David Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has released a new selection of Rare Americana, this one being their Catalogue 137. This is primarily shorter form material – pamphlets, broadsides, and other such documents. Most are from the 18th or 19th century, but a few are more recent. They cover the issues of their day, not so much historical treatises but up to the minute thoughts on what was on people's minds at the time they were written. Here are some samples of this rare Americana.
We will start with what Lesser describes as “a neglected speech by the first African-American to serve in Congress.” Hiram Revels was the unusual person in many ways. He was born a free black man in North Carolina, and had careers as a barber, minister, Civil War black regiment organizer, educator, and briefly in public office. He became the first African-American to serve in Congress when the Mississippi state legislature appointed him to fill out a seat in the U.S. Senate abandoned during the Civil War. His tenure was brief – one year. He resigned shortly before the term ended to become a college president. Revels was a clear thinker and eloquent speaker who attempted both to advance the position of black people while providing fair treatment for whites who felt abused during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, Southern Democrats tried to prevent his seating in Congress, arguing that under the Dread Scott Decision, blacks could not be citizens, and passage of the 14th amendment two years earlier did not give him the necessary nine years of citizenship. The majority rejected the claim. This pamphlet is headed Public Schools in the District. Speech of Hon. Hiram R. Revels, of Mississippi, in the United States Senate, February 8, 1871. In this speech, Revels argued for integrated schools in Washington, D.C. He notes that prejudice is on the increase, and asks, “Can any reason be given why prejudice should be fostered in so many hearts against them, simply because they are not white?” Revels simply could not understand the prejudice, or why people of any race, black or white, should have lesser opportunities than another. Sadly, implementation of his idealism was doomed to failure. Item 95. Priced at $1,000.
The difficulty Revels faced in bringing about reconciliation of the races can be seen in this book by Charles Swett, a Southern plantation owner, former slaveholder, and Confederate army veteran. Swett was so embittered that he left his home in Mississippi, seeking one overseas for unreconstructed Confederates. He describes his attempts in A Trip to British Honduras, and to San Pedro, Republic of Honduras, published in 1868. It all sounded good in theory, but not so great when he arrived. There was a lack of available farmland, the climate stifling, insects rampant, and abandoned settlements led him to believe that disease was a major problem. He returned to Mississippi. Writes the bigoted Swett, “If despite our assertions to the contrary, our country should be brought to the humiliating fact of equality of the races existing among us – when an inferior holds public position...it will be well to surrender this land to our persecutors.” Item 108. $600.
Item 37 is An Extract from a Late sermon on the Death of the Reverend Mr. Joseph Emerson... Reverend Emerson departed this world in 1767, after a long career in the pulpit. He was a sharp man, evidently able to lead his family in prayer at the age of 8 when his father was away. Emerson did have one prayer that his descendants might have considered more of a curse. According to the Dictionary of American Biography, he “prayed every night that none of his descendants might ever be rich.” We don't know if that wish has (so far) been granted, but Rev. Emerson is probably best remembered for one of those descendants. His great-grandson was the renowned poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was not a poor man, but not a rich one either. $375.