Rare and Important Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
David Lesser's 97th catalogue of Rare Americana.
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books offers a regular flow of Rare Americana. Catalogue 97 fits right in with this series, offering more rare and unusual items within the field, primarily but not exclusively from the period from the Revolution to Reconstruction. Lesser's catalogues are always informative and entertaining, a source of knowledge as well as material. His thorough descriptions, including placing each document in its historical perspective, make each of these catalogues a lesson in American history. Here are a few of the items offered in Catalogue 97.
One of the most important (and expensive) of Indian books is the "History of the Indian Tribes of North America," by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. McKenney was the first Director of Indian Affairs, and after he was dismissed from the position by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, he journeyed into the West to obtain and preserve as much information about the Indians as he could. For those who cannot afford the six figures required to purchase that work, here is a more reasonably priced item from McKenney. It is Documents and Proceedings Relating to the Formation and Progress of a Board in the City of New York, for the Emigration, Preservation, and Improvement, of the Aborigines of America. July 22, 1829. Interestingly, McKenney, who was deeply concerned about the welfare of the Indians, promotes a program similar to one favored by Jackson, much less their friend. Both favored resettlement of eastern tribes in the west, ostensibly to protect them from whites (McKenney is a bit more believable as Jackson had the power and legal authority to protect eastern Indians and refused to do so). In this pamphlet, McKenney urges relocating the eastern tribes, as "without this change, the Indians must perish." He goes on to note that beyond the Mississippi River, President Jackson "has provided a country large enough for all of you. There your white brothers will not trouble you; they will have no claim to the land, and you can live upon it..." Of course, that promise lasted only until white settlers decided they wanted the land west of the Mississippi as well. Item 92. Priced at $275.
Item 66 is a broadside poem, perhaps circa 1850s, a piece of Irish ethnic "humor" called The Street Sweeper's Dream. It is supposed to be the dream of a street sweeper, one of those people who swept up after horses (the pre-auto form of transportation was even more polluting than the car). In his Irish dialect, the sweeper proclaims how he likes his job, for which he is supposedly paid well, but at night, " I hov such terrible dhreams." What are those dreams? Here we go: "There's harseshit in the wather-pail, and harsehit in the sink, / Harseshit in uvree bite I ate, an' uvree thing I dhrink." This classic piece of harseshit is yours for $500.
Rare and Important Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Samuel Morse is remembered for his great invention, the first viable telegraph. The Morse Code is named for him. This is all Morse needs be remembered for, as he had an ugly personal side. He was rabidly anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and pro-slavery. He ran for Mayor of New York in 1836 on an anti-immigrant platform, but only secured a small number of votes. For this less appealing side of Morse, item 96 is Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, by Samuel F. B. Morse, published in 1835. "The ratio of increase in Popery is the exact ratio of decrease in civil liberty," claims Morse, without providing the evidence for this precise mathematical formula. This copy bears an author's inscription to Edward Everett. Everett was a notable Massachusetts politician, congressman, governor and senator, and a moderate on the slavery issue, his main goal being preservation of the Union (he ran for vice-president in 1860 on the compromise-oriented Constitutional Union party ticket). Once the war began, Everett became a strong Lincoln and Union supporter, and he was the man who gave the lead, and long, speech at Gettysburg the day Lincoln gave his three-minute talk. His views were more progressive than those of Mr. Morse. Item 96. $350.
How can a political party go from winning the presidency in one election, to virtual irrelevance in the next, and out of business by the following? That is what befell the Whigs after Zachary Taylor won the presidency in 1848. Item 67 explains it all. It is the Hon. Daniel Jenifer's Letter to a Friend, written on August 10 of 1852 and printed that year in Baltimore. Jenifer was a former Marilyn Congressman who writes that the Whigs' 1852 nominee, General Winfield Scott, did not get one vote from the South during 50 nomination ballots. With this northern support, Jenifer asks, "...can any man doubt that Gen. Scott will feel bound to administer to the views and wishes of those who will have placed him in that exalted position?" The north-south split within the party would result in Jenifer's desired defeat of Scott, and with that the end of his party. The same regional split would consume the Democrats eight years later, leading to the election of the new, northern-dominated Republican Party, headed by another former Whig Congressman, Abraham Lincoln. Item 67. $450.
Here is a speech that is little noted or long remembered, though it was important at the time. Item 16 is the Inaugural Address of President James Buchanan. Buchanan expressed a most unrealistic optimism in his speech. With the burning issue of slavery tearing the nation apart, Buchanan happily announced that it really was no issue at all. Each state, including most importantly, new states to be formed from the western territories, could decide for itself. Problem solved. Of course, neither the South nor the North was satisfied with this answer, but Buchanan says that's all there is to it, so if people will just stop agitating against slavery, the nation can move on to more pressing matters. Buchanan also expresses that "I will cheerfully submit," to the impending Supreme Court verdict on the subject, the soon to be announced Dred Scott Decision. Buchanan was whistling in the dark, trying to cajole the Union into remaining together when much stronger forces than he were pulling it apart. $250.
David Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be found online at www.lesserbooks.com, telephone 203-389-8111.