American Presidents from the William Reese Company
American Presidents from the William Reese Co.
The William Reese Company has issued their 283rd catalogue, and it is a fascinating one for those focused on American politics. The title is American Presidents, and there is material pertaining to most of those illustrious, and not so illustrious individuals, from George Washington all the way to Lyndon Johnson. There is material on election campaigns, important presidential decisions, more routine matters, even personal correspondence, including before, during, and after their years in the nation's highest office. Some personal correspondence is with family members, others with friends, colleagues, or simply constituents. The material is presented in presidential chronological order, with the heaviest concentration relating to the first three presidents, but those who collect our more obscure leaders will find their share of items related to the Harrisons, Tylers, Fillmores, Hardings, and others rarely found on top ten lists of our greatest presidents. Here are a few.
Following the chronological sequencing, the first item is the oldest piece related to the first President. It's in French: Memoire Contenant le Precis des Faits… compiled by Jacob Moreau and published in 1756 (the rare quarto first edition). This book describes an incident that set off the French and Indian War. British forces under George Washington intercepted French ones under de Jummonville in the back country of the Ohio River valley. The nature of Jummonville's expedition remains in question. The French, and this book, claim Jummonville was approaching Washington on a peaceful, diplomatic mission. Washington believed it was a spying mission. A battle ensued, and Jummonville was killed, possibly during battle, or perhaps after he was captured (and supposedly by an Indian ally). Whatever actually happened that day, the French believed Washington was a murderer. French forces later surrounded Washington and his men and they were forced to surrender. Washington's journal and instructions were seized, sent to France, and printed in this book (after being translated to French). The irony of all this is a few decades later, Washington would be fighting the British and the French would be his ally. Priced at $12,500.
From early in the first President's career we go to the late years of the second President. It ties the American founders to the second generation that would replace them in power by the 1820s. Item 23 includes a copy of a Discourse, Delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1820, in Commemoration of the First Settlement of New-England, inscribed by author Daniel Webster to Ward Boylston, a cousin of John Adams. The oration was given by Webster, one of the giants of the age of great senators, at the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing. It was an emotional speech, and contained some of Webster's political views, including his opposition to the spread of slavery, recently enshrined in the Missouri Compromise. Included with the pamphlet is a letter by the then 85-year-old former President John Adams, dated December 23, 1821, lauding Webster and his opposition to slavery. There is irony here too, as Webster, long a beloved figure in New England, would see his neighbors turn against him three decades later when he approved of the Compromise of 1850, which allowed for slavery to be instituted in territories where it had been banned by the Missouri Compromise. Still, the 1820 Webster had a profound impact on Adams who wrote, "If there be an American who can read it without tears, I am not that American." $62,500.
American Presidents from the William Reese Company
A younger and older Letitia Tyler Semple.
Item 75 offers a pair of letters from Letitia Tyler Semple, written in November of 1893. They are remembrances of Dolley Madison, widow of President James Madison. Mrs. Semple was the daughter of President John Tyler. She recalls she met Mrs. Madison when she was 20, the former President's wife 60. For the record, Mrs. Madison was 73 when Mrs. Semple was 20. She recalls, accurately, that Mrs. Madison was "reduced almost to absolute poverty" by "the bad management of her son" (James Madison's stepson John Todd, the President having no natural children). "Bad management" is a kind word for John's actions, as his gambling, drinking and theft virtually wiped out the property and savings of James and Dolley Madison. Mrs. Semple recalled her father being concerned about Mrs. Madison's situation and recommending Congress purchase President Madison's papers from her. Such a bill was passed, giving Dolley $20,000, after which "she spent the rest of her life in comfort." For the record, that bill was passed four years after President Tyler left office, and at that point "the rest of Mrs. Madison's life" amounted to a few weeks. Mrs. Semple also noted her last communication from Mrs. Madison was an invitation to visit "during President Pierce's administration," which is odd since Mrs. Madison died three years before President Pierce took office. Mrs. Semple can be forgiven if she was a bit forgetful on the details, as she was an elderly, nearly blind lady by that time. At least Mrs. Semple was a popular fixture in Washington, something which could not be said of her presidential father. $1,250.
Here is a presidential item you are not going to find elsewhere, for this president or any other. Item 87 is the prenuptial agreement of Millard Fillmore. Seriously. President Fillmore's first wife died only a few days after he left office. Five years later, Fillmore married Caroline Carmichael McIntosh, a wealthy, childless widow. The new Mrs. Fillmore evidently wanted to protect her assets, so she insisted upon a prenup that provided her with full control over the property she brought to the marriage. Despite the businesslike beginning, it was apparently a happy marriage, though Mrs. Fillmore battled with the remainder of the Fillmore family after her husband died. $1,250.
Next we come to a much older letter, though it relates to a more recent president. Rather then concerning a president in old age, this relates to one in his youth. It is a letter from James Buchanan to Isaac Wayne (son of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne), from 1826, thirty years prior to his election as President. In it, Buchanan offers a prescient opinion about the election of 1828. Buchanan states, "I think…that the fate of Mr. [President John Quincy] Adams is already determined. He cannot be reelected unless Gen. Jackson should in the mean time die or be rendered unable to discharge the duties of President." Jackson neither died nor became incapacitated, and, as Buchanan predicted, defeated Quincy Adams in his bid for reelection. Buchanan then offers a most telling observation about the Adams administration - "The whole course of the administration has proved that every appointment is made either with a view of rewarding past services or of obtaining new friends." Of course, the scandal of the Adams administration was the claim that Adams made a "corrupt bargain" with Henry Clay, whereby Clay threw his support to Adams, enabling the latter to become President, in return for being named Secretary of State. Truly a reward for past services. The charge, though denied, essentially prevented Clay from ever being elected President. What's more, Jackson believed Buchanan was the messenger of the "corrupt bargain," a charge Buchanan vehemently denied. Nevertheless, this old charge was again raised (without effect) when Buchanan ran for President 30 years later. It is interesting that Buchanan believed that all of Adams' appointments, which must include Clay's, were political payoffs. Item 88. $6,000.
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