JOSEPH RITNER (March 25, 1780 – October 16, 1869) was the eighth Governor of Pennsylvania, elected as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party. He was elected Governor in 1835 and served to 1839. Controversy surrounded his 1838 electoral defeat, which led to the Buckshot War. During the War of 1812, Ritner served first as commander of a Washington County militia company, the Rifle Rangers. Ritner became involved in the Anti-Masonic movement in the late 1820s. As an opponent of slavery, Ritner was the inspiration for a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, entitled ‘Ritner,’ in which Whittier praised the anti-slavery sentiment of Ritner’s annual message to the state legislature. When the Anti-Masonic Party ended, Ritner supported the Whigs. In the mid-1850s, Ritner joined the Republican Party and was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention.
In this 3 pp, 7 ½ x 12, January 17, 1835, ALS to Congressman William Ayers with highlights regarding the War of 1812 service of Gen. William Henry Harrison, Ritner wrote, “I have noticed some of the proceedings in regard to Genl Harrison at Harrisburg. There is certainly no man in the Union, of whom I have any knowledge, who deserves more from his country. I served a six-month tour under him in the winter of 1812-13. No General ever paid more attention to his duty, nor evinced more deep concern for the health, and comfort of the troops under his command then Genl Harrison. No general during the late war with England performed the duties assigned him more faithfully, nor with better success. He failed in nothing. He was successful in all the undertakings – which he had the power to control. He has as you say been neglected; his enemies have been advanced over him, as well as others, who have performed less services and if masonry has been the cause of all this, (and indeed it looks as some mysterious agent has had a hand in controlling his destiny.) I would rejoice to see him at the head of affairs: especially if he is duly sensible of the mysterious agency; and would open avow himself the enemy, of the ‘Hydra monster.’ [Harrison was promoted to Major General during the War of 1812 due to his extraordinary service.]
Ritner discusses the anti-masons in the recent election. “M. Lawrence did not particularly complain of harsh treatment by the anti-masons in the election...He (especially when he was first informed of his rejection in your caucus) felt quite uncomfortable. He assured me in his letter, that no bad feelings existed between the whigs and anti-masons; but he regretted that there was an apparent difference and that, that apparent difference might in the end prove injurious...I soothed him as much as I could...and I have no doubt but that he will act in good faith with the Anti-Masons henceforth. Indeed any other course would be a death blow to his future political prospects...and would inflict a deep and lasting injury on our party...”
Folds, toning, seal tear affecting a few words. A small portion missing from the bottom of the last page, apparently containing Ritner’s signature. Still a fine example of early 19th century American politics.
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