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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 17 July 1848

Eds. Crescent

Whatever may be said of the "horrible state of society" in Paris, it certainly affords glorious times for newspaper editors and correspondents. How beautiful! every week some plot or counter-plot—some èmeute—some danger to Government and public safety. Why, they will soon turn up their noses in Paris, at a disturbance that involves the destruction of less than a thousand or two lives!—"Blessed is that people," says some very big philosopher whose name I forget, "who have no annals to write"—meaning, I suppose, that nothing bad, at least, can be said about said people. But that's questionable philosophy. Human nature looks best when developed by struggles, and changes of circumstances. Lethargy and stagnation, you know, are not only connected together, but are the most uninteresting qualities in the world.

Our good city of New York, now-a-time, is blessed with hardly any annals to write. Editors, it is true, are writing, every day; and the people read what they write. But the latter is merely created, for the most part, "to fill up." (Alas, that some process equally handy could'nt be hit upon to produce the same effect on the poorer children of Old Ireland!) The situation of New York precludes her daily journals from making an important ingredient of that melange of miscellaneous news, which is so desirable to the papers of other places. We have to eke out something original; something that looks fresh, at any rate—even though it is like a new quilt made of old materials. Readers' appetites here will no more be satisfied with any thing less than dishes on a great scale, and of the latest style of dressing. Yet there is a wondrous amount of superficiality in the daily disquisitions spread before that hydra-headed creature "the public," by the daily and weekly gazettes. "Flat, stale, and unprofitable," are, indeed, more than half the "leaders" (particularly during summer) of the Northern newspapers. I will say nothing of the Southern ones, because you have them among you to speak for themselves.

It is now a settled and irrevocable fact that the democrats of New York," yclept Barnburners,1 have broken away utterly and altogether from "the party," as organized in the Baltimore Convention,2 and developed in the nominations of Cass3 and Butler.4 Martin Van Buren,5 from his farm at Kinderhook, looks out upon the troubled waves, but evinces no inclination to say, "Peace, be still." It is understood that he was violently opposed to accepting the nomination of the Convention at Utica; but things took such an enthusiastic turn there, and his oldest and truest friends had so committed themselves, and his name, that he will now, it is said, allow matters to take their own course. The Radicals here, confidently expect, in his name, to carry the State of New York.

John Van Buren,6 as soon as the nomination was made, wrapped himself up in lavender, and laid his political body on the shelf—swearing with an oath of the old sort, that he would spout no more during this campaign. John will keep good, though, for future use; and that, before many seasons, he must be "brought out," is as certain as that the morning star will rise. All the young fellows of the North, cotton to John; there is such a buoyancy, frankness, and such a charming abandon, in his sayings and doings. Shrewd judges of mankind say that Master John has the making of a better man, than the man who made him. In the way of amusements, New York is yet unflagging. Hamblin7 has taken the Park Theatre, which he will carry on in conjunction with the Bowery. Heaven send him success; for the "old man's" stout heart deserves it. Burton's Theatre, (Palmo's old place in Chambers street,) has had the Viennoise dancing children. At the Astor Place Opera House, have been performed during the summer, comedies and vaudevilles—to-morrow night, they present some music, with a Mons. and Madame Laborde,8 from Paris. The Monplaisiers9 are at the Broadway—and "the "B'hoys" at the Chatham. Besides all these, we have Castle Garden, Museums, Concerts, Shows, etc., without end.

Our streets and public places present, at intervals, something connected with the "late war," as it must now be called—something in the way of a soldier or officer in his yet worn uniform, or a mutilated relic of what was a stalwart man, but whom disease, or bullet or bayonet, has shorn of his fair proportions. Will it not be a little curious to see what effect, over and athwart the land, the bringing home whence they started, and rediffusing among us, a real army, will have on the affairs of the Republic? You remember, through the war, the anti-fighting folks predicted all sorts of dangers, when peace should make it necessary to disband our army. It is difficult, though, to perceive any likelihood of such dangers in any circumstances at present existing.



  • 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. Whitman is referring to the 1848 Democratic National Convention, which was held in Baltimore, Maryland, from May 22 to May 26, 1848. The purpose of the convention was to nominate the Democratic Party's candidates for President and Vice President in the 1848 election. The nominees were Lewis Cass (1782–1866) for President and William O. Butler (1791–1880) for Vice President. [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. William Orlando Butler (1791–1880) was a United States Army Major General, having served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, as well as a politician. He served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Kentucky. In 1848, Butler was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic party. He and Presidential nominee Lewis Cass (1782–1866) lost the election to Whig Candidate Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), who went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. John Van Buren (1810–1866) was a lawyer, politician, and advisor to his father, Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), the eighth president of the United States. [back]
  • 7. Thomas Souness Hamblin (1800–1853) was a Shakespearean actor, businessman, and theatre manager. Under his management, New York City's Bowery Theatre became a successful venue for American working-class theatre. Hamblin occasionally booked opera and ballet events, but primarily produced melodramas, romances, farces, and circus acts that appealed to the working class Bowery B'hoy audiences of the Bowery district. In 1848, Hamblin bought the lease to the Park Theatre, which he renovated and reopened; however, the theatre was destroyed by fire a few months later. [back]
  • 8. Rosine Henriette Bediez Laborde (also known as Rosine Villaume; 1824–1907) was born in Paris and educated at the Paris Conservatory. She was a well-known soprano opera singer and, later, a voice teacher. She and her husband, the tenor Jean-Auguste Dur-Laborde, performed in New York in 1848 and in Boston in 1849 (Programme Volumes 1910–1911 [Boston: Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1910], 818). [back]
  • 9. Hippolyte Monplaisir (1821–1877) was a French choreographer and a dancer, who performed with his wife, Adèle Bartholomin, a French ballerina. [back]
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