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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 13 July 1848

Eds. Crescent

"Barnburner" and "Hunker,"1—Taylor,2 Cass3 and Van Buren4—"What are Taylor's principles?"—"Is there no way to compromise?"—Tammany Hall in a Pandemoniac state—the Tribune corner a focus for all sorts of loud words and excitement—a huge crowd around the Globe bulletin-board—dust flying in the Park—men whose names are known from one corner of the land to the other walking unnoticed along the walk, and across from the great gates, to the Nassau street side-walk—the cracked tones of the man with "leg of mutton candy," now and then piercing through the din—a mighty and never-ceasing tide of humanity rolling along from day-dawn till midnight, a majority of whose members would not stop two minutes to look at Queen Victoria,5 or even a street assassination;—there you have, in disjointed sentences, and some words that are heard in every part of the neighborhood every five minutes, a picture of current "life" as developed in that part of New York where Nassau street pokes its nose out to the Park, at the south end of City Hall. A calculation was made sometime since, by a curious boarder at Tammany, of how many persons passed and repassed there in the course of the day. Somewhere about forty or forty-five thousand, I believe, was the number, estimated from actual counting at several periods of several days! In the morning come tripping along hundreds and hundreds of girls from fourteen to twenty-five years old, many of them really beautiful, and all, with a rare exception here and there, neat and healthy looking; they are employed in book-binding, umbrella, lace, and other establishments, and their wages range from two to six dollars per week. It is astonishing what a vein of intelligence—one may say refinement—is perceptible in these young women; no other city on earth, not even Paris, where grace is the female's birthright, can equal them. Besides these girls, there are innumerable swarms of mechanics and other workmen, porters, store-boys with their big brass keys, etc. An hour or two later, the complexion of the crowd is a little changed. There is a great quantity of better broadcloth, less worn and less dusty; but, in general, the wearers are not so comely as the more hard-working folk of the earlier morning. The merchants and store-keepers—the head clerks, editors, late risers, lawyers, traders—make up the volume of the stream. Still a little later, and all during the middle of the day, it continues to be of the most ample and heterogeneous materials. If you are fond of studying "character," here is your chance; here you have it in all its varieties, each variety presenting itself in all its different forms. Important news is generally known here, the first place of all the town. In times of political elections, when returns are due from distant States, or from quarters of New York itself more important even than some States, here you may see packed in a dense body, sometimes filling up the whole of the immense area, thousands and tens of thousands of that majestic animal "the People," waiting to hear "who's elected." Nothimg​ else on God's wide and beautiful earth, would stop them one tithe as long from their regular avocations.

Of late years, nearly all the big meetings—the "mass meetings" of the people—have been called in the Park, just nigh the quarter described in the foregoing lines; and it has been found that the best time to call these meetings is 6 o'clock in the evening. By the time the business of getting under weigh is through with, the "masses," who stop work at 6 o'clock, are on their way home in myriads. Rarely do they fail—those who come from down town, on their course up to the immense section above Chatham Square (all our triangular pieces of land here are called "squares")—to stop and tarry awhile at these meetings. Working men thus lose no time, and if the speakers make out a good argument, and show a fair cause, they seldom fail of creating an impression on the minds of hundreds of their auditors; for, after all, the body of the "common people," away from the corrupting influence of politicians, are anxious to do right, on principle. Perhaps there is no completer or more convincing evidence of the superiority of the political fabric of this country, over any other that has yet existed on earth, than one of these Park meetings—where, of late years, it is no uncommon thing to see from twenty to thirty thousand people assembled. It is n't considered any thing at all unless the attendance numbers six or eight thousand. The moment the audience gets too large to be conveniently talked to by a couple of speakers, (one on each end of a large stage,) up go other stages with the rapidity of magic. If these all get enveloped with hearers, and more "accommodation" is wanted yet, the steps of the Hall of records, the jutting stones at the top of the basement windows of the City Hall, a neighboring hogshead or barrel, any thing handy, is put to the uses of a standing place, where the multitude can come nigh and be talked to. All the various branches of a great question are sometimes discussed, in full blast, at the same moment, by twenty different voices. Invariably there is a German and a French speaker at some of these stands—sometimes others, of other languages, particularly Italian and Spanish. As the evening advances, the talkers and listeners both grow more impassioned—the first bringing forward their stoutest points and most eloquent appeals, and the others responding with such shouts as make one feel how grand is the voice a human myriad! A few lights are brought to each stand, but they seem only as a drop in the ocean—you can do nothing but hear; and the excited voices, the flickering and darkness, and the impressible multitude around, make up a strangely picturesque scene.



  • 1. Barnburners and Hunkers were terms used to describe opposing sides of the fracturing Democratic party in New York during the mid-nineteenth century. The Barnburners held radical anti-slavery views and were willing to destroy banks and corporations to end corruption and abuses. The Hunkers were pro-government; they favored state banks and minimized the issue of slavery. The divisions between these factions in New York reflected the national divisions that would lead to the American Civil War (1861–1865). [back]
  • 2. Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), a Southern slaveholder and a well-known American miltary leader in the Mexican-American War, was the Whig Candidate for president in the 1848 United States Presidential Election. Taylor won the election and went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]
  • 3. Lewis Cass (1782–1866) was a statesman, politician, and military officer. He served as a Senator representing the state of Michigan, as the Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, and as Secretary of State under James Buchanan. In 1848 he was the Democratic candidate for president. Cass was a proponent of the Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which held that each territory should choose whether to permit slavery. Cass was also crucial in the implementation of Andrew Jackson's policy of Indian Removal. For more information on Cass, see The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005 (United States Government Printing Office, 2005), 797. [back]
  • 4. Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) was the eighth president of the United States, serving from 1837 to 1841. Whig candidate William Henry Harrison defeated the incumbent Van Buren in the 1840 election to become the ninth president of the United States. Van Buren later became an anti-slavery leader and was the Free Soil candidate for president in the 1848 election; the Whig Candidate Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) defeated Van Buren and went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States. [back]
  • 5. Queen Victoria (1819–1901), daughter of Prince Edward (1767–1829) and Princess Victoria (1786–1861), served as the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland for more than sixty-three years, from 1837 to her death in 1901. Queen Victoria married her cousin, Prince Albert (1819–1861), in 1840. Queen Victoria's reign was marked by the expansion of the British Empire, which earned her the title of Empress of India from the British Parliament in 1876. [back]
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