The autobiography of a Pennsylvanian/00b Introduction

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THE autobiography of Governor Pennypacker was written in the last years of his life, during what that incessant worker called his summer vacations. In 1912 he became a member of the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission by appointment of Governor Tener, and in 1915 chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Service Commission. He requested Governor Brumbaugh, in 1915, not to reappoint him to the chairmanship of that body, but remained a member of it until his death on September 2, 1916.

Public duties and other activities and responsibilities necessarily confined the writing of the autobiography to brief periods in the summers of some four or five years. Late in the summer of 1915 his right arm was broken and, while still carried in a shng, was again injured in a railroad train. He was never able to use the arm during the year of life that remained, but immediately after the injury, at the age of seventy-two years, with the courage and resolution which always characterized him, he set out to write with his left hand. The concluding sentence of his account in Chapter XIII of his visit to the battlefields of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville was the last portion of the autobiography written with the right hand. The remainder of Chapter XIII, the pages of comment and review in Chapter XIV, the sketches of Walt Whitman and Elihu Root in Chapter XV and the introductory paragraph of Chapter XVI were written with the left hand.

Governor Pennypacker never had opportunity to revise the manuscript. He had intended to add two chapters of a philosophical nature giving the outcome of his study, experience and reflection, one chapter about the law, the other on statecraft. His reading, as shown by the series of notebooks which he kept from 1863 to 1916, wide in variety and scope, embracing science, theology, poetry and American and European history, in sources often not accessible to historians, in the French, German, Dutch, Latin, Spanish, English and other languages, his familiarity with the origin and development, laws and customs of many peoples, combined with a rare power of analysis, mental integrity and directness of method, no doubt, would have made the chapters contemplated rich in fundamental criticism and constructive suggestion. Bishop Darlington has portrayed him as an idealist and a radical. If in part and at times he was both, as the following pages show, he had also a firm faith in the wisdom of holding fast to that which is good. Increasing physical weakness and suffering prevented the writing of the two additional chapters which he had in contemplation.

When it became known to the public that Governor Pennypacker had left an autobiography, a number of officials and prominent citizens of Pennsylvania, moved no doubt by their knowledge of the untoward fate that has overtaken so many similar life records in the hands of unhappy editors, united in a letter addressed to his family in urgent phrase requesting that the life narrative be published exactly as written, “unaltered, unexpurgated and unedited.”

Beyond the verification of certain dates, titles, names and occasionally a minor incident and the elimination of a few references and some repetitions caused by the long interruptions to the writing, which would have been done by the author himself had not illness and death prevented, there has been no such editing of the autobiography as the signers of the letter, perhaps, feared might occur. No such editing was ever contemplated.

It will be seen that the analysis is essentially of policies and of principles and that the criticism is applied to conduct growing out of erroneous conceptions, that where it seems to be most personal the criticism is based upon something broader than personality and in the main is to be implied from a statement of fact, that the abundant praise has also an underlying foundation, and that both praise and censure are a characteristic application of a persistent standard of conduct and in illustration of a principle, of physical and moral courage or the opposite, and of ethics and the proprieties. At the close of his gubernatorial term, and not before, as an expression of his personal good will, Governor Pennypacker gave a dinner at the Executive Mansion to the newspaper correspondents at Harrisburg. The timing of the courtesy was an expression of his sense of propriety and an indication of the absence of personal feeling in his previous conspicuous effort to bring the publication of newspapers into line under the law with all other commercial activities.

In his notable biography of Governor Pennypacker, printed in 1917, Hampton L. Carson, Esq., the historian of the United States Supreme Court, says of him that he was “a great and a good man.” Mr. Carson's high standing at the bar and as a citizen, his lofty conception of public duty, his long acquaintance with the subject of his Memoir, his intimate knowledge, acquired as Attorney General of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907, of Governor Pennypacker's motives, plans and acts, give to the words quoted a weight which they could derive from no other living source.

Towards attaining what is hoped to be a correct presentation of the autobiography in book form, James L. Pennypacker has given much time and indispensable assistance.

Isaac R. Pennypacker.