One of the most unique things about this document is that it bears the original signatures of Franklin Pierce (who served as President of the United States) and Jefferson Davis (who was the only man to serve as President of the Confederate States). One must wonder why two people from opposing sides would want to sign the same document.
The reason is that this document was signed in 1857, when Franklin Pierce served as President of the United States and Jefferson Davis, who then served as Secretary of War. This was signed only a few years before the secession of many Southern states and the naming of Davis as President of the Confederate States. Before this time, he served as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi.
This is the only kind of document— a military commission, printed on Vellum (parchment), appointing an individual to a position in the U.S. Military—obtainable where both signatures appear on a single document.
At the time this document was signed, the issue of slavery had become a forefront issue with the passage of the famous Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, when the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Because of vast westward expansion, this act was crucial in setting boundaries of slavery and the transcontinental railroad.
The act established that settlers could vote to decide whether to allow slavery, in the name of “popular sovereignty” or rule of the people, and it also effectively overrode the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which, due to the location of the two new territories, would have banned slavery from both areas.
Opponents denounced the law as a concession to the slave power of the South, but Pierce, to the dismay of abolitionists, adopted this bill. Those who rejected this new law left he Know Nothing party to form a new party, the Republican party, which moved the country toward a major war, the Civil War.
Davis, although he had some moral reservations with slavery, supported states’ rights and believed that slavery was an economic necessity. Davis met with the Confederate cabinet on May 5, 1865 in Georgia, when it was officially dissolved. He was later captured and imprisoned for two years in Fort Monroe, Va.
So, as one can see, this document—signed by two very significant figures of American history right before the pivotal point when our country divided and blood was shed in a war of brother against brother—is rare indeed.
Rick Badwey is a Worthologist who specializes in historical autographs.
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