I recently came across four letters in our catch-all “Miscellaneous Manuscripts” boxes that provided a real aha moment. The letters were written by Amos Laurence of Brookline, Massachusetts, to Abby Smith of Glastonbury, Connecticut. Abby is one of the Smith sisters whose claim to fame is that they refused to pay their town taxes because as single women they had no representation in town government. The town took their cows in lieu of payment. News of their plight evidently made it all the way to Boston. Laurence seems to be rather progressive–on January 14, 1874, he wrote:
The account of y[ou]r hardships is interesting and y[ou]r action will be highly beneficial in bringing the subject to public notice, and in leading to the correction of a great injustice. The taxation of the property of women without allowing them an representation even in Town affairs is to unfair that it seems only necessary to bring it to public view to make it odious and to bring about a change. Therefore you deserve the greater honor not only because you have suffered in agood cause, but because you have set an example that will be followed and that will lead to happy results.
He continues with some examples:
In the town where this is written [i.e. Brookline] a widow pays into the town treasury $7830 a year, while 600 men, a number equal to half the whole number of voters pay $1200 in all. . . . That is, each one of 600 men who have no property, who pay only a poll tax, and many of whom cannot read or write, has the power of voting away the property of town, while the female owners have no power at all.
In an earlier letter Amos wrote about excess spending by various levels of government. Yet another example of how, no matter the amount of time that has passed, nothing changes.
If you take the New York papers you will have seen recently the results of “manhood” suffrage without qualifications, in the annual addresses of the Governors of States. What a piling up of state and municipal indebtedness! Has there ever been seen in the history of governments such a reckless expenditure of money, the greatest part of w[hic]h has been borrowed.
I wonder what he would think of the current threat of the “fiscal cliff”?
In his third letter he celebrates that there was a movement in town to buy back the Smith sisters’ cows and present them to their rightful owners, which is exactly what happened. The Smith sisters are folk heroes in Glastonbury, and here at CHS we have their mother’s diary (see the earlier blog entry about Hannah Hadassah Hickock), Julia’s translation of the Bible and her diaries (Ms Smith, Julia), published books about the sisters, and a portrait of their house, which is still standing in Glastonbury.