Life & Letters


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Title: Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 31 July 1848

Date: July 31, 1848

Whitman Archive ID: med.00956

Source: The location of the original manuscript is unknown. Whitman's letters to Alexander Hamilton Hayes (1806–1866) and John Eliot McClure (ca. 1809–1869)—the editors of The Daily Crescent (New Orleans, Louisiana)—were published in that newspaper. The transcription presented here is derived from The Daily Crescent (10 August 1848): [2]. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Stefan Schoeberlein, Zachary Turpin, Stephanie Blalock, Jeff Hill, and Amanda J. Axley

July 31.

"Through between New York and New Orleans by daylight," is the feat which, I notice, by one of your contemporaries of the 19th inst., was accomplished the preceding day. All hail! thou telegraph—thou who puttest a girdle round at least a good portion of the earth, in literally, less than no time! Nor doth this girdle come in a bad period, either; for these are the days when foolish men, of various extremes of opinion, talk about "dissolving the Union," as they would of selling a house! Truly, a ligature of lightning will be one of the sovereignst things on earth to hold what they would so madly unloose. As it is, I do not think, in sober seriousness, there is any reality of danger to the integrity of our Republic; but lace the States thoroughly together with magnetic wires, and no human power could ever break asunder the bundle. This I solemnly believe.

But about this dissolution talk; does not most of it seem to you excessively foolish? As a last resort—as an escape from insult, wrong, and oppression—as a means of something better than the fruits which the union of these States has thus far produced—dissolution might be talked about with less puerility. But, as things are, it seems to me that all sensible men, South and North, must feel disgust at the way the point is bandied in Congress and among politicians.

To-day is one of the dampest, darkest, and drizzliest of summer days. Everything in-doors and out, is pervaded by the sticky moisture. The east wind, withal, is laden with sea-fog, which seems to settle heavily over the citizens, and check the usual briskness and activity of a Monday morning. For you must know that Monday, in New York, is the day of days. The majority of important business transactions are effected on that day: the dandy and the belle put on their new attire on that day; and then the theatres bring out their fresh pieces; and then folks commence engagements; then, also, people get married. To-day, however, the briskest business appears to be done by the street-crossing sweepers, who are scudding across, from either side of Broadway, with their petticoats tucked between their legs; their "please give me a penny for keeping the walk clean," rarely indeed producing any effect amid the general sulkiness.

Considerable vexation is felt here at the culpable remissness of the Senate in not passing the bill for establishing a mint in New York. The idea of tacking on a section, for the purpose of building a mint also at Charleston, S.C., is absurd. Let each tab stand on its own bottom. Congress has a very bad practice of mixing up two or three separate matters in one bill, and forcing the good portions to either carry through the bad, or let the whole be sunk. As these are days of improvement, it would be well if a standing rule were adopted in both Houses, requiring each separate subject of a law to be embodied and passed upon by itself.

The Hunker1 wing of the democracy are to hold a State convention on the 5th of next September,2 to nominate a candidate for Governor. The Barnburners hold their convention about a week later.3 A week from next Wednesday, the great Buffalo convention4 comes off, when we shall see exciting times, and no mistake. It is most probable that Van Buren5 will be confirmed as the "free-soil" nominee for the Presidency. Many talk of Judge McLean6 as likely to be put upon the same ticket for the Vice-Presidency. Even Clay7 is talked of for the same station. It is by no means improbable that he may be nominated. There is reason to doubt, however, whether he would accept. Mr. Clay makes no secret of his opposition to Gen. Taylor;8 and the general opinion is, that he will come out in favor of the Buffalo nominee.

A rumor is circulated in some of the morning papers, that Gen. Cass9 has written a letter, affirming his determination, should he be elected, to veto the Wilmot proviso.10

The steamer Hermann will be looked for to-morrow morning. People will not be surprised to see her streaking up the bay before the sun goes down. She must have left Southampton on the 20th inst., with some 120 passengers; that number being booked for the voyage. The America, from Liverpool, is probably close upon her heels, having left on the 22d, also for this port. The Crescent City leaves to-morrow for New Orleans, and will very likely be at the levee by the time you get this epistle.

