Item #7861 [Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]. Thomas J. Robertson, et. al.
[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]
[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]
[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]
[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]
[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]

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[Small archive of letters and papers accumulated by Thomas J. Robertson, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina during the Reconstruction period.]

Washington, D.C., South Carolina, Philadelphia. 1865–1877.

A Reconstruction-era archive including a vitriolic anti-Reconstruction letter and a plea for character reference from a white banker embroiled in a bribery scandal with South Carolina’s first prominent Black politician.

Thomas J. Robertson (1823–1897) was a South Carolina plantation and slave owner who supported the Union during the Civil War and served as a Republican U.S. Senator from 1866 to 1877. He was the son of a veteran of the War of 1812, John Robertson, and graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1843. Although his wealth and prominence led to his appointment as aide-de-camp to Governor R. F. W. Alliston in 1858, his Unionist views resulted in bitter condemnation by most white Carolinians who saw him “as a harsh taskmaster whose embrace of racial equality was motivated by self-interest” (Rubin). He was a member of the 1865 South Carolina State constitutional convention, and served on the Committee on Manufactures during his nearly ten years in the U.S. Senate.

This archive spans Robertson’s tenure in Washington, over the course of which his commitment to Reconstruction eroded, and contains a fiery condemnation of Reconstruction from one J. M. Blakely, evidently a business associate of Robertson. Blakely expresses his surprise at the “opposition to your Amnesty Bill,” and what it reveals: that “political demagogues & aspirants can never cease goading & oppressing the Southern people, & trying to keep them in a state worse than vassalage” and that Government are “a set of infamous carpet-baggers who have leagued themselves with the negroes to carry out their hellish designs…” The letter reads in full:

Mr T. J. Robertson

Dear Sir,

Yours of the 3rd duly rec’d. I will pay the Tax for you on the Lots, & see Mr. Miller (when he gets able) respecting the title, which I have no doubt about. I notice great opposition to your Amnesty Bill, I am not a little surprised at this. It would seem that political demagogues & aspirants can never cease goading & oppressing the Southern people, & trying to keep them in a state worse than vassalage. The time may not be distant, when the administration, or rather the Government, may need all the influence & strength of the Southern States which they they [sic] have willingly & knowingly placed in a condition to be governed & fleeced by a set of infamous carpet-baggers who have leagued themselves with the negroes to carry out their hellish designs under the cloak of Laws made by themselves to cover their rascality & villany. What can a Government expect from an enlightened & intelligent people who have been thus treated, should they get into a war with any great foreign power? You know as well as I do, that the course pursued by the Government towards the Southern States since the War has been such as to alienate the feelings of the southern people, more & more ever since the War, rather than do anything which might lead them to believe that the Government had any respect for the South, the people of the South, or their posterity. It will be a long time before the Southern people can forget the Ku Klux Bill, the Amnesty Bill, the Cotton Tax, the Scott Ring & other hellish Rings of the same kind which have been gotten up for the purpose of not only degrading but fleecing the Southern people. I venture the assertion that you may send the most Radical man that you have, within the Senate, or House, & let them attend our Legislature & Courts for a few weeks, & they will leave with disgust & fully convinced that we are now living under the worst Government, & governed by the meanest set of rogues, of any people who claim to be a civilized people in the world. In this connection I do not think that you could do a better thing, or anything that would [?] to the interest of of [sic] the people more, if you were to have a Bill introduced in Congress, or the Senate, & have the State put under a Territorial form of Government. By that means we will get rid of the vampires who are sucking the life Blood from the people, to be governed as we are governed is a scandal to civilization, & proves the controlling power to be a farce, or a humbug. It would seem that our Government were drifting without the assistance of Statesmen, in the hands of a set of political aspirants & demagogues, to utter ruin & destruction, & what the end will be, & when it will come, those who live can see.

Yours Truly,

J. M. Blakely

The archive also contains a letter from South Carolina banker, plantation owner, and Democrat Lysander D. Childs (1813–1879) discussing Robertson’s involvement in the Compromise of 1877, which determined the outcome of the contested 1876 presidential election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden and effectively ended Reconstruction. Dated January 23, 1877, Childs’s letter alludes to the hotly contested South Carolina election, which had resulted in “two governors and two legislatures, with Republicans dependent on federal troops to enforce their position” and with Democrats, led by Wade Hampton III, negotiating behind the scenes for the troops’ removal (Ackerman). Robertson advised President Grant to allow Hampton’s election in spite of widespread violent suppression of Black voters, and Childs writes: “Gen’l Hampton told me yesterday that your interview with Grant was the best act of your life. He is delighted he said the effect will be of great good.” Childs’s primary aim, however, is to ask Robertson to defend his character before a Washington, D.C. committee investigating the allegation that he had attempted to bribe a presidential elector, the prominent Black state senator William Beverly Nash, to switch his vote from Hayes to Tilden—an act that would have changed the outcome of the election. “I beg of you to go before Milton Sayler’s committee & give my character, and the character of Beverly Nash; as he has sworn to a batch of lies against me,” Childs writes. Just over a week after Childs’s letter, the South Carolina Pickens Sentinel reported that “Beverly Nash, colored, and one of the Hayes electors for this state, testified in Washington, before the Senate Committee…that Col. Childs, President of the Carolina Central Bank offered him a large bribe to vote for Tilden, and the recognition of the Hampton Government.” Another paper noted that while “Col. Childs is known as one of our best citizens,” Nash “is a Radical negro statesman…who has been mixed up in all sorts of jobbery and rascality” (“Brick Nash As A Witness”).

