Lot 7: Lincoln’s Economist Tracks Fugitive Slave, 1851 letter

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2017-06-12 15:51:51

Lot 7

Heading: (African-American, 1851) Title: Letter, Lincoln’s Economist tracks fugitive slave for future Confederate General. Place Published: Springfield, Mass. Date Published: 1851. Description: David A. Wells. Autograph letter Signed. Springfield, Mass. Dec. 2 [1851] 2pp.+ stamped address leaf. To Bradley S. Johnson, Frederick, Maryland "Your letter...with inquiries relative to the darkee, was forwarded from Cambridge to this place, where I now am, recovering from a severe illness....I intrusted the matter to a confidential friend. He has made some exertions to find whether the fellow in question was in the vicinity. He thinks he is not. The Dr.Vaile you speak of....is a free-soil abolitionist, of a mean stripe" [but] "I think he would act honorably in a business transaction..." Recommends several local lawyers who "would aid as much as possible. I do not know of any police officer here, whom I could recommend, although there are some, doubt less, who would prove true men. The feeling here is strong, but the law can be executed nonetheless." A surprising letter by Wells, a recent Harvard graduate, Science Professor, successful inventor and textbook author - later destined to become financial advisor to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. But here he helps a Harvard friend, a Maryland lawyer - and future Confederate General - to track down an escaped slave in Massachusetts where Abolitionist passions were roused in open opposition to enforcement of the new Fugitive Slave Act. Wells mentions his Harvard college friend George Bliss, with whom he jointly edited an "Annual of Scientific Discovery" while both were still students ("our scheme had never amounted to anything") and his delight that Johnson had just been elected to some office. A decade later, when the War began, Johnson raised a Maryland regiment of Confederate volunteers who crossed the Potomac to join the rebels, commanding the regiment in Virginia and later serving under Stonewall Jackson. Wells, meanwhile, became a strong support of President Lincoln's wartime financial policies, leading to the President's appointing him chairman of a National Revenue Commission that laid the groundwork for post-war federal taxation which Wells himself oversaw as President Andrew Johnson's Revenue Commissioner. Presumably, he had lost touch with his old friend Bradley Johnson as well as his youthful antipathy for the "darkees" who were to be emancipated by Lincoln. Condition:

Estimate: $400-600

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