1840: William R. Young to William B. Young

I believe this letter was written by William R. Young (1805-1850), a partner in the firm of Gassner & Young (Grocers) in New York City. William settled in New York City about 1820, entering a grocery store in Chatham Street. Later on he became the owner. “He attained considerable celebrity in his day as a leading merchant and public-spitited citizen, and enjoyed the unqualified regard and confidence of all that knew him. His acquaintance was wide and hist standing in the community high. Among his business friends were A. T. Stewart, James G. Bennett, Horace Greeley, and Commodore Vanderbilt. He married Sara Ann De Milt (1811-1895) about 1830.

In the 1830’s, William lived in Poughkeepsie. He later moved to New York City’s Sixth Ward; his residence being at 66 Monroe Street. At the time that he died, at the age of 45, he was living in Brooklyn and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. His two eldest sons — referred to in this letter — were Edward Russell Young (1833-1896) and Oscar William Young (1836-1905). Edward later became a Major in the 7th New York State Militia and then organized the 47th N.Y. Infantry during the American Civil War.

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Advertisement for Gassner & Young Grocery in New York City

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mr. William B. Young, Bedford, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

New York [City]
September 21, 1840

My dear father,

Within a few days past I have had the gratification of receiving several letters from you and my brothers. The one from James was the first that I have had from him since some time before he left Canada. The first of yours came by the mail, the last by Mr. Oliver who tells me that he has been about the country considerably and has made up his mind that Mr. Van Buren will be reelected and that Ohio will give him 50,000 majority and that you and my brother would help him along with your influence and votes. Van Buren will want all the assistance that Cuyahoga County and Ohio to boot can give him but I am sorry that all of you should be with him.

Trade is dull and I don’t know but what I shall perpetrate a long letter. If I do, Father, I shall put in no log cabin pictures to frighten you, nor no hard cider excitement. Speaking of hard cider puts me in mind of the Locofoco convention the other day at Po[ugh]keepsie. It was a rouser in the words of its friendly editors. It was a thunder clap from the unterrified democracy. It was represented more or less from every place along the [Hudson] river and amongst the rest, Troy sent a steamboat and barge for the accommodation of the Trojans. There was no cider there — not a drop. No need of it. All temperance people, you ask? Very likely or they would not show so much apprehension of the effect of hard cider on the wiggies and its immoral tendencies on the country in general. However, this much is matter of notoriety. There was on board of the two boats some four or five bars well supplied with palate tickling liquors, something such as used to be in vogue in the time of Jackson rule when it was necessary to wash down his mad acts, as they would not go down any other way, and one of them took in about 400 dollars during the trip.

The last time I had the pleasure of seeing you all and by what I could gather from your letters since you were all Jackson men in so far as you supported his measures. Now let’s see  where Jackson and democracy stood at that time and their relative positions with other parties. The Jackson Party was at that time by far the largest. They had everything their own way and a high handed way it was. No matter though. You may recollect that the party had nearly every state. They took the management of the banks and the currency solely under their control, so far even that Jackson removed the deposits to improve the currency and exchanges and the party in the states created banks so that we should not feel the demise of the big one and granted charters for political reward and withheld them as political punishments. This is all matter that no one can gainsay. The opposition as they were called, even by no means an inconsiderable party so far as numbers went but yet so far as influence in politics went, might just as well have not been in existence, their influence was not of sufficient strength to hinder or prevent Jackson from carrying through all and every measure that he pleased — constitutional or not. It may not be amiss to mention here that shortly after he went into office, one of his first acts was to reduce his cabinet to a unit — that is, they must have no will but his. ‘Twas a harder matter to make a unit of Congress, but by perseverance he did do that and you will find that history will bear me out in this assertion that subsequent sessions of Congress have been merely to sanction the edicts of their master — the President.

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“Fanny Wright was the goddess who presided over their orgies on Sundays, giving them lectures on knowledge and edified them exceedingly on the best way to elevate the laboring classes.” — WRY

You will recollect that about 1833 or so a little knot off politicians sprung up in this city when men called the “working men’s party.” They came out from Tammany Hall because their doctrines could not find favor amongst the democratic party. Bitter was the squabbles that the two parties had for possession of the place, but finally the “working man’s party” was driven out and organized distinctly and separately  as the locofoco party. Some of the most prominent of them were Eli Moore ¹, Alexander Ming, [Thomas] Hertell & Job Haskell. Fanny Wright ² was the goddess who presided over their orgies on Sundays, giving them lectures on knowledge and edified them exceedingly on the best way to elevate the laboring classes. Her divinity-ship assisted occasionally by importations of English radicals and Jacobins from wherever they could be found. Well sir, they kept along in this way and multiplying exceedingly, yet for elections nominating separate tickets for mayor &c. which on the day of election were withdrawn and to spite Old Tammany, threw their whole strength on the whig ticket, which by that means was successful by a small majority. This happened on the spring election for charter officers which nominations were made for state election, the difference between Tammany & locofoco’s were made up by putting one or more of the men on the ticket, Eli Moore for Congress & [Thomas] Hertell for Legislature which were run in and afterwards continued to rub along pretty smoothly until after the election of Van Buren.

