a few medical works, or perhaps quackery works might be more descriptive. Lesser's catalogues are informative and entertaining, and offer a wealth of material for your Americana collection. Here are just a few of these uncommon items.
America was more of an egalitarian society in its earlier days, a leftover rebellion against the nobility of its former colonial masters. Some of that spirit can be seen in organizations such as the one described in the Catalogue of the Anti-Secret Confederation. Such groups were common in America in the first half of the 19th century, there once having been an entire political party dedicated to opposing the Masons. The confederation described in this catalogue was formed of anti-secret societies at numerous colleges in the Northeast. They claim, "Secret Societies are calculated to destroy the harmony of College, to create distinctions not founded on merit..." Item 4, published in 1853. Priced at $375.
Henry Clay was one of the senate's greatest orators, whose attempts to bring various sides together earned him the sobriquet the "Great Compromiser." His talents were put to their greatest test after the Mexican War, when the North and South began rapidly to pull apart, and the Union started to unravel. Clay led the Senate to passage of the Compromise of 1850, actually a series of compromises that, at the time, seemed to save the Union. He died two years later, his Whig political party in disarray, but the Union apparently saved. By 1856, the compromises had virtually disintegrated while the Whigs, who had won the presidency as recently as 1848, ceased to exist. That left his political opponents, the Democrats, the new anti-immigrant American (Know-Nothing) Party, and the newly formed Northern party the Republicans to battle for the presidency. Were he still alive, who would the old Whig compromiser have supported? We will never know, though many, especially northern Whigs like Abraham Lincoln, moved to the Republicans. Item 23 is a Letter from the Hon. James B. Clay, published in 1856. James was Henry Clay's loyal son, so it is interesting to see how he confronted this choice. From the three, Clay immediately eliminates Republican John Fremont, saying the Republicans will "destroy the glorious Union under which I was born and lived." The other two, Know-Nothing Millard Fillmore and Democrat James Buchanan, are "a choice of evils," though a lesser evil than Fremont.