In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Slavery

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1850 and 1860

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00149

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: References to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 indicate that parts of this manuscript were likely written in the early 1850s. Edward Grier writes that it "seems to be a composite manuscript assembled, in characteristic Whitman fashion, from fragments large and small, with several discontinuities" which were "combined into one essay or speech about 1856 and revised in minor detail . . . in 1858 or later" (Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 6:2171–2172). Grier explains the discontinuities in more detail in his headnote to the transcription of this manuscript. In that headnote he also speculates about the significance of the mathematical calculations found on the versos of several of the leaves. Grier notes that Whitman's "emphasis, especially in the early pages, on the Constitution as a contract reflects his reading of at least parts of The Social Contract," by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (6:2171): see also Whitman's partial transcription and notes on that work. In theme, tone, and some of the wording, this manuscript bears a strong resemblance to "The Eighteenth Presidency!" an unpublished political essay that Whitman wrote in or around 1856. For more on that essay, see David Haven Blake, "'Eighteenth Presidency!, The' (1928)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 201–203. The leaves of this manuscript have been numbered, possibly by Whitman himself.

Notes written on manuscript: On leaf 1 recto, in unknown hand: "1"; on leaf 2 recto, in unknown hand: "1"; on leaf 2 recto, in unknown hand: "2"; on leaf 3 recto, in unknown hand: "2"; on leaf 3 recto, in unknown hand: "3"; on leaf 4 recto, in unknown hand: "4"; on leaf 5 recto, in unknown hand: "5"; on leaf 6 recto, in unknown hand: "6"; on leaf 7 recto, in unknown hand: "7"; on leaf 8 recto, in unknown hand: "8"; on leaf 9 recto, in unknown hand: "9"; on leaf 10 recto, in unknown hand: "10"; on leaf 11 recto, in unknown hand: "11"; on leaf 12 recto, in unknown hand: "12"; on leaf 13 recto, in unknown hand: "13"; on leaf 15 recto, in unknown hand: "15"; on leaf 16 recto, in unknown hand: "16"; on leaf 17 recto, in unknown hand: "17"; on leaf 18 recto, in unknown hand: "18"; on leaf 19 recto, in unknown hand: "19"; on leaf 20 recto, in unknown hand: "20"

Contributors to digital file: Kirsten Clawson, Janel Cayer, Kevin McMullen, Nicole Gray, and Kenneth M. Price

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Slavery—the Slaveholders—The Constitution—the true America and Americans, the laboring persons.—

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The meanest of lies liars is the American aristocratic liar who with his paltersing and stuttersing over denial of the plain ^ meanings purports intentions ^allotments and foundations requirements of the Bargain called it of the American his government, ^debated for a dozen ^years and finally closed and ^practically agreed to by at the time ^to by the practical enforcement of the Constitution and Washington was being elected to the Presidency. *Every gover^nment is a bargain, ^some are shuffling and swindles many of them vague and without the parties understanding one another.—Such and therefore unstable and soon through.—Ours is not so. Such is not ours. Its intentions and scope and premises are what it is for are minutely put premised, and its great heart laid bare at the very beginning, ^as if for fear some future and far distant vein artery may not know where to come and conform itself—.^ the for life blood.—The great main arteries ^of the Constitution that flow out of this heart ^that [nucleus?] [pumping?] and organ all have reference to it; and its their health is mutual reciprocal with themselves and with it.—

The sta This sublime honest and novel bargain of Government palpably ^assumes that binds the contracting parties meet on exactly the same level, as of a pfresh and open affair, where each one human man ^without any distinction whatever, is neither more or less than another, and the ^debatable points to be settled

