So I noticed that a little something signed by A. Lincoln made some big money last year. The 13th Amendment is all very well and good, though not necessarily the kind of material one is apt to find on the shelves of this bookselling concern. Indeed, given my advocacy of “low-spot” collecting, one might have a hard time locating in my office something from a political figure remotely electable, let alone someone who managed to pull off something on the scale of, you know, freeing the slaves.
Which is not to say that historical value is entirely lacking in the detritus of the obscurely Quixotic (or at least the semi-addled) and their attempts to gain political traction. Sorting through a shelf full of uncatalogued controversial or political literature makes history seem less an inevitable expression of the dialectic and more like some kind of rococo funhouse.
I just finished cataloguing an example of one of these guys a few days ago — a nice handbill from what appears to be the 1960 presidential campaign of Homer A. Tomlinson. Tomlinson, head of the Church of God (World Headquarters) thrice ran (unsuccessfully) for the White House on the Theocratic Party ticket (see Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions); as I note elsewhere,
Among the bishop’s proposals were tithes to replace taxes, the King James Bible to replace current civil laws and a promise to “Follow New Revelations in Government and Peace”–this last plank perhaps the most problematic, as a later revelation would lead to Tomlinson (inevitably referred to in contemporary accounts as both “genial” and “eccentric”) crowning himself king of the world.
General J. W. Phelps (1813-1885) might well have appreciated Tomlinson, since compared to the bishop Phelps comes off as an altogether more moderate voice. The general embodied a late efflorescence of national anti-Masonic sentiment (the Anti-Masonic crew having perhaps reached their zenith with William Wirt in 1832), though in at least one instance he makes some telling points about the nature of power and political corruption. Whatever resentment Phelps might have tapped into during his run for the presidency in 1880 was rather overshadowed by the fracas between Garfield and Hancock; Phelps managed to secure only 1,045 votes nationally.
One candidate in the next election who did considerably better than Phelps was Belva Ann Lockwood, the woman who ran on the Equal Rights ticket. Lockwood failed to secure the support of Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who decided to back back the better horse and throw their weight behind Blaine) but still managed to pull down 4,149 votes. And though Lockwood may not have gotten the nod from leading feminist political figures of her day, she did manage to get a published endorsement from the Saratoga “Professor” (the honorific appears self-granted) J. W. Shiveley.
Shiveley had a certain amount of political experience (having earlier been arrested in Washington D.C., where he had come in his role as a self-declared incarnation of the messiah to cast the devil out of presidential assassin Charles Guiteau); he also had a zeal for reform. I have a broadside of his which seems to argue (however obscurely) for civil service reform, financial transparency and a vigorous press; he also presses the case of “darling sweet Belva Ann Lockwood, for President of these United States.” As with his earlier efforts with Guiteau, this endorsement appears to have had only marginal success.
This brief essay had begun in my head as a comment on Seattle bookseller Michael Lieberman’s observation on the disappearing “middle class” of books, with perhaps a supporting digression on the future of the trade as laid out by the proprietor of the Brick Row Book Shop in San Francisco. Perhaps I will get to those thoughts later. In the meantime, I will recommend you secure a copy of ‘If Elected . . .’: Unsuccessful Candidates for the Presidency 1796-1968 (Washington: National Portrait Gallery, 1972); also, I throw out the observation that the items described above suggest that while history may be written by the winners the losers certainly leave ample traces.