The doctrines of the original locofoco’s I presume you are as well acquainted with as myself, however, I will say this much — that Fanny Wright came to this country for the ostensible purpose of disenthralling the people of this country who were sunk in barbarous superstition under the complete control of priests and the Bible. I went once to hear her. On a table before her was laying spread out a paper which, after speaking some time, she took up and held before the audience, telling them that it was the Declaration of American Independence. Said she, “Let this be your Holy Bible. Let it be the holy bible of every American. ‘Tis all you want. The rest is but priestcraft, &c. &c.”

The mobs, riots, breaking open stores, &c. &c which we in this city have had got up for our amusement and instruction, and for the elevation of the laboring classes, you must know all about, for are they not recorded in the journals of the day? I expect you are tired by this time and wondering why I am inflicting such a mass of words about politics when none of you write about it to me. You, however, go to locofoco meetings and I understand are all locos and therefore are fair game. I am speaking now more to [my brothers] John, James, & David. Don’t get angry — or perhaps you like the name of locofocos. I once in a while find a person who says they glory in the name. If you are such, I shall have my labor for my pains. However, here goes.

Mr. Van Buren was elected and took his place, ‘the successor to his illustrious predecessor who in his valedictory said to us all, “I leave this great people prosperous and happy and I hope that my humble efforts to restore the constitutional currency  &c.” Now here is a clear admission that he  took the affair of the currency into his own custody. Well as I was saying, Mr. Van B. took his seat at 25,000 dollars per year and in two months the splendid system of Jackson & Van Buren — which they had lauded so highly and got so much glory for and made times so good with and caused everybody to be so rich with bank promises and individual promises and bonds and mortgages and swamp lots and paper cities — blew up “leaving not a wreck behind?” Yes — leaving it all wreak and everybody behind. Great was the consternation at Washington, dire was the curse of Jackson at the “base perfidy and treachery of the banks” dismal and harrowing were the cogitations of Van Buren which I can witness for he grew 10 years older in about two years in appearance. He found himself in a bad box. They had destroyed the best currency and the best system of exchanges that any country ever had, had improved it by their own system, and then to have it blow up. What could he do in such a dilemma? He could not go back to the old system for had Congress chartered a National Bank he was pledged to veto it. He could think of nothing but a metallic currency for the government kept by subtreasuries — a plan that all parties in Congress in 1834 had repudiated — and then told the people that they expected too much for government — that they might just as well expect the government to transport their merchandise for them as to form a currency — thereby throwing himself completely into the arms of the locofocoism. It was a move that shook the democratic party to its very center, both in and out of Congress. Mr. Talmage from the state had the courage to differ from Mr. Van Buren on that subject and in this city alone 700 democrats signed their names to a letter approving of his course and all the papers who kept good their allegiance to the President at once denouncing Mr. Talmage for doing what he has a good right to do as the president, being an independent senator from the independent State of New York. The original locofo’s have nearly all been provided for with good fat offices under the general government for it is part of the Jackson & Van Buren policy to reward with offices such as are rejected by the people. In fact, it has got to be proverbial that a sure passport to executive favor is a rejection by the people.

In one of the papers which you was kind enough to send me was a letter from Van Buren to some gentleman in Kentucky. I think I had read it before. However, he says of a party that you formerly acted with, “While even the name of the proud and powerful party which opposed them has come to be considered a term of reproach if not of ignominy and insult.” Is it so? You know better than I do the intentions of yourself and those you acted with in those days. For myself, I believe their motives were as pure as that of any of the party. If they were not, I don’t wonder at the anxiety of those of the old Federal Party to be identified with the party now claiming to be democratic. I found also a letter from an old gentleman in Ohio by the name of McLean, I think — I’ve not got the paper to refer to — who is cracked up very highly by the editor for his staunch and unwavering democracy. This letter is filled as usual with gentlemen of the Van Buren school, with denunciations of privilege and bank aristocrats, silk stocking gentry, log cabins, hard cider, coon skins, monopoly’s &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. and goes on to say that all the old Federalists are now to be found in the opposition ranks with a great deal about the wickedness &c. My dear Father, do you endorse it all or if you was in error, then may you not be so now.

