Lot 101: Samuel F. B. Morse Letter on Lincoln: "If Lincoln is reelected, I shall despair"
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: Lengthy 1864 Autograph Letter Recommending Portrait Artists and Closing with: “If Lincoln is reelected, I shall despair.” ********** MORSE, SAMUEL F. B. (1791-1872). American artist and inventor; creator of the telegraphic code that bears his name; founder of the National Academy of Design. ALS. (“Sam. F. B. Morse”). 2¾pp. 8vo. Poughkeepsie, September 9, 1864. To WILLIAM STICKNEY (1827-1881), co-founder of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (later Gallaudet University) and private secretary to his father-in-law, influential politician and telegraph magnate Amos Kendall (1789-1869). ********** “In reply to yours of the 7th just received, I would say that I am less in the way of knowing who among the various artists to recommend to you, than you suppose. I have been for so long a period separated from Art, that I have not been well posted in the abilities of a new generation of artists who have arisen around me, and more than made good the generation whom they succeed. Huntington, my former pupil and now the Prest. of the Academy, is an excellent painter, who would execute such a portrait well, if his engagements will allow him to undertake it. H. P. Gray is another. Baker is the best portrait painter of the males that I know in the country, but I fear he has too many commissions already, to allow him to undertake it. I commissioned him to paint my daughter nearly two years ago, but he has not yet commenced her portrait. There are others I have no doubt who would do such a commission justice, but without special inquiry which I will make for you when I go to New York, I am at present unable to direct you to any but those I have mentioned. Congratulate for me, Mr. Kendall, on the Chicago nominations. Under the circumstances of the country, none better could have been made. If McClellan & Pendleton are the successful candidates at the November election, I shall have hope of the country. If Lincoln is reelected, I shall despair. With sincerely regard Y[ou]r friend & se[r]v[an]t...” ********** Though best remembered as the inventor of the single-wire telegraph system, Morse was also a talented and renowned artist. His paintings include portraits of political figures such as presidents John Adams and James Monroe and the 1821 Hall of Congress, which depicted the newly constructed capital. Never apolitical, critics often cited his paintings for containing anti-Federalist messages. In 1826, he was instrumental in the founding of the National Academy of Design, of which he served as president (non-consecutively) for more than 20 years. It was in 1825, while in Washington working on a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, that Morse received letters informing him of his wife’s illness and, then, death. He immediately returned to his home in Connecticut only to find that she had already been buried. His heartbreak led to his interest in advancing rapid long-distance communication. ********** In 1832, on a return voyage from Europe he developed the concept of the single-wire telegraph system, whereupon he filed a caveat for his invention with the U.S. Patent Office in September 1837. By 1844, the mechanism that introduced the world to instantaneous electronic communication was in operation. After sending the first telegraphed message, “What hath God wrought!” from the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court to the B&O Railroad depot in Baltimore in 1844, Morse hired lawyer, journalist and politician Amos Kendall as his business manager the following year. Despite legal difficulties and precarious finances, Morse “enjoyed the acclaim, honors, and emoluments of a great inventor and public personage... [and] ultimately... attained to wealth,” (DAB.). ********** The 1864 Democratic National Convention, held August 29-31 in Chicago, sought to unify the party which was split over the Civil War. It nominated war Democrat and controversial Civil War General George B. McClellan (1826-1885) and, as vice president, anti-war Democratic Congressman George H. Pendleton (1825-1889). Despite McClellan’s opposition, the party adopted an anti-war platform at the convention. ********** When lawyer and former Republican Congressman Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) became the sixteenth president of the United States in March 1861, the rift between North and South was already threatening the nation’s peace. One month after he took office, the first shot of the Civil War was fired, beginning the bloody conflict that would engulf his entire presidency. He remains one of America’s most important and revered figures. ********** Because of the secession of 11 Southern states, only 25 states voted in the election on November 8. Lincoln won by a large electoral margin, becoming the first incumbent president to be reelected since Andrew Jackson. However, he only served 42 days of his second term before his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. ********** Daniel Huntington (1816-1906) studied with Morse at New York University beginning in 1836 and became a sought-after portraitist. He immortalized his former teacher in his 1894 The American Projectors of the Atlantic Cable, and served as president of the National Academy of Design from 1862-1870 and, again, from 1876-1891. ********** Henry Peters Gray (1819-1877) studied with Huntington and joined the Academy as a member in 1842, serving as its president from 1870-1871. His portraits were classical in flavor, displaying the influence of Italian masters. ********** American miniaturist and portraitist George Baker (1821-1880), one of the most notable portrait painters of his day, had a long waiting list for portraits as noted in our letter. He was also very active in the Academy. ********** Stickney was a Maine native and lawyer who became Kendall’s son-in-law and private secretary in 1852. He served Kendall in that capacity for the remainder of the latter’s life and edited his autobiography, published in 1872. He co-founded the Columbia Institution with his father-in-law, and served on its board of directors until his death in 1881. ********** Our letter is written from Morse’s summer home in “Po’keepsie,” the elegant Italianate villa Locust Grove, which was completed in 1851 and is now a National Historic Landmark. ********** Boldly penned and signed in Morse’s elegant hand. Normal folding and very fine.