John Bingham–Grass Roots Organizer
One frustrating thing about my research on John Bingham is that I have not found many new primary sources. In other words, I’ve gone through all of the known materials and am trying to track down the missing ones (I’ll say more next week about what might be in them), but I have not located much that was unknown. There is, however, one significant exception.
What follows is an excerpt of a letter from Bingham to Salmon P. Chase written in 1845, when Bingham was a private lawyer in Ohio. I think that this letter has not been quoted until now:
“I think I may safely vouch for Liberty men generally in this vicinity, that your views and suggestions are fully approved. We try to be as active as possible, in efforts to advance the cause, though we labor under many discouragements. The counties of Scioto, Lawrence, Jackson, Gallia, and Meigs, are collectively, perhaps as inveterately Proslavery, as the same number of contiguous counties any where else in the State. If there be any portion of the Ohio field demanding a greater share of anti-slavery Labor than any other, it would seem that these central frontier counties embrace that portion, and yet . . . have been wholly neglected. Not a single Lecturer, document, or even extra newspaper has ever, to my knowledge, been sent into either of these counties, or any other kind of labor bestowed under the State Society’s patronage. We have felt entirely neglected, and not a little surprised that the Committee should have found time to . . . direct three copies of their circular to the Post Office at Pine Grove. For myself, hoping against hope I almost felt like hailing the circumstance as the harbinger of better days. . . . . [T]he sending of Lecturers and printed documents into any part of the field where Liberty men are too few, or too poor to pay the expense, . . . seems to me imperative. No doubt an immense amount of good might be done here, just in this very neighborhood, by the single week’s labor of a good Speaker . . . Being 10 miles from Gallipolis, back from the river, just far enough from that miserable pro-slavery atmosphere to be able to take breath without the danger of suffocation, and by dint of effort, obtained an under-current in our favor if we can . . . make a demonstration here, the influence will be seen and felt throughout the five counties . . . I pray you if possible, send us a laborer for a short time this fall, one who has a missionary spirit, whose heart and soul is in the cause; who will be willing to address small meetings or large ones, who will go from neighborhood to neighborhood, from one appointment to another . . . until this half-dead community shall begin to wake up and show signs of life . . .
It is all a mistake, that nothing can be done . . . in the large, wealthy, and populous portions of the State. There people are entirely too fashionable—and it is just as different to get them to lay aside fashionable politics, as the fashionable . . . coat, or frock, or pair of breeches. In the country we [are] not so accustomed to ape the fashions of the great, and considerations founded on moral truth and patriotism have more easy access to the heart and conscience, and produce more corresponding action.”
Bingham was 30 when he wrote this, and what’s striking to me is how similar it sounds to what any civil rights lawyer in any age might say. Next week I’ll be in Cadiz (Bingham’s home for most of his life), and I’ll post from there if I find anything worthwhile in the local archives.