John W. Taylor Papers
Language of Materials
John W. Taylor (1784-1854) served as a United States Congressman from 1813-1833 and was appointed Speaker of the House twice. This collection is primarily correspondence from many of Taylor's contemporaries to him illuminating his role as a statesman particularly as to his leadership of the Restrictionist cause to abolish slavery in the newly developing western territories.
Biographical / Historical Note
Timeline for John W. Taylor
Described as a man who advocated "measures and not men... actions and not words", John W. Taylor was as much a product of his times as he was a creator of them, generating a legacy which while lacking direct recognition nevertheless permeates the American socio-political landscape in seminal and enduring ways. His papers reflect a deep and abiding commitment to service to his country, his constituents and his personal convictions.
Raised in an established American family with roots in Saratoga County, New York dating to 1692, Taylor distinguished himself early as a gifted student and debater. Upon graduation from Union College at the age of 19, he founded the Ballston Academy, engaged in successful business ventures, served as the Deputy Post Master and earned his law credentials. He married a young woman of Scottish descent, Jane Hodges, with whom he raised 5 sons and 3 daughters. Appointed to the State Assembly in 1811, Taylor's steady independence propelled him to federal office in 1813 as a Republican Congressman. Thus at the age of 29, Taylor joined a group of young, ambitious men including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun who wrestled with the nuances of the physical, legal, political and spiritual governance of a county only just evolving from its infancy toward its first toddling steps as an individualized political entity.
John W. Taylor entered the national political arena during the second half of the War of 1812 in which the United States failed to extend its territory into Canada but succeeded in establishing itself as a militarily stalwart and politically autonomous country. Thus ensconced in President James Monroe's Era of Good Feeling, purported as a time of national unity while the country strove to expand, it was James Tallmadge, Jr. and Taylor, both congressmen from New York State, who in 1819 ushered the debate of the abolitionist into the goal of western expansion.
Championing the Restrictionist cause was an ethical imperative for Taylor who fervently promoted and authored amendments aimed at preventing and/or limiting the legally sanctioned institution of slavery into newly created states. Using his considerable parliamentarian talents as a tactful, fluent, concise and effective orator, Taylor's response to southern Secessionists threats was resolute: "The honorable gentleman greatly mistakes the people of this country if he supposes this Union, cemented by strong interests, consecrated by glorious achievement, sanctified by the blood of heroes, and endeared by victories won by the exertion and treasure of all … can ever be destroyed or in the least impaired by promoting the cause of humanity and freedom in America".
The results were variable often highlighting yet another seminal and enduringly contentious issue regarding the extent of the power of the Constitution as well as that of the federal government to dictate legislation upon States. Ultimately, many of Taylor's unsuccessful but core proposals formed the bedrock of the ensuing Missouri Compromises including the establishment of a geographic boundary between slave and free states at the 36/30 parallel known as the Mason-Dixon Line.
John W. Taylor went on to serve as Speaker of the House twice, during the second half of the 16th Congress in 1821 and again for the entire 19th Congress of 1825-1827. A statesman who advocated service to the people above service to a political party, his reluctance to be drawn into the contentious fractioning within the New York State Republican party between the Bucktails led by Martin Van Buren and the supporters of Governor DeWitt Clinton with whom Taylor was ultimately associated nearly cost him the 1821 appointment. By 1825, the machinations required to maintain political footing on the national stage had aligned Taylor solidly with long time ally John Quincy Adams in whose 1825 election Taylor provided pivotal support.
During the years of 1833-1842, intervening his Congressional Service and incapacitation from a paralytic stroke, Taylor returned to Saratoga County where he practiced law, served in the State Assembly and was instrumental in the development of the Whig party. Taylor spent his waning years in Cleveland, Ohio in the care of his daughter. He was buried upon his death at age 70 in Ballston Spa. Despite an absence of 12 years, his memorial at the courthouse was well attended by dignitaries and citizens of every ilk and he was eulogized as a man who "was lauded when he flourished and strengthened when he fainted, as scarce ever was a man before."
Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood. "John W. Taylor." Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association 1 (January 1920): 14-37.
Booth, John Chester. Excerpt from Booth's History of Saratoga County, New York: 1858. Eds. Violet B. Dunn & Beatrice Sweeney. Saratoga County Bicentennial Commission, 1977. 11 December 2009 http://www.townofcharlton.org/CHS/highlightshistory.html
Johnson, William R. "Prelude to the Missouri Compromise: A New York Congressman's Effort to Exclude Slavery from Arkansas Territory." New-York Historical Society Quarterly 48 (January 1964): 31-50.
Spann, Edward K. "The Souring of Good Feeling: John W. Taylor and the Speakership Election of 1821." New York History 41 (October 1960): 379-399.
Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett and Cornelius E. Durkee. Excerpt from History of Saratoga County, New York: with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. Philadelphia: Evert & Ensign, 1878. Interlaken, New York: Hearts of the Lakes Publishers, 1979. www.ancestory.com 11 December 2009 http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nysarato/Sylvester/chap27.html
United States: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. John W. Taylor, 1784-1854. 11 December 2009 http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=T000091
Scope and Content Note
The John W. Taylor Papers consist primarily of correspondence received by John W. Taylor in his capacity as a Congressional Representative of New York State from 1813-1833. The correspondence is generally of a political nature reflective of the germane issues of the period including western expansion, the anti-slavery movement, tariffs, banking, elections, the post office, and personal matters. Notable correspondents include Henry Clay, DeWitt Clinton, Alfred Conkling, Edward Everett, Jonathan Fisk, John B. C. Lucas, Henry C. Martindale, John McLean, Charles Miner, Hezekiah Niles, Eliphalet Nott, John Savage, Ebenezer Sage, Ambrose Spencer, James Tallmadge,Jr., Daniel D. Tompkins, Martin Van Buren, Daniel Webster, Hugh White, William Woodbridge and Samuel Young.
There is also correspondence from Taylor in draft or copy format as well as over 80 letters from Taylor to his wife, Jane Hodges Taylor. Other materials include speeches, governmental documents including resolutions, committee lists, notes and rosters, financial documents including receipts, stock certificates, mortgages, indentures and deeds, diplomas and certificates, personal notes, calling cards and invitations. The collection includes a land grant signed by James Monroe, an 1821 letter from Thomas Jefferson, and an 1819 epistle from the vintner John Adlum entitled Of the Cropogation of Vines.
- Presidential Signatures
- Series 1 / Box 1 / Folder 1: Letter for John Quincy Adams, 1820
- Series 1 / Box 2 / Folder 6: Letter from James Monroe, 1814
- Series 1 / Box 3 / Folder 7: Entirely correspondence from Martin Van Buren
- Series 1 / Box 4 / Folder 3: Letter from Thomas Jefferson, 1821
- Series 4 / Box 5 / Folder 9: Land Grant signed by James Monroe
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Preferred Citation Note
This collection should be cited as the John W. Taylor Papers, MS 515, The New-York Historical Society.