On Beyond Sendak

At the moment, everything at the Rosenbach is awhirl with getting Sue Johnson’s exhibit Moore Adventures in Wonderland ready to open tomorrow and our Wild Things exhibit ready to open next week. But despite all the running around, we’re still plugging away at some of our ongoing projects.

I’ve been spending a bunch of time over the past week doing photography and transcription of John Henry Brown’s journal for the Civil War web project we’ll be starting next fall. Those of you who read the 21st-Century Abe blog have already heard about this project, but for the benefit of our other readers, we’re planning to do a blog-style web project starting November of 2010 in which we post Civil War materials from our collection 150 years to the day (when possible) after they were written. As you can imagine, it is a massive project!

Anyway, most of the work thus far has been done by a dedicated and outstanding corps of interns (thank you Louise, Hannah, and Meghan), but I decided to take on John Henry Brown’s journal myself because it is extremely fragile–its 19th century binding has largely disintegrated– and also because my previous experience with this manuscript suggested that it would be a lot of fun to work through. And I have not been disappointed.

John Henry Brown is NOT the John Brown who organized the raid at Harper’s Ferry (although we do have some material related to him as well). He was was a miniature painter who was living in Philadelphia at the time of the war. In fact he had been commissioned in August of 1860 to travel to Springfield, Illinois to paint a miniature of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln. He noted in his journal that “I hardly know how to express the strength of my personal regard for Mr. Lincoln. I have never seen a man for whom I so soon formed an attachment. I like him much and agree with him in all things but his politics.”

However much Brown liked Lincoln personally, he was a Democrat and he strongly opposed the war. He is also by nature something of a grump, so his journal makes for a fascinating reading. For example, here are his thoughts from August 31, 1861 in which his list of grievances against president Lincoln reminded me of the grievances directed against George III in the Declaration of Independence.

My business is dwindling down to nothing. I cannot lose sight of the fact that but for this odious war I would now have plenty of employment at increased prices. Aside from any personal or selfish feeling in the matter, I regard this war as most unholy. I think it madness to try and settle our troubles by the sword. The Union can only be held together by Equality, Kindness & brotherly love. In attempting to restore the Union by force of arms we may lose our liberties and be cursed with an odious military despotism. If we do overcome the south, we can only hold them by the strong arm of military power; what then becomes of the great principle underlying our form of government, enunciated in the Declaration of independence “That Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Already has the President, exercised powers not granted by the Constitution. He has increased the standing army, in direct violation of that instrument. He has suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus. He has refused submission to the mandates of the Supreme Court. He has authorized one of his military subordinates, to declare the law of a Sovereign state (Missouri) unconstitutional & to call on its citizens to disregard it. He has authorized the arrest of peaceable citizens, without lawful warrant. He has allowed the searching of private houses and the seizure of private papers. He has ordered the seizure of Telegraphic messages, thus violating the sanctity of private correspondence. He has curtailed freedom of speech & of the press, by closing newspaper offices in different parts of the country, which have been advocating the settlement of our troubles by peaceful means. These sentiments openly expressed would subject me to trouble. I wish I could think otherwise, but thinking as I do, I esteem right to express myself freely in this Journal. I regret to write thus of the president, of personally I esteem him highly.

Events connected with the War crowd so thick & fast upon us, that I cannot find time or room in this journal to make a note of each as it occurs.

Anyway, there will be more to come once the Civil War project gets rolling, but I thought I’d share this just to whet your appetite.