Description

    Harrison writes of Anti-Masonic leader Thaddeus Stevens, "[he is] determined to support [Daniel] Webster under any circumstances or any person but any old Jeffersonian Democrat like myself"

    William Henry Harrison Historically Important Autograph Letter Signed "W. H. Harrison", 3.5 pages, 7.5" x 12", front and verso. Cincinnati, November 25, 1835. To William Ayres, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Ayres, a lawyer, served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives at Harrisburg from 1833-1835. An Anti-Mason, he worked closely with colleague Thaddeus Stevens and was a supporter of Joseph Ritner, the Anti-Masonic party candidate elected Governor of Pennsylvania earlier in November.

    In part: "I received yesterday a letter from Mr. [Thaddeus] Stevens...He declines publishing my letter because, as he says, it will create an insurmountable barrier between the Anti-Masons & myself. His object seems to be to procure from me a declaration that I will, if elected, appoint no adhering Mason to office in anti-Mason states. This appears to me to be new ground taken by the Anti-Masons and which cannot but result in injury to their cause - could any President make the declaration that he would be governed by that principle & decline to act upon the converse proposition in states where the anti-Masons were in a majority? Indeed it would be very questionable whether Pennsyl[vani]a could be called in strict propriety an anti-Masonic state. Our friend [Joseph] Ritner did not obtain a majority of the whole number of of [sic] votes taken at the last election. I am decidedly of opinion that an irreperable [sic] blow would be given to the Anti-Masonic cause by the adoption of the course recommended by Mr. Stevens. No person who would avow such principles can possibly be elected to the Presidency. He would not get an Electoral vote in one of the Western States. And I think it extremely probable that the avowal of such sentiments would be the means of concentrating an opposition in the Senate of the United States against the anti Masonic interest sufficiently strong to prevent the passage of an anti-Masonic nomination." While in 1835 no U.S. Senator was serving as a member of the Anti-Masonic party, 14 Congressman were: eight from Pennsylvania, one from Ohio, and five from New England.

    Harrison continues, "Mr. Stevens forgets that the President whom the anti-Masons might elect could do them little or no good if the Senate were opposed to them...I do not mean to express any opinion which should govern the appointments to office in Pennsyl[vani]a - I confine myself exclusively in my remarks to the Govt of the U States...If I understand Mr Stevens aright the only fault he now finds in my course is that of my being unwilling to pledge myself to appoint no adhering Mason to office in an anti-Masonic state. Now even if I were determined to do so I would not pledge myself to do it - for I set out with a determination to make no pledges - If the Anti Masons rely upon my openly avowed opinions against Masonry one would suppose that they ought to be satisfied with the certainty of their having a full proportion of my confidences...Can it be possible that the anti-Masons will nominate a candidate who will not get a single electoral vote in any of the Western states or South of the Potomac? I refer to Mr [John Quincy] Adams not to Mr [Daniel] Webster. Mr. Stevens' course here is attributed to his Federalism & that he had determined to support Mr. Webster under any circumstances or any other person but any old Jeffersonian Democrat like myself. I however think that he is really sincere in saying that he would have preferred me if I could have come up to his standards of anti-Masonry. But will Mr. Webster or any of the other persons who have been thought of for the Presidency go further than I go? Perhaps Mr. Adams might - but what earthly chance could he stand to succeed." Harrison had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1824 as a Pro-Adams candidate, serving from 1825-1828 when Pres. J.Q. Adams appointed him U.S. Minister to Colombia.

    Harrison surmises, "It appears to me that Mr Stevens does not consider all the consequences which would result from a candidate for the Presidency pledging himself in the manner he required...no other anti Mason believes more sincerely in the truth of their principles & the necessity of supporting them by all fair honourable & constitutional means than do the advocates of nullification in theirs - In South Carolina they outnumber their opponents two to one - Would he think it right to give a pledge to them similar to the one he requires for Pennsy[lvani]a - Then comes the adjoining State of Georgia - the majority of them is at this moment opposed to the advocates of nullification but it is so small as to leave no certainty that in another year it may not be found on the other side. To which of these parties then is a pledge to be given? If to the party which at present governs, when the period of fulfilment [sic] arrives it might be necessary to change it. Now is it not apparent from these facts that a President of the U States cannot act upon the same principles as the Gov[ernor] of a state? The one the Agent of 24 sovereign authorities [there were 24 states in 1835] - the other of one only - The difficulty of forming a single rule for a President is further increased from the circumstance of the immense differences in the size of the States & their perfect quality as to rights and from that too of the mode of his election (whether by the electors or by the representatives of the States) clearly pointing him out as the peculiar guardian of the interest of the weaker members of the great political family...But example is better than precept - & practice than theory - I refer to my conduct during the 13 years of my government of Indiana & the North Western Territory as furnishing some grounds by which to ascertain what it might be in the discharge of a somewhat analogous trust." After resigning from the Army in 1798, Harrison had became Secretary of the Northwest Territory, was its first delegate to Congress, and helped obtain legislation dividing the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. He then served as Territorial Governor of Indiana from 1801-1813.

    Thaddeus Stevens had been a delegate to the first national convention of Anti-Masons which met at Philadelphia, September 11, 1830. In 1833, he was elected to the state legislature on the Anti-Masonic ticket. He immediately displayed his abilities in debate, using his gift of wit to his advantage. He also showed his ability to maneuver behind the scenes and soon became the most powerful man in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the reason why Harrison had contacted him. Late in 1835, Stevens realized that, working with the Whigs, the Anti-Masons could control the state legislature. On December 7, 1835, he reported a bill designed to suppress secret societies (such as the Masons), and, two weeks later, was made chairman of a committee of five to investigate the "evils of Free Masonry." Both the Whigs and the Anti-Masons held state conventions in Harrisburg in December and, after the Whigs nominated Harrison on the 17th, the Anti-Masons followed suit. Stevens refused to accept Harrison's nomination solely for the reason Harrison expresses in this letter: Harrison would not pledge to be Anti-Mason. Stevens called for a National Anti-Masonic Convention to be held in May 1836, but had no popular support and it was not held. Reluctantly, Stevens endorsed Harrison's nomination. Van Buren won the election, but the Whigs showed wide national support. In late 1838, the Anti-Masons endorsed Harrison for President, in effect, merging with the Whigs. Stevens campaigned vigorously for Harrison because he had been promised a cabinet post which, after the Whig victory, he did not receive. Not able to seek political revenge on the new President (Harrison died a month after his inauguration), Stevens dropped out of politics for a while, returning to his law practice.

    This long and darkly penned letter contains over 1,000 words in Harrison's hand and is incomparable in terms and content to any other we have ever handled. It has to our knowledge never before been on the market. It is in fine condition, penned on heavy stock paper with light soiling at the left edges of each sheet. This letter would truly be the cornerstone of any political presidential collection.


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