Mrs. Barney’s Letter to Andrew Jackson, President of the United States. [Textile Broadside]
“In this happy land, the panoply of liberty protects all without distinction of age or of sex.”
“The natural timidity of my sex vanishes before the necessity of my situation; and a spirit, sir, as proud as yours, although in a female bosom, demands justice…”
Unrecorded 1829 broadside letter, printed on cotton, addressed to President Andrew Jackson and projecting the powerful voice and opinions of Mary Chase Barney of Baltimore, an outspoken antebellum Southern woman and later editor of the National Magazine, or Ladies’ Emporium.
Barney attacks Jackson and his authoritarian “spoils system” of appointing friends and political conies to government civil service jobs. She excoriates Jackson:
The Office Harpies who haunted your public walks and your retired moments, from the very dawn of your administration, and whose avidity for office and power made them utterly reckless of the honorable feelings and just rights of others, cried aloud Rotation in office. Is that magical phrase, so familiar to the demagogues of all nations, and of times, your great and much vaunted principle of Reform?
She doesn’t hold back. Barney characterizes Jackson’s policy as “...a cancerous excrescence fastened upon the body politic,” adding the analogy that the “footstool” of government service jobs in support of the to the president have been “...converted into a throne for a slave.”
Barney had a dog in this fight. After Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, Barney’s husband, Major William Barney, had applied to retain his post as Naval Officer for the port of Baltimore. He was rejected for the position—not for any lack of merit, but for supporting John Quincy Adams’ presidential candidacy. Here, Mrs. Barney acts decisively to rectify what she believed to be an injustice. She writes:
My husband, sir, never was your enemy. In the overflowing patriotism of his heart, he gave you the full measure of his love for your military services. He preferred Mr. Adams for the Presidency, because he thought him qualified, and you unqualified for the station. He would have been a traitor to his country, he would have had even my scorn, and have deserved yours, had he supported you under such circumstances. ... The natural timidity of my sex vanishes before the necessity of my situation; and a spirit, sir, as proud as yours, although in a female bosom, demands justice: At your hands I ask it: Return to him what you have rudely torn from his possession; give back to his children their former means of securing their food and raiment…
Soon her attack went public. “In the 1830s, the nascent Whig party seized Barney’s letter and printed it by the hundreds in pamphlet form. The text was printed on satin in the form of a broadside and distributed widely, attracting notice in newspapers across the country, from the Connecticut Mirror and Vermont Gazette to the Richmond Enquirer. Readers of the Enquirer were so dubious as to the notion that a woman could have authored the essay that one writer suggested the author of the anti-Jackson diatribe was really William Wirt. In publicly unleashing her attack on Jackson, Barney made no attempt to hide her identity or her gender. ... Barney kept the rhetorical heat on Jackson by starting her National Magazine [Baltimore, 1831–1832], a forum for discussing politics and for highlighting the evils of the Democratic administration.”¹
Barney’s appeal to President Jackson concludes with a patriotic appeal, a reminder of her and her husband’s families’ service to the United States:
The wife whom you have thus agonized, drew her being from the illustrious [Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland and U.S. Justice Samuel] Chase, whose voice of thunder early broke the spell of British allegiance… The husband and the father whom you have thus wronged, was the first born son of a hero [Commodore Joshua Barney of Baltimore], whose naval and military renown brightens the page of your country’s history, from ‘76 to 1815, with whose achievements posterity will not condescend to compare yours; for he fought amidst greater dangers, and he fought for Independence.
The bridge being burned, she deftly turns back to herself, speaking clearly with a powerful woman’s voice:
Sir, I would be unworthy the title of American matron, or an American wife, if I did not vindicate his, and my children’s wrongs. In this happy land, the panoply of liberty protects all without distinction of age or of sex.
A powerful letter by a Baltimore woman, rebuking President Andrew Jackson and railing against the political “spoils system” established by his administration.
Description: Mrs. Barney’s Letter to Andrew Jackson, President of the United States. [Textile Broadside]
Boston, Massachusetts: Chemical Power Print, Published at No. 8, Washington Street, . p. Broadside on cotton. Approx. 18¼ x 17¾ inches. Printed in four columns; decorated border; titling in various typefaces including reverse type. Folds; some foxing; very good.
Not in OCLC. Barney’s unrecorded textile broadside here is not to be confused by another issue from printer Henry Bowen’s Chemical Power Print (OCLC 58672980)—itself known only in two copies and bearing a different imprint and having a different column count. Textual comparison may yield further differences. Not in American Imprints. Not in Threads of History. Note. 1. Wells, Women Writers and Journalists in the Nineteenth-Century South (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp97–98.