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to be debated and decided are not troubled with vexed affected by any previous ties, but all is or has the virginity Tthe fields is virgin and original like the Adam's Paradise.—The unanimously agreed upon premises of the bargain ^premises [nexus?] and head are consistent accord well with this such this magnitude and such this hug innocence of the ^first Creation large ^and pure as the air.—This too was is a Creation, and it must be started well.—Thus It iswas settled ^ I say and covenanted ^as athe nucleus and brains of the bargain all that should come, that every human being that who is born into the world has an inalienable rights to against all any jeopardy from other human beings, to his life his liberty and his rational lawful pursuit of happiness—^and that to fortif secure plant, fortify and regulate the machinery of these rights ^the connection with Britain should be totally dissolved, the American government shall ^was to be instituted.—How simple! How vast!—ItsIn The In those that brief outset of the bargain iswas contained embodied the seed whole that was to come, might follow,
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as the seed healthy seed incarnates the apple, and makes a sound tree that shall bringing forth good fruit; and if there be a sp specked one here and there they are lost ^of little account in the general yield.—

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^ Hurrah, then, for 1 The goal is in sight at last.—Here, at least if nowhere else if anywhere over the ^whole world, shall be fair play.—Equality for ever, and no gouging each man's doings on the square.—

Out of this kernel ^[after?] a brief trial of the loose Articles of the Confederation, came fitly and swiftly [not close?] [illegible] the American Constitution, the most nearest approach to perfection and honesty in a political agreement a ever yet seen in the world.—There are Americans countrymen ^of ours in several sections of the Republic who profess their readiness to pick out certain parts of that ^half part of the compact as either not necessary or not right just.—.—For myself ^however I am free to say ^with a candid heart I know not of any such parts.—I take the edifice and the vestibule together complete and whole as unitary and complete, and always go in by the vestibule front door. And I say the journeymen that built ^that that mighty house were giants, and the architects that planned it were gods.—

^Fellow Democrats We have a little questioning phrase that ^in four words involves ^every thing, the riddle of the earth, and all politics and ^settles the value all the constructions of man, and of any thing little small or great.—It is a phrase perpetually in the mouths of children, when they are attracted by any

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If tThe fishes of the sea were must not insist on havingve the whole earth covered with water, because it ^that element is necessary to their existence.—It might suit them that way so, no doubt ^ both shark and shad, and crocko alligators too, ; but they their suiting must shall never crowd off the life, and the breathing of life, of the millions of beings who ^exist only inon land, and breathe air, and cannot subsist flourish where they subsist.— flourish.—Well gentlemen the [w?] no well no class of developed American workingmen and freemen can any more flourish among slavery, than the animals of ? lungs can breath in the depths of the sea.—Then let the fishes be content with what they already have; for two thirds of the earth's surface is now already theirs—and there they can ^let them disport themselves I think—both shark and alligator and whale, and the great squids of the north whose name should be Congressman ^President or Executive officers, for he is as muxy as he is big and can be bitten in twain by a chip of wood.—

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As to agitation the patriots of Congress may pass as many finalities as the like,—and think they are mighty sma vastly smart.—Our The right by law of ^free speech, of free printing, free argument, as it did not [origi?]


All Freemen north and south, not slave-owners—all farmers, mechanics ^artizans artizans alland laboring people—all immigrants, Germans, Irish, English, Irish, French^—the whole population of the 312 states who have no human property——should say to the Slave-owners and breeders, hold this language: The day has arrived when for us to have a voice in the argument.—You ask for your rights, which very well.—We have concluded that as crying for this is the fashion to be in fashion, and see whether we have ^not some rights too.—Our We are millions; you can be easily counted by hundreds.—Your mfortunes are made;—a very large proportion of them perhaps [of?] out of our money, as passed through the pockets of Uncle Sam.—Our territory of Nebrask and Kanzsas is wanted for our children, or the children of people like us.—If ^you or your children choose to come, of course you you have

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4| 900
6000| 1000

[3?] 32-5-32 3

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the same right to come that we have, and on the same terms.—Fair play all round, and no jockeying on the course.—We say our territory We [t?] will stand no This vast tract is ours—ours, of the the people's of the whole 312 states, north and south—the common people's—the working people's.—It is not the north's ^specially, nor the south's specially.—Above all, it is does not the slave-owner's, any how.— belong to the owners of slaves— Fair p Don't se you undertake to set yourselves up as the ^entire south ^either; we are not bluffed off in with by such a trick as that any longer.—You are many most of you very fine fellows, and we like you well enough.—But there you are only a fraction of the south.— But And we don't like you quite well enough to swamp ourselves and all the rest of the nation, except you to suit ^you or any body.— ^Don't gauge us by the people that have gone from our parts to Washington. We are live men. as well as you!—Stand back! we mean what we say.—The g[illegible] books ar

