Early Americana from Kaaterskill Books
By Michael Stillman
Among the catalogues we review for the first time this month is one from Kaaterskill Books of East Jewett, New York. For those who don't know where East Jewett is, welcome to the club. It's in the northern Catskills of central New York, close to no place you've heard of except, perhaps, the Hunter Mountain ski area. One thing we can say is that if you ever figure out how to get there, it promises to be one very scenic journey. Of course, you can save the trouble and order from the catalogue. In this case, that catalogue is number 4, Early Americana.
Most of the items in this catalogue come from the period running from the Revolution to shortly after the Civil War. Beyond that, anything is fair game. However, there are three topics with notable concentrations available. There are 37 items pertaining to Massachusetts Senator and famed orator Daniel Webster. He is best noted for his defense of the Union, though he opined on many other topics in his long career. His defense of the Union began at the time of the War of 1812, when some in the North talked secession, and continued through the Nullification Crisis and succeeding decades when the secession threat came from the South. Webster was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1812, and was in the public eye, if not public office, continually until his death four decades later. He was serving his second term as Secretary of State in 1852 when he fell from a horse, banged his head, and died. Among the items offered are numerous pamphlets reprinting Webster speeches, ranging from his first term in Congress in 1813 to his last year of life, 1852. Also offered are numerous eulogies given after he died. Most of these items are quite inexpensive, including many in the $12-$20 range.
Another topic with many items is the election of 1856. Bloody Kansas was already tearing the nation apart, and Dred Scott was right around the corner. A new party, the Republicans, offered its first presidential candidate, while a former president, Millard Fillmore, carried the banner for the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothings. Ultimately, the election went to the last of the "Northern men with Southern principles," Democrat James Buchanan. Item 105 is a particularly interesting campaign piece, Letter of Ex-President Van Buren. In it, Van Buren throws his support to Buchanan, while advocating such things as admission of Kansas to the Union as a free state and restoration of the Missouri Compromise, positions the South-sympathetic Buchanan would oppose. This pamphlet is priced at $25.
The third recurring subject in the catalogue is Gerrit Smith. Not well-remembered today, Smith was one of the leading abolitionists of the 1840s and 1850s. He was also active in the temperance movement, favored women's rights, and nondenominational churches. He was one of the organizers of the abolitionist Liberty Party, which captured over 2% of the vote in 1844, but the party received little more than a handful of votes in 1848 and 1852 when Smith served as its standard-bearer. He did serve one term in the House of Representatives, elected in 1852, but later resigned in protest of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Congress' unwillingness to deal with slavery. Offered are several works of this contentious yet highly principled and enormously generous, wealthy man.