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Walt Whitman to Hiram J. Ramsdell, 19 July 1867

 loc.01831.001_large_mflm.jpg My dear Hiram Ramsdell:

Mr. Cummins1 has called upon me, bringing me your note of 17th2 & we have had quite a talk—he seems to be a wide-awake, candid young man, & makes a good impression upon me. He spoke of you, of his own affairs & fortunes, of Idaho, of Judge Kelly,3 Holbrook,4 &c. &c.—In  loc.01831.002_large_mflm.jpg respect to Judge Kelly, & his matter, I had already formed my opinion & made out my Report several days ago—The Attorney General5 is full of anxiety & debate, on the big things that are up, just now,—& has not been able to hear the Report, & decide upon it—but he told me this morning he would try to do so very shortly—If he decides as I have advised him, you & Cummins will have no reason to be dissatisfied.


—Dear friend, I rec'd your note6 when you left here—it was sent on to me at Brooklyn.—I value George Alfred Townsend's7 appreciation of L. of G. It was magnificent. Where is Townsend now?—I hope it may happen one day that I may have him near at hand, that we get to be friends—such is in my mind.—There is nothing new in my affrairs—all goes on as  loc.01831.004_large_mflm.jpg usual in the office. I am well. After a hot spell of a week, during the last of June, we have had the finest kind of weather here the most of this month—

—Remembrances & love to you, wife, & baby too.8 Farewell, Walt Whitman

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. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 2. See Hiram J. Ramsdell's letter to Whitman of July 17, 1867. [back]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) was appointed Attorney General on July 23, 1866, and served until March 12, 1868, when he resigned to serve as President Johnson's chief counsel in the impeachment proceedings. When, at the conclusion of the trial, Johnson renominated Stanbery, the Senate refused to confirm him. Failing eyesight—to which Whitman referred in letters from November 13, 1866, and November 20, 1866—forced Stanbery to retire from legal practice in 1878. Speaking to Horace Traubel in 1888, Whitman affirmed his fondness for Stanbery (Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Friday, Novmeber 23, 1888). [back]
  • 6. Whitman is likely referring to Ramsdell's May 8, 1867, letter in which Ramsdell reports George A. Townsend's highly laudatory comments on Leaves of Grass. [back]
  • 7. George Alfred Townsend (1841–1914) was a writer and journalist who contributed to the New York Herald and the Chicago Tribune. In 1862, Townsend became a war-correspondent for the New York Herald and later served in the same capacity for the New York World. It may have been because of Townsend's affiliation that Whitman sent "Song of the Exposition" to the Chicago Tribune on May 5, 1876 (Whitman's Commonplace Book, Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 11). On May 10, 1876, the newspaper returned the manuscript because it arrived too late for publication. [back]
  • 8. Hiram Ramsdell was married to Emily Garretson Ramsdell (1839–1916), the daughter of William Garretson (1801–1872), a lawyer and conductor on the Underground Railroad. The Ramsdells had at least two children; Whitman is referring to Hiram's oldest daughter Etta (b. 1867). [back]
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