Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2009 Issue

A Look at America's Past from David Lesser Antiquarian Books

Lesser107

The latest in Rare Americana from David Lesser.


By Michael Stillman

The latest catalogue of Rare Americana from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books is number 107 in their series. As we have come to expect, this is a collection of the obscure and unusual from America's past. Mostly pamphlets, these publications are primarily late 18th and 19th century in origin. They cover politics, theology, business, medicine, war, slavery, travel, crime... all of the issues of the day. So, once again we will go back in time and take a look at America in an earlier era, when life was simpler, but every bit as contentious as it is today.

Item 43 is the account of a long ago trial, so biased and unfair that the convicted defendants were officially exonerated almost two centuries later. Dominic Daley and James Halligan were the Irish Sacco and Vanzetti of a century earlier. In 1806, residents of Massachusetts were fearful of recent Irish Catholic immigrants. They assumed the worst of these newcomers. As a result, when Daley and Halligan were arrested for the murder of one Marcus Lyon, few questioned their guilt. Little evidence was presented of their blame, but it mattered not. Their counsel cautioned the jury not to convict them based on "the inveterate hostility against the people of that wretched country, from which the Prisoners have emigrated, for which the people of New-England are peculiarly distinguished." The jury ignored his words, convicted Daley and Halligan, and they were executed in a public hanging attended by thousands. In 1984, Governor Michael Dukakis officially proclaimed their innocence, 176 years too late to help the pair. This 1806 account is entitled Report of the Trial of Dominic Daley and James Halligan, for the Murder of Marcus Lyon... Priced at $450.

Item 87 is an interesting connection between the Revolutionary and Civil War eras in the United States. The early presidency was dominated by Virginians, and yet it would be southerners who would attempt to split the Union apart four score later. The split first started to appear over the issue of tariffs, which protected manufacturing primarily in the North, while increasing costs to customers in the South. It would lead some southerners, headed by John C. Calhoun, to declare that states had the right to ignore laws of the federal government, even secede if they wished. Most of the founders were gone by this time, but James Madison, the last survivor of the Virginia presidents, and the primary author of the Constitution, was still around. Offered is his Letters on the Constitutionality of the Power of Congress to Impose a Tariff for the Protection of Manufactures. In this 1828 publication, Madison argues against the southerners and for the power of the federal government to regulate trade. $500.

Even before the election of Lincoln as president in 1860, there was little hope the Union could be held together without force. Evidence of the monumental size of the divide can be seen in this Defence of the National Democracy against the Attack of Judge Douglas - Constitutional Rights of the States. This was a speech given on the senate floor on May 22, 1860, by Senator Judah Benjamin of Louisiana. Judge Douglas was Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, the eventual presidential nominee of the regular Democrats that fall. Douglas had already compromised too far for most northerners with his "popular sovereignty," a doctrine that would have allowed residents of new territories to choose for themselves whether to allow slavery. Most in the North opposed the expansion of slavery to anywhere outside of the South. However, this was not sufficient for southern leaders like Benjamin, who demanded that slavery be allowed in all territories, even if their residents opposed it, along with enforcement of fugitive slave laws in the North. With demands such as these, a split in the Union was inevitable. Item 19. $600.

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