Talking of steamers, I do wish you could see, as she now lies upon the stocks, the largest steamboat in the world, at the foot of Twelfth street. This immense craft is 400 feet in length, breadth and other matters in proportion. She is for a day-boat on the Hudson, and is intended to go to Albany and back, by daylight! She is a sort of moving Astor House, an aquatic St. Charles Hotel! She is fitted up with innumerable parlors, dining-rooms, etc.; the plan being to furnish passengers with meals in the refectory style—not by a general table d'hote. She is a whopper, there's no denying that; and will introduce a new era in steam travel on the Hudson. Her burthen is 1600 tons, propelled by forty-six-feet wheels, and an engine of 15 feet stroke. Her accommodations are for over 2000 persons.

Gen. Taylor's letter of acceptance appears in the papers to-day. It is written in general terms, and excites no feeling, either favorable or condemnatory. It is pretty evident that, in case of the old General's election, the Republic would not have a party President—and that's more than can be said of several late ones.

Every body is pleased at hearing that the Senate has passed the resolution for adjourning on the 14th of August; without doubt, the House will confirm it.



1. Barnburners and Hunkers were terms used to describe opposing sides of the fracturing Democratic party in New York during the mid-nineteenth century. The Barnburners held radical anti-slavery views and were willing to destroy banks and corporations to end corruption and abuses. The Hunkers were pro-government; they favored state banks and minimized the issue of slavery. The divisions between these factions in New York reflected the national divisions that would lead to the American Civil War (1861–1865). [back]

2. The Hunker state convention was held in Syracuse, New York. Their nominee for Governor of New York was Reuben H. Walworth (1788–1867). A month later, Hamilton Fish (1808–1893), the Whig candidate, won the 1848 election and became the sixteenth Governor of New York. [back]

3. The Barnburner state convention was held in Utica, New York, and resulted in the nomination of John Adams Dix (1798–1879) as the Free Soil candidate for governor. [back]

4. Whitman is referring to the first National Free Soil Convention that was held in Buffalo in August 1848. At the convention, attendees endorsed Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) as the Free Soil presidential candidate and nominated Charles F. Adams (1807–1886) for Vice President. Formed during the 1848 election, the Free Soil Party opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories of the western United States, which included the territory that Mexico had ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican-American War. When neither the Democratic nor the Whig party presidential nominees would rule out the expansion of slavery into these territories, the Free Soil Party was formed in response. The Free Soil Party was active for six years, from 1848 to 1854. [back]

5. Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) was the eighth president of the United States, serving from 1837 to 1841. Whig candidate William Henry Harrison defeated the incumbent Van Buren in the 1840 election to become the ninth president of the United States. Van Buren later became an anti-slavery leader and was the Free Soil candidate for president in the 1848 election; the Whig Candidate Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) defeated Van Buren and went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States. [back]

6. John McLean (1785–1861) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio and later served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. McLean was not chosen as the Free Soil Vice Presidential nominee in the 1848 election. Instead, Charles F. Adams (1807–1886) became the running mate of Free Soil Presidential candidate Martin Van Buren (1782–1862).  [back]

7. Henry Clay (1777–1852) was an attorney who went on to serve as a United States Representative and a United States Senator from Kentucky. Clay ran for president in the elections of 1824, 1832, and 1844, and, although he was unsuccesful in his bids for the presidency, he was one of the founders of the Whig Party and of the National Republican Party. [back]

8. Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), a Southern slaveholder and a well-known American miltary leader in the Mexican-American War, was the Whig Candidate for president in the 1848 United States Presidential Election. Taylor won the election and went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]

9. Lewis Cass (1782–1866) was a statesman, politician, and military officer. He served as a Senator representing the state of Michigan, as the Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, and as Secretary of State under James Buchanan. In 1848 he was the Democratic candidate for president. Cass was a proponent of the Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which held that each territory should choose whether to permit slavery. Cass was also crucial in the implementation of Andrew Jackson's policy of Indian Removal. For more information on Cass, see The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005 (United States Government Printing Office, 2005), 797. [back]

10. The Wilmot Proviso was an unsuccessful attempt in 1846 to prohibit slavery in the territories gained in the Mexican-American War. [back]


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