1841: Thomas Elder to Francis James

This letter was written by Thomas Elder (1767-1853), a son of the Rev. John Elder of the Paxton Presbyterian church and by 1799, lieutenant colonel and commandant of the 66th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Militia. In 1816 Thomas Elder became president of the Harrisburg Bank, a capacity in which he served until his death. A lawyer by training, he was appointed Attorney-General of Pennsylvania in 1820 by Governor Joseph Hiester.

Thomas Elder’s brother, Joshua Elder, was a business parter with Joseph Wallace. It was Joseph Wallace who was serving as the Pennsylvania State Treasurer and was the “excellent man” described by Thomas Elder in the next to last paragraph of this letter.

Except for his brief stint as Attorney-General, Thomas Elder refused political office for himself but used his connections and position to try to influence political contests. In this letter, Thomas candidly summarizes his frustration with the failure of President John Tyler to carry through on the changes William Henry Harrison promised the voters in his campaign. Unfortunately, Harrison died shortly after gaining the White House and his Vice President, John Tyler — a dyed in the wool Democrat — seized on the opportunity to drag his heels on the long anticipated reform.

Elder wrote the letter to his Congressmen acquaintance, Francis James (1799-1886) who was then serving in the Twenty-seventh Congress. He born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he attended the public schools and Gauses’ Academy; studied law; was admitted to the bar of Chester County in 1825 and commenced practice in West Chester, Pa.; member of the State senate 1834-1836; elected as an Anti-Masonic candidate to the Twenty-sixth Congress and reelected as a Whig to the Twenty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1839-March 3, 1843); chairman, Committee on Revisal and Unfinished Business (Twenty-seventh Congress); resumed the practice of his profession in West Chester, Chester County, Pa.

1841 Letter

1841 Letter

Addressed to Hon. Francis James, Member of Congress, Washington City

Harrisburg, [Pennsylvania]
December 10th 1841

Mr. James,

If not asking too much, would be much obliged by your giving me occasionally the Washington News. After you get over the first somewhat friendly salutations at meeting, party will soon show out & takes the courses decided upon by Leaders — then probably there will be a warm session. The Locos generally keep their ranks better than the Harrison Party & while in a minority, will stand strongly united. They will most likely be presumptuous being flushed with such extraordinary & in some measure un_____ted victories. I sense an overthrow at hand at an early date & warned my friends of it, but they could not after such success in 1840 believe it possible. It was the abuse (or if you please) the misuse of the appointing from before Tyler’s voters were born. The great fight and struggle was for a change — a general & universal change. Tyler can’t be ignorant of this. All knew it. Every school boy knew it. Well, we the people did our part — we elected a President & Vice President. So far the people could go & they did got it in a voice of thunder. No room for mistake was left. A new cabinet was created & there you may say the change all but stopped. Whether these cabinet men retained their clerks for their convenience or what, it matters not. It is ridiculous, nay, rascally to impute want of capacity & qualifications in our ranks. The people everywhere were disappointed. Those they elected disappointed them. How then expect them to come out & vote when their adversaries got the fruits of their hard earnings. Tyler to preach & talk about Republicanism & conscience, when in his most important acts he goes in direct opposition to the will of the people, so clearly, so unequivocally made manifest, declared & carried out. To those who fought so hard, his conduct is unbearable. I for one toiled not for office, but truly for my country. This per se man, going thus directly in the very teeth of the strongly told will of the people is base treachery. My convictions can honestly give Tyler’s conduct a softer name. I have tried to forget & submit, but can’t do it. I beg you, therefore, to forgive me of your charities think differently on this subject. I am proud of having done my full share in the fight, & get wrothy [?] whenever I recollect myself. Why should I when it is of no use. What does Tyler care? What do the thousand Loco’s retained in office care? They sneer & laugh us to ____. They expected to walk — were ready to go, & not a little astonished that they were not dismissed. Our State Treasurer is an excellent officer. See how quick he’ll go.

Please write me the news. Tell me your opinion of things & how you think parties will work this winter. Will there be any outbreak of jealousy in the Loco foco ranks about the presidency? I cannot but think Tyler wishes a re-election. What think you?

Most respectfully & truly yours, — Tho. Elder

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