Some Very Rare Americana from Chapel Hill Rare Books
Rare Americana from Chapel Hill Rare Books.
By Michael Stillman
Chapel Hill Rare Books has published a new collection of Rare Americana -- New Acquisitions. This one is an inch thick and filled with fully described rarities, 346 in all. While Chapel Hill catalogues are an outstanding source for material about the Old South and Confederacy, there is much more here, including the American North, West, Revolutionary War and Colonial times. Here are some samples of the type of material that is available in this most fascinating new catalogue.
The Civil War did not begin in 1832, but it might well have. Just as they would almost three decades later, South Carolina raised the banner of secession in 1832, although not quite as bluntly. Rather, the state asserted it had the right to ignore, or nullify any federal laws it did not like. At the time, South Carolina opposed federal tariffs it felt aided the North at the South's expense. The state passed its Ordinance of Nullification, which brought a swift and powerful rebuke from President Andrew Jackson. That response is printed in a broadside, The PROCLAMATION of Andrew Jackson, President... In it, Jackson labels Nullification an act of treason and pledges to enforce the laws of the United States with military force if necessary. Congress passed the Force Act in 1833 to assure he had the power. Meanwhile, it also offered South Carolina some compromises on the tariffs, and with that, the state, unable to get support from any other southern state, backed down from the brink. Item 252 is a copy of this broadside printed on silk. Priced at $4,750.
There would be no backing down twenty-eight years later when South Carolina responded to the election of Lincoln by seceding from the Union. This time, the rest of the southern states joined her. Item 119 is a copy of An Ordinance to Dissolve the Union Between the State of South Carolina and Other States United with her under the Compact Entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America." This is one of the official printings of this proclamation given to members of the Secession Convention, and it reproduces the original manuscript document, including the legislators' signatures. The ordinance was passed on December 20, 1860, and a few months later, the country would be engulfed in war. Item 119. $35,000.
U.S. vice presidents usually don't get much recognition from history. The same can be said about Confederate vice-presidents, though there was only one. His name was Alexander Stephens, and oddly, he was an opponent of secession. He had supported the compromise measures of the 1850s and supported northern Democrat Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election. Even after Lincoln's election, he continued his opposition, only supporting secession after his home state legislators voted for it. Nevertheless, he was elected Vice-President of the Confederacy. Stephens is best known for his "Cornerstone Speech," in which he frankly admitted that slavery "was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." He noted that Jefferson and the other founders looked on slavery as "an evil they knew not well how to deal with," but one that "somehow or other" would pass away.
Some Very Rare Americana from Chapel Hill Rare Books
Famed shadowy figure of President Kennedy in Oval Office by George Tames.
However, the cornerstone of the Confederacy, he stated, rests "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery--subordination to the superior race--is his natural and normal condition." After the war, Stephens was imprisoned for five months, but then released. He went on to serve several terms in Congress and was elected Governor of Georgia in 1882, but died shortly after taking office. Item 87 is a card signed by Stephens while still a congressman in 1882, with the quote, " Honor and Shame from no condition rise, Act with your heart, there all honor lies." $450.
While leaders plotted strategy, the horrors of the ensuing war would be felt mostly by the obscure participants. In this autographed letter by Mrs. S. Bird, wife of Confederate Captain William E. Bird, she writes to her mother describing "hospital" conditions. On June 29, 1862, she writes, "many poor fellow had legs & arms cut off & were so heroic. They performed operations in the house by open windows. I saw a man's hand being taken off. I walked thro' rows of dead men - heard the agonizing groans of the wounded..." Mrs. Bird also watched men she knew die, though fortunately, her husband escaped serious injury and survived the war. Item 76. $875.
Item 29 is an 1858 North Carolina reward notice for an escaped slave. However, this is not the typical such notice. Usually they just offered a reward for the return of the runaway slave, and this one does offer $50 each for the two runaways. However, it adds, "any person...in case of flight or resistance, may slay them, without accusation or impeachment of any crime whatever." Then, it notes that while the reward is $50 if they are taken alive, it jumps to $100 "for their heads." It appears that the slave owner was more desirous of their execution than capture. $8,750.
Mrs. Hannah Kinney was unlucky at love, but not as unlucky as her husbands. When her husband George Kinney died of arsenic poisoning, there was great suspicion placed on his wife, but she nonetheless was acquitted for lack of evidence. Perhaps the fact that her previous husband, Enoch Freeman, had also died under suspicious circumstances led to the skepticism. What's more, in each case there a possible motive. Freeman was involved with another woman; Kinney drank and gambled and left his wife to support the family. These suspicions led Mrs. Kenny to publish this defense of her honor: A Review of the Principle Events of the Last Ten Years in the Life of Mrs. Hannah Kinney, printed in Boston in 1841. Item 127. $425. Incidentally, the following year another defense was written of Mrs. Kinney, this one by her first husband, who pointed out she had never attempted to kill him.
This is one of the most famous photographs ever taken of John F. Kennedy. He is seen from behind, a shadowed figure bending over a table in the Oval Office, apparently deep in thought. The photograph was taken by George Tames of the New York Times only a few weeks after Kennedy took office. It turns out that this was not a posed stance. Kennedy suffered from chronic back pain, and occasionally he would read standing up to relieve it. However, Tames noted that Kennedy had an outstanding sense of imagery, and later told him this photo should have been featured above his others. Item 246 is a copy of this famous picture signed by Tames. $9,500.
The website for Chapel Hill Rare Books is www.chapelhillrarebooks.com, phone number 919-929-8351.