steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Founding Fathers

I've written here a couple times about my great*4 grandfather Weeden Butler's correspondence with the American planter and Constitutional Convention delegate for South Carolina, Pierce "no relation" Butler, whose son was a pupil at Weeden's Cheyne Walk school in the 1780s. They wrote to each other over a long period, and much of the correspondence is collected in When the States Were Young, which I've read, though it's a slightly frustrating volume for me as it concentrates very much on Pierce's half and I'm more interested in what was going on in London. Anyway, somehow I'd nevertheless managed to miss the fact that in October 1787, having just signed off the Constitution of the United States, Pierce wrote to Weeden:

"a Copy of the result of Our deliberations ... is not worth the expence of postage, or I wou'd now Enclose it to you".

Which is how my family came not to own a contemporary copy of the US Constitution, and is a nice insight into what Very Important Events can look like close up.

Tangentially, the whole page I linked to above is quite interesting on Pierce's involvement with slavery, which he probably felt obliged to justify given that Weeden's was a very much an abolitionist family. The way he tells it, he'd like nothing better than to get rid of his slaves, but they just won't go, knowing that they'd be worse off on their own. (It doesn't seem to occur to him that he could not only free them but give - or rather, pay - them some land/money so that they could be independent.) I feel a little cynical on the point, since it was Pierce Butler who introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause to the Constitution, which doesn't seem like the act of an abolitionist manqué, however keen the folks back in SC may have been on it. I wonder though whether it was a figure such as Pierce described himself as being whom Weeden's son (also Weeden) had in mind when he portrayed the "good" slave owner Wilmot in Zimao the African (1800). Sadly, none of them is around to ask.
Tags: family history
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