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Title: Last Evening

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 12, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 12 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.00408

Contributors to digital file: Kevin McMullen, Nolan Shan, Amanda Kapper, and Jason Stacy




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Last Evening.

The first patterings of the tempest—the reveille—the portents of the coming battle—were to be seen and heard in all directions last evening. Between five and six o'clock, a strange, good humored, heterogeneous mass of young and old, gentlemen and loafers,1 began to congregate in the Park; and, though professedly the call was for a "Tyler meeting,"2 we question whether nineteen twentieths were not known friends either to Clay3 or to "regular democratic nominations." About six o'clock, we stepped over in front of the City Hall to see what was going on. As near as we could judge, two thousand people were present—and every one, apparently, in a huge good humor, laughing, joking, and merry without restraint. Col. Hamilton,4 up on the steps, backed against one of the marble columns, was reading from a MS. paper, though we should imagine only those in his immediate vicinity could have heard him. Now and then, the people at his left would swing their hats, and cry "Hurrah for Clay!" Then those at the right would start a "Hurrah for Van Buren!"5 As soon as the noise subsided, some enthusiastic fellow down in the crowd would call "Three cheers for Phænix!"6 which was just as surely wound up by "Three cheers for Bob Morris!" All this time, Col. Hamilton kept reading on, though it was like talking to the stormy waves.

We believe there were no fights, or rows; but the whole of this amusing conglomeration of idlers allowed each other to hurrah for just whoever he blessed please. Can it be that the Herald, or any other print, will come out this morning with an attempt to continue the gag of a "Tyler meeting?" The whole of this manœuvre is about as bungling and poorly worked a game as we ever saw played. Its very parentage is ashamed of it.

At night, the great transparency in front of Tammany7 was all lit, and the gas touched up in the big room. Just after eight o'clock, when we edged our entrance in the room, James M. Smith 8 was holding forth upon the rostrum, and from what we heard of his remarks we should set them down as mere common place stuff, intended to "tickle the ears of the groundlings." He soft soaped the foreigners present; and they, as in duty bound, applauded him loudly. How long will Tammany be under leading strings to fifth rate pettifoggers, and wrangling limbs of the law?

When Smith concluded, the great Kinderhook roarer came forward.9 Had we not seen the learned gentleman in times bygone, we should certainly have despatched some one post haste after a physician; for such spasmodic contortions—such horrible and ghastly grimaces—such terrible evidences of bad digestion, and the want of Sherman's lozenges—it made us quite uncomfortable to behold. Is it true that this Vanderpoel pretends to be a gentleman? Such low, vulgar scurrility—such beastly coarseness—such claptrap, stale trash—such gross egotism, and such pandering to the worst prejudices of the Irish, whom it seemed his peculiar desire to make his hail fellows well met—our ears were never before disgusted with; and we cannot but be solemnly impressed with the idea that Fortune has made a great mistake in placing this overgrown lubber among the society of decent men. He said he was "half an Irishman" himself. We presume respectable Americans would not grieve much were the "whole hog" Irish.

In the course of the evening, we stepped into several of the ward meetings—one at Tom Riley's, one at Dunn's, and one at the Marion House, in West Broadway. They seemed to be slim affairs all round—very little enthusiasm, and very little confidence of success in either party.

To all appearance, there is no certainty for either ticket. The Morris candidates flatter themselves with an easy victory, from their having gained the Catholic interest back to their support. Large masses, however, of those who would have voted for them, will not do so, since the open identification of the Tammany ticket with the Hughes faction.10

Ward processions, with banners and music, paraded the streets until midnight, and after.


Notes:

1. Webster's dictionary (1846) defines "loafer," from the German laufer, "a runner" and from laufen, "to run," as "an idle man who seeks his living by sponging or expedients" (Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1846], 975). The way in which Whitman uses the verb "to loaf" in this essay was first used only two years before, in 1838, according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online. Whitman also used the term "loafing" in an editorial published in the Brooklyn Evening Star on October 10, 1845, but in a more critical manner (see The Journalism, ed. Herbert Bergman et al. [New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 1998], 1: 222). For an analysis of the ways in which Whitman visually portrayed himself as a "loafer" in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass see Matt Miller, "The Cover of the First Edition of Leaves of Grass," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 24, no.2–3 (Fall 2006/Winter 2007): 85–97; and Ted Genoways, "'One good shaped and welding man:' Accentuated Sexuality and the Uncertain Authorship of the Frontispiece to the 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass," in Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 87–124. [back]

2. Whitman here is referring to John Tyler, who became the tenth President of the United States (1841–1845) when President William Henry Harrison died in April 1841. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor. Tyler was a Democrat who was nominated on the Whig Presidential ticket with Harrison in the election of 1840 and by the end of his term in office was hated by both parties. For further reading, see: John M. Belohlavek, "John Tyler: The Accidental President," The Journal of American History 93, no. 4 (2007): 1235. [back]

3. Henry Clay (1777–1852) was an important nineteenth century Whig politician who spent forty years as a state legislator, U.S. representative and senator, diplomat, cabinet member, and made three different attempts to run for President (1832, 1844, and 1848). For further reading, see: Robert Vincent Remini, Henry Clay: statesman for the Union (New York: Norton and Company, 1993). [back]

4. Alexander Hamilton, Jr. (1786-1875) was the third child of Alexander Hamilton and a successful New York lawyer, investor and real estate magnate. [back]

5. This is a cheer for Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) who was the eighth President of the United States. After serving as Andrew Jackson's Vice President from 1833–1837, Van Buren won the 1836 presidential election as the Democratic nominee but failed to win as the incumbent in the 1840 election, where he was defeated by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. Van Buren would stay active in politics, making a run for President as late as 1848 when he ran on the Free Soil ticket (Frank Freidel, Presidents of the United States of America [Collingdale, PA: DIANE Publishing, 1998], 23). [back]

6. J.P. Phoenix was the Whig nominee for the New York Mayoral election of 1842. Democrat Robert Morris defeated Phoenix in the mayoral election of 1842. [back]

7. Whitman uses Tammany here in reference to Tammany Hall, the headquarters of the Democratic political machine in New York that dominated the city's party politics for over a century. Tammany Hall is well known for its corruption and Whitman was highly critical of Tammany throughout his career. For further reading, see: Oliver E. Allen, The Tiger: the Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall (Addison–Wesley, 1993). [back]

8. The 1842-43 New York City Directory lists James M. Smith as an attorney (296). [back]

9. Aaron Vanderpoel (1799–1870), also known as the Kinderhook Roarer—a title he earned for his hometown of Kinderhook, New York, and his stentorian voice—was a three term representative of New York in congress. Even though Vanderpoel was a Democrat he had clearly fallen out of favor with Whitman for his favorable view of the Irish ("Vanderpoel, Aaron, 1799–1870," Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, accessed October 17, 2016, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/guidedisplay.pl?index=V000028 [back]

10. Whitman here is referencing Bishop John Hughes (1797–1864) who led the fight in New York City for parochial schools to be publically funded. Hughes' faction consisted almost exclusively of politicians fighting for publically funded parochial schools and Catholic Irish immigrants. For further reading, see: Jason Stacy, "Becoming Illuminated: New York City's Public School Society and Its Religious Discontents, 1805–1840," American Education History Journal 37, no. 2 (2010): 455–471. [back]


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