Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2006 Issue

<i>The Fate of Their Country</i>. A Look Forward and Back

Wilmot

David Wilmot's "Proviso" caused deep resentment in the South. From the Library of Congress.


Fast forward to 1854. Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas pushes through the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing for popular sovereignty in territory previously barred from having slavery by the Missouri Compromise. There have long been questions why Douglas pushed for this controversial change, though it aligned with his political calling card, "popular sovereignty." Perhaps it was part of Douglas' desire to expand the railroads west, which would bring new settlers, and with new settlers, the desire to form new states, in turn reopening the slavery question. Whatever his intentions, this political move led to enormous discontent in the North, and the bloodshed of bleeding Kansas. Yet even in Kansas, neighbor to slave state Missouri, and the territory with the greatest likelihood of adopting the "peculiar institution," slavery was voted down, despite pro-slavery advocates' attempts to fix the vote. Once again, Holt's thesis that the popular sovereignty issue was much ado about nothing is upheld.

Holt even goes to the point of tearing down the holiest of holies in his attempt to blame political machinations for the Civil War. In his "House Divided" speech, Lincoln raises the specter that advocates of slavery may succeed in spreading it to all of the states, even the old northern ones. Holt sees this as a bit of hyperbole intended to gain northern votes by generating fears of a spread of slavery that he knew would never really happen. Perhaps, but the Dred Scott Decision, fully implemented, would effectively have done just that.

While politicians clearly made the situation worse (don't they always?), I still question whether their acting like statesmen instead would have been sufficient to stop this speeding train. Some differences are too intractable, too divisive, too irresolvable to lend themselves to normal solutions. Lincoln's claim that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" may not have been political rhetoric, but an essential truth. Slavery is too significant an issue, too much of a moral claim upon the consciences of too many people to lend itself to compromise. For too many Northerners, it was morally intolerable. To the Southern economic leadership, it was too much a way of life to give up.

The nation finessed being "half slave, half free" for seven decades, but this was never a permanent solution. Four of America's first five presidents were southerners, and even Washington was a slaveholder. However, the southern founding fathers did not look on slavery as a good thing. The nation was able to compromise on the issue as even in the South it was regarded as no better than a "necessary evil," something economically necessary at the time, but an evil to be eliminated in time by future generations. Washington himself set the tone by freeing his slaves when he died (technically, when Martha died). In the North, states where slavery existed adopted plans for its gradual elimination.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,500 to $3,500
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.

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