1844: Jefferson H. Beckwith to Joseph Rickelson Williams

This letter was written by Jefferson H. Beckwith (1813-1865), a native of Ontario County, New York. Beckwith studied law at Ellicottville, New York, and was admitted to hte New York bar. He came to Michigan Territory in 1830, settling near Ann Arbor. Later he relocated to East Plains, Ionia County (now part of Lyons). He was a farmer politician — “tenacious of his opinions and always ready to defend them. He was respected for his honesty and his word was as good as his note.” He never married. [Source: Early History of Michigan, 1888]

From the letter we learn that Beckwith was nominated by fellow Whigs to be an elector in the fall elections of 1844 but he has been characterized as an abolitionist by those who would oppose his selection. He announces his intention to travel to Jackson, Michigan, and other cities where he vows to clear his reputation as an honest man, a staunch supporter of the Constitution and a laborer in the Whig cause.

Joseph R. Williams

Joseph R. Williams

Beckwith addressed the letter to Joseph Rickelson Williams (1808-1861), the oldest son of Captain Richard Williams, a highly respected shipmaster, and Rebecca (Smith) Williams. He was a lineal descendant on his father’s side of the Puritan Governor Winslow.

“At the age of sixteen, Joseph Williams entered Sandwich Academy where he studied under Luther Lincoln. Williams graduated from Harvard in 1831 with distinguished honors. He then studied law in the office of John Paris of Worcester, was admitted to the Bar, and began practicing law in New Bedford, MA.

Because of ill health, however, Williams relinquished his law career in 1835, and traveled to Toledo, Ohio, as the agent of a New England company seeking land investments. He remained in Toledo until 1839 when he moved to Constantine, Michigan, where he invested heavily, particularly in the construction and operation of flour mills. While in Constantine, Williams became actively involved in politics. He was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1850, twice the Whig candidate for Congress, and twice the Whig candidate for the United States Senate against Lewis Cass.

In May, 1853, Williams returned to Toledo and purchased the Toledo Blade, a local newspaper. Under his management the Blade became the leading advocate of Republican principles in Northern Ohio. He took prominent and influential positions in public affairs, especially in political matters.

In 1856, Williams sold the Blade to Clark Waggoner and G.T. Steward in order to assume the duties of the first President of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan when it opened in May, 1857. Williams resigned the position after serving for two years.

Williams was elected to the State Senate of Michigan in 1860 and was named presiding officer. With the resignation of Lieutenant Governor, Hon. James Birney, Williams became the acting Lieutenant Governor of the State. He held this position until his death on June 15, 1861, in Constantine, Michigan at the age of 52. He left a wife, Sarah Rowland Langdon Williams, whom he had married on May 28, 1844 at Buffalo, New York. She was a daughter of John Langdon. Three daughters survived Williams: Charlotte Langdon, the wife of John F. Kumler; Sibyl, the wife of Kent Hamilton; and, Rebecca, the wife of Wm. H. Cooper of New York.” [Source: Michigan State University Collections]

1844 Letter

1844 Letter

Addressed to J. R. Williams, Esqr., Constantine, [St. Joseph County] Michigan

Lyons, [Ionia County, Michigan]
August 20th 1844

J. R. Williams, Esqr.
Dear Sir,

Yours of the 5th inst. in this moment received. I perused it with mingled sensations of gratitude & regret. You write me there are personal prejudices against me in the central part of the district, that the cause of my country & the cause of him who it has ever been my pride both to admire & defend should suffer through personal objection to me is a source of pain & disquietude that I cannot easily dissipate. You are kind enough to apprise me of what is going on & charitable enough to say that you “hope it amounts to nothing” and suggest that I “put our friends in a condition to defend” for this timely & necessary information as a co-laborer in the good cause. I thank you as it relates to my personal reputation. I am more than obliged.

Happy should I be if I could suggest any course of action or specific thing to be done in order to counteract these efforts, but I cannot, for believe me, my dear sir, I am totally in the dark. I cannot even suggest to my imagination from what quarter this breeze is blowing. In short, of what name or nature a charge prejudicial to reputation could come. You will pardon me for expressions which under other circumstances would be egotistical, vain, and improper. I have said I know not what charge is brought against me — but this I do know — that no charge can be justly preferred against me involving my reputation as a man of honor, probity, fidelity to the Whig cause or a gentleman. Thus much I am forced to say vain & pharisaical then it be. My name was presented to the consent of Cyrus Lovell — a man well known in Kalamazoo, Calhoun & Jackson — a true Whig & a politic & prudent one — a man of too much consideration to jeopardize the success of the common cause by _____ — an individual for Elector whose moral character for fidelity was assailable. The nomination was not obtained by any solicitation of mine nor was it sought after by me, but, at the earnest solicitation of [Cyrus] Lovell, Porter & other leading Whigs of our county I consented for my name to be presented to the Convention.

All I can say then is if any charges are made  inimical to the forgoing positions is to respond in the language of James FitzJames to Rodrick ___

“Of all the clan come to the best
I’ll print the libel on their crest”

I have been a steady, uncompromising foe to political abolitionism but I hope a consistent & prudent one. I have not done ought either in word or deed that I would not feel bound to say or do again at any time or place on Earth — or (if it were possible to get up such a god defaming issue) in the Court of Heaven. Slavery I never advocated or sustained — not the institution of slavery — no further than they were sustained by the laws & Constitution of our common country. I am so unfortunate as to have no personal acquaintance in Jackson or I should write there.

Your kindness in representing me favorably to your friends will ever be remembered with a lively sense of gratitude. I shall accept your invitation to come to your place. Hear from your friends in Jackson what are the nature of the charges preferred against me. I shall go amongst them & repel these slanderers if I can learn who they are.

I shall take Kalamazoo in my rant to your place & turn there & go to Battle Creek & Marshall on my way to Jackson if provisions similar to what you propose in your section are made for me by the friends in Kalamazoo, Marshall, & other places. I will spend a month or more amongst you if I can be of service.

In the larger towns such as Marshall & Kalamazoo &c., you may give the Tall Polk—ats to come up to the contest. I shall be most happy in having an opportunity of ringing their necks, altho I might call forth some of the effluvia peculiar to that class of animals. I make arrangements for your meetings & I will apprise you when I will be there.

Yours truly, — J. H. Beckwith

P. S. If you think proper, you can copy or send this to our friends at Jackson. — J. H. B.

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