Autographs, Manuscripts and More of Famous People from The Raab Collection
Zachary Taylor is one of those forgotten presidents between Jackson and Lincoln, but perhaps the most interesting of them. He was elected in 1848, the first election in which the issue of slavery and North-South differences would become the major concern of the electorate. Taylor won with a message of strong principles while finessing the details of his positions. He was a man with a reputation for honor and integrity, and he was a hero of the Mexican War, but he offered few specifics on the issues of the day. It was essentially a "trust me or don't vote for me" message. As a slaveholder, supporter of preservation of that institution in the states where it existed, and one not clearly opposed to its extension into new states, he could gather votes in the South. As a strong defender of the Union and one who encouraged rapid addition of new states at a time when they likely would choose to be free, he could carry votes in the North. It was enough to get him elected. However, Taylor would die only a little more than a year into his term, to be succeeded by a series of nonentities, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, who would try to compromise the nation's way out of the coming conflagration, all to no avail. But, one can't help but wonder what would have happened if Taylor had survived, as unlike the presidents (and the congress) which followed him, Taylor was no compromiser. He opposed what became the Compromise of 1850 after his death, which allowed for the slow admission of new states after a territorial stage. He foresaw this as generating enormous battles between pro-free and pro-slavery forces, something which most notably came to pass in "Bleeding Kansas." Instead, he called for immediate drawing of state constitutions and admission of the new territories to the Union, before confrontations could develop, a process which would likely have led to more free states. And, Taylor was an unwavering supporter of the Union, prepared to defend it with whatever means necessary. From the only State of the Union address Taylor lived to present, speaking of the Union, he said, "...its dissolution would be the greatest of calamities..." and, "whatever dangers may threaten it, I shall stand by it and maintain it in its integrity..." Taylor was even more blunt with some southern lawmakers who were speaking of secession. To them he stated that in the event of a secession, he would personally lead the army against the rebels, and that he had no reluctance to hang those in rebellion. Taylor undoubtedly meant what he said. Item 17 is a letter Taylor wrote early in the campaign of 1848, in which he concisely states what in effect was his platform: "If honored by election to the Presidency I will strive to execute with fidelity the trust reposed in me, uncommitted to the principles of either party." $9,000.
Andersonville is perhaps the most notorious name to emerge from the horrors of the Civil War. A Confederate prison for Union soldiers, it more resembled the Nazi concentration camps of the following century than the typical prison. Some 13,000 soldiers died there. The commandant of this prison was one Henry Wirz. When the war ended, Wirz was placed on trial for the atrocities that occurred at Andersonville. However, military trials were generally conducted in secret. For this trial to have a major public impact, the proceedings would have to be open. That decision would have to come from President Andrew Johnson, historically associated with leniency toward the South. Item 28 is a letter from President Johnson to Acting Secretary of War T.J. Eckert allowing publication of the proceedings of the Wirz trial if such is "necessary to a full understanding of the case by the Public..." Those proceedings were made public, Wirz was convicted, and he became the only person executed for war crimes from the Civil War. It remains a debate today whether Wirz was a scapegoat for the horrors of this war or a man justly punished. Johnson's letter is available as item 28 of the Raab catalogue. $11,800.