Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Letters of Dudley Emerson Jones - Part 3 of 3

In the political sphere, Dudley comments on some of the great issues of his time - in the 1890’s, for example, national monetary policy. Of this he says, “Everyone around here is crazy for free silver. It is literally a craze. It reminds me of nothing so much as the craze at the Secession Convention in Charleston in 1860.” These comments seem to indicate his lack of sympathy for radical revision of the money system. Still, at another point he speaks of the federal government as capable of providing some economic “relief,” in a time of particularly depressed economy. As on other issues, he can seem both conservative and progressive, at the same time, or at least flexible. Overall, he seems to have seen no basic conflict between private enterprise and government policy, but rather their mutual benefit, as in his enthusiasm over railroads.

He could at times be quite critical of state administration, even scathing. Once he really let them have it, referring to the Republican rule in 1872-3: “It is no wonder that we were bankrupt. The records show that the members of the Assembly charged 1200 to 1600 dollars per diem{?} for coming or going less than 100 miles. It is no wonder that scrip fell to 10 cents.”

Dudley did have clear preferences of some over others, and certain definite convictions. He favored Grover Cleveland in the presidential elections of the 90’s. “I voted for him twice, and would vote for him again if he would run.” He seems therefore to have been a Democrat, and reflects again, some of the complexities of the post-war South, as a northerner who had benefited from the period of Reconstruction, but who appears to have invested his longer-term loyalty with the more southern Democratic Party. He was quite chagrined at the thought of the Republican William McKinley as president. Before the election he said, “He is not a strong enough man to be president. But we shall probably have to accept him in any case.” He opposed the Spanish-American War that McKinley fell into, but also betrayed an ambivalent attitude about America’s possible role. Speaking of Filipinos -“It is nauseous to say that we can’t govern them. It is an acknowledgment that Spain can do what we can’t. I believe they will govern themselves.” And then, in an alternately whimsical, apolitical aside – “Perhaps you & Oliver would like to go to Porto Rico to spend the next winter” – but again acknowledging the reach of American power – “That will become a great winter resort for the East as Hawaii will be for the West.” Dudley saw expansion and opportunity even when showing confidence in those over whom America’s shadow was falling. 

Company Card. Dudley Emerson Jones,1829-1913, Papers, 1849-1976, Manuscript Collection MC 1305, box 3, folder 8.  Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.  Digital photo ©2010 A.B. Deller
Dudley was a businessman, an Arkansas booster, and a knowledgeable citizen concerning social and political affairs, if someone of generally progressive views who also reflected some of the tensions and prejudices of his time. But in the end, he seemed mostly a family man. His strongest feelings always came out there – why don’t she write, he would insist. When will you come to visit? The grandchildren were “great fat happy rascals; if there is any mischief,” he wrote, “they are sure to find it.” He acknowledges the great sadness when his daughter Kate moved away to California with her husband and 5 children in the 1890’s. Overall, at first, he seems philosophical about it. Writing to Jane Ann, he says, “It’s not so strange when you come to think about it. Why did I throw everything up and go West all those years ago?” [a time Dudley never forgot, especially the 4th of July he spent rounding Cape Horn] Speaking of his son-in-law Philip, he “never had any fancy for my business. He never would learn more than the office work.” Philip had jumped on the business opportunity to invest in the bicycle craze of the 1880’s and 90’s, and went to California, and even across the ocean, in investing in it. That was something an entrepreneur like Dudley could understand. Still, deeper recognitions come out when referring to the loss of Kate and grandchildren. “Since they have left we have had a lonesome time. Think of taking 4 children away at one time for they were in our house almost as much as their own, to eat, to sleep, to ride[?] with GrandMa Jones. It is terribly lonesome for her,” he said of Madam Caroline. “The sighs come up from the bottom of her feet, every when we see something that reminds us of them, but they are not here. Every noise, we think of one of them is coming in their play house in the yard.” More happily, Caroline eventually made her way to California to see these that she had lost, as did Dudley, who was also able to revisit the wild doings of his youth late in life.

Dudley finished this letter of Jan 6, 1891 with a characteristic humorous observation. Speaking of Kate’s son Philip, he commented: “I think he will turn out to be a minister if he grows up. He is not quite five years old & he can play ½ dozen games of cards as well as anyone & knows the rules of the games better. If this don’t indicate a preference for the cloth what does.”

The last letter we have was written in 1900, the year Jane Ann died. It contained the comments that Dudley had made for all the previous 25 years. “Madam has started a 10 block walk to church with the thermometer 110 in the sun & she 70 yesterday.” And “I hope you are all well & will soon write me. I don’t know when I have had a letter from any of you.”

This last and all the other letters found their way from Jane’s home in Clifton Park, Saratoga County to the Jones House on Scott Street in Little Rock where we found them in 1975. Perhaps a family member brought them back to the Joneses after she was gone. They are now kept in the Special Collections section of the University of Arkansas Library in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the university where Dudley was an original trustee, and where he had a grandson, a grand-daughter, and a great-great grandson graduate [the last there is me]. I wish I had letters like these from more relatives; I am so glad I have seen and read them – they are an immense treasure.

I wish too that I could have known Dudley Jones directly. He certainly couldn’t have known that his letters would make him known to anyone except Jane Ann and the immediate family. But family goes on, and sometimes people are found years later, as he was found. Dudley Jones made himself memorable times over as a public citizen. But in these letters you see a man who was not only philosophical and practical, but also poignant, in his own personal way, even if that is a way we in our day may see as quite formal.

“Write as soon as you can and as often as you can.
Yours affectionately, DEJones” 

Guest blogger:  David

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