Now then for Gen. Harrison. All the papers that I received per Mr. Oliver were thorough — going locofoco — filled with abuse of the whig candidate for the Presidency. We are told by the Globe at Washington that when he was nominated, that his friends had him in a cage — a committee to take care of him, to feed him, read & write his letters. In fact, the description entered into the merest details. A few days after the same paper told us that he was out on an electioneering tour and making speeches. Oho says we wiggies, General H. had got out of his cage and can go without leading strings, that will do, now he can walk his way to Washington instead of being carried there in his cage. It is useless for me to repeat any more of the thousand stories told to the prejudice of Harrison for the samples had from you tell me that they are as familiar to you all as household goods. But the refutations you may not see or seeing you treat them as mere “log cabin pictures” or as British Whig lies. Did you ever, Father — or did you John or James — read the History of Gen. W. H. Harrison? Have you read his speeches or any of them either before or after his nomination? If you have not, I wish you would. The more I hear of him and the more I have looked into his character and his former life, the more I admire him. His life has not been a short one but full of events. Commencing life under one of the greatest captains of his age, it is not wonderful if his military life should be tempered by somewhat of the prudence which characterized his first instructor, or if in carrying out those principles, he should receive abuse and enmity as well. It must be known to you that Gen. Washington — both in military and civil life — had a most better and vindictive party arrayed against him — more so than Harrison had now — and that on his retiring from the Presidency, that 11 men in Congress arrayed their names against giving him a vote of thanks. It showed, I think, the feeling of the opposition. When he was leaving public life after having spent the best part of it in the service of his country and that country prosperous & the people happy, the least they could have done should have been a unanimous vote. Is it to the credit of General Jackson that his name was found amongst the eleven — whether or no, such was the fact. After being found in such company, it is a wonder that he should endorse all and in fact slander Gen. Harrison himself — particularly as he is the opponent of his successor and the People’s candidate for the highest office in the gift of the people or in fact on earth?

The difference between the two candidates for the Presidency is simply this. The whig’s is a man above reproach, has been a long time before the people in some way or another, and always to the satisfaction of the general government when in its employ and to his constituents when in an elected office. His popularity was shown at home a few days ago when the people met him to give him a greeting 100,000 strong. The locofoco’s is a man who from his tricky conduct, many years ago had earned the name of the Little Magician and was used to designate Mr. Van Buren indiscriminately by friends and enemies, his own constituents even had no confidence in his moral or political honesty, which is proven by the fact that he was not sent to Washington until they had tied him hand, foot, and tongue by pledges and yet circumstances drove him from his pledges in the case of the subtreasury. The Whigs in this election now coming on have the advantage of history to prove that Mr. Van B. has done us no manner of good, that we have had in his administration two of the severest pressures upon the business & industry of the country that it ever had, and while he was associated with Jackson two or three more, a continual state of excitement, a vat and alarming degree of immorality, vice & rascality, until Van Buren has to beseech the country to let is last experiment have a fair trial and he exclaims, “give us repose. The country requires repose.” And his understanding editors echo, “We want repose.”

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I shall wind up this long political dissertation by asserting that when the people of any country turn their attention to any subject as they have lately done to the subject of their rulers, that they can’t but succeed. The signs of the times are pretentious and it is my decided opinion that the present party in power are doomed to such a signal overthrow that it will be a lesson to any tyrant who shall hereafter endeavor to fix upon their country a one man power or a unit government. I also prophesy that Harrison will get in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania 97 electoral votes and a majority of 30,000 and perhaps double that. F-I-N-I-S

I was glad to hear you was well. S’pose I may as well say now I’ve got time and Mother, David tells me, is quite smart. I did think some of going to see you this summer but couldn’t make it out. Had the misfortune to lose another of our little boys, sick two days, 13 months old. I sent you a paper a few days after. Our two oldest boys are smart, active shavers, good constitutions, good whigs and enjoy good health. I intend writing in a day or two to David or James — perhaps without politics — and shall then speak more on things in general. We have had fires for some days past. Our stores & houses, promises an early fall.

From your affectionate son, — W. R. Young


¹ Eli Moore was New York City’s surveyor and inspector — a stalwart of the Democratic establishment in New York.

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Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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