1837: George Washington Hopkins to Col. Charles Stephen Morgan

Grave Marker of Hon.

Grave Marker of Hon. George W. Hopkins

This letter was written by George Washington Hopkins (1804-1861). Born in Goochland County, Virginia near Goochland Court House, Hopkins attended the common schools as a child. He later taught school, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1834, commencing practice in Lebanon, Virginia. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1833 to 1835 and was elected a Jacksonian Democrat and Conservative to the United States House of Representatives in 1834, serving from 1835 to 1847. There, Hopkins served as chairman of the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads from 1843 to 1847.

President James Knox Polk appointed Hopkins as Chargé d’affaires to Portugal in 1847; he served as until 1849. He returned to the House of Delegates as Speaker from 1850–1852 and was a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1850 and 1851. He served as judge of the circuit court of Washington, D.C. and other counties and was elected back to the House of Representatives in 1856, serving again from 1857 to 1859. There, he served as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1857 to 1859. He was not a candidate for reelection in 1858 and resumed practicing law in Abingdon, Virginia.

Hopkins served in the House of Delegates for a third time from 1859 until his death in Richmond, Virginia on March 1, 1861. He was interred in Sinking Springs Cemetery in Abingdon. [Source: Wikipedia]

Col. Morgan

Col. Charles Stephen Morgan

Hopkins wrote the letter to Col. Charles Stephen Morgan (1799-1859). Born near Morgantown, West Virginia (then Virginia), he moved at the age of 20 to Richmond after being elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He was then elected to the Virginia Senate, an office he held for ten years. While a Senator, he participated with Monroe, Madison, and Marshall in the Virginia Reform Convention of 1829-1839. During his years as a public servant, Col. Morgan maintained an active legal practice in real estate law. Col. Morgan also served for 27 years as the Superintendent of Virginia Penitentiary. He is best remembered for instituting humane and practical penal reforms that won him widespread admiration and respect. His treatise on prison reform was noted for its “depth of thought, broad scope, and intellectual acumen at that time unknown in such work.”

His private correspondence shows that he invested extensively in Southside, beginning as early as 1822 when he pledged more than $40,000 to the efforts along the James River to improve and extend the canal system. From a wealthy and well-connected family, Col. Morgan maintained ties to banks and investors, particularly in Baltimore and Philadelphia. He was instrumental in securing financing for the development of transportation systems, real estate, and industries on Southside. His interest in suburban Manchester was, in part, out of concern that “vast internal improvements can be made that will have the most certain and evident tendency to increase our population and wealth.” In the late 1840s, Charles S. Morgan acquired 185 acres of “islands, rocks, shoals and unnavigable water” at the Falls above Forest Hill, with the intention of generating water power to support commercial and residential development. Anticipating the inauguration of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, Morgan’s vision for the Falls broadened.

In the 1850s, Colonel Morgan played a remarkably early and important role in Virginia’s preservation initiatives. He recruited like-minded Virginians to devise a preservation plan for the historic sites at Jamestown. His efforts led to statewide support for preservation, culminating in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the landing at Jamestown in 1857. [Source: Historic Forest Hill Neighborhood]

Representative Hopkins wrote the letter from his temporary residence in Washington D. C. in Mrs. Ballard’s boarding house which was located on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 3d and 4½ Streets. The substance of his letter centers on the election of the Speaker of the House for the 25th Congress.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Col. Charles S. Morgan, Richmond, Virginia

Washington City
September 3rd 1837

Dear Col.,

I arrived here safely the evening after I parted with you at Richmond and have since located at Mrs. Ballard’s upon Capital Hill next door to Col. [Thomas Hart] Benton. Most of the members of both Houses have arrived and much electioneering and speculation going on, as to the organization of our House. As yet, [John] Bell of Tennessee seems to be the prominent candidate of the Whig Party for Speaker; but his feathers, I think, have been lowered within the last 24 hours and judging more from what I see than hear, I should not be surprised if he should be dropt and another selection made.

John Mercer Patton of Virginia

John Mercer Patton of Virginia

[John Mercer] Patton has been spoken of but by the Whigs only. He would be proud of the election and will, in my opinion, lend his name to the opposition. If he is found too light, some other selection will be attempted, perhaps Col. James Murray Mason. The last named member will give Col. [James K.] Polk great, great trouble, and possibly defeat him. Virginia holds the election in her own hands and but for one consideration, there would be no doubt as to the result and that is the very laudable apprehension that the defeat of Polk might be so far regarded as a Whig triumph as to prejudice us in the public estimation. However, all is yet uncertain. I cannot attach as much blame as others seem willing to do to [House Speaker] Col. Polk for the extraordinary disorder and indecorum of the last Congress for I am satisfied that the responsibility ought to rest upon the House itself. No one man could have preserved the order and upheld the dignity of the House without its aid.

Neighbor Blair, however, will in all probability receive his walking papers. The Madisonian, at least, can beat him in my opinion, whilst in opposition to a Whig, Blair & Rives, would probably be reappointed. [William] Allen is thought to be orthodox, true and faithful to the principles of Mr. Madison and the Republican Party, has the confidence of Mr. Rives, and it is hoped and believed, will truly and broadly lay down the great line of demarcation between the old Republican School and the wild and distractive dogmas of Locofocism. Such a ____ is not only admirably adapted to the exigencies of the times, but of indispensable necessity for the preservation of our cause and the maintenance of sound principles.

Your brother [William S. Morgan] is well and of our mess at Mrs. Ballard’s. He consents to redeem the pledge which as well in my behalf as his, I made to Mrs. Morgan of visiting Richmond this fall. When we cannot now determine but will advise you hereafter. The general opinion here is that we shall adjourn in about six weeks & if so, we shall both return home and probably meet at Richmond on my return or make the visit about Christmas. [Nathaniel P.] Tallmadge and [William C.] Rives are together at the same house, and there are some signs I think of a separation from [Silas] Wright and [Thomas H.] Benton. I fear that we shall at last be brought to that, and if so, relying upon the justice of our cause and the soundness of our principles, we must meet the emergency as becomes men.

Yours truly, — G. W. Hopkins


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