Rare Book Monthly
Articles - November - 2003 Issue
America, America (and two more Americas)<br>Four new Americana Catalogues
For example, Felcone offers a handbill which belongs on the wall of any constitutional lawyer or scholar. Gibbons v. Ogden is one of the most important constitutional cases in American history. Thomas Gibbons and Aaron Ogden were once partners in the ferry business between New Jersey and New York but had a falling out. Ogden obtained a monopoly license from the state of New York to operate the business, but Gibbons went into competition anyway under a Federal license. Ogden sued to shut Gibbons down and won his case in the New York courts. Gibbons appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which overturned the New York judgment. In that 1824 decision, Chief Justice Marshall set out the federal government’s rights to regulate interstate commerce and the authority of the federal courts. Much of the federal power we assume today arose from this momentous decision.
But Gibbons and Ogden were also involved in their own petty squabbles long before Justice Marshall intervened. In 1816, Ogden, to Gibbons’ apparent surprise, had taken legal action against him. Also, or at least Gibbons believed, Ogden was interfering in a personal case of his which had evolved from a man seducing Gibbons’ daughter. Gibbons sent Ogden a note challenging him to a duel, which Ogden refused to accept. Thereupon Gibbons printed up this handbill and personally delivered a copy to his adversary. According to Felcone, Ogden slipped out the backdoor and promptly sued Gibbons for trespass. In this remarkable broadside, Gibbons says, among other things, “I pronounce your conduct RASCALLY.” I will now forever picture Gibbons speaking to Ogden like Elmer Fudd speaking to Bugs Bunny. Item 684. $4,500.
Here’s a Civil War letter written from New Jersey, but it could have been written anywhere at any time. George Bennett, was a soldier with the New Jersey Volunteers, or as he described it, the “NJ Slave Volunteers.” He complains of their officers calling them “God Damn Sons of Bitches” and “cursing & damning men for every little mistake.” “This morning when falling into ranks the Lieut. Commenced cursing & damning the whole company…and to cap off with he took hold of the young mans coat collar and jerked him a little and threatened to split his brains open and drew his sword for that purpose…” The weaponry has advanced immensely since those days, but military interpersonal skills have changed little. Item 121. $400.
On August 29, 1855, a train from the Camden and Amboy railroad backed up to avoid another train coming its way and struck a horse-drawn wagon at a crossing. Twenty-four people were killed. An executive committee of the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Camden and Amboy Railroad quickly issued a report in which it found, surprise, surprise, that the company was completely without fault and all blame lay with the wagon driver. The report led to a storm of protest. Item 456. $125. A few years earlier, another executive committee of the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Camden and Amboy Railroad Companies had been convened to examine charges of fraud against the directors. This committee too found the company blameless. It was an honorable company. Item 455. $150.