David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has released their latest selection, Catalogue 195 of Rare Americana. Lesser's catalogues always provide a contemporary look at predominantly 18th-19th century America. These were the good old days, but as we discover, they may be old but they weren't always so good. This is America as it was, rather than some whitewashed version. For better or worse, this is who we are (Americans). Here are a few selections.
We tend to think of the only voices to dissolve the Union prior to the Civil War as coming from the South, but there were Northern supporters as well. There were Northern abolitionists who no more wanted to be connected to the South than pro-slavery Southerners wanted to be associated with the North. The famed abolitionist newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison called for a convention to dissolve the Union, and such a meeting was convened in 1857, brought together by Massachusetts preacher Thomas Wentworth Higginson (one of John Brown's backers). Being required to enforce the Fugitive Slave law was a constant moral dilemma for many in the North, and the election of James Buchanan in 1856 added to their despair. It meant no progress toward abolition could be made for at least another four years. As a result, the group got together in Worcester, Massachusetts, in January 1857. In what was known as the Disunion Convention, they called for a separation between the free and slave states. Higginson called disunion “a destiny,” continuing, “If we can not bring it about peaceably, it will come forcibly.” Garrison called the U.S. Constitution, that allowed slavery, a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” He concluded, “I go for uncompromising hostility to slavery everywhere, and, therefore, no union with slaveholders.” Despite their pleas, unlike those of the leaders of the southern states, their calls went unheeded. It would be the South that took action to secede, and the North that went to war to preserve the Union. Item 130 is the Proceedings of the State Disunion Convention, Held at Worcester, Massachusetts, January 15, 1857. Priced at $375.
This sounds like a list of officers from the Civil War, but it can't be because the date is 1848. The title is Official List of Officers Who Marched with the Army under the Command of Major General Winfield Scott, from Puebla upon the City of Mexico... It is not surprising because many of the commanders during the Civil War, on both sides, cut their teeth in the Mexican War. So, we see names familiar from that later war here, including Grant, Lee, Beauregard, Ewell, Pemberton, Longstreet, Magruder, Buckner, Pillow, Stonewall Jackson, and even future President Franklin Pierce. An errata sheet of names missed is included which adds that of Grant's predecessor and Democratic Presidential nominee of 1864, George McClellan. It was printed in Mexico on the army's own press (or one “borrowed” from Mexico). The list includes the participants' names, where and when they served, battles fought, sickness, injuries and deaths. There's an extract of Scott's account and a map. This copy belonged to Capt. George Wescott, whose entry in the book says he was wounded and brevetted a captain for his “gallant and distinguished conduct.” Item 85. $2,500.
This is an album of portraits, but most are not of people you would like to meet. In fact, 200 out of 210 are of unsavory individuals. The title is Offenders and Defenders, published in 1888. Ten are of the good guys, the “defenders,” members of New York's finest. The others are of people they apprehended or other criminals, even western outlaws. There is Mrs. Druse, “the first woman hanged in the state of New York.” There is Johnny Beal, a “young rascal” of 13 who murdered his mother. August Spiess and S. Fischer, who were executed for claimed murder after the Haymarket Massacre, when workers rallied to demand an eight-hour workday, appear. Then there is Emma Davis, a “remarkable woman” who “has a mania for administering poison to those whom she thinks have been long enough in this world, and whose departure might benefit herself.” Around 25 of the offenders are women, and there are a few African Americans among the mostly white males. This album was published by the Buchner Tobacco Company, apparently issued as a premium. Item 16. $750.
We know there were unreconstructed Confederates after the war, and they controlled the South once Reconstruction ended. Not as well known is that there were unreconstructed Copperheads in the North. James P. Shunk of York, Pennsylvania, was such a man. The title of this printed speech is Literature of the Abolition Yankee. Shunk carries on about abolitionist literature although the war was over by this time (circa 1867). However, having won, he claims that this “band of malignants” now control New England and “rule us for their pleasure and plunder us for their profit.” He claimed these New Englanders looked down on people from places like Pennsylvania. Their literature, he says, “is made to sell, to cheat, to deceive, not to improve and instruct.” He carries on about the “wretches who had wept over the separation of young niggers in the South, whose pocket-handkerchiefs had been soaked over the agonizing recital by some fugitive Sambo, with the shock which parting from his grandmother had cost him.” These “wretches,” he says, were the ones who sent white men off to lay down their lives and tear apart their families. Item 100. $500.
Perhaps Shunk would have been relieved to know that even if Abolitionists held sway in the North after the war, the South had practically returned to its old ways, even if slavery was no longer officially permitted. The freed slaves still had to find work if they were to survive, and the plantation owners now forced onerous working contracts upon them that left them as virtual slaves. Item 97 is one such contract, between J.S. Wilson and Brooks Hicklin and Lydia Backstrom, “persons of color.” It was a one-year contract running from Jan. 1, 1867 to Jan. 1, 1868. Hicklin and Backstrom agreed to “conduct themselves faithfully, honestly, civilly and diligently and abide by all the rules and regulations made on said plantation. . . They are to keep no stock of any kind without the express permission of the said J.S. Wilson, nor firearms [what happened to the Second Amendment?] or deadly weapons nor are they to introduce or invite visitors or harbor or entertain idlers or stragglers from that or other plantations; nor hold any prayer meetings nor suffer any to be held at their houses or attend any that may be held on said plantation; nor are they or the members of their families employed to leave the premises in work hours without the consent of the said J.S. Wilson or his agent.” That wasn't all. Foreman's orders must be obeyed, “their houses shall at all times be subject to inspection,” misbehavior would lead to deductions from wages, and prohibited conduct included want of “politeness to Wilson, his family or guests.” Wilson wanted even more but the Freedman's Bureau agent made some minor changes, reducing penalties for being idle or absent from $2 to 50¢ and if they were fired for cause they would only be deducted for the lost time, not for all the money they had earned up to that time. The families of each of these individuals were required to work from “sunrise to sunset,” from which the Hicklins would receive $225 and the Backstroms $210, payable at the end of the contract. They each would also receive an allotment of food. $3,500.