a staunch Massachusetts abolitionist, wrote two splendidly detailed letters in
1861 and 1862, to his brother CHARLES
WHIPPLE, also an avid abolitionist, during the nation’s battle to secure
the emancipation of slaves. We’re pleased to offer those letters, the finest abolitionist letters we've ever had.
At that time, the
emancipation was by no means certain. In his 1861 inaugural, President Lincoln
said he had no right to interfere with slavery in states where it existed. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was
issued in September 1862 as a military move. Southern states had four months to
stop fighting or their slaves would be free in January 1863.
During James’ visit
to Washington, Maryland and Virginia, he and his party of eight heard many
abolitionists speak before Congress, met President Lincoln and traveled with
passage approved by Vice President Hamlin into Maryland and Virginia. There, he
met and spoke with many slave owners and threatened to choke one to death. The
man quickly got away with a pistol in his pocket. He found the slaves to be
much more intelligent than the slave owners.
Whipple observed that
Lincoln was an honest man, but not very smart.
He listened to speeches by Charles Sumner, John P. Hale, Owen Lovejoy
[brother of Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, who was murdered by a pro-slavery mob] and
others. Owen Lovejoy was an Underground Railroad conductor and elected to
Congress in 1863.
Whipple saw the place
where General Elmer Ellsworth was shot [while removing a Confederate flag from
the roof of a Virginia hotel]. Whipple wanted to see other notable
abolitionists lecture in Washington and have Lincoln and Hamlin hear them:
Gerrit Smith [one of the Secret Six who helped to finance John Brown’s Raid in
Harper’s Ferry], George Barrell Cheever, Horace Greely and Wendell Phillips.
Lincoln regularly communicated with Greely.
WHIPPLE’s obituary was featured in abolitionist William Lloyd Garrsion’s The Liberator. He was Vice President of the Worcester, MA,
South Division Anti-Slavery Society, President of the Worcester Mechanics’
Association, member of the Sons of Temperance, the Worcester City Guards and a
Spiritualist. A copy of his obituary is included with the two letters.
His brother, CHARLES, was a member of the Vigilance Committee in Suffolk County, MA,
which fought to prevent escaped slaves from being captured and re-slaved. Charles
was secretary of the New England Non-Resistance Society, which was formed by
Wendell Phillips to seek out peaceful solutions to political issues and to
include women in the process.
The Whipple brothers
were second cousins to AARON DWIGHT STEVES,
who was JOHN BROWN’s second in
command and led the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Charles was also Stevens’ best
friend. Stevens would sometimes use Charles’ name as an alias. Stevens was shot
several times while carrying a flag of truce during the raid and was placed in
a jail cell with Brown. He, along with Brown, was convicted of treason.
Hopedale, [MA], Dec. 24,
1861, ALS, 4 pp, 8” x 10”, James writes to Charles.
have had some experience for the last twelve days having met the slaveholder
face to face, nine persons of us started from Wor(cester) Thursday 12th
inst. Proceeded to Annapolis, MD, where we arrived on Saturday morning in time
to see fourteen thousand troops reviewed. Stayed until Monday. Then proceeded
to Washington, attended a session of Congress on Monday. Heard Hale, Trumbull,
Wilson, Sumner in Senate, Wickliffe of Kentucky, Lovejoy, Ill, Johnson, Tenn.
All talk of war. Went to Smithsonian Institute, Treasury, Post Office, Patent
Office, Navy Yard & Tuesday we attended the President’s [Lincoln] Levee.
Saw many notables of Washington and pronounced Washington the dirtiest city I
was ever in and some of the meanest folks in the world live there. We all shook
hands with Old Abe. He looks honest but does not seem to me to be very smart. I
see many men there that are much smarter.
we applied for passes to cross the Potomac, which we obtained through the
influence of Vice President Hamlin. We started next morning for Virginia. Went
through all the fortifications seeing about one hundred and fifty thousand
troops in all going down as far as Falls Church and to Alexandria. Stood on the
spot where Ellsworth was shot. Could see with a glass the Rebel pickets near
Falls Church. You can rely on it—Rebels can never get into the Capitol in my
opinion in that fifteen thousand men would defend the Capitol against any force
they would bring. We arrived home on Sunday morning well tired…I could tell you
many things…Had many discussions with slaveholders in Maryland and Washington.
Come near fighting but found they would back down at last. Found them armed
generally. I carried no arms but was ready for them any time. Could handle any
of them that I see. I told one man I could choke him to death in two minutes.
He sneaked off with a pistol in his pocket. It was fun for us to hear them talk
about slavery. Could you see the ignorance of them you would be satisfied what
slavery has done for the white man in those states. We found the negroes the
best part of society giving the most intelligent answers and doing most all the
business…Come up and see us & I will give you from a map that I got an idea
of the fortifications and tell you of that God forsaken country where one man
says he owns another.
regards to all write soon
Worcester, March 27th,
1862, ALS, 3 pp, 5” x 8”, James to Charles.
am constrained to write you a word about the times and express a few ideas on
the state of the country. I would consider it some progress to have Dr. Cheever
of New York, Gerrit Smith & Horace Greely and last though not least Wendell
Phillips of Boston lecture in Washington and be heard by the President
[Lincoln] too and have Vice President of the U.S. leave his seat in the Senate
to welcome Wendell Philips, that ultra-abolitionist. All this I consider some
progress. What do you say, and I am glad he was mobbed in Cincinnati. That also
shows progress for you know Kentucky is only over the River and the poison
virus of slavery is there and why should it not show itself. Old Kentucky is
true to her instincts as slavery always is and its poison will effect persons
some distance off and it is always the same mob spirit or to be more certain it
always wants to crush out free speech but the world moves and whether this war
abolishes slavery or not immediately it never can hold any power again so – all
hopes of any political power in the old Curse is done – [when] men can no
longer claim to be Democrats or Republicans and favor the institution. Yet I am
aware it has and will cost many lives yet to get out of this war. I am inclined
to go to Washington again and have wife go. If we do I will be particular to
take some notes. It is a good place to go to if you want to learn the effect on
our northern men. It takes a very honest man to come home from a stay in that
slavery cursed city as far from its affects as when he goes. I do so wish you
could see our folks. All well. We go to Hopedale this afternoon for a few days
and shall see about going to W[ashington] while there. I have letters from
there urging hard to come again. Let us hear from you…
have expected folds, toning. One letter has minor fold reinforcement with
archival tape. Overall, the letters are in excellent condition and represent
superb examples of abolitionist and emancipation of slavery history.
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