Selected Criticism

Speed, Attorney General James (1812–1887)
Hatch, Frederick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Born in Kentucky, James Speed received his education there, began his law practice in Louisville (1833), and served in the Kentucky legislature (1847), although his opposition to slavery hampered his political career. Speed taught law at the University of Louisville (1856–1858), then served in the Kentucky State Senate (1861–1863). He was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Lincoln (1864). When Whitman was fired from the Interior Department (1865), friends recommended him to Speed, who was not offended by Whitman's poetry, as Secretary James Harlan had been. Referring to Speed and his successors, Whitman said, "I couldn't wish to have better bosses" (Whitman 26).

When Lincoln was assassinated, Speed soon found himself in disagreement with President Johnson's reconstruction policies and resigned (1866). Returning to Kentucky, Speed ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate (1867) and for the House of Representatives (1870), and again taught law (1872–1879).

Whitman remained friendly with Speed, writing to keep him up to date on affairs at the office, and, in applying for pardon clerk (1871), gave Speed's name as a reference. In 1868 he recalled Speed's having treated him with "distinguished consideration" (Whitman 26). When Speed was asked to speak at the unveiling of a bust of Lincoln in Louisville, he asked Whitman to polish the speech for him, saying, "[H]e can do it better than any man I know" (qtd. in Allen 377).


Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Collins, Margaret B. "Walt Whitman: Ghost Writer for James Speed? or 'None Goes His Way Alone.'" Filson Club History Quarterly 37 (1963): 305–324.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Speed, James. James Speed: A Personality. Louisville: J.P. Morton, 1914.

Speed, Thomas. Records and Memorials of the Speed Family. Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing, 1892.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 2. New York: New York UP, 1961.


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