John Melish, a traveler in the United States, wrote a detailed and enthusiastic description of the Harmonist settlement at Harmony in Pennsylvania. It is certainly worth reading. What interests us here, however, is the trip to Harmony from Pittsburgh. Today it would be a short drive out into the suburbs. In the early 1800s, it was an all-day ordeal, made possible only by stopping for beer or whiskey at least three times. The route taken by our travelers is probably close to the route of the Perry Highway (U.S. 19) today.
A husband places an advertisement against his absconded wife on the front page of the Kentucky Gazette; his wife responds in the same forum. Their argument is now public knowledge in Lexington and wheresoever else the Gazette penetrates. This is Facebook, 1810 style.
In 1870, an anonymous writer (identified by a librarian’s penciled note as Alfred W. Stanfield) went with the mayor and chief constable on a tour of the lodging-houses of Wakefield in Yorkshire. He recorded his observations in a pamphlet. This is an incalculably rich source of detail for any student of working-class conditions, or any writer of historical novels.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge was a judge in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He was also the first great literary figure of Pittsburgh, where he moved in 1781 and singlehandedly founded a literary culture that continues to this day (one of his foundations being the Pittsburgh Gazette, whose descendant, the Post-Gazette, still straggles on as the second-oldest metropolitan newspaper in America). In this 1804 article, he considers the question of whether a Pennsylvania court can declare a law unconstitutional and therefore void.
From a very amusing piece in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine. The premise is simple: two editors have sat down to sift through the slush pile of manuscripts submitted to their magazine. In this submission, as the writer explains, she has recorded everything that was said in her vicinity while she was writing.
In 1841, an English abolitionist named Joseph Sturge came to the United States to report on the state of slavery there. On his way up the Hudson to Albany, he met a couple who were escaping from slavery in the South. Striking up a conversation with them, he found out how they did it.
A summary of the activity of the Illinois legislature in 1833 mentions that bills for incorporating companies always face stiff opposition. The economic theories on which that opposition is based are so foreign to our modern thinking that it would be difficult to find any legislator of either party who would subscribe to them today. If, dear reader, you hear someone spouting that America has always been the land of free-market capitalism, you may now smugly assert that you know better.
It is hard to express how radically different the thinking of many Southerners was during the Civil War from anything we would recognize in the United States today. We may point, however, to this 1863 article by George Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh completely repudiates the Declaration of Independence and all the principles embodied in it, and lays down a doctrine of absolute tyranny. Down with bills of rights; down with religious toleration; down with the consent of the governed; down with human equality; it would have been better had those ideas never been formed.