William B. Powell to the Editors of The Old Soldier, 12 March 1840To the Editors of the Old Soldier:
As some of those those publications devoted to the interests of Mr. Van Buren bring up the testimony of Gen. Harrison’s enemies to prove that he (the General) is not a great man; I will take the testimony of one of his political enemies, (personal ones he has none) to prove that in no section of the Union an honest office-holder, or friend of his country, has any thing to fear should General Harrison be elected to the Presidency of the United States.1
I took the trouble to write to a friend of mine, an Old Soldier, not unknown in the History of the late war with Great Britain, and who served his country in the field at the same time Gen. Harrison did. This gentleman lives within two or three miles of Gen. Harrison’s farm, knows him well, and has for many years past,—who is an old Jackson man and Van Buren man. Hear what he says:—
“With regard to your enquiries about Gen. Harrison, I can say, I set store by him, and as to the report that he is an abolitionist, it is not the case—he is in favor of colonization.2 He is an honest man and a friend to his country. He is no party man, and if elected President, he will not turn any one out of office on account of political opinions if they conduct themselves well and are honest.
I heard General Harrison in his public address at our last fall election, state, that he was not a party man, and that he had never given a party vote in his life, and never should.”Respectfully yours,WM. B. POWELL.Springfield, Ill. March 12, 1840.
1Amos Kendall, director of the Van Buren re-election bid in 1840, instead of trying to defend the president, who had become increasingly unpopular due to his stumbling response to the Panic of 1837, launched a newspaper campaign attacking Harrison’s physical fitness for office, military exploits, and civic achievements. Gail Collins, William Henry Harrison (New York: Times Books, 2012), 109.
2Southern Democrats accused Harrison, a Virginian born into a slave-holding family, of being an abolitionist based in part on his support among Northern Whigs, whom they argued were dominated by abolitionists, and in part on his membership half a century earlier in the Richmond Humane Society, an anti-slavery organization. Harrison actually had a mixed record regarding slavery. He owned slaves himself--though not while as president. While governor of the Indiana Territory, he worked to suspend the Northwest Ordinance’s prohibition against slavery. While a member of Congress from Ohio, he stated that he was opposed to slavery, but in debates over the extension of slavery to the new states or territories, he sided with pro-slavery Southerners and voted for extension. In his public speeches during the 1840 campaign, he was purposely ambiguous regarding slavery in the Southern states, expansion of slavery into new states and territories, and anti-slavery and abolitionism.
Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 137; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 111; Gail Collins, William Henry Harrison, 12-13, 32, 63..
Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), The Old Soldier (Springfield, IL), 14 March 1840, 3:1.