I knew Marshall Jewell had been Governor of Connecticut from 1869-1872 but I was surprised to see a letter for sale on eBay that was written by him from St. Petersburg, Russia. He was serving as minister to Russia, a post he held for only seven months. Well, we just had to have it!
Once the letter was safely in our possession, I decided to try to “crack” the code of what he was writing about. I probably will not be able to solve the name of the recipient, who is addressed as Harvey. Jewell agreed with Harvey’s assessment of the President, who I am embarrassed to say I did not know right off (I never was good at remembering all those presidents). U.S. Grant was in his second term in the White House. He appointed Jewell to Russia, but Jewell expressed his personal reservations, even though he realized he “shouldn’t talk it much out loud.” Jewell continued “I fear he will not grow much during this present term.”
So why was Jewell not thrilled with Grant? If you ever got beyond the Civil War in high school history class, you probably recall that Grant’s term earned a reputation of being corrupt. This particular letter, dated November 26, 1873, refers to brokers pressuring Grant to lend banks $44 million from the Treasury reserve after the failure of the investment house Jay Cook & Co. That failure led to a financial panic (hmm, sounds a bit like 2008!). None of this was Grant’s fault directly, but the blame was placed on his administration regardless. Jewell was disgusted by the panic and wished he was closer to home where he felt he could do something productive.
Jewell also discussed the upcoming gubernatorial election in Connecticut. He predicted that Governor Buckingham had a good chance of winning while Joseph Hawley stood the poorest chance. Jewell still had his hand in local politics. He was a man of action, so he did not enjoy all the waiting he had to as ambassador. He had yet to meet the emperor and stated in his letter that he lacked work, although he expected social duties to increase soon with the return of Secretary of the American Legation Eugene Schuyler. Jewell was impressed with Schuyler and the two men agreed that Jewell should be able to negotiate a treaty of naturalization and extradition with Russia, a priority of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish.
That’s a lot of history in a four page letter. It took a lot of research to discover the facts represented in this letter, which is what a historical editor does, and which I often have to in order to make a complete catalog record for a single piece, or a whole collection.
It’s amazing what you can find on eBay- this letter is the perfect example!