Lincoln’s letters sell for over $3 million.
By Renée Harrison Drake
Collectors of important manuscripts had a thrill at the beginning of April when Sotheby’s offered Presidential and other Manuscripts from the Dr. Robert Small Trust at auction. Rarely has a group of political manuscripts such as those in the Small collection ever come to auction, and the extensive collection, comprised of 111 lots, offered an unusual look into the public and private sides of many of America’s major historical figures.
One of the most interesting things about the Small Collection as a whole is the insight into American politics of days past and the issues those politicians grappled with that are present in our own political arena today. In this election year, which has proved so far to have a particularly heated race in the Democratic Party, the candidates are experiencing many of the very same problems that faced candidates over one hundred years ago. The tedium of the campaign trail, barbs from other candidates even insults aimed at sitting presidents were also part of the political landscape back then and are documented throughout the collection in many of the rare examples of political correspondence collected by Dr. Small. For example, in a letter written by former President Millard Fillmore in 1862 he rails against President Lincoln and calls him a “tyrant” who “makes my blood boil” and Lincoln’s predecessor James Buchanan wrote a letter in which he washes his hand of any responsibility for the Civil War writing, “No act or omission of mine has produced this terrible calamity.” The echoes of these statesmen sound eerily familiar today.