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[cut away] I suppose it is plain enough that when you we stop the spread of slavery you we do not no harm to this numerous body of common people.—They own no slaves.—They are not great proprietors.—They are many of them as hard workers and as poor farers as the blacks.—The fight is strictly and exclusively a fight where one side is composed of the slave-owners and slave breeders of the southern states— owners of slaves stand on one side, with ^flanked by whoever they can persuade, bully, frighten or purcha or bribe, and ^ I have no doubt a few candid ^Northern believers in slavery in the North to bring up the rear; while on the other side ^against them stands every body else—[r?]—.—T All ^white working men, South as well as north are ^or ought to be against them; for the establishment of master to receive and live in elegance contr and slave, makes as quick as lightning an de the odious distinction between two of an inferior class composed of all who are not owners of slaves.—All mechanics, carpenters masons, blacksmiths, tailors; and ^and all other mechanics laborers of every description, are or ought to be against them; and as much thos the southern ones as the northern ones.—The manufacturing character of this Republic cannot but lose

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[cut away] If in ^For for through this ^circling Confederacy, so standing together with interlinked hands, ample, equal, each ^one with his grip of love wedged in a ^his deathless for in life and in death to his [illegible] eternal grip of life love with ^in life or in death to [th?] all the rest, we do not all must share and share alike.—then the My Our old mother does not spread the table with a fine dish for one and scraps for another.—She teaches us no Not such mean and hoggish lesson.—If there be any thing tit-bit of good dish and not enough of it to go completely round, it shall not be brought on at all.—S If every brother and every sister cannot be supplied, or have an equal chance to be supplied, nobody shall be supplied.—Shall Can I stuff myself, and shine in grease, [cut away]

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Let Let us bless gGod that there yet remain common people in the world who are not and that we are not all lawyers—(speak of great Lawyers—the [sublimity?] of the for           )

The race of lawyers ^is very curious—One of this race reminds ^us of a Chinese metaphor. One of He is a lantern on a high pole that shines and throws himself very well, afar off, but doesn't at see the very ground he stands on.—


Do not think you let the wolf into the field to seize on one of the our herd, ^feebler than the others while all the rest can be safe, and it makes no difference to them.—

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G           let us not suppose wethat certain states of our confederacy ^which have not slaves are to be set up above the others, or are possess any better ^average virtue than the others.—because The plantation states have the hopple and [one?]the overseer and the iron-necklace and the lash—but the northern states have Judas and all his dough-mouthed offspring.—

I think we ^have sponged long enough on ^the Pilgrim Fathers and George Washington and the Revolutionary Ward War.—They have given us maintained us for seventy years; and it is time we should strike out for ourselves.—

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Real Liberty Democracy is in some sense and great riches are in some sort repugnant to one another.—Riches draw off the attention from the principles of Liberty Democracy, or which are abstractions, called the rights of man.—Riches demand the use of the house for themselves.—And men have frequently to choose whether they will have ^retain one or the other.—My own opinion is that no amount of riches that which numbers can calculate will ever make up to either any live man or any live nation, for the deprivation of ^ its ^rational Democratic liberty and equality..—

