Phillip W. Magness

Historian – 19th century United States

Mitchell to Grant, 2/16/1871

When James Mitchell departed his post as head of the U.S. Emigration Office in 1865 he had the contents of his office boxed up and removed. The papers in his possession covered all of the government’s colonization schemes from 1861 to 1865. Unfortunately their current whereabouts are unknown, having gone missing shortly after Mitchell’s death in 1903.

Mitchell nonetheless left a lengthy paper trail of their existence, including this letter to President Ulysses S. Grant in 1871 that described the documents in his possession and suggested their return to the government. Grant evidently declined the offer.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Leesburg Virginia Feb. 16th 1871

His Excl. U.S. Grant
President of the U. States

Dear Sir:

Be so kind as to give me a hearing whilst I state that I find a number of papers in my private files which belonged to the Office of Emigration whilst I acted as Commissioner therein. Some of them are so blended with confidential correspondence that I know not how to separate them without taking more time than I am able to give the work of copying them – such however as are in a condition to remove are at the disposal of the Government.

They were cased up amongst my papers at the Interior Department when it was supposed the office would be removed to the War Department – but the death of Mr. Lincoln and the inequitable and unreasonable demand made by New England to have the entire control of the Negro Question, through one of her own citizens followed by the appointment of General Howard, which so far as I was concerned complexed a series of proscriptive steps, that left me no alternative but to quietly and loyally step aside and let others direct this matter; aiding such measures as were just and equal, and hoping for reform where I could not approve – such has been my conduct and position for the intervening years.

Having returned to the regular pastoral work in the Spring of 1866, I ordered my papers from Washington to Richmond in 1867, and as stated above colonization, emancipation and emigration papers that partly belong to the events of 1859 & 60 up to 1866 came with them. If it is your pleasure to give some direction to such of them as do not strictly belong to me, I will forward them by express as directed. But as to my own private and confidential correspondence relating to that subject I wish to retain the originals, as many of them were made before the date of my Commission; but of worth a record, one of the Departments can furnish me a book, and I will have it transcribed at the usual cost of such work. It is true this link in the unpublished history of the war is a slender one, but it is a link still. It relates mostly to the effort to draw England to our side.

Under my feeling of discontent with a party organization that can let a Senator and his friends hold and use Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000) of the Colonization funds without accomplishing any thing to justify such a draft on the Treasury and at the same time permit to remain unpaid a small but just claim for salary such as the inclosed – on shallow grounds which amount to a trick both dishonest and dishonorable. I have felt but little disposition to visit the Capital, or trouble officials with the matter, until such times as God in His Providence should indicate that a more just and magnanimous spirit was about to obtain in the governing circles of our nation – hoping that that time has now fully come, the passions of that period having somewhat subsided – permit me respectfully to bring to your notice the following facts

(Note in Margin: Senator Pomeroy of Kansas drew in 1862 on the 16 of Sept. $5,000 on the 23rd of the same month he drew 20,000 but of the U.S. Treasury to which he and his friends have no right)

I served the Government under a Commission received from Mr. Lincoln, and was informed that such a Commission was sufficient until a Freedmen’s Bureau should be properly organized. I inclose a Copy thereof marked A. This was the second letter issued to me, the first was dated June 3rd, 1862, this was dated Aug. 4th 1862.

When the proposed Bureau was about to be perfected and the legislation providing for it finished I was taught to expect its control on sundry grounds. This Commission was never recalled or abrogated by the President from whom I received it – nor recalled by President Johnson so far as I know.

It is true that when Genl. Howard had grasped every thing connected with the work and office he tendered me a subordinate place, by saying on the occasion of the only visit I ever made his office (whilst gathering up my papers) that if I would bring a few desks and clerks, he would assign me a room for my work. I thanked him for the tender, but as of that date I had fully made up my mind to take no work under him, all I asked then, all I ask today is that the Government will pay what is justly due one without pleading the partial repeal of complex bills: for two or three facts are plain to every one. The government had used my time under Commission and yet from the 1st of July 1864 I did not receive one dollar of salary – though continuing to conduct my office of my own costs and charges under the assurance that I would not suffer in the end – nor did this change the expectation until Howard’s appointment.

I now therefore respectfully ask the payment of my claim from the 1st of July 1864 until the 1st of June 1865 about the date of General Howard’s appointment to the charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at the rate of $1800 per annum with interest until discharged. This is certainly not an exorbitant claim seeing I employed and paid one Clerk out of my own means for a part of the Fall of 1864.

I have asked the Hon. L. McTeague to see you in regard to this matter, and he has kindly agreed to do so, whatever you and he agree on shall be final so far as this claim is concerned. If the Government can receive the time and service of one who acted faithfully for it under commission, without compensation, I have no doubt I will be enabled to suffer the loss.

With sentiments of utmost respect for you personally, I have the honor to be your humble and obedient servant.

James Mitchell

SOURCE: National Archives

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