ALS about Connecticut Governor Oliver Wolcott
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“Mr. Wolcott was a man of cheerful and ever playful disposition...He enjoyed a good joke from himself or another & his laugh was hearty and frequent.”
HOPKINSON, JOSEPH. (1770-1839). American lawyer, politician, jurist and author of Hail Columbia. ALS. ("Jos Hopkinson"). 4pp. On a single folded sheet. 4to. Philadelphia, October 6, 1839. To a grandson of the lawyer, secretary of the treasury and governor of Connecticut, OLIVER WOLCOTT (1760-1833).
"...I am glad you have undertaken to give the public a biography of your grandfather. He was so intimately connected with the administration of the federal government in its most crucial and difficult situations, that his correspondence and other papers cannot fail to disclose facts and opinions of great interest. On my marriage, in the spring of 1794, I rented a house but a short distance from that occupied by Mr. Wolcott. An intimacy grew up between our families which continued with a kindness and confidence much exceeding the intercourse of mere neighborhood, until he left our city. Our political opinions, our literary tastes, our domestic habits, were all in harmony; and between his dear and excellent wife and Mrs. Hopkinson, there existed a strong and sincere attachment. Mr. Wolcott was a man of cheerful and ever playful disposition; his conversation was interesting and earnest but gay, unless the occasion was unfit for gayety. He enjoyed a good joke from himself or another & his laugh was hearty and frequent. He delighted in the discussion of literary subjects, or the works of distinguished authors, & was particularly fond of poetry, indeed, I understood that in his younger days he was a poet. He had a good taste in literature, with one exception, about which we often disputed, and in which his New England attachments, or prejudices, controlled his judgment. He had an excessive admiration of Dr. Dwight: Conquest of Canaan, a great part of which he had in his memory, and used to recite with great spirit, always insisting that it was the best epic that had ever been written. I am not sure that he did not except Homer, but I well remember that he put it before Vergil and all the moderns attempts, except Milton. His domestic life was most exemplary...His devotion to the business and duties of his office was severe and unremitting. He possessed in a high degree, a very rare qualification, the capacity for continued hard work, and was, in every thing, systematic and orderly. His attachments to his friends were strong and lasting, never...subjecting them to unpleasant caprices. He was open and direct in all his dealings, without duplicity or intrigue in any thing. His sincerity was sure, he deceived nobody.
"During his residence in Philadelphia, the division of the political parties in their social intercourse was more decided than it has ever been since. His associates therefore were as you presume, almost exclusively 'with the federal members of the administration and of Congress, together with families residing in the City of the same politics,' which then, certainly, constituted the best Society of the City. In his parlor, almost every evening, you would meet more or less company of that description. Leading members of the Senate and House of Representatives, especially from New England, were habitually there, and sometimes at my house. When I mention such names as Ellsworth, Ames, Hillhouse, Griswold, Goodrich, Macy etc. you may imagine what a rich and intellectual society it was. I will not say that we have no such men now, but I don't know where they are.
"As to the 'time when he was supposed first to have differed with the federal party,' it was certainly long before the war. It was believed to have commenced soon after the death of General Hamilton, which was in 1804, and who was thought to have a strong influence over him. It was certainly open & known before the death of Mr. Ames, which was in 1808. It was manifested by a strong hostility to the British government, arising out of or directed against their orders in general, and...perhaps by old Revolutionary feelings; his resentment against them was much stronger than against the French decrees, as to which he contended that the British were the aggressors. I dined with him in New York long before the war, when he spoke with great warmth on that subject, and said that we ought to declare war against England. I remember that one of his friends, I think, but am not sure, it was Mr. Grace, told me that he had seen Mr. Ames a short time before his death, indeed on his death bed, when they were commenting together, what they thought to be Mr. Woolcott's defection from political friends and principle, when Mr. Ames made the remark, 'I am very sorry for it, my friend Wolcott, I thought, was elevated above these fogs of party & prejudice.'
Of one thing I am quite certain, that Mr. Wolcott was a man of unquestionable integrity of purpose, but in his principle and conduct, he was an honest man. When he adopted a course that was a departure from his friends & his former opinions, it was done from a true and sincere conviction that he was right, and not with any view to a personal advantage. Indeed at that time he was prospering under the favor and patronage of his federal friends in New York. It was several years after this that he was elected Governor of Connecticut by the democratic party, which I regretted because it gave occasion to harsh charges & suspicion, & not because I believed it had any influence upon his opinions. I have no copies of my letters written to Mr. Wolcott, & I shall thank you to let me see them. You need not take the trouble to copy them, as I will return you all the originals with such remarks as I may find it necessary to make."
Joseph Hopkinson, son of the signer of the Declaration of Independence Francis Hopkinson, was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. He married the daughter of the state's first governor, and in 1814 was elected to Congress as a Federalist. He remained in Congress for six years, then returned to private law practice until President Adams appointed him a federal judge in 1828. He held that judicial position (the same position his father had held by appointment from George Washington) until his death. Hopkinson's career as a jurist was marked by prudence and his opinions characterized by clarity and literary skill (certainly gifts much in evidence in the present letter), while his wide-ranging interests out of chambers included connections with several cultural institutions. He was variously secretary of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, vice-president of the American Philosophical Society, president of the Academy of Fine Arts, founder of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and a patron of individual artists. In 1798 a young actor named Gilbert Fox asked Hopkinson to write some words, preferably patriotic, which could be sung to the tune of The President's March. Fox wanted a popular song to use at a benefit he was arranging. Hail Columbia was the result. Hopkinson's reason for complying with the request, apart from helping the actor, were "to get up an American Spirit, which should be independent of, and above the interests and passions, and policies of both belligerents, and look and feel exclusively, for our own honour and rights." He was referring to England and France, and the bitterly hostile anti-English and anti-French groups then prevalent in America, when he wrote that explanation. The song succeeded in uniting both groups. Oliver Wolcott, a close friend and follower of Alexander Hamilton, served as auditor of the federal Treasury while Hamilton served as George Washington's Secretary of the Treasury. When Hamilton resigned, Wolcott became America's second Treasury Secretary in February 1795. At that time Philadelphia was the seat of the federal government, and it was at that period that Hopkinson and Wolcott were neighbors. An honest and hardworking man, Wolcott enjoyed the confidence of George Washington and John Adams, but became embroiled in political intrigue stemming from his loyalty (the Dictionary of American Biography goes so far as to describe it as "subservience") to his friend Alexander Hamilton, whose wishes he promoted rather than those of the chief executive. Wolcott assisted Hamilton in the writing of an indiscreet circular letter attacking Adams, and the president accepted Wolcott's resignation from the cabinet. The Republicans, enemies of Wolcott's Federalist party, began making accusation of malfeasance, and Wolcott invited the House of Representatives to investigate his conduct while heading the Treasury Department. The investigation cleared him of these charges, but even more malicious ones were circulated against him by the Republicans. Wolcott left government service and became a businessman and banker, helping to re-organize the Bank of United States into the Bank of America. He served as the Bank's President for two years, but was ousted by a "secret cabal" for political reasons. This was the turning point of his career, leading him to modify his staunch Federalist principles. His Federalist friends questioned his sanity. He ran for governor of Connecticut and on the new Toleration Party ticket, and defeated the Federalist incumbent in 1817.