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Title: [On Saturday night]

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 11, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 11 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00382

Contributors to digital file: Emily Mills, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen




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☞ On Saturday night, the news arrived that Maclay’s school bill,1 as amended, had passed the Senate, 13 to 12.2 Mr. Varian voted against it; Scott dodged the question, and absented himself.3

At last, then, the Rubicon is crossed. The machinations and insolent threats of the Hughes clique4 have had their effect. We feel almost too shocked, too shamed at the very name of New York legislative honor, to give full utterance to our thoughts upon this matter. We were in hopes that there were some remnants of spirit in the bosoms of the democratic leaders at Albany—remnants sufficiently strong in degree to prevent the passage of this scandalous enactment—this statute for the fostering and teaching of Catholic superstition!

Mr. Varian deserves honor; though we have not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with him, it will be his fault, if, at the first opportunity, we do not take him warmly by the hand, and express how deeply he has impressed us with respect for his patriotism, and his brave devotion to principle.

As to this Scott, he deserves to be kicked from the presence of every man pretending to decency. He is not only an unprincipled political scoundrel, but has evinced himself to be low, mean, and contemptible in his every disposition. He had not courage to come out openly in favor of the Hughes clique, but takes this back stairs, half hid method of pandering to their interests. He is almost a blot to mention in the pages of a respectable newspaper!

Never was there a darker, more treacherous, despicable, and selfish game than that played, in this business, by a cabal among the leaders of Tammany—a cabal which, while it is a minority of Tammany itself, is sufficiently artful to send out its edicts as coming from the whole party. We know it to be the case, that when the Hughes clique threatened Tammany with defection unless the school bill passed,5 a delegation was sent up to Albany, with imperative commands to Scott, Varian, and all the rest who would let themselves be commanded, to vote for the bill. The delegation returned without attaining the object of their mission. Last Thursday, the aspect of the political horizon becoming still more gloomy, a second delegation was despatched, with orders to spare nothing, menace, entreaty, or expostulation, for the purpose of whipping the obstinate senators into the traces.6 This second embassy was successful, inasmuch as it seems that Scott was persuaded to absent himself, and let the bill go by means of that absence.

And these persons call themselves men of principle! Why, from beginning to end, the course of the democratic party—that portion of it who have bent to the dictation of the Austrain jesuits, and their associate the New Era, appears one continued string of trickery, black hearted deceit, and corrupt manoœuvring. Not only has the very name of democrat been made a jeer and hiss; not only have legislative votes been a matter of traffic, for the wretchedest partisan purposes; not only have principles been thrust aside, and the dearest interests of the city bartered to obtain support from the low Irish; but all has been done openly, done without even a decent veil to cover its nakedness. The well being of our children yields to the commands of foreign renegades. The "unterrified democracy"7 crouches at the feet of papal dictation, and is routed by a gathering of foreign scum.

It is now too late to do any thing in tomorrow’s election,8 to show the unprincipled men who have engaged in this measure, what utter disgust is felt toward the course pursued by them. Let all, however, do what can be done. Let every New Yorker, who feels how gross has been the conduct of both parties in this business, stay away from the polls and vote for neither ticket. If the riffraff, Hughes, and that despicable press, the New Era, are to rule the city, let it be not through the means of votes from men who have any American feeling.

We repeat it, let every person who does not belong to and is not friendly to the Catholic interest, stay away from the polls, and vote for neither party. And especially let those democrats, (and we feel confident we speak to no small number,) who blush for the course pursued by their party in this business, give it not the countenance of their suffrage.


Notes:

1. The Maclay Bill was named after its sponsor, Assemblyman William Maclay, who was the chair of the Committee on Colleges, Academies, and Common Schools for New York City. Maclay's bill characterized the Public School Society, an ostensibly private philanthropic organization that nonetheless received public support, as a monopoly and argued that public support for Catholic schools boosted attendance by Irish Catholic schoolchildren. However, the Maclay Bill also made no provisions for the role of religious instructions—this meant the bill adopted the previous policy of absolute non-interventionism in local school affairs as the official state policy, therefore threatening to divert state funds to parochial education. For more information, see: Ian Bartrum, "The Political Origins of Secular Public Education: The New York School Controversy, 1840–1842," N.Y.U Journal of Law & Liberty 3 (2008): 267. [back]

2. In 1841, before the Maclay Bill was proposed, two senate and 13 assembly seats were up for reelection (Bartrum, 306–320). During this period Bishop Hughes and the Catholic Association entered an independent list of candidates who endorsed ten of the regular Democratic nominees and gave assurance that they had "open minds on the school question." The Democratic Party also ran three candidates who were not endorsed by the Catholic Association and subsequently lost to Whigs. By the time of the meeting of the legislature, the Democrats had the majority and the Catholic party held the balance of power within the Democratic Party (John W. Pratt, "Religious Conflict in the Development of the New York City Public School System," History of Education Quarterly 5, no. 2 [1965]:110-120). [back]

3. Whitman is likely referring to Isaac L. Varian (1793–1864) and John B. Scott (1789–1854), both senators from the first district (Journal of the Senate of the State of New-York at their Sixty-Fifth Session [Albany: Thurlow Weed, 1842]). [back]

4. Bishop John Hughes (1797–1864), who exerted significant influence over the Catholic community in New York (Martin L. Meenagh, "Archbishop John Hughes and the New York Schools Controversy of 1840-43," American Nineteenth Century History 5, no. 1 [2004]: 34-65). Also see: Bartrum, 306-320. [back]

5. Whitman is referring to Hughes' ability to sway Irish Catholic and Tammany Democrats to support the Maclay Bill (Meenagh). [back]

6. The April 7th, 1842, issue of the Aurora describes the creation of the "Independent Democratic Republican" Party as an attempt by supporters of the Maclay Bill to force its passage, or threaten to peel the Irish Catholic vote away from the Democratic Party of New York. [back]

7. This term is usually associated with Mike Walsh (1810–1859), whose "Spartan Association" was part political activist group, part street gang. It sought to reform Tammany Hall in the name of working-class rights. Walsh also served as a correspondent for the Aurora in 1842. Whitman mentions Walsh in his editorial "The Bloody Sixth!" on April 9 and describes a street fight between the Spartans and a group of Irish youths in "The Late Riots" from the issue of April 15. [back]

8. Whitman is referring to the mayoral election. [back]


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