Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 14 July 1848

As we are now "on the eve of an important election," such meetings as I have attempted to describe in my last are frequent here. They are held by whigs1 and democrats, Taylorites2 and Clayites3—Barnburners and Old Hunkers.4 I have noticed, however, that the Clay whigs and the Barnburner democrats seem to be the most anxious to hold these grand talking matches. The other parties call as few as possible.

There is much complaint in and about the city, among all classes, of "dull times." I know very many mechanics who are out of work, and can't get pay for work they have done. This is the complaint among all branches and trades, to an unusual extent. Immigration pours in without the least abatement. Hardly a day passes that hundreds of poor wayfarers from Europe do not land upon our wharves; some no doubt, to sink amid disease or poverty, but most, I am happy to say, to take a start which brings them amid better times and far more comfort. What is most astonishing to me, is the fact that with such prevalent poverty as characterises the masses of the immigrants, there is so little criminality. Political economists are fond of arguing that Penury is the Mother of Crime: but take an equal number of well-off people, and, compared with these immigrants, you will surely find not only a great deal more viciousness, but infinitely more of crime which the law takes cognizance of. The police very seldom have any trouble with the poor immigrants—except, alas! now and then to take a pallid mother and her starving children to the alms house. There are certain persons who see evil in these accessions from abroad; but I defy even them to contradict the well-known facts above mentioned. Moreover, this city is the great receiving point of European emigration.

A very general satisfaction exists here at the prospect presented by the advent of the steamer "Crescent City," of reducing the travelling time between New York and New Orleans, to a point before considered out of the question, except in rare cases, and then only by being racked to death with incessant travel and daily changes. It is now pretty certain that, when you get off the levee at New Orleans of a Sunday morning, and go on board the right sort of steamer, the next Sunday will find you in New York—and vice versa. By the inland route, either down the Ohio or across the Lakes, you require, allowing for unavoidable stoppages, detentions, etc., from thirteen to twenty days, averaging fifteen days at least. Then the comfort of making the entire trip without transferring yourself or baggage. My belief is that New York and New Orleans have more identity of character and interest than any other two cities in America. Both are distinguished by a sort of citizen-of-the-world disposition; and in both there is a blessed freedom from all provincialism and the gossip of second-rate towns. May the telegraph and a few lines of rapid steamers conduce to draw still closer and stouter the bands of union!



  • 1. The Whigs were a political party in the antebellum United States; the Whig and the Democratic Parties were the two major political parties in the United States as part of the two-party system. The Whigs were critical of the nation's expansion into Texas and of the Mexican-American War and favored a national bank. They preferred that Congress take the lead in lawmaking and opposed strong presidential power. Their supporters were primarily professionals and social reformers; they received much less support from farmers and laborers. The Democratic Party in this period opposed a national bank, and they advocated for strong presidential power, and the interests of slave states. [back]
  • 2. The term "Taylorites" refers to the political supporters of Zachary Taylor (1784–1850). A Southern slaveholder and a well-known American miltary leader in the Mexican-American War, Taylor was the successful Whig Candidate for president in 1848, becoming the twelfth president of the United States from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]
  • 3. The term "Clayites" refers to political supporters of Henry Clay (1777–1852). Clay was an attorney who went on to serve in the House of Representatives and as United States Senator from Kentucky. Clay ran for president in the elections of 1824, 1832, and 1844, and, although he was unsuccesful in his bids for the presidency, he was one of the founders of the Whig Party and of the National Republican Party. [back]
  • 4. 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]
Back to top