Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2004 Issue

Eccentricity At the Top:<br>Richard Mentor Johnson

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Vice-President Richard M. Johnson. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


By Michael Stillman

A few months ago, we began an erratic and some may think trivial series on collecting some of the notable men who have served this nation in the trivial office of vice-president. This month, we push on. Last time we wrote about William Rufus King, who served from 1853 to a few days later in 1853 (he was already deathly ill when he took office). See Trivial Pursuit. Though now virtually forgotten, King was a beloved long-serving senator who often filled the vice-president’s role in the senate as President Pro Tempore, though sadly never as vice-president himself. Terminal illness was far advanced by the time he was sworn in. King was a moderate, conciliatory, non-controversial man liked by both supporters and opponents alike.

Today we look at his opposite. In the 19th century, we had a vice-president probably even more disliked by his party than Nelson Rockefeller, the wild-eyed liberal from New York Gerald Ford was forced by his party to jettison in 1976. In fact, he was so disliked that many of his party’s electors refused to vote him in as vice-president, forcing his former colleagues in the senate, under the rules of the 12th Amendment, to salvage his election. We, of course, could be referring to no one other than “Old Rumpsey Dumpsey” himself. What? You don’t recall “Old Rumpsey Dumpsey?” O.k. This is about the estimable Vice-President of the United States Richard Mentor Johnson. Still don’t remember? Read on.

The year was 1836, and Martin Van Buren, not the most beloved of presidents himself, had recently been elected. When the electors met to vote, Van Buren, who won the majority of the electoral votes, naturally was elected. So should his running mate have been. However, Johnson managed to antagonize enough of his own electors that he was unable to carry a majority. The vice-presidential race, under the terms of the 12th Amendment, was thrown into the senate where, fortunately for Johnson, party loyalty saved the day. It was the cap to one of the more controversial and entertaining political careers we have seen. However, in fairness, we must point out that Johnson also had his supporters, and he engendered great loyalty from an unusual coalition of western frontiersmen and northeastern workingmen. But, we are ahead of ourselves. To understand this odd turn of events, we need to go back to rural Kentucky, where the legend of “Rumpsey Dumpsey” was born.

His early “log cabin” upbringing, which many politicians of this era loved to claim, was semi-true. Johnson was born in Bluegrass, Kentucky, near current-day Louisville, when that was the far-off western frontier. However, his father was no Davy Crockett. Robert Johnson was one of the state’s major landowners, and served in the Kentucky legislature and Virginia legislature before that. Three of his brothers would also serve in federal offices and Richard Mentor would attend Transylvania College and be admitted to the bar. Yet, despite his relative wealth and more privileged upbringing, he would never associate himself with the more privileged classes. He frequently assisted poor people with legal claims against the wealthy for no fee, genuinely sympathetic to their plight. In fact, Johnson was rabidly against the whole concept of classes of people, an attitude that would make him a hero to some of the nation’s more downtrodden.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò. <i>Nicholas Machiavel's Prince. Also, The life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca…</i> Translated by Edward Dacres. London, 1640. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> FILSON, John. <i>The Discovery, Settlement and present State of Kentucke: and An Essay towards the Topography, and Natural History of that important Country…</i> Wilmington, Del.: James Adams, 1784. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> ELUARD, Paul. <i>Un poeme dans chaque livre.</i> Paris: Louis Broder, 1956. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> LEWIS, James Otto. [<i>Aboriginal Port Folio.</i> Philadelphia: Published by the Author, 1835-1836]. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> [ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS]. BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rome, in Latin. [Southern Netherlands (Ghent or Bruges), c.1460]. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> MORE, Thomas, Sir. <i>The Workes ... wrytten by him in the Englysh tongue.</i> Edited by William Rastell. London, 1557. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. MORRIS, William. <i>Love is Enough.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897. $5,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph endorsement signed as President (“A. Lincoln”), 24 February 1863. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> WASHINGTON, George. Address panel with autograph free frank signed ("G:o Washington"), as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, 5 August 1777. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>November 12-13, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> GOREY, Edward. <i>The Beastly Baby.</i> N.p.: The Fantod Press, 1962. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> FROST, Robert. Photographic reproduction signed and inscribed ("Robert Frost”), to R.V. Thornton, 1955. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 12-13:</b> GOREY, Edward. <i>The Bug Book.</i> New York: Looking Glass Library, 1959. $500 to $700.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Book of Hours with Illuminated Miniatures, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Conradus de Alemania [Halberstadt the Elder], <i>Concordantiae Bibliorum,</i> Strassburg, 1474. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Christopher Marlowe, <i>The Jew of Malta,</i> London, 1633. Earliest extant edition of this antiauthoritarian Elizabethan play. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b><br>Sir Isaac Newton, <i>The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,</i> first edition in English, 2 volumes, London, 1729. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> John Rae, <i>Narrative of an Expedition to the Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847,</i> first edition, London, 1850. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Philip Pittman, <i>The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi…,</i> first edition, London, 1770. $10,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Cyanotype of an anatomy class at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1895. $300 to $400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 27:</b> Equine veterinary formulary, manuscript on paper, East Earl, Pennsylvania, circa 1860. $400 to $600.
  • <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> REGAMEY, Felix (1844-1906). Unique drawing showing Verlaine and Rimbaud in London, September 1872. €70,000 to 100,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> LABORDE, Alexandre de (1773-1842). <i>Voyage pittoresque et historique de l’Espagne.</i> Paris : 1806-1820. €20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> BOCCACE, Jean (1313-1375). <i>Il Decamerone…</i> Venise : Gabriele Giolito di Ferrari, 1542.<br>€ 12,000 to 15,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> LAMBERT, Yvon (1936). Full collection of writings from <i>Une rêverie émanée de mes loisirs.</i> Paris : 1992 - 2018. €50,000 to 70,000
    <b>Christie’s, Nov 3 :</b> JOUVE, Paul (1878-1973) -- KIPLING, Rudyard (1865-1936). <i>La Chasse de Kaa.</i> Paris : Javal & Bourdeaux, 1930. €2,000 to 3,000

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