Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
The latest Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books.
By Michael Stillman
Just released is David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books' latest catalogue of Rare Americana, number 88. This is a typical Lesser collection of printed Americana, overwhelmingly from the 18th and 19th centuries. As you read through the items, you can see the tensions arising between the colonists and British through the first three-quarters of the 18th century. Then, through the first sixty years of the next century, you see the tensions again rising, this time between North and South, abolitionists and slaveholders. Of course, there are many other side issues along the way, political, theological, legal, and such that were the subject of numerous pamphlets and books. Additionally, this catalogue contains a healthy selection of almanacs and other city guides, proposals for railroads, and even the obligatory Indian captivity. Here are some of what you will find in number 88.
Item 108 is a combination of high principles and bad proofreading, A Speech Intenedd [sic] to have been Spoken in the House of Lords, on a Bill for Altering the Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay. Written by the Reverend Mr. Jonathan Shipley. This work deplored Britain's measures against the colony after the Boston Tea Party. He notes that it is always an "arduous task" to govern distant provinces, and points out that, "Arbitrary taxation is plunder authorized by law." Priced at $875.
Item 24 is an anonymous, outspoken attack on British practices of recruiting soldiers in the late 18th century. This circa 1795 London printing of Reflections on the Pernicious Custom of Recruiting by Crimps...came out at the time the former colonial power was impressing American seamen into service. The writer says that even after witnessing the arrival of a slave ship, "I do not think the sight more shocking, than to behold a young Englishman delivered by a Crimp..." A "crimp" is someone who traps or tricks another into military service. The author also attacks the practice "...whereby we take such an undue advantage of the ignorance of lower ranks; and whereby we ungenerously decoy them into the fatigues and dangers of war for the ease of their betters, who never dream of fighting their own battles." Do leaders still send the poor to fight battles they would not fight themselves today? Couldn't be. This was over 200 years ago. $500.
In 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued, The Veto. Message from the President of the United States, Returning the Bank Bill... Jackson loathed government monopolies, particularly in banking, believing they would always work against the average citizen. He states, "Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits; but have besought us to make them richer by acts of Congress." One can only imagine what Jackson would think of Congress today! $250.
Item 18 recounts an unusual event in the annals of slavery. It is A Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge...at the Island of Tortola...for the Murder of his Negro Man Slave Named Prosper (Tortola is in the British Virgin Islands). Hodge was a particularly brutal slaveholder. Testimony established that he had flogged Prosper for two days, then left him to die of his wounds and starvation. Hodge argued that the slave was his property and he could do as he pleased; that it was no more an offense to kill his slave than to kill his dog. That argument didn't fly. At least in the British West Indies at that early date of 1811, a court was not only willing to convict a slave owner of murder of his slave, but had him hanged as well. $1,500.
Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Sometimes, our heroes of fields like science possess faults we might just as soon forget. We wish all could be like Benjamin Franklin, America's first and one her greatest scientists, and a magnificent humanitarian as well. Samuel Morse was not such a generous human being. His invention of the telegraph enabled the country to communicate instantaneously over long distances, replacing slow carrier services which took days if not weeks to deliver a message. However, Morse had his dark side, possessing virulently Nativist and pro-slavery sentiments. In 1836 (a year before the invention of the telegraph) he was a Nativist candidate for Mayor of New York (he was soundly defeated). Despite being a Northerner, he was an extreme supporter of slavery, even during the Civil War, going so far as to say it was sinful to oppose the despicable institution. He disparaged the Declaration of Independence for its equality sentiments. Morse was also vehemently anti-Catholic, and despised the Irish. In 1835, Morse put some of his ugly sentiments to paper in Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States... Claims Morse, "The ratio of increase in Popery is the exact ratio of decrease in civil liberty." Had Morse his way, there would have been far less civil liberty in America. Item 92. $175.
Item 89 tells a sad story. It is The Memoir of James Monroe, Esq. Relating to His Unsettled Claims upon the People and Government of the United States. Monroe was an extraordinarily popular president, carrying every state in the election of 1820. He ruled during the "Era of Good Feeling." However, by 1828, four years after leaving office, he was broke. In this pamphlet, he petitioned the government for expenses incurred on its behalf long ago, as far back as his mission to France in 1794. Evidently, he didn't need the money then, but now near the end of a wonderful career and life, he had to scrounge for money. Were he a modern politician, Monroe would have made a post-governmental career fortune as a lobbyist for some special interest, but he was a statesman, not a modern politician. $750.
Item 127 is one of those racist diatribes that emanated from those who defended slavery in the days leading up to the Civil War. In the early days of the republic, slavery was largely justified as a "necessary evil," but as the divide between supporters and opponents grew wider, the justifications became more offensive. This book, by J.H. Van Evrie, is called Negroes and Negro Slavery; the First, an Inferior Race - The Latter, its Normal Condition. This is one of the early printings (1853 - second printing) of a book republished at the outbreak of the Civil War. It is a collection of pseudoscience used to "justify" despicable behavior. Lest anyone think southern leaders were really just asserting states rights and self-determination, slavery being only an aside, among those who offered laudatory reviews on the wraps of this atrocity was Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederacy. $375.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be found online at www.lesserbooks.com or reached by phone at 203-389-9113.