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^ And now a word for the ^ Democracy of the South. G[illegible]t[illegible] I dare will not ^insult you by suspecting that there is in this place any of that Congressional ignorance and depravity which ^pretends to looks on supposes that a small fraction of wealthy and selfish men owning slaves by the custom of these states owning slaves, make up as being the ^ entire principal South.— Is There is not you will understand that there is a Democracy in the south.?—a I know that there is—and true Democracy—working men, common people, farmers who plough their own fields, laborers and immigrants—these and they form the body of the people as they ^citizens there, just as the same sorts do at the North and West.—.—And these, whenever they speak the whole simple and candid truth, make common cause throughout the whole United States.— Th The As to the others, both North and South, I cannot too emphatically remind you that ^in all countries the there is a always seems to be a settled tendency among the the richer classes, with and high officials, toward breaking down by sly stratagems or open force, the primary and inalienable rights of man.— When I And wWhen we I review the history of the world, ^and behold how often they have succeeded, and even now the signs now abroad, dark signs are in Europe, I do not complain at the many champions of equ Freedom the good ^old cause who grow bilious and alarmed.—I do not wonder, as I look over the broad surface of the sea of time, there are bold and brave that some of the toughest seamen, get tired of the ^such great fierce storms and of the such frequent dismemberment and defections of the crew.—They despair, they will expect no ^better luck, they will try no longer. Of these doubting ones and am not I.—Such O god Genius Liberty of Democratic [illegible]Freedom! is not the halting and [partial?] [cut away] I bring thee you.—

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^Why What a miserable sight have we so often seen in Congress—the learned men ^gravely debating with gravity, whether our government legalized slavery or Liberty.—

Slavery [D?] consistent with American National Law?—Consistent with the Slavery stand under our law!—Why it cannot stand under English law, which is beams casts the light as compared to ours, on such a that subject like on that subject, as compared to ours, like a foggy night compares with a cloudless noon the sunrise with in its most fiery reddest [shooting?] arrows of glory.—In the All the great British grand authorities of the British law Judiciary pronounce it slavery without uprightness, without foothold, any more than a snake, repugnant to the foundations of law, and to be declared null and void whenever brought before [illegible]any high court.—In the great case of Somersett, four years before the Declaration of Independence, this was the decision of the great mighty judges of England.—And it has been unanimously ratified without exception since. When When these Colonies broke loose from the British dominion, slavery here was lawless, and had no resp foundation [any of?] in jurisprudence at all.—

What then has been done since?—Have the we been kicking and sweating ^these eighty years, under some ugly dream?—Have [illegible] Is there no meaning, no truth, no definiteness, in words writing, in engagements?—Does the British Constitution, which that vague something we hardly know, what, without preamble or specific any prefatory expositor—that heap without form, and on which no man can put his finger—does that illegalize slavery, and the American Constitution ^which is precise and and ample broad compact make it legal? Does that ^the damned whelp of sink fall howling and dead under the feet fingers blows of an English Judge, and have his full swing with meat and drink to boot, from ^the caressing hand of an American Judge?—

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Well what is this American Republic for?—What Do the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution mean?—Do they mean simply the copied gGovernment abtfter the old absolute Asiatic or modified European model, a government ^as of positive right in itself? and claim ?—Is caste—Is the divine right of not of one king but many kings, to prevail in America? Do they mean what they ^themselves appear to tell in concise and plain words? Or be ther do they mean nothing palpable tangible at all like but are alike a font of brevier type ^indiferent whether it be ^the letters set up in a bawdy book or the Lord's Prayer?

You know, and the world knows well, what this ^the bargain of this Condfe^deracy and its government are for, and what is their ^distinct meaning is:—If under them, ^and their inevitable effect, when not impeded by the in special state sovereignty and then always at variance with in contempt of their ^letter and spirit, the hopple does not fall away from the ancles legs of the slave,—if his breast then feel no more the th blood whether black or white, be stained no more with blood of from the necklace of spikes of iron thorns—if man cannot walk the earth undegraded untortured by the that cankerous anguish which with which every proud and sympathetic soul sees his likeness and his fellow degraded into a to among owned brutes—if it be not lawful for the meaning and direct purpose ^of our original govern Supreme Compact that such that these results can

