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Quaker Farmer Writes to Congressman Morgan to Condemn Stephen Douglas’ Nebraska Bill Allowing Slavery in New Territories
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what shall I say of Douglas’s infamous Nebraska bill now I suppose pending in the Senate  I feel indeed at a loss for language to convey my abhorrence of so vile a scheme.... I never knew such united indignation against any thing as pervades the community here respecting the bill…

A Quaker farmer in western New York writes to his representative in Congress, mentioning a petition (not present) and universal opposition. He praises Morgan’s letter to New Yorkers as “plain unvarnished protest against wickedness.” Within three months, the Nebraska bill became the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

JOHN SEARING. Autograph Letter Signed, to Edwin B. Morgan, February 20, 1854, Poplar Ridge, New York. 2 pp. plus integral address leaf, 7¾ x 9¾ in.

Inventory #25145       Price: $1,250

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Poplar Ridge 2ndmo 20th 1854

Esteemed friend

E B Morgan

            It has afforded me pleasure to be remembered by thee in the reception of the speech by Gerrit Smith in the house of representatives  I also recd one or two other packages some time ago for all of which I return my sincere thanks  Subjects of deep interest engage the attention of both the State and national councils & should the latter act with as much wisdom, as I trust the former has thus far, on one important subject at least, there would be cause of rejoicing; I suppose the fate of the Canal is about settled it is to be completed forthwith. But what shall I say of Douglas’s infamous Nebraska bill now I suppose pending in the Senate  I feel indeed at a loss for language to convey my abhorrence of so vile a scheme. I have read thy letter to the New Yorker’s and was much pleased with it  I considered it a plain unvarnished protest against wickedness. I think I never knew such united indignation against any thing as pervades the community here respecting the bill I have mentioned  It appears to be irrespective of sects or parties  I think those northern members who may see fit to vote for it, ought to have the benefit of having their names put on parchment and posted through the length and breadth of the land  I hope Gov Seward[1] is not struck dumb with the amount of perfidy threatened but that he will ere long in the right time protest against it with that logical clearness that so characterizes his speeches  please give my best respects to him if convenient <2>

            There seemed to be so much feeling here on the subject of the Nebraska Bill that I thought best to endeavor to demonstrate it  I have accordingly got up a remonstrance which I shall trouble thee with. could I have time to go around with it I could no doubt enlarge the numbers of signers to an almost unlimited extent, for all seem desirous to sign it; but I haste to send it before the iniquity shall be consummated

                                                                        Respectfully thy friend

                                                                        John Searing


[Return Address:] Poplar Ridge / Feby 20

[Address:] E. B Morgan, M.C / Washington / D.C.

[Docketing:] John Searing / Feby 20/54

Historical Background

On January 4, 1854, Senator Stephen Douglas introduced the Nebraska Bill which sought to organize the vast Nebraska Territory (now Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and parts of Colorado and Idaho) under the principle of popular sovereignty, which allowed the territory’s residents to decide whether they wanted slavery. This would have repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery north of the southern border of Missouri (except for Missouri, where slavery was allowed). On January 23, an identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. Debate began throughout the nation. On March 4, less than two weeks after Searing wrote this letter, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 37 to 14. When the House voted in late March to refer the bill to the Committee of the Whole as a delaying tactic, President Pierce made the act a question of Democratic party loyalty. On May 8, debate began in the House. Two weeks later, when Ohio Representative Lewis D. Campbell led a filibuster against the bill, Virginia Representative Henry A. Edmundson had to be restrained from making a violent attack. The sergeant at arms arrested Edmundson, and debate was cut off. On May 22, the House passed the bill by a vote of 113 to 100, with 21 abstentions. Morgan was one of 51 northern Whigs who voted against the bill, which President Pierce signed into law on May 30.

The Society of Friends (Quakers) were the first organization to take a collective stand against both slavery and the slave trade. Throughout the nineteenth century, Quakers increasingly took part in antislavery activism, and Searing’s opposition to the Nebraska Bill fits in this long tradition of Quakers’ antislavery stand.

John Searing (1796-1884) moved from Long Island to Poplar Ridge, Cayuga County, in 1823. He lived there until his death six decades later. A farmer, minister, and member of the Scipio Monthly Meeting, he contributed to organizations assisting African American refugees and Swarthmore College. The Friends’ Intelligencer printed a two-column tribute to him when he died. His daughter Anna Hutchinson Searing taught freed blacks in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. She then attended medical school and became an early New York woman physician.

Edwin Barber Morgan (1806-1881) became a clerk in his father’s mercantile business at age thirteen and managed it at age twenty-one. He bought and shipped agricultural products and built boats. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms, from 1853-9, he was successively a member of the Whig, Opposition, and Republican parties. He supported high tariffs, Free Soil, and the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. He was a director and the first president of Wells Fargo Express Co, organized in 1852 by his neighbor Henry Wells, who had been in 1850 a founder of the American Express Company, for which Morgan also served as a director. In 1854, Morgan founded the United States Express Company to provide similar express mail services for the southern states. During the Civil War, Morgan raised and equipped New York regiments. He later served as president of Wells College from 1878 to his death, and as a trustee of Cornell University (1865-1874) and Auburn Theological Seminary (1870-1881).


Old folds. The address leaf is torn where seal was opened, with old tape repairs not affecting the letter.

[1] William H. Seward, who had been governor of New York from 1839 to 1842, represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1849 to 1861, and was a leading opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

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