This letter was written by Theodore H. Chapin (1781-1849), of Herkimer, New York, who married Margaret Fox (1781-1834) in 1816 in Little Falls, New York. He wrote the letter to his son, Dewitt Clinton Chapin (1816-1873). Also mentioned in the letter were his two other sons, Theodore Chapin, Jr., and Christopher F. Chapin.
Theodore H. Chapin came to Michigan in 1840 from New York State where he had practiced law for many years. He settled at DeWitt in Clinton County. He served as the second probate judge of that county and then moved to Allegan County
Dewitt Clinton Chapin “received his education in the common schools of Lockport, N.Y., and at the academy at Lewiston, N.Y. of which latter institution he was a graduate. In December, 1864, he came to Gratiot County [Michigan] and located at Alma, where he followed his profession five years. In the fall 1870, he was elected Register of Deeds of this county, and removed to Ithaca. He was re-elected in the fall 1872, and continued to fill that responsible office until his death, Jan. 29, 1873, ending a life of exceptional activity and usefulness. [He married on Dec. 25, 1843, with Miss Edna F. Utley, daughter of William and Mahala Utley, natives of Vermont. Edna was born in Ontario Co., N.Y., Dec. 18, 1822.”
Addressed to Dewitt C. Chapin, Esq., Attorney, Allegan, Allegan County, Michigan
July 22d 1846
I have just received your letter date “July 1846” but mailed the 14th inst. and am pleased to learn that you are all in health and that Edna has entirely recovered from the hurt she received at her strawberry party and that my little Margaret is running about the house and beginning to talk. Another thing you mentioned in your letter with which I am also very much pleased, and that is that Theodore was to be married the next Thursday after the 14th which would be the 16th inst.
I went to Essex the 8th of June and returned the 26th and found & left them all well. I have bought of Miles Mansfield a first rate yoke of oxen at $60 and a right good waggon at $40 and gave him a receipt for $100 to apply towards my Probate fees.
Christopher has been to work since you left here in Eagle for Briggs and Burgess and on the 18th inst., he started from here with his oxen and waggon, plow &c., for the Elysian Plains to cut hay and to put in some wheat. I furnished him with four bushels wheat to get ground and with means to procure meat &c. I intend to close my business here as soon as possible and be off for the Plains.
The only cause of detention in the settlement of my affairs that I now foresee is the collection of my fees in the estate of Everest that hangs by the gills.
You say, “They don’t know your politics yet; some call you Loco and some Whig, and that you don’t know what you are yourself yet, but that you will ascertain before long and then you will write me.” Don’t be too hasty in coming out and making known your political sentiments or opinions on any doubtful or controverted points or questions. Non committal is the jewel for politicians. You know that it will be two years next November since you have voted at an election, and last spring at Town Meeting you voted for men of both parties. It is no easy matter to determine correctly which of the two great political parties is the nearest right. That both are right in the main is undoubtedly true. That is to say, both profess and endeavor to do that which will be for the greatest possible good for the country. I speak of the honest part of the respective parties. That both parties may and do sometimes err is especially true, for “to err is human, to forgive is divine” and there are always opportunities to correct error. Our government is strictly a government of experiments, although “Solomin & Peter Loucks” have not said so, yet Thomas Jefferson and I have, and our authority has not, to my knowledge, been successfully controverted.
There is not on earth and history gives no account of a government in all respects like ours, and even if there had been, the immense change in the habits and pursuits of nations, on account of their great wealth, the increase of commerce and the diffusion of knowledge and literature among them is such that precedents drawn from ancient Republics would be of little or no use to us at this age of the world. Commerce is now the great business of nations, and the vast variety of duties and internal regulations made by the different nations to govern it, renders it very difficult for any Legislature to fix on a tariff that shall be in all respects unexceptionable and still more so in our ours, where there is such a variety of climate, habits, and pursuits that will suit one section of the country will be violently opposed by the other. Hence we see not only the absolute necessity of a compromise in fixing upon a tariff (and many other things) but the absolute impossibility of getting along without compromising the matter.
How often do we see the most intelligent statesmen advocate a certain course at one time and at another time the reverse. You may say they are what we vulgarly call turncoats. I say not. If a man discovers that he is wrong, it is honorable — yes noble in him — to give up and espouse the right side. It is saying he is wiser today than he was yesterday. I would liken it to the case of a man who has injured his neighbor and when he becomes sensible of his fault, he goes and makes restitution.
I would refer you to a much higher example — that of the late President Madison who was opposed to the U. S. Bank on constitutional principles in 1789, but in 1816 signed the act for a Bank, and before his death wrote a letter in favor of the constitutionality of a U. S. Bank, and his political integrity was never doubted. Mr. Clay in 1811 opposed the rechartering of the U. S. Bank and in 1816 was a principal advocate for the Bank of 1816. So you see that our greatest and best me, when they find they are in error, back out and try again. Such a course is not only the true policy od statesmen, but it is integrity itself.
I have been strongly in favor of a protective tariff and opposed to what is called the pro trade tariff. But neither you nor I know which will be best for us. It is all a matter of experiment. We have tried the one, now let us try the other and if it operates well we shall all be glad. And if not, there will be time enough to alter it when it proves disastrous. I say, let us ground arms, and unite in support of Government as one man. There is no good obtained by this everlasting opposition. He who opposes Government rarely gets an office that is worth anything and therefore has no opportunity to render any good service to his country, however capable he may be. But he whose political views are a little more flexible who does not deem himself and his party as entirely infallible and all others in the wrong, and who is willing to surrender his stubborn prejudices to the will of of the people and go with the majority, such a man has something no only to hope but something to expect. Such a man is in the High Road to office, wealth, and honor, and will have frequent opportunities of rendering his country eminent services. Not having taken any part in politics for two years, you have a good time to come out and take sides and I say, go with the people, the majority, but come out rather modestly, not rash.
I intended to have filled half of this sheet to Theodore but you see how I could not break it off. You must therefore greet the young married pair for me, and tell them I wish them all the happiness that their new relationship, under the blessing of God, can confer upon them jointly and severally.
Don’t let anyone see this letter except Theodore and then burn it for if some of the things here stated should get out, it might operate to your disadvantage.
My love to you all. — T. H. Chapin