Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2009 Issue

Historic Printed and Manuscript Material from Bruce N. Johnson

Johnson21

Historic documents from Bruce N. Johnson.


By Michael Stillman

Bruce N. Johnson Historic Documents recently issued their Catalogue 21, and no further title is needed since the firm's name describes its contents. There are some books here, but the collection of almost 400 items is more heavily into pamphlets, personal letters, and other such documents. The material is overwhelmingly American in origin, and the great majority of it is from the 19th century. Much of the printed matter is political in nature, though wars, crime, celebrations, transportation, sports and various other topics are also well represented. From the handwritten material, we find many personal letters from individuals in challenging circumstances, some trying to make a living on the frontier or during hard times, others writing from the fields of battle or prison. This catalogue is filled with fascinating material, a few samples of which follow.

Item 74 recounts the painful effects of war. Charles Davis Jameson was a successful lumberman from Maine. A staunch Democrat, he was twice his party's candidate for governor, and he went to the Democratic convention of 1860 as a supporter of Stephen Douglas. However, when war came, Jameson was a "War Democrat," loyally supporting the Union cause. He entered the army as a Colonel and quickly rose to General for his bravery and wisdom under fire. He last fought at the Battle of Fair Oaks during the Peninsular Campaign. Unfortunately, soon after he came down with "camp fever," likely typhoid. This letter was written by someone with the initials C.G.R. to his sister. Evidently, C.G.R. was a friend or relative of Jameson who had come to Washington to visit the ill soldier. The writer was shocked by what he found. "Gen. Jameson is sicker than I anticipated finding him, quite delirious," he writes. The General did not recognize him. Rather, his mind was still at battle. "He is all the time away in Camp or on the battle field and it is painful to see his trouble. One moment calling for his horse, and then issuing orders to under officers, in the most dignified manner... So it was all night long, and he seemed to be suffering a thousand battles. The crisis has not passed him, and it is impossible to know what the result will be." The result was not good. The letter was written on June 26, 1862, and that November Jameson was finally able to make the journey back to Maine, but he died either shortly before or after arriving home. Priced at $250.

Item 335 is a Message of the Hon. Hardin R. Runnels Governor of Texas. Runnels was elected Governor of Texas in 1856, the only man to ever defeat Sam Houston is an election. Runnels was a pro-South candidate. In this 1859 proclamation, he says "equality and security in the Union or independence outside of it, should be the motto of every Southern State." Runnels lost his bid for reelection to Houston, who was pro-Union, but Runnels would go on to be a delegate to the state's secession convention, where his side overwhelmed Houston. $395.

Here is an attorney general's opinion nearly a century and a half old that speaks to an issue being debated today: Opinion of the Constitutional Power of the Military to Try and Execute the Assassins of the President. By Attorney General James Speed. Similar to today's debate over whether those accused of the 9/11 attacks should be tried in a civilian or military court, in 1865 they were debating whether those involved in the assassination of President Lincoln should be tried in a civilian or military court. The Secretary of State wanted a quick military trial, the Secretary of the Navy and Lincoln's first Attorney General believed this to be unconstitutional. President Andrew Johnson asked Attorney General Speed whether a military trial would be legal. This opinion was his response. Speed concluded that the assassination was part of the Civil War, and different standards may be used when a nation is under the threats that come with war. The defendants were brought before a military court. Item 154. $325.

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