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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 9 August 1848

Public attention here, is largely directed toward the Buffalo Convention,1 which meets to-day. This convention seems to be formed in utter defiance of all precedents and "party usages." Much of it is on a charming voluntary principle—I mean that of a man making himself a delegate, because so it seems good in his own sight. Any body, therefore, who wanted to go to Buffalo, (for $13 and 50 cents, which takes one all the way from New York, and back too,) has had his wish gratified, or else it was his own fault.

That you may realize how politics are broken up here, just listen to the following remark made by the Chairman of the Whig2 General Committee of New York, to a distinguished Editor: "Sir," said the Chairman, "the proper Whig organization of the city—the Clay3 Whigs—embody six thousand votes. We know them all—we know that they are, almost to a man, going for Van Buren."4 Now, this gentleman is a reliable authority, and has generally been supposed to know what he talks about. What do you think of it?

The principal beauty of our "Barnburner"5 friends, consists in their delightful, youthful, aspect of defiance—quite picturesque and refreshing to one's tired consciousness of party obedience and "harmony." Nothing will please them—these don't-care-a-damnative young men. They reject advice, and insult even the senators and venerable editors who give it. They seem to glory in kicking up the most precious of rows—in rebelling against all the political etiquette of the last thirty years. Then the ease and complacency of the rascals—with what cool vanity they dare their elders and superiors in station, to do battle with them—either in argument or any other way. It is amazing!

Amid all the wrangles of the politicians, however, a man may safely wrap himself up and take comfort in the fact, that the great self-interest of the people of the Republic never can let any imminent danger happen to our land. Besides, I am confident that more than a third of the Americans are not much interested in party politics—but always hold the balance, and only turn it when the times demand.

Quite a startling case of attempted murder has just been coming off, over in Brooklyn, in one of the prettiest parts of that pretty city. In a long, undulating street, thickly shaded with large trees, and out of the way of clatter and the usual city noise—I speak of Johnson street—stands a little corner grocery, neater and cleaner than most shops of the kind. It was kept by a young German named Behms, and his wife.6 Last Sunday evening, another German, named Korth,7 called upon Behms, and complained of being unwell. Mrs. B. wished him to partake of a cup of tea, which she said she would prepare for him. Korth, however, declined the tea, but asked for a glass of cool water. Behms then went out to get some from the pump; and while he was gone, Korth attempted to help himself to some money from the shop till. The woman, of course, remonstrated, and tried to prevent him. Korth inflicted wounds upon her, of which she has since been at the point of death. He continued to rummage the drawer and some other places, after a larger sum of money, $800, which Behms had mentioned the reception of, a day or two before. Not finding this, and hearing Behms returning, Korth went out the back door, and struck the husband down too; after which he took himself off, leaving the two for dead. Behms, however, called loudly, and the neighbors came. Mrs. B., upon medical examination, was given over, though she fully had her faculties, and her testimony was taken, in extremis; and the above narration is founded upon it. Up to this time, however, she is alive. The officers forthwith commenced a search for Korth, but he was not discovered nor arrested till the next morning, when he was taken at the foot of Courtland street, just as he was stepping on board one of the Albany boats.

We had a real wonderful meeting, night before last, at Vauxhall Garden, in behalf of Irish repeal.8 Over twenty thousand persons were present; and, what was better, the contributions poured in liberally. We are daily expecting a formal protest against all this, from that "tight little isle" over the ocean.

The omnibus war waxeth more and more furious—the proprietors9 standing on their dignity, and the drivers standing out. It is quite dreadful! Heaven only knows what will be the end of these things. It is well the regular army is now disengaged. I must give you a good toast, (it has been in some of the papers already,) delivered by one of the lunatics at the Utica Asylum, lately:

"The Revolution in Europe.10—While in the old world the people are trying to mould governments after ours—may we take care that we do not spoil the pattern."

Wouldn't it be good to exchange some of our lunatics at Washington, and in almost every political gathering, for lunatics of the Utica sort?

Van Buren will undoubtedly be nominated at Buffalo, in the course of to-day or to-morrow. You cannot possibly realize the ferocity of feeling that exists in this State at the present time, between the "Regulars" and the "Bolters." The disputes at the commencement of the present century between the Jeffersonians and the Federalists, were milk and honey to the present.

Those stories of negroes going to the Buffalo Convention, are nonsense. If any have gone, they were sent by the enemies of the Convention. Every effort is determinedly made by these "Free Soilers" to steer clear of the Abolitionists proper—a faction who have no respectable power, on their own platform, here.



  • 1. Whitman is referring to the first National Free Soil Convention that was held in Buffalo in August 1848. At the convention, attendees endorsed Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) as the Free Soil presidential candidate and nominated Charles F. Adams (1807–1886) for Vice President. 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 Whig 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. 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]
  • 3. Henry Clay (1777–1852) was an attorney who went on to serve as a United States Representative and a 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. A founder of the Democratic Party, 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 incumbant Van Buren in the 1840 election to become the ninth president of the United States. Van Buren was also the Free Soil candidate for president in the 1848 election; the Whig Candidate Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) won the election and served as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Whitman is referring to Mrs. Behm (ca. 1827?–1848) and her husband John Behm (1815–1887). According to the 1855 United States Federal Census, John was a grocer in Brooklyn, New York. [back]
  • 7. Frederick Louis Korth, a native of Germany, came to the United States in the 1830s. He worked in several jobs, including in a chair factory and in private homes as a house-servant and porter. Korth was convicted of two counts of assault with the intent to kill John Behm (1815–1887) and his wife. Korth was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms, totalling eighteen years ("Sentence of Korth," Brooklyn Evening Star, October 27, 1848, 2; "Frederick Louis Korth," Brooklyn Evening Star, August 10, 1848, 2). [back]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to the political and cultural forces pushing for an independent Ireland in the 1840s. The Young Ireland movement was an Irish nationalist movement that supported Irish independence. The movement had its origins in the Repeal Association's campaign to dissolve the 1800 Irish Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. Young Irelanders seceded from the Repeal Association and formed the Irish Confederation, garnering a strong base in Dublin, and exerting a lasting influence on subsequent separatist endeavors. Young Irelanders attempted an unsuccessful insurrection in 1848 with the aims of Irish independence and democratic reform and as a response to British Parliament's passage of a "Crime and Outrage Bill" that enacted martial law in Ireland in an attempt to counter Irish nationalism. The Young Irelanders' rebellion in July 1848, resulted in the arrest of the movement's leaders and the collapse of the rebellion efforts. Ireland would not become self-governing until 1922. [back]
  • 9. For an account of a meeting of the omnibus drivers—including their grievances and the resolutions they discussed—see "Indigination Meeting of the Omnibus Drivers," The New York Herald (August 7, 1848), 2. [back]
  • 10. Whitman is referring to the Revolutions of 1848. The year of 1848 was a time of political rebellions and civil unrest across Europe. Most of the movements were dedicated to removing older monarchies and replacing them with independent nation-states. The revolutions took place in and/or affected France, Italy, and the Netherlands, among other nations. A majority of the rebellions did not last long as they were quickly suppressed and ended by October 1849. [back]
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