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[cut away] One answer to this is that the main body of this our nation, north and south, [is?] east and west, are possess a patriotic and noble feeling, extremely sensitive and alarmative easily alarmed about the union of these states; and and, like all good and noble feelings, it is susceptible of being played upon.—Another answer is that the instincts of the people have unerringly signified which is the that their knowledge of a bogus article from solid gold:—The men who played the great parts in these plays ^dramas have all, without one single exception, been set aside, without and failed of preferment. by the voters of these Some to the high stations which th the world knew they aimed at.—Some lag lame sour and spavined in the Senate; some chew the cud of unachieved obscure prospects, in private stations at home; others have descended ^to the grave with a the an unspeakable bi bitterness which of despair and unachieved hopes, more sorrowful than death.—We will not dwell here bear press hard upon them ; step lightly over them;— for the dead whether in Congress or in cemeteries, ^are not to be treated with forbearance. must be treated with a decent respect.A third reflection is, with the

While All these actors have been set aside rejected the ship carpenter rejects unsound stuff

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[cut away] to see the very ground it stands on.—

Under that indispensable vital part, the or lungs of the American system of government, our independent State Sovereignty, clannish wealth, or majorities, or powerful sectarian feeling, have at various times, in their own limits, neglected or palpably offended, the letter and spirit of our ^Supreme American ^and National Law.—For any neglect or offence of this kind, so long as it is confined in state limits, ^and to their own citizens and does not seriously impede [annoy?] the operations of the general government, there is no help.—It must be left to time and the native good sense of the people.—The principle of ^sovereign state control of state soil and independent management of domestic affairs is ^one of the most important principles of the compact, and it cannot be contravened by the general government on any pretence whatever, short of some such thing as nullification that I can think of as likely to arise.—In Connecticut at one time the within the law has been that debtors unable to pay could be sold by the creditor into temporary slavery to pay the demand.—In Maryland the constitution authorized provided for the levy by the state government officers of a general tax for the support of certain religious priests.—In South Carolina no man has been eligible to be elected governor unless he was worth £10,000 During the four years antecedent to 1808, the slave trade was provided for, by legislative enactment in some states and during that time nearly 100,000 poor wretches were kidnapped in Africa, and those who lived throu the horrors of the passage were landed here and sold. here and sold For a long time, in New Hampshire, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, no Roman Catholic

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could be elected or appointed to any high office.—In Delaware office holders were required to profess their belief in the Trinity.—^In some states, men and women have been sold to pay their passage at sea.—In Pennsylvania they must offices could not come in until they be enjoyed except by people who acknowledged the inspiration of the Old and New testaments.—In Massachusetts too were very intolerant religious tests.—Some of these ^undemocratic unnational unAmericanisms are among dead things, and some are still partially alive among live things.—Slavery, the greatest exception ^undemocratic unAmericanism of all is very live.—But th all of them the moment they stretch out beyond the wall lines of the states where they enjoy are enacted, mel melt ^under the national law, like ice ^a lump brought from the ice house brought under the July sun.—

Fellow [Dems?] One of the covenants of the our Constitution binds each state to the observance of the following clause: No person bound to service or labor under the laws of one state and escaping into another state, shall be made free by the laws of that other state, but shall be delivered up to him those to whom the labor or service is due.—Gentlemen I cannot argue with any one tThis ^immensely overrated clause of one Article 4th of the articles of the Constitution is ^in reality simple, broad ^unexceptionable, easily understood, and not necessarily at all inconsistent with the rest, so long as you keep it in its place and due proportion ^and subordination to the rest.. It is not the whole Constitution and Supreme Law Primary Compact., [alt?] but It should be strictly and faithfully observed ^by every state, as far as its plain meaning goes,.—which is a It should of course be construed in harmony with deference to the evident spirit of the rest of the Supreme Law, and under the light control of the head and heart ^thereof as much as possible.—It is not to be taken out and madly made the pretext for violating all the rest.—Over and above this ^part of the covenant, it is imperatively reserved to us ^each state, by the letter and spirit of the bargain, to decide who those escaped servants are, and to honorably perform the whole obligation, as they perform any other obligation, by due process of law and without any violent intrusion from abroad.—I doubt very much whether

