Rare Americana from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books

- by Michael Stillman


Rare Americana from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books

David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued a new catalogue of Rare Americana. This is No. 192 in their long running series. It contains more of what they describe as “significant and unusual imprints relating to America.” Here are a few of them.


This is a very early, possibly first printing of a monumentally important speech. It was delivered in 1857 at the Illinois state capitol and the speaker was a fairly obscure former congressman named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was responding to the recent Dred Scott Decision and the comments made by Stephen A. Douglas, whom Lincoln would run against in a senate election the following year and for the presidency in 1860. The speech was printed in the Illinois State Journal of June 29, 1857, under the heading Speech of the Hon. A. Lincoln, Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives on the 26th Inst. in Reply to Judge Douglas. Douglas approved of Dred Scott, Lincoln opposed it. Lincoln describes the decision as “erroneous,” pledges to do what he can to overrule it while not offering “resistance to it,” which is to say, he recognizes the Supreme Court's authority. Lincoln disagreed with the Court's claim that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were not meant to apply to Black people by pointing out that in five of the original thirteen states free Blacks had the right to vote and had the same constitutional protections as Whites. Speaking of Blacks, Lincoln says, “their ultimate destiny has never appeared so hopeless as in the last three or four years,” and “In those days, our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all; but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed, and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, if its framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it. All the powers of earth seem rapidly combining against him.” He goes on that even “the Theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him.” Remarkable words in 1857, even in the North, for someone who would soon be seeking higher office. Item 67. Priced at $3,500.


It's hard to ignore the words of Abraham Lincoln so here is one more quote. This one comes from the middle of the Civil War and Lincoln's target was Ohio Copperhead Congressman Clement Vallandigham. Vallandigham was an anti-war Democrat with strong southern and racist sympathies. Lincoln considered him a rabble-rouser and threat to the war effort. Lincoln ordered him deported to the South, which raised concerns about his authority to do so and infringement of free speech. Item 66 is President Lincoln's Views. An Important Letter on the Principles Involved in the Vallandigham Case. Correspondence in Relation to the Democratic Meeting at Albany N.Y., published in 1863. Lincoln rhetorically asks, “Must I shoot a simple-minded boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of the wily agitator who induced him to desert?...I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional but withal a great mercy.” $375.


Are you ready for judgment day? You better be because it is coming. Richard Clarke was there to help you prepare for the when. His pamphlet is The Prophetic Numbers of Daniel and John Calculated; in Order to Shew the Time, when the Day of Judgment for the First Age of the Gospel, is Expected... Clarke was a “Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” so he should have known. Are you ready? The answer is sometime during the 1760s. You missed it. What a relief. We won't be judged. Clarke issued his prediction in 1759 when he believed Judgment Day would be on us very soon. Item 25. $500.


There was no minister in America more important or influential in the first century plus after the landing of the Pilgrims than Cotton Mather. He was stern but learned and usually highly regarded except for one instance which left a stain that will remain with his name forever. While not a big promoter, he was sympathetic to the Salem witch trials, which his influence might have been able to avert had he so chosen. He died three decades later and here is a tribute by someone who loved and admired him regardless of the shortcoming, his son, Samuel Mather, also a minister. Here is his tribute, The Departure and Character of Elijah Considered and Improved. A Sermon After the Decease of the Very Reverend and Learned Cotton Mather, D.D. F.R.S. and Minister of the North Church, who Expired Feb. 13. 1727,8. In the Sixty Sixth Year of his Age, published in 1728. Item 73. $2,000.


In 1760 there was a terrible fire in Boston that became known as the “Great Boston Fire of 1760.” Reportedly, 349 structures were destroyed with around ten ships docked in the harbor. Over a thousand people were left homeless. But... who caused the fire? While officially it is unknown, Rev. Jonathan Mayhew knew. He revealed the culprit in a sermon: “Amos 3:6 Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” He continued, “'Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;' to be sure, not such trouble and affliction as this, a calamity, so great and extensive! This is a visitation of providence... 'Shall there be evil in a city,' saith the prophet, 'and the Lord hath not done it?'” Explaining how God did it, Mayhew added, “he caused his wind to blow; and suddenly raised it to such a height, that all endeavors to put a stop to the raging flames, were ineffectual.” So there's the answer. It was the Lord himself who caused the fire. Of course, it wasn't God's will so much as it was forced upon Him by the evil people of Boston. This blame the victim mentality was typical of the time. Preachers used terrible events to fill their congregants with guilt so as to improve their behavior. Despite this common attribute of 18th century ministers, Mayhew was actually a very liberal clergyman, closer to a Unitarian than Cotton Mather's Puritanism. He attacked the hated Stamp Act and promoted liberty in America, but unfortunately died in 1766 before being able to play a major role in the American Revolution. The title of the sermon was God’s Hand and Providence to be Religiously Acknowledged in Public Calamities. A Sermon Occasioned by the Great Fire in Boston, New-England Thursday March 20, 1760. Item 76. $500.


David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be reached at 203-389-8111 or dmlesser@lesserbooks.com. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.