William Beverly Nash (ca. 1822–1888), known as Beverly Nash or “Brick,” for his profitable role in a corrupt brickyard deal during his tenure as state senator, was born into slavery in Virginia, and was brought to South Carolina at the age of thirteen. He is known to have worked at Hunt’s Hotel, in Columbia, before the War, and during reconstruction became a grocer and then a politician. He represented Columbia at the 1865 South Carolina State Convention of Colored People; in 1867 he was named magistrate for Columbia and went to Washington D.C. as a delegate to the National Freedmen’s Convention; and in 1868 he was elected to the state senate, where he served through 1877 and held one term as the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Nash proposed that “To achieve a more equitable land distribution…large plantations be taxed heavily, which would force landowners to sell property in parcels, thereby creating small farms that blacks and poor whites could afford. He also favored a law mandating schooling for all children” (“Nash, William Beverly”). He was involved in several incidents of bribery and corruption, the threat of whose revelation prompted his resignation from public office in 1877. The “batch of lies” that Childs described to Robertson as “very mortifying” was the rumor that Childs had offered Nash $100,000 to change his electoral vote.

Archive contents in chronological order:

Rutland, James M. [An autograph note regarding provisions for “Miss F. Burns,” from future South Carolina state senator James M. Rutland.] 11 December 1865. ALS, 4” x 7.25”. 1 p. in pencil. With contemporaneous unstamped envelope labeled in pencil by Robinson.

James M. Rutland (1814–1874) was both a staunch unionist and a slave holder. His moderate Republican views led him, like Robertson, to be ostracized by many southern Democrats. He did not report for mandatory service in the South Carolina reserves near the end of the Civil War, and in 1865 he warned against the withdrawal of federal troops from the state. In 1868 he was elected a Republican State Senator, but quit a few months later to become a circuit court judge. Like Robertson, Rutland became increasingly disillusioned with postwar Republican politics: “By the early 1870s, he had reportedly grown ‘disgusted with the [Republican] party,’ and he ‘denounced the villainy and corruption’ of President Ulysses S. Grant” (“James M. Rutland”).

Rutland’s note reads in full:

Long Town, Dec. 11, 1865

Col. T. J. Robertson,

Please let Miss F. Burns have twenty five or thirty dollars worth of provisions—Green backs, and I will pay you for same.

Yours truly,

J. M. Rutland

To our Subscribers to the $5,600,000 Fund of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. Philadelphia, 13 March, 1871. Circular, 10.125” x 8.125”. 1 p. print.

This circular issued by Jay Cooke & Co., a Philadelphia bank that had done much to help the North finance the Civil War, requests that its subscribers relinquish a seventh of their stock in order that Cooke & Co. might raise sufficient further funds to construct the Northern Pacific Railroad—a venture that would lead to the bank’s failure in 1873.

Thomas Robertson’s reply to this request, which he wrote from the senate chamber in Washington, is recorded in Ellis Paxton Oberholtzer’s Jay Cooke: Financier of the Civil War (vol. 1, p. 212):

Gentlemen:— I am in receipt of your printed circular of the 13th asking for a concession of one-seventh of my subscription to the $5,600,000 fund of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company for the purpose of securing a sale of fifty millions of bonds in England. In reply I have to say I am not willing to give up a seventh or any other part of the stock due me on my subscription to the bonds and stocks of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company.

I am very respectfully your obedient servant,

T. J. Robertson

Robertson, Thomas J. [Manuscript diary and account book.] 1866–67. 16mo (6.875” x 3.5”), flexible black leather with flap closure, a.e.g. [24 pp.] printed front matter, incl. frontis, calendar with important events for every day each month (usually Civil War events), stamp duties, distances among cities, etc., 113 pp. of manuscript in ink and pencil (some pages with brief entries, others with longer ones), numerous blank pp. CONDITION: Good, some small losses to leather, black duct tape at spine and inner and outer flap hinge. Contents very good.

This is primarily an account book, containing Robertson’s records of wages, bills, and accounts paid, bank deposits to several South Carolina banks, and records for the sale of cotton, cotton seed, wood, lime, nails, and other goods. Although entries are short, Robertson also records significant events, including the accidental death of a bull by the Greenville & Columbia Railroad (“The G&CRR…kill my fine Bull…this day,” a loss for which he later receives $200 of compensation), the births of two new bull calves (one “named Royal George,” the other called “Brahmin”), and, after several days of noted absence, the day that “Isaac (Freedman) quit working for me.” Robertson also records trips to New York and the “West” (Memphis and St. Louis). Most striking is his note for June 7, 1866: “I get in a Fight with John A. Myers—he stabs me and I shoot him, wounding him severely.”

[Fiery autograph letter from J. M. Blakely to Robertson about the 1872 Amnesty Bill.] Columbia, [S.C.], 11 February 1872. ALS, 10” x 7.75” bifolium. 3 pp. ink. Along with a typed transcript of the letter on onion skin. CONDITION: Very good.

[Autograph letter from South Carolina banker and Democrat Lysander D. Childs requesting testimony of his character in defense of accusations by Black state senator Beverly Nash, and referring to Robertson’s recent meeting with President Grant.] Columbia, S.C., 23 January 1877. ALS, 8” x 5” bifolium. 3 pp. in ink. With original envelope. CONDITION: Very good.

REFERENCES: Ackerman, Robert K. “Hampton, Wade III,” South Carolina Encyclopedia online; “Brick Nash As A Witness,” South Carolina, The Newberry Weekly Herald, 31 Jan. 1877, p. 2; “The Electoral Bill,” Pickens Sentinel, 1 Feb. 1877; “James M. Rutland,” UVA Unionists online; “Nash, William Beverly,” Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History online; Rubin, Hyman S. III. “Robertson, Thomas James,” South Carolina Encyclopedia online.

Item #7861

Price: $1,500.00

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