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Hiram J. Ramsdell to Walt Whitman, 17 July 1867

 loc.01830.001_large.jpg My Dear Walt:

You have, I believe, in your hands certain charges against Judge Kelly2 of Idaho. His friends are my friends, and while I do not know much of him personally, I nevertheless know his accuser, Delegate Holbrook,3 to be a very bad man—one of the worst in the territory. It seems to me that nothing good or proper can come out of him. Do not misunderstand me, but if you can do anything for Judge K. to aid him, without compromising your duty, you will be doing me a great  loc.01830.003_large.jpg  loc.01830.002.jpg favor.

I congratulate you, my dear fellow, on the great appreciation which reaches across the greatwater to shake your hand. Your time is coming. The world is getting to be enlightened. I am already, in a worldly way, as I am in a spiritual way, proud to be considered

Your friend H. J. Ramsdell  loc.01830.004_large.jpg  loc_tb.00362.jpg Hiram J. Ramdell July 19, '67—Ans.​ immediately  loc_tb.00363.jpg

Hiram J. Ramsdell (1839–1887) was a clerk in Washington; in a hospital notebook (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California), Whitman called him "chief clerk." Ramsdell was the Washington correspondent for the New York Tribune and the Cincinnati Commercial. On May 8, 1867, Ramsdell reported the high praise that George Townsend, the journalist (1841–1914), accorded to Whitman—"a stupendous genius," "the song of a God." On July 17, 1867, he asked Whitman to do whatever he could for Judge Milton Kelly, of Idaho, against whom charges had been brought by "a very bad man," Congressman Edward Dexter Holbrook (1836–1870), a Democrat from the Idaho Territory. Actually, on July 12, 1867, Whitman had submitted to the Attorney General a "Report on the Charges submitted by Hon. E. D. Holbrook, Del[egate] from Idaho Terr[itory], against Hon. Milton Kelly, Asso[ciate] Just[ice] Supreme Court of Idaho" (National Archives). To this forty-one page summary of the evidence, all in Whitman's hand, there is appended a letter signed by attorney general Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) but inscribed by Whitman, dated July 20, 1867: "The Conclusion in the preceding Report is hereby adopted by me, & ordered to stand as the decision of this Office in the Case, so far as now presented." On July 22, 1867, Ramsdell apologized for his "aggressiveness." Judge Kelly wrote to Whitman on June(?) 21, 1867 (National Archives), and again on August 9, 1867. On November 15, 1875, Ramsdell, among others, petitioned Benjamin H. Bristow (1832–1896), Secretary of the Treasury, that Whitman "be appointed to a position in the Treasury Department" (National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.).


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Mr. Walt Whitman | Atty Generals Office | Washington | DC. It is postmarked: NEW CASTLE | JUL | 17 | PA. [back]
  • 2. Judge Milton Kelly (1818–1892) was born in Onandago County, New York, and, later, worked at a mercantile business in Ohio before attending law school in Wisconsin. Kelly was an organizer of Idaho's Republican Party and was appointed as an associate justice of the Territorial Supreme Court by President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. Kelly was Lincoln's last official appointment; the President was assassinated later that month. [back]
  • 3. Edward D. "Ned" Holbrook (1836–1870), a prominent attorney who became Idaho Territory's delegate in 1864, confronted Judge Milton Kelly in a courtroom in 1863. There were no courts in the early years of the territory and many cases were delayed. Judge Kelly arrived to judge civil cases, many of which stood upon demurrer. According to the story, after the attorneys, of which Ned Holbrook was one, argued the demurrers, Judge Kelly alternated overruling and sustaining the demurrers without explanation. When confronted by Holbrook, Kelly replied, "Mr. Holbrook, if you think a man can be appointed from one of the eastern states, come out here and serve as a judge in Idaho on a salary of $3,000 a year, payable in greenbacks worth forty cents on the dollar, and give reasons for everything he does, you are mightly mistaken" (James H. Hawley, "The Judiciary and the Bar," History of Idaho, A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interest, 3 vols., ed. H. T. French [Chicago: 1914], 1:510–511). Holbrook was later murdered after a dispute within the Boise County Democratic Party. [back]
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