Timely that just a day after the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, I should sit down and start to transcribe letters written by my 3rd great uncle, Benoni Staats in the 1860s. In the first letter in the collection, Benoni focuses on his interpretation of the first article of the Constitution, and is asking for the opinion of his Congressional candidate on the issue. These letters are part of the Ephraim Cutler collection in Special Collections at the Marietta College Library. You never know where stuff is going to turn up. You’ll find all kinds of cool things in college libraries, so make sure that you investigate them in the areas you research.
Here is just a snippet of that first letter. A little enlightened for his time — especially living in the area that he did. Although a poor farmer most of his life, it is clear from his writing that he was quite well-educated.
“Vincent,” Barlow township, W. Co. O. [Washington County, Ohio] Sept 17th/60 
To the Hon. Wm. P. Cutler – Sir, as you are a Candidate for Congress, and are now canvassing this district for that office, I design to have your opinion on the First Article of the Constitution (I have tried your predecessor in vain). In the first place the Articles of Confederation existed and were in force until this Constitution was adopted by the requisite number of states; and in the Preamble to the Constitution it says, “We the people of the United States,” – now I contend that “people” means “persons,” that is to say “we the persons of the U States.”
Thus, the Preamble to the Constitution, denominates the people of the U States thereafter as “persons,” and nowhere denominates them as property of the U States, nor does it anywhere say “We the property of the U States.” Now Sir, from these deductions, it is plain that these U States are composed of “persons” and not “property” and the three fifths clause which is said to relate to slaves and free colored persons, they are still denominated “persons” and not “property”— and as such are numbered by the U States Marshals for the Representation in Congress and are a part of “We the people of the U States.”1
This is just part of the first letter – an impassioned argument for the equality of “Indians and negroes.” There are five or six in the collection. Each are interesting, and I will post them as I can.
- Benoni Staats, Vincent, Barlow Twp., Washington County, Ohio, to William P. Cutler, letter, 17 Sep 1860, requests Mr. Cutler’s opinion on the First Article of the Constitution; Ephraim Cutler Collection, 1860, Sept 17 ; Marietta College Library Special Collections, Marietta Ohio. [↩]