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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 25 July 1848

The old proverb, (or is it an old one?) that "corporation have no souls," does not seem applicable to the corporation of this city, in one respect at least. Hardly a visiter or any note comes among us, without being invited by the Common Council to partake of the public hospitalities, visit the charitable institutions of New York, and eat and drink some suppers or dinners, as the case may be. Well, for my part, I think the practice a very commendable one; it creates a general good feeling between the city authorities—the essence of the whole body of citizens—and the visiters or sojourners among us. Besides, it has a good effect on the public institutions, which, daily susceptible of inspection from travelled critics, acquire an ambition and care they might not otherwise have. Yes, I think the custom more honored in the observance than in the breach; notwithstanding the scruples of penny-wise economists, who see nothing but the shillings immediately before their eyes. Last night, the hospitalities of the city were tendered to Commodore M. E. Perry,1 of the frigate Cumberland.

At the same time, the city fathers confirmed the Mayor's2 re-appointment of Mr. Matsell3 as Chief of the Municipal Police. By the way, it may not be amiss to mention, that this new Criminal Prevention and Crime Discovering System has worked charmingly for the last three or four years, since its first adoption. Some will always be found—at least some always have been found—to carp and cavil at it; but the sober judgment of the community is, I think, convinced in its favor—not but that there are items of wrong now and then; it will be impossible to organize a system which has them not; but, upon the whole, it works better, and seems founded on a better principle, than any other police regulations in any city of this country.

Among the cases, yesterday, that came before the police court, was one of a somewhat peculiar character—the only one of its kind that has yet come to light, and it is much to be hoped that no other of the kind has happened at all. Ex-Lieutenant J. W. Green,4 formerly of the New York Volunteers, was arrested for surreptitiously retaining a gold watch, belonging to Capt. C. H. Pearson,5 whose obsequies have so recently been celebrated in this city and Brooklyn. Capt. P. died last October, in Mexico, from a wound received at Chapultepec, and, in his last illness, was attended by Green, to which latter personage, the dying Captain bequeathed his effects in charge to take home to his relatives in Brooklyn. But the Ex-Lieutenant, instead of making them over, on his arrival here, presented (that's the story, at least,) a bill of $50 for expenses, which Captain Pearson's brother6 here paid. A man named Dunn,7 however, happened to be in Captain P's. employ, and he was aware of Green's commission to bring home the watch, a ring, etc. He also comes to New York, and accidentally informed Robert H. Pearson of the facts. So upon Master Green's appearance again he was arrested, and is in custody. Such are the statements on the police books. It is as well, however, to wait for the other side of the story, before giving the harsh judgment which Green will deservedly receive from the public at large, if these statements are true. One is led to hope, for the honor of human nature, and soldier's nature, that there are some extenuating circumstances on Green's side, or that the story is an error.

The health of New York is unusually good, considering the time of year. Deaths last weeks, 277—with the usual horrible fact that more than half that number were under two years of age. We are glad to learn that New Orleans bids fair, thus far, for a comparatively healthy summer.

A portion of our fashionables—though not so large a number as usual—are off, these days, to Saratoga, Newport, Rockaway, and all the long list of "genteel" resorts, Poor devil's​ ! Most of them leave home, and comparative comfort not for the unbuckled, free-and-easy enjoyment of a few weeks in the country, with free rambling, bathing, and the privilege of eating dinner in one's shirt-sleeves, should one so choose; but to conform still more tightly to ceremonials and observances, and to neither get the good nor the health of a really enjoyed country jaunt. What nonsense! However, each one to his taste; and if that be their's, why even let them stick to it, in the devil's name.

Day after to-morrow, (27th inst.) the New York Volunteers—the remains of the Regiment having now all arrived—will be complimentarily received by the magnates of the city, with beating of drums, flying of flags, firing of cannon, and plenty to eat and drink. Every body is pleased at this arrangement. People will be still better pleased when the Common Council appropriates a few thousand dollars to the actual comforts, such as clothing, &c. of the Volunteers. It is understood that the objection to appropriate this money is not on account of the money itself, but from a feeling of delicacy toward the General Government, against whom it will look like levelling a bit of practical irony.

On the evening next Thursday, there is also to be, in the Park, a grand re-union of the ultras among Whigs and Democrats,8 who, thereunto called by their oldest chieftains and bugle-blowers, meet to entrench themselves on the "platform" of "Free Soil."9 A great gathering will doubtless convene together—and, if John Van Buren10 holds forth, I promise you a good personal description of that rising star.



  • 1. Matthew C. Perry (1794–1858) was a commodore in the United States Navy. He commanded ships in the War of 1812 and in the Mexican-American War, and he became an advocate of modernizing U. S. naval forces after the advent of the steam engine. [back]
  • 2. William Frederick Havemeyer (1804–1874) was a businessman, who was elected and served as Major of New York City for three non-consecutive terms in the nineteenth century. He was re-elected in 1848. [back]
  • 3. George W. Matsell (1811–1877) spent several years as a sailor before opening a bookstore in New York in which he sold works on such topics as atheism, spiritualism, and Free Thought. He became a police magistrate in 1840, and was later named the chief of the New York City Municipal Police and the city's first Police Commisioner. [back]
  • 4. Little is known about J. W. Green, who seems to have been a physician who attended Captain Charles H. Pearson during Pearson's final illness. [back]
  • 5. Captain Charles H. Pearson of Brooklyn, a member of the New York Regiment of Volunteers, was killed in Mexico—likely in the Mexican-American War—in 1847. [back]
  • 6. Little is known about Robert H. Pearson. Robert was the brother of Captain Charles H. Pearson of Brooklyn, and after Charles died in 1847, Robert served as administrator of his brother's estate. [back]
  • 7. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. 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]
  • 10. 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]
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