JOHN MURRAY FORBES (February 23, 1813 – October 12, 1898) was an American railroad magnate, merchant and a strong abolitionist. He was born in Bordeaux, France, but his family settled in Milton, MA. Forbes attended Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. Like Jay Gould, Forbes was an important figure in building America’s railroad system.
He gave money and weapons to New Englanders to fight slavery in Kansas and in 1859 he entertained John Brown and likely provided financial support to Brown. He was an elector for Abraham Lincoln and staunchly pro-Union. Forbes was a delegate to the Republican Conventions of 1876, 1880 and 1894.
He counseled Lincoln about naval operations during the Civil War and lobbied for a speedy Emancipation Proclamation. Forbes had a number of ideas of how to put freed slaves to work. His company attempted in 1862 to replace striking firemen on the Michigan Central Railroad with blacks. After black troops were authorized, he supported equal pay for them. During the draft riots in New York City, Forbes suggested using black troops to maintain order. He promoted a free-labor demonstration plantation at Port Royal, South Carolina.
The financial company he founded, which bears his name, is still in business in Boston.
Talking politics, in this 5 ¼” x 8 ¼”, 3 1/3 pp, ALS, Naushua, Aug. 17, 1879.
Forbes writes to a judge and comments on the political situation in 1879, including anti-Butlerism, a term used sometimes to define those who were against Gen. Benjamin Buter, another staunch abolitionist, and his controversial politics.
“My Dear Judge: I wish I had been on the Bench and from its holy torch had acquired, as you have, the faculty of condensing into a half sheet such a volume of wisdom as you little note conveyed! Wisdom! Yes wit, sarcasm…insight enough for a whole campaign boiled down into three sentences!
“Had Talbot really intended to ask counsel & write until I could give him what you gave & some others said it might have turned him but he seems…to have wanted to take one of the steps in his retreat…In short he was already committed before he asked me to get together opinions of those I could reach…I don’t know Long—his strength was chiefly among legislation & the people now around the state house…I think Henry Pierce [possibly a Congressman from Massachusetts and one-time Mayor of Boston]…can be made to see that he has the hearty support of the party. I think he will stand, & having no fear of the claimant to drag on him, he will be the best Representative we can have of anti-Butlerism.
“The only objection to his nomination is that he would fight just as hard against Butler [Gen. Benjamin Butler, who served in Congress after the Civil War and was an ardent abolitionist]—for any other decent Republican which it is dutiful if other candidates will…fight for him. His…steadiness & purpose, however, make him today our natural leader…It only needs, in my judgment, a good strong pull all together to put Pierce triumphantly through…”
Normal folds, toning. Forbes’ handwriting is a bit difficult to decipher. Still, this letter is a fine piece of political Americana from this staunch abolitionist and early railroad magnate.
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