John C. McGowan journal on Baltimore politics, 1859-1861.

McGowan, John C. [Browse]
1 volume 23 x 28.5 cm (approximately 100 pages)


Biographical/​Historical note
John C. McGowan (1833-1916) was a mid-19th century resident of Baltimore, Maryland, who hailed from Ireland and owned the Baltimore grocery firm John McGowan & Sons. Prior to endorsing the Constitutional Union Party during the 1860 presidential election, he belonged to what was then called the Native American Party (circa 1844-1860), which was renamed the American Party in 1855 and is commonly known as the Know Nothing movement.
Summary note
Consists of a manuscript political journal of John C. McGowan (1833-1916), a citizen of Baltimore, Maryland, who was a Know Nothing turned Constitutional Union Party sympathizer just before the American Civil War. The journal contains the text of 32 retained letters and roughly 29 distinct journal entries reflecting one perspective on the tumultuous period in Baltimore's municipal politics and their relation to broader national politics leading up to the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and the American Civil War. The journal offers extensive social and political commentary on both local Baltimore and national events unfolding between August 8, 1859, and April 20, 1861, and reveals McGowan's own conflicted sympathies for the South and North. McGowan appears to have attended numerous conventions and political events in Baltimore, and his entries offer in-depth reportage of these occasions. Throughout, McGowan touches on notable Know Nothing figures such as Samuel Hinks, Nathaniel P. Banks, and Thomas Swann, as well as political contemporaries like James Buchanan and Union Party Baltimore mayor George Brown. Matters relating to Baltimore politics include the Police Bill, the legalization of holidays and holy days, the City Passenger Railway, the City Council, and other issues. A few personal letters leave aside politics altogether, such as when McGowan welcomes his newborn daughter into the world or when he expresses despair on Christmas Day. In one of the earliest retained letters, McGowan writes to one Mr. Hiram of Nashville, Tennessee, on November 7, 1859, explaining to him that "election riots" in Baltimore have recently taken place and have resulted in a "murder before the polls were opened." McGowan portrays Baltimore as plagued by corruption, lawlessness, and "rowdyism;" speaking to the recent local elections, he notes, "illegal voting was the rule, an honest vote the exception." At this time in the late 1850s, the Know Nothings still occupied a considerable presence in local politics. Nativism and law and order proved to be enduring concerns for McGowan; he looked to politicians who promised to "endorse reform, and act to push down the murdering spirit that is now so rife in Baltimore." Many of his retained letters are addressed to David W. Naill, Esq., of Annapolis, Maryland, who served in the Maryland House of Delegates. McGowan's letter addressed to President Abraham Lincoln on May 6, 1861, a copy of which is retained in the journal in full, picks up where his final journal entry leaves off. He expresses his concern that Baltimore mobs may attack Union troops passing through the city en route to Washington and closes by extending his very best wishes to Lincoln.
Source acquisition
Purchase, 2018 (AM 2018-95).
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