This interesting letter was written by Brown Bryan (1797-18554), the son of Lemuel Bryan (1772-1832) and Rebecca Alston (17xx-1835) of Roanoke River in North Carolina. Brown Bryan married Martha Ann VanCleve Smith (1808-1891) in 1824. They resided in Cheraw, Chesterfield County, South Carolina, where Bryan worked as the postmaster.
Bryan wrote the letter to Alexander Gurdon Abell (1818-1890), the son of Gordon Alexander Abell (1788-1867) and Anna E. Morgan (1788-1861).
In early 1843, President John Tyler began his quest to annex Texas into the union, believing this initiative was his only chance to get reelected. Though elected on the Whig ticket as a Vice President to William Henry Harrison, and elevated to the Presidency after Harrison’s death in office, Tyler showed his true colors as a Democrat while President and alienated himself from his Whig supporters. To secure the annexation of Texas, Tyler began the process of replacing cabinet members with pro-annexation politicians and to improve his public image. In exchange for an appointment as consul to Hawaii, journalist Alexander G. Abell — a former secretary of President Tyler — wrote a flattering biography called The Life of John Tyler.
The library at Syracuse University houses a collection of 26 letters (see Alexander G. Abell Correspondence) of a similar nature as this letter which were all between 1843 and 1844 in response to a mail canvass for subscribers to Abell’s Life of John Tyler, issued by Harper & Brothers. Their collection is summarized: “Published anonymously, the book was written in an effort to neutralize public opinion toward Tyler, who had succeeded to the American Presidency upon the death of incumbent Benjamin Harrison only a month after taking office. Shortly thereafter, Tyler lost the battle for Whig Party leadership to Henry Clay, and became a President without a party. The letters in the collection reflect an interest in restoring Tyler’s reputation before the American public, which largely regarded his term in office as a failed presidency.”
Addressed to Alexander G. Abell, Washington City, D. C.
Post Office Cheraw, South Carolina
6 May 1844
I received your favor of the 18th ult. and regret to say that I have not more than ten names who seem willing to subscribe for the work yet all acknowledge that the book is a desirable one and if I could have enlisted the aid of a book setter, more could have been done. But the only person in that trade has declined the business and tonight leaves the place for the North to reside permanently. It may be said that my want of success in the sale of the book argues that President Tyler is unpopular [but] that is not the fact. Altho he might not be the first choice of our people, yet he is decidedly in favor and many very, very many, people in this section would prefer him to either of the candidates now before the people and I should not be surprised to see delegates to the Convention from this state to be held in Baltimore the last of this month.¹
If so small a package as 10 or 12 books can be sent here, please say so and I will immediately forward the names and money and please say what the price will be to a number so small. I suppose that it will be more [per book] than a package containing one hundred.
I am truly, — B. Bryan
¹ The other two candidates in the presidential campaign of 1844 were James K. Polk (Democrat) and Henry Clay (Whig), though going into the Democratic Convention held in late May 1844, Martin Van Buren was the presumptive nominee of the Democrats. The May 1844 Baltimore Convention mentioned in the letter was held by a third party organized that year called the “Democrat-Republicans.” They nominated President Taylor as their candidate, hoping to secure him a second term in office. The plank in their platform calling for Texas Annexation managed to force the Democrats to take a similar stand on the issue, but otherwise the candidacy was a failure and Tyler dropped out of the campaign in August, throwing his support to Polk, and accepting his role as a lame duck President.