Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Leggett, William L. (1801–1839)
Author:
Widmer, Ted
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

William Leggett, poet and journalist, stirred the hearts of many New Yorkers during his mercurial career. After a United States Navy court-martial in 1825, he began writing verse and fiction. But his most important work was his journalism, particularly at the New York Evening Post, where he worked from 1829 to 1836 under William Cullen Bryant. While Bryant was in Europe in 1834 and 1835, Leggett poured out vitriol against the political chicanery he saw about him, saving most of his abuse for champions of banks and corporations. Instead, he advocated free trade, increased suffrage, and the general principles of Jacksonian democracy, although in 1835 he led the Locofoco revolt from the local Democrats. He also aroused controversy for supporting the rights of abolitionists. From 1836 to 1837, Leggett edited his own paper, the Plaindealer, but his health failed, and he died in 1839. Many considered him a Democratic martyr, and Bryant and John Greenleaf Whittier paid eloquent homage to him.

It is likely Leggett influenced Whitman profoundly, both for his fusion of literature and public life and his relentless individualism. Whitman called him "the glorious Leggett" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3 November 1847), and remembered seeing him at the theater in "The Old Bowery." Even at the end of his life, Whitman remembered the old radical fondly, remarking to Horace Traubel that Leggett was "one of the best of 'em" (Traubel 191) at penetrating the legal sophistry of political writing.

Bibliography

[Bryant, William Cullen.] "William Leggett." United States Magazine and Democratic Review 6 (1839): 17–28.

Leggett, William. A Collection of the Political Writings of William Leggett. Ed. Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. New York: Taylor and Dodd, 1840.

———. Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy. Ed. Lawrence H. White. Indianapolis: Liberty, 1984.

Meyers, Marvin. The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief. 1957. New York: Vintage, 1960.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 2. 1908. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.


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