Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Matthew H. Carpenter to Walt Whitman, 31 January 1872

Date: January 31, 1872

Whitman Archive ID: syr.00002

Source: Walt Whitman Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: The annotation, "see notes Feb 9 1889," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Ashley Lawson, Kevin McMullen, John Schwaninger, Amanda J. Axley, Cristin Noonan, and Stephanie Blalock

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United States Senate Chamber,
Jan. 31, 1872.

Mr. Walt Whitman:
Dear Sir,

Examining some old papers, the other day, I found an extract from an argument of the late Hon. A. D. Smith,1 a Judge of the Sup. Ct. of Wisconsin, delivered by him when practising before that Court about twenty years ago, in a case of alleged rape, followed by conception; maintaining that the fact of conception was conclusive evidence of consent on the part of the prosecutrix. This argument was quite famous in Wisconsin at the time, and the extract may possibly interest you. Here it is:

"Conception, may it please Your Honors, is no reluctant throe of nature. Its production costs no pang, save when pleasure, from excess, is turning to pain; but it follows an embrace in which the heart, the lip, the entire humanity must participate; an embrace in which the mental, moral, & physical powers and susceptibilities are wrought to such an intensity of orgasm, mutual & reciprocal, that Nature crowns her beatitude with the production & endowment of a new identity. And wisely has she ordained that every faculty of mind or body which might thwart or counteract her purpose, should for the moment be wrapt in a bewilderment of bliss."

This is, in its way, I think a very fine thing; and the intimate friends of the author more than suspect that he had been there and knew.

Truly Yours
Matt H. Carpenter

Matthew Hale Carpenter (1824–1881), a Republican from Wisconsin, served as a United States Senator from 1869–1875 and again from 1879–1881. Carpenter died before he could complete his second term. Prior to his election to the Senate, Carpenter served as a lawyer and district attorney in numerous Wisconsin cities.


1. Abram Daniel Smith (1811–1865) was one of three justices elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court upon its creation in 1853. Smith is perhaps most notable for his 1854 opinion in Ableman v. Booth, in which Smith wrote that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional on the grounds of states' rights. Smith's ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1859, the same year Smith's tenure on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ended. See also Ruth Dunley, "In Search of A. D. Smith: A History Detective's Quest," Wisconsin Magazine of History 89.2 (Winter 2005–2006), 16–27. [back]


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