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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 19 July 1848

Eds. Crescent:—

About the pleasantest news of the morning, here, is that of the report made by the Territorial Committee of eight, in the United States Senate, on the subject of the Oregon bill, slavery, a government for California and New Mexico, and so forth. Surely this is the way to settle the matter; and just as surely, all sensible and clear-minded men will come into it. The great beauty of the "laissez faire" doctrine is exemplified here—the gem above all price for our country—contains more vital and preservative power for the Union, than all the schemes of all the modern politicians combined.

How are you receiving this report in the south-west? Do you not like it? Is it not perfectly consistent with the rights of all parties: and, above all, with the rights of the inhabitants (whom, by-the-bye, nobody seems to think any thing about,) of the territories themselves? The probability appears to be, almost beyond a doubt, that the plan reported by the committee of eight will satisfy the body of the "Free Soilers"1 of the north and west. It is almost sure, however, that they will meet in convention at Buffalo, in less than three weeks, and "pile up" their endorsement of Van Buren2 for the Presidency.

The meeting of the Barnburners3 in the Park last evening was a very large and somewhat tumultuous gathering. Martin Grover, M.C.,4 made a long and animated speech. At its close a few young Cass5 and Butlerites6 attempted some vigorous pushes, in the way of a row; but the "unterrified" rallied in great anger round a flag with the portrait of Martin Van Buren on it, and drove the enemy from the field, with divers bloody noses and contusions. It was one of those pleasant commentaries on political freedom, which act on the rest of its articles like the pepper of a wholesome soup. The police here never interfere in these interesting feuds—which is right and proper.

For some time past the strife between our New York Guelphs and Ghibellines7 has been for the possession of Old Tammany, the Mecca of the Democracy. Keen and exquisite have been the tactics of either; but night before last the Sachems, who have control of the matter, met in solemn council, and decided that Van Burenism should formally enter the wigwam, and directed the rooms of the Hall to be placed at its use. In the meeting of last evening, a son of Mr. F. P. Blair,8 of the old democratic organ, the Washington Globe, addressed the audience in behalf of Van Buren.

Among the late improvements of New York, may be particularly mentioned the long-talked-of widening of William street, now nearly completed. For ten years past Nassau street, from Wall to Chatham, has been one of the most crowded thoroughfares in the city. Unfortunately it is at the same time one of the narrowest and most inconvenient. At any hour of the day, and particularly towards dusk, it is a difficult feat to thread the walks of Nassau street, without some unpleasant jostling and squeezing. Tangling of carts, with much detention and cartmen’s oats, is an hourly occurrence. These difficulties could not well be obviated by enlarging the area of the oppressed avenue itself, which is lined with the most valuable structures, Clinton Hall among the rest; so they thought to draw off some of the travel into William street, and open it into Chatham just opposite the junction of the latter streets and Chambers. A good device all 'round, this is generally considered—though the putting of it in execution has made the dust fly in what was formerly the very heart of the city, (answering to your First Municipality,) for months past. For my part, I am astonished that, while they were about it, they did’nt make the street twenty feet wider instead of six. It will undoubtedly be a great convenience both to vehicles and pedestrians. They have for the last four or five days, been tearing down the houses (in the verg middle of the Jew clothing quarter) in Chatham street, to make the exit of William. It has an odd look already to the eyes of the "oldest inhabitants."

Many of our citizens, particularly those of Irish birth and descent, are looking for the arrival in New York of Mr. Meagher,9 the Repealer and Chartist. It is singular, though, that Mr. M. should have chosen just this occasion to withdraw himself, even briefly, from Ireland. If there be any truth in signs, or any determination in the Irish heart, the approaching fall will witness a violent struggle on the Emerald Isle—a struggle where every patriot should be and act, God defend the right, when the struggle comes!

Rumors of the potato rot are appearing in the papers. Among the other places mentioned as subject to this vegetable malady, is Long Island; but I think I can put this down as an error—for I have lately travelled nearly the whole length of Long Island, and have heard nothing about the potato rot.

New York is getting to be more and more disagreeable and unhealthy, for residence. Even in the early morning, the effluvia from the gutters can hardly be borne. The paving stones get so heated through during the day, that they do not "cool off" again till next morning. It is a great deal worse, here than in New Orleans. I never was so annoyed there either by heat or by the exhalations. Let your citizens believe me, when I tell them seriously that the city of New Orleans is one of the healthiest locations in the land—Yellow Jack10 to the contrary notwithstanding.

All over our Northern cities great preparations have been made (as is but just) for the complimentary reception of the returned soldiers—those of them who have returned. In the cases of many of them, however, the actual necessaries of comfort, such as clothing, etc., are more needed by the volunteers, than any empty glorification. Still it argues well of the public spirit of the citizens that they offer these courtesies. We all have part in the immortal glory won by our troops in that Mexican war; and it will do us good, more ways than one for many a year yet. Among the rest of the returned volunteers are several of our New York printers. Right glad are we to welcome them back again, safe and sound.



  • 1. Formed during the 1848 election, the Free Soil Party opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories of the western United States, which included the territory that Mexico had ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo following the Mexican-American War. When neither the Democratic nor the Republican party presidential nominees would rule out the expansion of slavery into these territories, the Free Soil Party was formed in response. The Free Soil Party was active for six years, from 1848 to 1854. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Martin Grover (1811–1875) studied and practiced law before representing New York for a term in the United States House of Representatives. He was a Democrat and served from 1845 to 1847. He was later elected to the New York Supreme Court and to the New York Court of Appeals. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Butlerites were political supporters of William Orlando Butler (1791–1880). Butler 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]
  • 7. Whitman is referencing a rivalry between two factions in Italy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Guelphs, largely from wealthy families, were supporters of the Pope, while the Ghibellines were primarily associated with agricultural estates and supported the Holy Roman Emperor. [back]
  • 8. Francis Preston Blair, Sr. (1791–1876) was a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Washington Globe, an organ of the Democratic Party. Blair edited the paper until the mid-1840s, and he had also served as an advisor to Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. Blair and his wife Eliza Violet Gist were the parents of five children. [back]
  • 9. Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–1867) was an Irish nationalist, and a leader of the Young Irelanders, who supported Irish independence. After taking part in a failed Young Irelanders Rebellion in 1848, Meagher was convicted of sedition and transported to Tasmania in Australia; he later escaped and moved to New York City. He went on to lead the Irish Brigade, consisting of mostly Irish Americans fighting on the side of the Union during the American Civil War, and he later served as the acting territorial Governor of Montana. [back]
  • 10. "Yellow Jack" is a reference to Yellow Fever, a viral disease that can be spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. In the nineteenth-century, Yellow fever epidemics occurred in the late summer months in the Southern United States, particularly under humid conditions and in densely populated cities. Yellow fever outbreaks occurred on an annual basis in New Orleans and resulted in thousands of deaths each year. [back]
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