This letter was written by 72 year-old David Hamlin Beardsley (1789-1870), the son of Squire and Hannah (Hamlin) Beardsley of Preston, Connecticut. He came to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1826, after have previously lived in Lower Sandusky where he served as a judge and a member of the Ohio Legislature. In 1827, he was appointed collector for the Ohio Canal at Cleveland and continued in that office for almost 23 years. “My salary, he once wrote a friend, “ranged from three hundred to twelve hundred dollars per annum.” He also recalled the following details of Cleveland: “When I first came to Cleveland to reside, the Court House—built of halved logs, clapboarded and painted red—stood on the Public Square nearly opposite where the 1st Presbyterian Church now stands. It was of two stories; the first story as used as a jail; the second, as a Court Room. Thus was there in Cleveland no church or military house used exclusively for religious worship.”
David wrote the letter to his respected friend, the Hon. John Carey (1792-1875)—a contemporary with whom he had long corresponded who was then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D. C. Carey was elected in 1858 to represent Ohio’s 9th District as a Republican. He had previously promoted and was the first president of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad from Sandusky to Dayton about 1845.
This incredible letter between old friends—with the wisdom of seventy years—looks prospectively at the impending war and its financial cost to the nation, without even considering the human cost. It was penned before the First Battle of Bull Run. For Beardsley in particular, the future looked dark and foreboding. “I fear ruin to both sections, to the North as well as the South,” he told his old friend. “Like Killkenny cats, we shall devour each other, leaving scarcely the tails behind.”
June 18, 1861
My much respected friend,
I thank you for the very valuable present you have sent me of two quarto volumes “Explorations for Rail Road Route to the Pacific.” Valuable as these books are of themselves, I still more highly prize them as a token of remembrance from one of my earliest and most esteemed friends in Ohio.
As our country is engaged in a civil war involving probably more serious consequences than any war in which mankind ever before engaged, you will, of course, pardon me for alluding to it. What is to be the result? Although I have a high opinion of your prescience and judgment, I do not think that even you, tho’ an ex-M. C. [military commander] can tell with certainty. You will probably say that the result will be most propitious—that our glorious Union is to be more firmly cemented than before—that the effort of this war will be to prove to the monarchs of Europe and to the civilized world that a Republican government is possible, and, in our case, no failure—and that the future of the United States is to be more prosperous and happy than ever. I pray God this may be the case.
But you know my ruling propensity notwithstanding your friendly efforts to correct it, it to look on the dark side of things; and I fear ruin to both sections, to the North as well as the South. Like Kilkenny cats, we shall devour each other, leaving scarcely the tails behind. We have now under pay some 200,000 troops which the papers say are to be increased to 500,000. To pay this latter number will require, if the gold for this purpose were now in our treasury, $500,000,000 per annum to say nothing of the expense of maintaining the Navy and the other departments of the government. But the money is not in our treasury. It must be borrowed. Our last loan brought but eighty-five cents on the dollar. The next will not bring seventy five cents; and before the war is over (and I think it will require at least three years for entire self-destruction) your bonds will not bring 25 cents on the dollar. Multiply your $500,000,000 by 3—the number of years of the war’s continuance—and we have $1,500,000,000 as the expense of the Army alone. But if your bonds on an average sell say for 50 cents on the dollar, the Army alone will saddle us with a national debt of $3,000,000,000 (three thousand million of dollars!!)
But you will say we are better off than the South in this respect; the North is worth then times as much as they. True—we have the most money, but they the most patriotism and are the best financiers. The first thing the Secessionists did was to authorize a suspension of specie payments by their banks and the latter are now offering the Confederacy a loan of $100,000,000 of dollars, which may be repeated as often as required during the war. And as to depreciation, patriotism—if not positive law—will induce the receipt of their bank notes at par during the war. It will not be safe for a citizen of the confederacy to refuse. If the love he has for the good cause be not sufficient, the fear of the public indignation and a coat of tar and feathers or the latter would cure his hesitancy.
In one thing the secessionists have been greatly mistaken. Whatever opposition they might meet with from the Black Republicans, they were sure they could rely on their fast friends and brother democrats of the North. The Northern democracy would take care of the Black Republicans, leaving the secessionists to do as they pleased—to steal forts, arsenals, navy-yards, sub-treasuries, mines and ships at their pleasure—and finally to march on the federal city and take the Capitol without molestation. In this they have been grievously disappointed; and to me the unanimity at the North looks more like an interposition of Divine Providence than anything I have ever witnessed.
But my letter sheet is filled. Yours very truly, — D. H. Beardsley
[to] Hon. John Carey