James Sidney Rollins: Warmest Personal Friend – Part II

In 1834, in the building that housed the law office of James Sidney Rollins, a young. self-taught artist, George Caleb Bingham, opened a studio in Columbia, Missouri. The two men quickly became friends.

George Caleb Bingham, Major James Sidney Rollins, 1845 (172)

George Caleb Bingham. Major James Sidney Rollins. 1845
Oil on Canvas. 29 x 25 inches
Private Collection

On June 6, 1837, Rollins married Mary Elizabeth Hickman (1820 -1907). That same summer, he provided George Caleb Bingham with the financial help the artist needed to travel east to study art formally.

in 1838. although Missouri was predominantly a Democratic state, voters elected Major Rollins to the state legislature as a Whig. The Whig Party evolved from the American System developed by Henry Clay (1777-1852), a long-time friend of the Rollins family. His American System, based on the premise that all national interests are inter-twined, advocated a strong, centralized government that would promote economic growth through a coordinated infrastructure of public roads and dredged rivers, Whigs promoted a protective tariff, a national bank and credit system favorable to business. They abhorred political patronage and executive privilege and advocated for public education. On slavery. the national party officially deferred to the Constitution. which made the peculiar institution a states’ rights’ issue.[1] Many northern Whigs. however. were abolitionists.

George Caleb Bingham, Mary Elizabeth Hickman, (Mrs James Sidney Rollins), 1837 (44)

George Caleb Bingham. Mary Elizabeth Hickman. (Mrs James Sidney Rollins). 1837
Oil on Canvas. 29 x 25 inches
Private Collection

For his time, James Sidney Rollins was an enlightened man. Even though he believed people of color to be inferior, he hated slavery. Like many, he blamed the peculiar institution on the British, who foisted it on the colonies to solve a labor shortage. Two hundred years later, that short-term solution cursed Missouri and every other post-colonial state that had not had the foresight to prohibit slavery, with complex economic, social, and moral problems.

For Rollins, slavery was also an economic issue. He owned 34 slaves. Emancipation would cause him to lose between $20.000 and $40.000 ($250.000 – $500.000 in today’s dollars). And, like many slave owners. he worried for the safety of white families if slaves were freed. Eventually, he settled on gradual emancipation as the proper course of action.

His beliefs aligned enough with the voters of Boone County for them to return Rollins to the state legislature in 1840 and again in 1846. He wrote legislation for railroad construction, river improvement, and for the establishment of a state university. He corresponded with Dorothea Dix and introduced a bill to establish a state mental hospital.

George Caleb Bingham, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, 1849 (201)

George Caleb Bingham. Mary Elizabeth Rollins. 1849
Oil on Canvas. 23 x 19 inches
Private Collection

In 1848, Rollins lost a bid for Missouri governor but was elected to the state senate. In the same election, voters elected his friend George Caleb Bingham to the state legislature. But in a matter of weeks, Bingham’s wife Elizabeth  died of consumption and their nine-month-old son died a few days later. So grief-stricken was Bingham that he wanted to resign from public service. Rollins convinced the artist /politician that work would ease his sorrow. Bingham took his seat in the statehouse.

During the summer. when the legislature was in recess. Bingham, his three-year-old daughter, Clara, and his seven-year-old son, Horace. visited the Rollins home in Columbia. Missouri. James and Mary Elizabeth then had four children: James Jr.. 8. Laura. 5. and Mary. 3. and Sarah. an infant. Rollins took time to introduce his friend George to a cultured young woman. Eliza Thomas (1828-1876). the eldest daughter of a professor at Columbia College. Before the end of the year, and a year after the death of Elizabeth, Bingham married Eliza. One can presume James Sidney was best man.

Rollins ran again for governor in 1857. Again, he lost.  But as the Civil War approached. the state’s voters found his moderation appealing. James Sidney Rollins ran successfully for a seat in the United States Congress as a Constitutional Unionist. He served throughout the Civil War years from March 4. 1861 – March 3. 1865.

Part III

(c) Fine Art Investigations. 2012 
All Rights Reserved

[1] “The Whigs and Slavery.” The New York Times. October 3. 1854

Bibliography

Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress. “Rollins. James Sidney (1812-1888).” http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000412

Bloch. E. Maurice. George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné. Berkeley. California: University of California Press. 1967.

Bloch. E. Maurice. George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist. Berkeley. California: University of California Press. 1967.

Bloch. E. Maurice. The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham. (Columbia. Missouri: University of Missouri Press. 1986.

Gentzler. Lynn Wolf. ed.. Roger E. Robinson. compiler. “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham. Columbia. Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock. Inc.. 2011.

Mering. Clay. “James S. Rollins.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_S._Rollins

Mering. John Vollmer. The Whig Party in Missouri. Columbia. Missouri: University of Missouri Press. 1967.

Shoemaker. F. C.. Missouri’s Hall of Fame: Lives of Eminent Missourians. Missouri Book Company. 1918.

Smith. William Benjamin. James Sidney Rollins. Ne.w York. 1891.

Snyder. Felix Eugene. History of Boone County. Missouri…. (Ramfire Press. 1882)

State Historical Society of Missouri. Rollins. James S. (1812-1888). Papers. 1546-1968http://shs.umsystem.edu/manuscripts/invent/1026.pdf

Stewart. A. J. D.. The History of the bench and bar of Missouri: with reminiscences of the the prominent lawyers of the past. and a record of the law’s leaders of the present. Legal Publishing Company. 1898.

Winn. Kenneth. “James Sidney Rollins.” Missouri Civil War Sesquicentennial: http://mocivilwar150.com/history/figure/194

About Patricia Moss

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits. She located nearly 70 of Bingham’s lost portraits, a feat acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s Research and Scholar’s Center. From expertise with portraits of George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), she developed skills that evolved into a comprehensive system based on the scientific method that conforms to the legal and ethical standards of art authentication. Moss served as a guest curator for the Bingham Bicentennial Exhibit, “Steamboats to Steam Engines: George Caleb Bingham’s Missouri: 1819-1879,” (March 10-September 8, 2011) at the Truman Presidential Museum and curated the opening exhibition, “George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History,” (September 2013 –), Jackson County Art Museum, Independence, Missouri. She is also the principal researcher for Fine Art Investigations.
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