Dead ends and red herrings

Madison
N.J.
27 May 1869

Dear Creswell

1)    I sail for England next Wednesday. I do not know Mr. Motley personally, and may need to call on him. Can you give me a letter of introduction to him?

2)    While in Europe in 1860-1864, I learned many things and men, as you perhaps know. I shall see some of the most important liberals. Arthur, Lothius–perhaps Foster & Bright. I want to talk s(l)ightly. The points lie in my mind about as follows: 1. England has committed a wrong, as her chief public men have admitted. 2. We ask reparation for this wrong: she offers, instead, a doubtful & complicated arbitration. 3. We decline this–and simply stand there. Am I right? I shall tell them all that General Grant wants no more wars: that the American people want none.

As to the demand for apology, or the like, for the recognition of belligerent rights, I shall give that up; as our government will have to give it up.

Yours with high regard,
John McClintock

The Hon. J. A. J. Creswell

A reply mailed by Saturday will reach me here: if sent on Monday, it should be addressed care of John Elliot Esq. East 15th St. 1st door east of 2nd Avenue   New York

VERSO: Did not reach me until 5 o’clk 31 May 69.
Doctr John McClintock May 27th   1869.

*Transcriber unknown, taken from the Creswell collection at Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections, Carlisle, PA.

The first page of the McClintock-Creswell letter

I found this letter on my last visit to the Dickinson College Archives, and on this visit it was my goal to figure out what it meant and why a former Dickinson professor was writing to his student of 21 years before, and, if I could, to find more correspondence between the two. A quick search in Wikipedia for United Kingdom-United States relations in the 1860′s gave me a little bit of background information on the situation: In 1865, the British ship, the CSS Alabama, sailed under the Confederate flag and raided US ships. After the war, Great Britain admitted no wrong-doings, yet settled for paying the cost of damages caused by this ship. I was assuming that this is the “wrong” that McClintock had spoken of, and as this letter was filed in the archives under the heading, ‘Alabama claims‘, I was pretty confident in my guess.

I also did a little bit more research before going to the archives: I had asked Chris Bombaro about the photo she took of the newspaper clipping with Creswell’s name beneath it. She said she found it totally out of context in the Historical Society of Cecil County, MD, and suggested that perhaps it was from the Cecil Whig or the Cecil Democrat. I was able to find some information on these papers, and discovered that the clipping couldn’t have come from the Democrat, because it didn’t start circulating until 1850. The Whig was established in 1841, and therefore still remains a possibility for containing this newspaper clipping. Unfortunately, this paper is not digitized, and I would have to view it on microfilm at the Maryland State Archives. According to the Archives site, I would have to view either film M 7433-1 or film M 7434-1.

Armed with this information, I set off to the archives. My first step when I arrived was to find Creswell’s graduation oration which I hadn’t had the time to find during my last visit. I looked him up in the library catalogue, and was relieved to see that this, at least, was available for my immediate viewing. Unfortunately, though, it did not contain the reference to the McClintock riots of the previous year as I was hoping, but was instead a speech on Italy’s struggle for independence under Pope Pius IX.

Creswell's speech in favor of emancipation

The search through the catalogue did lend itself to the finding of some other interesting information on John Creswell, though. I found the “Speech of Hon. John A.J. Creswell, of Maryland, on the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States : delivered in the House of Representatives, January 5th, 1865,” given during his time as US Senator. This speech argued for the ratification of the amendment to the Constitution that would make slavery illegal in the US. It was interesting for me to see firsthand that Creswell was an abolitionist during his late years, whatever his stance was on the McClintock riot. I also found a student paper written by alum Richard Lee Epstein (class of 1973) entitled, “The Dickinson Career of John A. J. Creswell.” This gave me a general sense of the kind of student Creswell was (one dedicated to studying and refusing to get caught up in the late-night shenanigans of his peers; one, also, who had trouble in Classical Studies, taught by Professor John McClintock–a fact I found rather amusing since his graduation speech was on Italy and Pope Pius IX), and led me to new sources through its bibliography. I noticed that Epstein cited a book called Life and Letters of the Rev. John M’Clintock, which I then paged through to see if there was any mention of a correspondence between him and the Postmaster General of the Unites States. Unfortunately, this was yet another dead end.

Finally, the catalogue turned up a “Letter of John A. J. Creswell to the first comptroller of the treasury : compensation of the counsel of the United States before the court of commissioners of Alabama claims.” In this letter, Creswell adamantly denied a claim that he had somehow falsified his salary as counsel of the court of commissioners. I picked this letter to read because I saw the phrase Alabama claims, but as far as I am aware, the British government had paid up the 15.5 million dollars that it owed by 1872, and this letter was written on September 11, 1885, 13 years after the affair was over. This is a question I still have, and I’m not sure how to go about answering it.

It’s tempting to feel frustrated at all of the dead ends and red herrings that I keep stumbling upon in my research, but when I really think about it, each document, relating to McClintock or not, gives me an insight into the life of John Creswell. And not only was he a notable lawyer and venerable politician, but a Dickinson student as well, a part of the same legacy as I am. I had one of the coolest moments the other day in the archives, totally unrelated to John McClintock or Creswell’s great accomplishments. I was thumbing through a file of his correspondences in the archives’ Creswell collection and found a letter to Creswell asking him to pardon a young confederate prisoner who had promised to take the oath. Creswell forwarded this note to none other than President Abraham Lincoln, who responded on the back:

Let this man take the oath of Dec. 8, 1863 & be discharged.
A Lincoln
March 17, 1865

 I couldn’t believe I was actually holding in my hands the signature of one of the greatest men in American history. And I knew Creswell had held it too. In awe, I carefully tucked it back into its folder for the next Dickinson student to find.

EDIT: It turns out that this Lincoln note was previously omitted from the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln and is currently unpublished on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln website.

One thought on “Dead ends and red herrings

  1. Great work. We will talk about your Lincoln note tomorrow in class but could you send me more details on exactly where you discovered it.

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