History in Signed Documents from The Raab Collection
Washington letter on the cover of the latest Raab Collection catalogue.
By Michael Stillman
We just received Catalog 59 from The Raab Collection. It reads like a 200-year political history of America. Well, not entirely. Albert Einstein was not a politician; Napoleon not an American. However, most of the items offered come from major American political figures, most of whom served as president. They range from Washington to the first President Bush, and include the great, near-great, and failures. Many of these documents pertain to important events in American history, revealing the thinking of the nation's leaders on important subjects of the day. All items are signed, and most are filled with written (or typed) text. Here are a few samples of these often important and highly collectible documents.
Item 1 is an amazing letter from George Washington which reveals the mind of the military strategist at work. It was written at Valley Forge on March 31, 1778. His dispirited troops had endured a long, bitter winter after having been chased by the British from Philadelphia the previous fall. They were outnumbered, poorly equipped, and definitely on the defensive. The cause appeared lost. While Washington fully appreciated the situation, and was not above getting dispirited himself on occasion, he here looks at the desperate situation and strategizes how to go on the offensive. He has heard that the already strong British military is sending reinforcements from New York to wipe him out. In writing to Major General Alexander McDougall, stationed north of New York, Washington says, "General Howe intends an early campaign; to take advantage of our weak state. What is to be done? We must either oppose our whole force to his, in this Quarter, or take the advantage of him in some other, which leads me to ask your opinion of the practicability of an attempt upon New York..." Figuring that even gathering all his troops at Valley Forge would not be sufficient to withstand a reinforced British assault, Washington considers attacking New York instead once the British have moved some of their troops from that city to Philadelphia. It was a clever idea to hit the British where they had let down their defenses. Ultimately, the attack on New York did not take place, as it turned out the British had transferred far fewer troops out of New York than he had initially been led to believe. Priced at $185,000.
Item 14 provides some interesting insight to President Monroe's input at the time he signed the Missouri Compromise. This was a major piece of legislation as it staved off the split in the Union for three decades. Missouri wished to enter the Union as a slave state in 1820. However, this would upset the delicate balance between slave and free states. To balance Missouri, Maine was entered as a free state. However, to avoid problems in the future, a line along Missouri's boundary was extended west. Above this line, no new states could ever have slavery. Former President Thomas Jefferson opposed this compromise, fearing, not inaccurately, that it would divide America by region, setting off regional strife. This certainly did occur in the future, though it is hardly clear that it would not have happened anyway without the Missouri Compromise. Jefferson sent a letter to Maine Congressman Mark Hill explaining his opposition. Item 14 is a letter from Monroe to Hill acknowledging that he has read, and is now returning, Jefferson's letter to Hill. So we know that Monroe was familiar with Jefferson's opposition to the Compromise, but ultimately decided to support it anyway. The Missouri Compromise would be repealed three decades later in an attempt to keep the South in the Union, but the potential extension of slavery to territories where it previously was prohibited only increased anger in the North. $8,000.
History in Signed Documents from The Raab Collection
Pick your poison: Hoover and Nixon.
John Tyler was one of the most unpopular of U.S. presidents. His lousy reputation has not improved with time. He was as bad as people of his day thought. Tyler was a compromise candidate added as vice-president to the Whig ticket headed by William Henry Harrison in 1840 to appeal to the South. What the Whigs did not expect was Harrison dying only one month into office, leaving Tyler to serve as Chief Executive for the remaining three years and eleven months. Tyler quickly came into conflict with Harrison's cabinet, which led to all but one member resigning en masse. There were an incredible 22 cabinet changes during his term in office. Item 18 is a letter from Tyler to his new Treasury Secretary J.C. Spencer in 1843. In it, Tyler gleefully talks about removing even lower level officials from their positions. Speaking of some low level appointee named Lowry Tyler writes, "...before the collector is removed Lowry should be appointed, then off with his head. Nor do I care if a like service be done to the Postmaster at Portland." $6,500.
Here is a picture to cheer you up as the nation sinks deeper and deeper into recession. Item 34 is an 11 x 14 signed and inscribed photograph of President Herbert Hoover. See... things could be worse. $500. If a Hoover photograph isn't creepy enough for your tastes, how about one of Richard Nixon? A youthful looking Nixon (probably from his vice-presidential days) has inscribed and signed this 8 x 10 photograph. $1,000.
This just touches the surface of what is available in this catalogue. There is the cover letter which accompanied the resignation of Andrew Johnson from the position of Military Governor of Tennessee to become Vice-President in 1865. Shortly, he too would become President. There is a wonderful letter from Henry Clay during the presidential campaign of 1844 attempting to explain that his talking out of both sides of his mouth and saying contradictory things in the North and South were not talking out of both sides of his mouth and contradicting himself. The Great Compromiser compromised himself out of the election. Jefferson Davis, still 15 years away from leading the South during its rebellion, defends his actions and those of Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War. Ronald Reagan refers to President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 as "that bum in the White House," and offers the opinion that his opponents might start "putting us [he and others of a like mind] in concentration camps." You may reach The Raab Collection at 800-977-8333. Their website is www.raabcollection.com.