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[Sargent, Nathan ? attributed author]
Proof copy of a printed circular letter, unsigned, undated – which later bore Sargent’s name, dated Washington, June 23, 1858

folio, single sheet, measuring 7 ½ by 12 inches, formerly folded, light damp-stain, else in very good, clean condition.

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Rare. While there are undoubtedly copies of this circular to be found, as later distributed, there seems to be none listed under Sargent’s name in WorldCat, and it may be that this proof copy is unique.

           A handsomely printed form intended to be sent to disaffected Southern Democrats by former “know Nothings” who hoped to unite northern Republicans with old Whigs in the South in a new political party before the 1860 election. The letter says nothing directly about the hotly contentious issue of slavery, proposing instead to form the new Party around the “Crittenden amendment”, a constitutional compromise proposed by the Senator from Kentucky, guaranteeing the permanent existence of slavery in  the slave states, reinstating the Missouri Compromise and extending the compromise line to the west, with slavery prohibited in the northern states but guaranteed in the South. Sargent’s statement includes much vague rhetoric about nationalism and the rights of American labor, while denouncing the “corrupt and reckless” Democratic Party then in power and demanding prohibition of “the immigration of foreign paupers and criminals, who are instantly transformed into voters, and by whom our elections are often decided”.

            Southern newspapers obtained a copy of Sargent’s letter – and printed it in full – one Georgia paper denouncing this plot by northern “Black Republicans” to “win Southern aid to their effort to defeat the Democratic Party” in the coming presidential election, “by sinking the slavery question … and baiting the American [Know Nothing] Party with the pauper-criminal-immigration sop…”, this being “the same old abolition horde marching under a new flag…”

            In fact, the suspicion had some justification. Nathan Sargent was an ex-Whig journalist and political appointee who had been Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives when Abraham Lincoln served in Congress in the late 1840s. He had been Register of the U.S. Treasury under the Whig Fillmore, then drifted into the Know Nothing Party in the 1850s, staying aloof at first from the new Republican Party because he believed Fremont, its first standard-bearer, was secretly a Catholic. After sending out this letter, he apparently proposed his plan to Lincoln, who responded to his “old friend” that “your platform proposes to allow the spread, and nationalization of slavery to proceed without let or hindrance… Surely you do not seriously believe the Republicans can come to any such terms.” Decides, said Lincoln, the whole idea was a fantasy; the “rotten democracy” (Sargent’s words) had to be “beaten” in the North in 1860 and “no human invention can deprive them of the South.”

           When the Constitutional Union Party was formed on the principles set forth in this letter, Sargent himself was not present at the creation, instead showing his true Republican colors. After Lincoln was elected – partly because the new Party divided the vote – the President regretted being unable to give “my old friend” Sargent what he most wanted – appointment as Post Master of Washington (a job that went to an anti-slavery editor), but seeing that this “wounds him, and consequently me, very deeply”, had him appointed Commissioner of Customs in the Treasury Department, a sinecure he held throughout the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era until President Grant appointed him a federal judge.