[Post-1840 U.S. Presidential Election Autograph Letter Signed from Cincinnati, commenting on President-Elect and Ohioan, William Henry Harrison, and on the Political “Spoils” System].
“It is not a gratifying sight to honest men, to see the scrambling for the spoils…so soon, by those professing, prior to the election to be true Patriots”
Densely written 1841 letter from Cincinnati, Ohio on U.S. President-elect and Cincinnatan, William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), offering political insights and commentary on post-election patronage, writing at some length on “the spoils doctrine.” The letter’s author, Cincinnati businessman William Willis, is a keen observer, here writing to store clerk Isaac Strohm of Fairfield, Greene County, Ohio, himself an able and discriminating political observer.¹
Willis writes about trade with New Orleans via the Ohio River, the business climate in Cincinnati, the suitability of Daniel Webster as U.S. Secretary of State, and Whig President-Elect Harrison and his defeated rival, Democrat Martin Van Buren:
“I am at present in good health, and considering the universal cry of hard times I have no cause to complain. I have something to do at my business, which is more than many of my fellow workmen here, who are equally as competent and deserving as myself. I don’t know that I ever heard more complaint then there is a present in relation to dull times in trade of every description. (Money shavers excepted) The Ohio River is in first rate navigable order, but freights are very scarce. I was told by a Steam Boat clerk that they were bringing freight from New Orleans to this place for 20 cts. per hundred, and there was very little to be got at that. The Boats are losing money and will have to lay by unless they can do better, which I am afraid will be some time first.
When the new Administration is installed in office and the new set of Books, spoken of by [Daniel] Webster opened, I hope there will be a better show of prosperity. The President elect [William Henry Harrison] leaves this place for the east next week. I understand he purposes spending some time in Virginia previous to the Inauguration. I hope you will not forget if you should go east for goods, and be in Washington on, or about, the 24 March, to set forth my claims to some of the great men (as you know I’ve done a great deal for the party) and tell them I’ll take for my share of the British gold (as I have not yet had it) a few of those are gold spoons, knives forks &c. (as they will not be needed by ‘Tippecanoe & Tyler too’) provided they are not stolen before that time, about which I am devilishly afraid. There is as you perceive, numerous cabinet makers at work manufacturing for the Gen’l [Harrison] his cabinet. If rumor can be relied on, [Daniel] Webster is to be Secretary of State, undoubtedly a good man, but I for one would much rather he would not draw on either house of Congress for materials, because, I think there are plenty of good and true men without it.”
Willis’ further commentary on the spoils system in politics are blunt; his engagements with his correspondents—male and female—are important to him too as he endeavors to be politically informed:
“It is not a gratifying sight to honest men, to see the scrambling for the spoils commenced, and that so soon, by those professing, prior to the election to be true Patriots. The principle that I deprecated most: viz. the spoils doctrine, is urged by many calling themselves Whigs, they say, in speaking of a man’s qualifications for office he has done a great deal for the party and deserves an office. Damn] such doctrine say I. I was silly enough to suppose that these men were sincere and their opposition to Van Buren and believed that his measures were ruinous to the country, such being the case they were bound as good citizens to go against him. But now forsooth the cry is these good men have done so much for the party they must be paid. I have heard of at least thirty or forty applicants for the Post Office in our City. Who will get it I have not the remotest idea.
I have sent you a City paper now and then since I heard from you last, but shall be more attentive for the future, and in return, if you still receive the New Yorker send me a number once in a while. They struck me off their books last May because I happened to be in arrears about six months. I was provoked at the time and concluded that they had treated me very scaly. I have since regretted however that I did not attend to it and have it forwarded again, for I miss it very much. I received a very pretty letter a few days sent from my old friend Miss Haven in answer to one, wrote to her four or five weeks since. She is teaching school in the neighborhood of Lexington. It was the first time I ever addressed a line to a Female and I made of poor effort. I am proud of my acquaintances with whom I correspond, because they are all well educated, that very fact however, making me feel my own littleness still more for I cannot give my friends value received for the interesting letters I receive.”
In all, a substantial political letter commenting on President-Elect William Henry Harrison and the spoils system and illuminating the networking of an able political observer.
Description: [Post-1840 U.S. Presidential Election Autograph Letter Signed from Cincinnati, commenting on President-Elect and Ohioan, William Henry Harrison, and on the Political “Spoils” System].
Cincinnati, January 17, 1841. pp. ALS. 4to. Bifolium with integral address leaf; red wax seal; red Cincinnati postmark. Small inexpert tape mend along one fold line and small loss at seal costs a few words; Very Good.
Note. 1. Shenk, “Letters of Honorable John Strohm” in Papers Read before the Lancaster County Historical Society, Vol. XXIII, No. 3. (Lancaster, Pa., 1919), pp47–59: Isaac Strohm, formerly of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was a noted political correspondent of his cousin, Pennsylvania State Senator John Strohm, and is described as having “...discriminating political foresight.” (p50)