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Introduction to the James Parkison Letters
By George Rugg
At the time the accompanying letters were written, James C. Parkison (1823-1886) was a resident of Newark, Licking County, Ohio. The Federal census of 1860 identifies him as a printer, residing with his wife, Tamson B. Parkison (called Anney in the letters), his young children Ida, William, and Frank, and his mother. Also living in the household in 1860 was James's brother, William M. Parkison (b. ca. 1829), whom the census identifies as a day laborer. Nine of the eleven Parkison letters (2 October 1864 to 27 June 1865) were written from Newark by James Parkison to William in Tennessee, when the latter was serving as a private in the 1st United States Veteran Volunteer Engineers, in the army's Department of the Cumberland. Two additional letters were written to William in early 1866. James Parkison appears not to have served in the military. William Parkison the family surname is often spelled "Parkinson" in government records had completed three years' service in Company H of the 31st Ohio Infantry before reenlisting with the Engineers.
A good deal of the content of Parkison's three earliest letters relates to the state and presidential elections of October and November 1864. Parkison writes as an outspoken advocate of the Republican (or National Union) party platform: support for Lincoln, no peace without unconditional surrender, the abolition of slavery. A key aspect of Republican campaign strategy was to brand the Democratic opposition, copperheads and moderates alike, as disloyal. Parkison echoes this in his blanket designation of the political opposition as "butternuts," "rebs," "Vallandighamers:" all terms emphasizing sympathy for the Southern cause. He also makes reference to one of the most egregious, and successful, of the Republicans' campaign ploys: the treason trials engineered by Indiana governor Oliver P. Morton to discredit the Democratic cause in his state (letter of 2 October 1864).
The 1864 state elections which included gubernatorial and congressional races began in early September. Those in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania all fell on 11 October, and together were regarded as a referendum on the upcoming presidential race between Lincoln and the Democrats' George B. McClellan. The Republicans triumphed in all three states, with a 50,000 vote majority in Ohio that saw the state's congressional delegation transformed from fourteen Democrats and five Republicans to two Democrats and seventeen Republicans. "The history of the world does not record results more important to the cause of human progress and universal liberty than those which were then achieved," writes Parkison of the elections of 11 October (letter of 16 October 1864). Lincoln went on to an easy victory in November, failing to carry only New Jersey, Kentucky, and Delaware.
After the war James Parkison remained in Newark, where he died of Bright's Disease in 1886.
Bibliographic note: for the elections of 1864, see David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln's Re-Election and the End of Slavery, Mechanicsburg PA, 1994, and John C. Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency, New York 1997.
Index of Letters
|MSN/CW 5007-1||Letter||October 2, 1864||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-2||Letter||October 16, 1864||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-3||Letter||October 30, 1864||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-4||Letter||February 19, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-5||Letter||March 5, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-6||Letter||April 1, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-7||Letter||April 2, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-8||Letter||June 11, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-9||Letter||June 27, 1865||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-10||Letter||January 28-29, 1866||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|
|MSN/CW 5007-11||Letter||March 18, 1866||Newark, Ohio||James Parkison|