David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has released a new catalogue of Rare Americana. A Catalogue of Significant and Unusual Imprints Relating to America. This is their 194th catalogue. Concentrated on 19th century material, it provides a look at America when it was still a young nation. We see the issues facing the country and how people handled them. The issues were different, and yet they seem so familiar. We may no longer have slavery, or the virulent anti-Catholic ravings we once had, but we still manage to find minorities to attack and blame for some reason or other. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Here are some samples.
We will begin with a few cases of things not turning out quite as expected. First is a Message of the President of the United States, to the Two Houses of Congress... from 1857. President Buchanan was already struggling with Kansas and the fraudulent pro-slavery government there when another issue arose. The Mormons in Utah had certain cultural differences with Americans from the East and their church influenced government did not sit well with others' belief in separation of church and state. Mormon leader Brigham Young was Governor of the Utah Territory, but Buchanan named a non-church affiliated replacement. He also sent 2,500 troops, not to attack anyone but to make sure the new Governor could exercise authority. There were a few skirmishes and casualties between the army and Mormons, but other than the still unexplained Mountain Meadows Massacre involving Mormons and passing immigrants, what became known as the Utah War wasn't much of a war. In his message, Buchanan played it up a bit, stating “This is the first rebellion which has existed in our territories; and humanity itself requires we should put it down in such a manner that it shall be the last.” Oh my. The “rebellion” in Utah was put down but it was hardly the last rebellion in America, as Buchanan so painfully experienced three years later. This item comes with another message from the President and one from the Secretary of War. Item 16. Priced at $450.
This is an American edition of a work that focused on a spectacular event in France that gripped the attention of the whole world – the French Revolution. It is also a look at anti-Catholic sentiment in early America. The title is The Signs of the Times: Or, the Overthrow of the Papal Tyranny in France, the Prelude to the Destruction of Popery and Despotism; but of Peace to Mankind, published in 1794. The author of this not very prescient piece was James Bicheno. Bicheno correctly says there is no “event so extraordinary as the late revolution in France,” but he was way off in calling it “a fatal stroke to papal usurpations, and to the reign of despotism.” France was about to see despotism, terror, and a lack of peace unparalleled during the coming Reign of Terror. Item 7. $375.
Benjamin Butler was one of those larger than life characters. He served as a Union General during the Civil War and administered New Orleans after it was captured from the Confederacy. He was not noted for his military expertise, despite his able capacities at recruiting, and after the war, became one of the Radical Republicans (though pre-war he was a Democrat). He fought for Civil Rights for Black Americans with whom he became very popular. Considering those views, this piece reflects opinions he totally reversed a short time later. Item 20 is a pamphlet he wrote in 1860, The Charlestown Convention. The Platform of Principles. Douglas' Nomination an Impossibility. What is to be done at Baltimore by the Democracy. In the Democratic Party Convention of 1860, the North-South division prevented them from selecting a nominee. Butler favored the southern choice, John C. Breckenridge, over the Northern choice, Stephen A. Douglas. So in preparation for the party's second attempt to select a nominee Butler came up with a different choice. Butler, soon to be a Union General and advocate for civil rights, threw his support behind Jefferson Davis! Oops. In doing so, Butler believed that Davis was basically a Union man so he saw him as a Democratic candidate who could unite both northern and southern wings of the party. Not exactly. $250.
Item 111 provides an answer to an interesting question. Some notable politicians died before the outbreak of the Civil War so it may be hard to know which side they would have supported. Generally, they would have followed their home state, such as Former President John Tyler abandoning the country he once led to join with the Confederacy. Harder to determine are those from border states, particularly those of the Whig Party that disintegrated shortly before the war. The long-time border state Whig leader and Great Compromiser Henry Clay had already died before this issue of the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner was published on August 15, 1856. With the war still five years away, Clay's son John B. Clay did not have to make a choice yet, but it was very much on his mind in considering who to support in the 1856 presidential election. This edition includes a long speech by the younger Clay in which he asks, “Old-Line Whigs, what is our duty? It lies with us to save the Union.” So how should one vote? Clay rejects John Fremont of the newly formed northern-oriented Republican Party. He believed it endangered the Union. The former Whig President Millard Fillmore was now carrying the banner of the American or “Know-Nothing” Party. A fellow Whig would seem logical but Clay thinks he has no chance of beating Fremont. That left him with only one choice, to support the Democrat, James Buchanan. John Clay was still trying to hold the Union together as an attendee at the last gasp Peace Conference of February 1861, which failed, but finally the Kentucky slave owner threw in his lot with the Confederacy. $125.
The United States undertook a polar expedition in 1881 in celebration of the first International Polar Year. A crew under the command of Adolphus Greely was sent there to collect meteorological data (it was cold) and astronomical readings. It all went well until it didn't. They reached the farthest point north that anyone had seen up to that time and settled along Lady Franklin Bay on Ellesmere Island in far northern Canada. They received their supplies for the winter by ship that summer and all went well. The following summer they awaited their next supply ship but it never came, blocked by ice. They hunkered down for the winter and awaited the following year's supply ship the next summer. It never came either. The ship was crushed in the ice. Now Greely's men were in deep trouble. They took to the small boats and headed south with 40 days of food. They got 500 miles before conditions forced them to camp at Cape Sabine. Out of food, they attempted to hunt and fish but it was not enough. The men began to starve and freeze, possibly resorting to cannibalism. By the time rescue arrived, June 22 the next summer, only seven of 25, including Greely, were still alive, one of whom succumbed on the trip home. Item 87 is the report of the rescue expedition, Report of Winfield S. Schley, Commander U.S. Navy, Commanding Greely Relief Expedition of 1884, published in 1887. $150.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be reached at 203-389-8111 or email@example.com. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.