May 1861: "The undersigned will give the sums set against our names to sustain Andrew Johnson & the Union men of Tenn. ..."

By Elaine Grublin

Subscription list of men from Massachusetts who pledge to support Andrew Johnson and the Union men of Tennessee, 22 May 1861

Subscription list of men from Massachusetts who pledge to support Andrew Johnson and the Union men of Tennessee, 22 May 1861

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    This four-page document contains a subscription list identifying twenty-two Massachusetts men pledging monetary assistance to pro-Union advocates in East Tennessee in support of their struggle to maintain themselves as citizens of the United States as Tennessee prepares to secede from the Union. The subscription was born out of a meeting (described in a letter from Boston businessman Amos A. Lawrence to Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson) held in the Boston office of Amos A. Lawrence on 22 May 1861. At that meeting, fourteen prominent Massachusetts men, having "undoubted information that a crisis exists in East Tennessee involving the safety of the Union men," recommended that the citizens of Massachusetts lend support to that cause.

    The meeting was called in response to a letter dated 15 May 1861 that Lawrence believed had been sent by Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. In the letter (later revealed to be a forgery as part of a plot to extort northern funds to support the secessionist cause), "Johnson" asks Lawrence for a guarantee of "material aid in the way of money, men & arms" to assist Tennessee's pro-Union men. This letter came one week after Tennessee's state legislature passed a Declaration of Independence and Ordinance of Secession and set 8 June as the date for the popular vote on the issue of secession. There were large concentrations of pro-Union men in East Tennessee, including Johnson himself, and Amos A. Lawrence and the others who attended the meeting hoped that, with their support, Tennessee, or at least some portion of it, could be maintained for the Union.

    The Boston meeting had two primary results. First, a committee of three men--famed orator Edward Everett, Massachusetts Chief Justice Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, and Harvard professor Joel Parker--agreed to personally appeal to President Lincoln to garner federal support for the pro-Union men in Tennessee.  The meeting also generated a subscription of $1760, of which $1560 was collected, to provide money and arms for Tennessee. Fortunately for all involved, the forgery scheme was revealed and Lawrence returned all of the money collected to the subscribers rather than forwarding it to the forger.

    Born on 31 July 1814 to Amos and Sarah Richards Lawrence, Amos Adams Lawrence graduated from Harvard in 1835 and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a successful manufacturer and seller of textiles. He was a political conservative, not an abolitionist, preferring to endorse limiting the spread of slavery, and thus the power of the existing slave states, through legal means. He, like many of his fellow conservatives, felt this would ultimately lead to the demise of slavery while the preserving the Union. In 1854, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he played a leading role in the development of the Emigrant Aid Company, a group created to aid the emigration of northerners to Kansas in support of admitting Kansas as a free state. He gave thousands of his own dollars to this effort in addition to actively raising funds throughout New England. Some of the men on the subscription list featured here were also involved in the Emigrant Aid Company with Lawrence.

    Sources for further reading:

    Both the subscription list and the accompanying letter are from the Amos Adams Lawrence Papers held at the MHS. This collection, coupled with the Amos Adams Lawrence Diaries and Account Books contains hundreds of manuscript pages exploring Lawrence's connections to the Civil War.

    Crouch, Barry A. "The Merchant and the Senator: An Attempt to Save Tennessee for the Union," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications. Vol. 46 (1974), 53-75.

    Graf, Leroy and Ralph W. Haskins, eds. The Papers of Andrew Johnson, volume 4, 1860-1861. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.

    Lawrence, William."Memoir of Amos Adams Lawrence." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Vol. 32 (1899), 130-137.