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James Speed to Walt Whitman, 17 October 1866

 loc.01894.001_large.jpg My dear Mr Whitman;

Herewith you will three dollars, the price of the copy of Leaves of Grass2 which I have just received—I am greatly obliged for this copy, but still more thankful to you for having written the Book.3 I know that the narrow minded of this world will depreciate & condemn it,—let your consolation be that the world is growing & will at last appreciate the great thoughts contained in it—

You say that every thing is going on in the office4 as when I left—Have you not received a permanent place? I have deeply  loc.01894.002_large.jpg regretted the fact, that I did not know your place to be temporary till after my resignation—I most earnestly desired Mr. Stanbery5 to give you an office—

It is very agreeable to receive much kind remembrances from the gentlemen in the office—I am sure that I have not more of their esteem and love than they have of mine— Bee​ good enough to say so to them—

I will deliver your message to Charley6—He is hard at work in a drug store with a very sore eye from careless handling of some acid—

The late elections in the Northern States 7 have  loc.01894.003_large.jpg made a profound & I trust an improving impression in Ky—

With kindness and friendship I am most truly James Speed Walt Whitman, Esq. Washington  loc.01894.005_large.jpg from James Speed Oct. 17, 1866

James Speed (1812–1887), was appointed attorney general by Abraham Lincoln in 1864. He continued to serve during Andrew Johnson's presidency, but resigned in July 1866, due to his opposition to Johnson's Reconstruction policies.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Walt Whitman | Atty gnral's office | Washington— It is postmarked: LOUISVILLE | OCT | 17 | [illegible] | KY.; DUE | 3; CARRIER | OCT | 19 | 7 P.M. [back]
  • 2. The fourth edition of Leaves of Grass (1867) was issued by the New York printer William E. Chapin. Often called the "workshop" edition, the volume consisted of four separately paginated books stitched together (an edited version of the 1860 Leaves of Grass, reissues of Drum-Taps and Sequel to Drum-Taps, and a coda called Songs Before Parting) between two covers. For more on the fourth edition, see Luke Mancuso, "Leaves of Grass, 1867 edition," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Whitman had recently sent a copy of his new edition of Leaves of Grass to the former Attorney General. See Whitman's letter to James Speed of October 13, 1866, in which Whitman requests three dollars for the book. [back]
  • 4. Whitman began working in the Attorney General's office at the beginning of July 1865, during James Speed's time as Attorney General. At the time of writing this letter, Speed had already resigned his position in protest of President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction politics. Whitman remained at the Attorney General's office until 1872. [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. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 7. In the 1866 elections, Republicans gained thirty-seven seats in the House of Representatives, with the Democrats losing nine. The Republicans gained a clear majority in the House, holding 173 seats to the Democrats' 47. With fellow border states Delaware and Maryland, Kentucky was one of only three states to elect Democratic representatives; Democratic failure in the election was due in no small part to the rise of Reconstruction politics and the waning popularity of President Andrew Johnson, who stumped for several Democratic nominees in the "Swing Around the Circle" speaking tour. [back]
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