Document 14: Letter from Martha Coffin Wright to Charles Pelham, typescript, 20 December 1860, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.


       In the following letter, Martha Wright responded to her nephew Charles Pelham’s letter about the election of Lincoln and secession (see Document 13). Although his letter had clearly angered her, Martha stated that Charles possessed the “same undoubted right” to his opinions as she had to hers, and ended the letter “with much love.” She also sent him information on the other cause of great interest to her, the woman’s rights movement.

                                                         Auburn, Dec. 20, 1860

My dear nephew:

       The receipt of your letter, after so long a silence, gave me great pleasure, even tho’ I must still differ from you in sentiment as earnestly as ever. I have often thought of you with the affectionate regard that I must ever cherish for all your family, and have felt the impulse to write, but how did I know that my letter coming from the North, would escape the surveillance of your Vigilance Committees, and that it might not subject you to the annoyance of questionings from those miscreants, if it did not bring upon you some severer ordeal?

       Many a man as innocent as yourself of any abolition proclivities, has been somewhat roughly handled for the possession of documents less “incendiary” than my letters. It is hard for us of the North to understand how high-spirited Young America at the South, can tamely submit to the tyranny, that suppresses freedom of speech, violates the sacredness of correspondence, and compels to an ignominious silence every man who doubts the wisdom of the present revolutionary movements at the South.

       As to the election of Lincoln, I am not so much delighted as you imagine, because I do not feel at all sure that he has the courage to meet the present emergency, and that he will not by a temporizing policy, and a mean spirit of compromise, put back the day of universal emancipation for the masters as well as the slaves of the South.

       While you are prohibited by a despotism worse than Austrian, from welcoming your relatives and friends from the Free States, it is tantalizing for you to express the wish that Marianna and myself were “settled at the South,” and cruel to say “till then a long farewell,” when you know, that delightful as a visit to you, and to that beautiful region would be, if we could shut our eyes to the horrors of slavery, the moment of our advent would be signalized by impertinent questioning from an irresponsible mob, and an ignominious departure insisted on, accompanied perhaps by cruelties, that you, with all your kindness, and your generous and loving nature, would be utterly powerless to prevent:--and this, while insisting on the “compromises of a Constitution” that guarantees to citizens of each state, equal rights in every other state. In your immediate neighborhood, such things may not have occurred, but if you are permitted to see any Northern papers, whose editors dare to speak like freemen, you must be aware of the repeated occurrences, in New Orleans and elsewhere, to which I allude.

       You regret that we live North of 36°-30"as you “shall rejoice to hear of the bread mobs etc. at the North”--I know that you do not wish that we individually should be subjected to mob violence, any more than we wish that you, personally, may be the sharers in the inevitable bankrupsy that will result from a persistence in the present course of the South; – or a sufferer from the pestilence and famine that are said to tread on the heels of War, and that are now dimly foreshadowed;--or from the negro insurrections that are sure to arise, and to be successful, the moment the North with-holds the protection hitherto guaranteed to the South.

       I am astonished at the blindness that leads you to speak of “the spirit of our forefathers to resist oppression, and to throw off the chains which would make them the slaves of a tyrannizing majority,” when you remember that the blood of those forefathers runs in the veins of innumerable slaves, as is unmistakably indicated in their complexion, and that their growing intelligence, makes the motto “Resistance to tyrants, is obedience to God” full of significance. Therefore I am sorry you did not carry out your intention of going to the Northwest, taking your “few negroes” instead of selling them, to convince you, as grateful freemen, requited for their labor, than as irresponsible, hopeless slaves.

       Very many at the North, are ready to welcome peaceable secession, if that were practicable, as the inevitable precursor of emancipation, and as a fore-runner of a new confederacy of all the states that would be “uncursed by the blood of slaves.”

       No apology is needed for the freedom of expression in your former letters, to which we both have the same undoubted right. I only regret that you do not see as clearly as Jefferson did, the inevitable result of conflict between wrong and injustice on the one hand, and the eternal and unchanging principle of right, on the other. But if you wait until “Alabama takes a high position among the Nations of the Earth,” I shall hardly live to offer my congratulations on your conversion.

       Your brother John[A] has graduated at West Point, I suppose, before this time; But I thought that Lieutenants graduated from there had to serve a few years in the U. S. Army. Has he seceded? We hoped to see him before his return to the South. We have not heard from the family in Ky.[B] nor from your Uncle William[C] in a long time.

       Thomas and Marianna and their three little girls, are well.

       You asked me in a former letter to recommend to you some publication from which you could learn the present position of the Woman's Rights movement. I send herewith a copy of the Proceedings of the last Convention[D], which will give you the information you ask.

       With much love to yourself, and affectionate remembrance to your father,--whether in a united or divided confederacy,

                                                                   Yr. Aunt Martha C. Wright


A. Charles’s brother John was still at West Point, but soon would resign and take up arms for the Confederacy (see documents 16 and 17).
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B. Charles’s uncle, John Pelham, and several of John’s sisters residing with him in Maysville, Kentucky, had previously corresponded with both Martha and Marianna.
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C. Martha and Marianna would hear from William Pelham, Charles’s Uncle, in August 1861, when he wrote an angry letter to them from a Union Prison (see Document 18).
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D. Presumably the Proceedings of the 10th National Woman’s Rights Convention, held in New York City in May 1860. Martha presided over this convention, the last that was held before the war.
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