Boutwell letter about Israel Farnsworth

The letter transcribed below is in private hands. The top of the first page has been torn off, so the date it was written cannot be precisely ascertained. It clearly dates to the latter part of George S. Boutwell’s term as Secretary of the Treasury (1869-1873), and was apparently written from Washington D.C. to his daughter at the family home in Groton, Massachusetts.

My dear Georgie,

I hope your mother is feeling better. Tell her Mrs. Grant wished to be remembered to her. That should cheer her up.

Much of my time is spent in discussion with members of the United States House of Representatives on measures to stabilize the currency. There is considerable naïve sentiment for a return to a bimetallic standard, particularly among Representatives from the western states. Their talk of a historic tradition cloaks the bribes they have received from the silver mining interests to support silver as part of the standard. But my explanation of the failings of bimetallism, and the spread of the gold standard across civilized countries, is making headway in Congress.

I received a package from the delegation sent out by the Emperor of Japan. They are now in Europe. One of the young men, whom you knew, has included a portrait of himself, endorsed to you. I am sending it to you under separate cover.

Speaking of the Japanese delegation, I had a visit from an old Boston acquaintance. Do you remember Mr. Israel Farnsworth? He is an older man of medium height, gray hair, and always wears black. He occasionally came to visit us in Groton when I was Secretary of the Board of Education. I recall he once told you a story of a relative of his who was reputed to be a witch, and you played at being a witch for weeks afterwards. I did not see much of him after the Rebellion broke out. Despite being a Republican, he was originally weak on the abolition of slavery and opposed going to war to put down the Rebellion. I understand he has since become an enthusiastic supporter of the Civil Rights Act and the amendments to the Constitution we have passed in recent years.

I mention him in connection with the Japanese delegation because they left me a walking stick to present to Mr. Farnsworth, in gratitude for some service he had performed for the Tycoon of Japan many years ago. I had written to Israel, offering to bring the stick to him in Boston. He had replied, saying he would come to Washington when convenient, as he wished to see the city once again, and to congratulate me on my role in the President’s cabinet.

Israel came to see me at my office yesterday. He thanked me for holding the walking stick for him, and spent some time appreciating its beauty. I gave him a tour of the Treasury Department, and we had an interesting conversation about the future role of paper currency.

At the end of the day, I joined him at his lodgings for dinner. You may recall Israel was a confirmed bachelor back in the 1850s. No more. He has a wife who appears to be in her twenties, very much younger than him, for he must be in his sixties, and a household of seven girls of varying ages. Some are his children by his wife, some are her sisters, and one is a cousin. You would like Mrs. Farnsworth, Georgie. Once she understood that I had labored to secure the franchise for the former slaves, she bluntly asked me if I was willing to support women’s suffrage. As she put it, when men who were so stupid and false to the Nation’s ideals that they took part in the Rebellion were being allowed to reclaim the vote, it was absurd that women who had supported and worked for the Union could not be allowed to vote.

I would say that being the only man in a household of women has softened Israel’s character. Otherwise it is not much changed. The children and young ladies were all well behaved until the bedtime for the youngest, whereupon they all pressed Israel for a story. Israel apologized to me for the interruption, and then told them all a story about how he had gone to Japan and defeated an evil magician who was ruler of a province there. It was as fine a yarn as those he told you years ago. No doubt one of the children will imagine herself a magician in Japan for weeks to come.

I must invite Israel and his family up for a visit when I am at home for a spell. Remind Frank to send me the accounts of the farm.

Your father,

[signed, George S. Boutwell]

2 Responses to Boutwell letter about Israel Farnsworth

  1. danagpeleg1 says:

    I loved the ending : “I must invite Israel… for a spell.”

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