Selected Criticism

Tammany Hall
Green, Charles B.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The Society of St. Tammany (its name derived from Tammanend, the legendary chief of the Delaware Indians known for his wisdom and love of liberty) was founded in 1788 as a fraternal order dedicated to opposing the development of a hereditary aristocracy in the United States. Increasingly a partisan organization from the 1790s onward, Tammany became identified with the Democratic party and by the mid-1800s had become infamous for exercising political control in New York City through a boss-centered combination of charity and patronage.

Walt Whitman's relationship with Tammany Hall began in 1841 when the New Era, the official Tammany newspaper, quoted a speech he had given at a Democratic rally. A short time later, as editor of the New York Aurora, Whitman became entangled in a political controversy over state-supported parochial education that brought him into collision with the Tammany political machine, but this did not prevent him, he claimed, from writing Franklin Evans, his first novel, in the Tammany reading room. It was, in all probability, at Tammany Hall that Whitman met the Democratic editors, journalists, and politicians that led to his being offered the editor's chair first at the Democratic Statesman and then at the New York Democrat.

While at the Democrat, Whitman again challenged the Tammany party bosses by advocating the nomination of a liberal candidate for governor and for his efforts was summarily removed as editor. This defeat at the hands of political bosses would not be Whitman's last, as the Tammany machine continued to flourish, ruling over an era of gang fights and political abuses. The most infamous of Tammany's bosses, Boss Tweed, virtually controlled the state in the late 1860s and presided over a predatory band of looters responsible for the theft of tens of millions of dollars. This corruption continued into the twentieth century until an investigation finally discredited Tammany and forced the resignation of Mayor James Walker in 1932.


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

Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.


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