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Congress has any ^just right to meddle in this matter at all, it being simply any agreement between the old thirteen states, like without any empowering any body to enforce it: and like many other parts of the [a?] of the agreements they made, best carried out when left ^as among gentlemen of perfect blood, to their high-toned honor and ^which is to always identical with palpable interest.—However that may be, I ask every American Democrat of every State and territory that owns our flag to to stand by one me in saying this: I say that the Congress of these States has no right either from Law, Constitution, compact, or any source whatever, to the unparallelled audacity of intruding in the midst of the local communities any where, north or south, armed police, irr strangers and irresponsible to our state laws, who at their pleasure, or the ruling of without trial by ^our juries, decide in the most summary manner, which man among us has a right to his liberty and which has not.—
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I say that the attempt to of people outside to come in ^the separate states and seize upon men, or [even?] Americans born, or even upon property, without the least deference to the our sovereign independence of our soil, or our the dec should
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I say that the power prerogative to send here by authority of the President, officers paying no deference to ourthe sovereign independence of our soil and our laws,courts, but who claim who seize with violence on what our laws only know, until f duly advised different, as peaceful Americans, white or black, who have made themselves amenable to no punishment whatever under our statutes or customs, was never delegated to any man or body of men on this earth—that it violates every atom of the theory of state rights, and that the people of any state in the Confederacy would be no true American freemen if whenever it be tried on, it do not rouse fetch up the iron arm of rebellion which we keep for time of need.—

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Is this a small matter?—The matter of tea and writing paper was smaller.—But this is every way a larger matter question matter.—It involves the question point whether we or somebody else shall possess the simplest control of on our house, on our premises.—^It is so large that it demands of the Democracy, ^the Republicans, every live man of them, Say Speak ^I would have you speak to these [foreign?] official ^intruders ^whenever and wherever they come among us, not in the snivel of prayer meetings nor with the genteel moderation of northern congressmen but in tones something like the crack of the artillery at            What fetches you here?—What seek you do you want among my haughty and jealous democracies of the north?—I want do not to discuss any nigger question with you now; itthis is a vital question of my own dignities and immunities which I decide at once and without parley.—^Have you nothing nearer the purpose ^no better excuse than to say you wont lay your hands on me, or my woman, or my flesh and blood.—I know you will not for certain excellent reasons.—But that's not to the purpose.—These streets are mine.—There are my officers and my courts.—At the Capitol is my Legislature.—The warrant you bring with you we know it not.—It is foreign to my usages, as to my eyes and ears.—Go back to the power that sent you.—Tell it that having delegated to it certain important functions, and having entered into certain important engagements with our brother states, we like all the rest, have reserved more important functions, embodying our own primary rights, exclusively to ourselves.—For such ^insult and intrusion upon those rights you well deserve the penalty of all t purchased traitors agents of tyranny.—When ^in [the?]olden days, in classical lands, the officers of Darius ^the great King, the Persian, came with attempts far less degrading than these, the free proud democracies of Athens and Sparta answered them with the terrible ^short quick answer of Death—though all they asked was a little water and a handful of Grecian earth.—As for you, while now you go away in peace, remember to stay ^away—,—and come no more with demands like these to my free cities, or my ^teeming country towns, or along my rivers, or sea shore.—

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But why do I babble here?—Now Now This hour, this moment Wwhile I talk such big words, the police of the President may march might ^ march in here and ^by law of Congress, passed by [voting?] free votes of my delegates lay their hands upon my shoulder, and in the name of the statute and under its penalties order my ^active assistance to capture some ignorant wretched countrymen of mine, born ^and bred on American soil, his father or grandfather very likely a white man, and this ^poor unhappy butt of butt of brute hunted by greater brutes for no avowedly for no crime, but because some Southern or Northern gentleman has owns the title deed to of him, and he has somehow made a run for it.—

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[cut away] Is the whole land is becoming one vast model plantation, whose inhabitants think suppose the ultimate and best ends of man attained when he drives ^ n a profitable business, no matter how abject the terms—^and when he has enough to wear, and is not bothered for pork?—

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