The other day when feeling gloomy about the state of affairs of our United States of America, I distracted myself with the book I am writing about a writer, Hannah Stevenson Trimble.
Hannah Trimble was my grandmother, a southern Indiana woman extraordinaire, even if I admit my biases as her granddaughter.
I was immersed in research about the influence of her grandfather, Thomas Burke Stevenson, when a letter from him, dated 1848, turned up which I couldn’t ignore. Thomas Burke Stevenson, editor of many mid-western newspapers, including the Cincinnati Times and Atlas was an active Whig party member and a close friend with Henry Clay, leader of the Whig Party, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House of Representatives and five time unsuccessful presidential candidate.
Thomas B. and Henry Clay maintained an extensive correspondence over many years. The year 1848 was a presidential election year, and his friend Henry Clay was passed over as the Whig Party candidate for Zachary Taylor, a political novice who had never even voted and had a questionable commitment to Whig principles.
The country was becoming ever more divided over slavery and the industrial revolution was underway. These were unsettled times with three parties vying for control, Democrat, Republican and Whig.
For those of us far enough along on the timeline of life and those not of advanced age, this excerpt from his letter may resonate.
Thomas Burke Stevenson to Henry Clay
Ashland, October 29, 1848
My Dear Sir – I duly received your favor of the 23d inst. I have some intention of passing the ensuing winter at the South, and if I go, it will be the middle and last of December. In the meantime, with the exception of about a week that I may be at Louisville (but when I cannot now say) I shall be generally at home. I hope that you will make your proposed visit to me soon after the Presidential election.
I read with attentive interest your reflections on the gloomy state of public affairs and the public mind, and I share in your apprehensions of the future. Knowing, however, the proneness of men of advanced age to look upon their latter times unfavorably, and to draw disadvantageous comparisons between them and the earlier periods of their lives, I have not allowed myself to indulge in those gloomy feelings. But the condition of age is not applicable to you. It is undeniable that the last twenty years of our public career have been marked by violence, fraud, corruption and shameful disregard of principle. In studying the history of our British ancestors, we find similar periods; and yet that nation ultimately purified itself, at least to a considerable extent, and got right again. I entertain hopes that our country may also recover, although I hardly indulge any expectation of living to witness its convalescence
Skipping along several paragraphs he continued:
I regret extremely that your great State is now suffering from the wayward course of its delegation, and I wish that years may not elapse before it again attains the lofty eminence on which it lately stood.
Well; the election is nigh at hand, and fact will soon supersede all speculation.
Thos. B. Stevenson
With our election “nigh at hand” many of us entertain hopes that our country may recover. Until then, I will immerse myself in my grandmother's work and words which influenced many across the country on the topic of growing old. For these gloomy times, I will do as she advised, “steal time filled with intangibles of beauty” and keep in mind the line she often told herself: “Who lives with beauty hath no need of fear.”
Stephanie Smith lives in Camden