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

Eds. Crescent

Rarely, at any former period, has the health of the city been worse, without an epidemic, than at present. Dysentery1 is the most prevalent disease, carrying off scores and scores every week. It is particularly destructive among children. In my circle of acquaintances, I know four families, who have lost from two to four children each by this destructive malady. It attacks grown persons, also, with severity—though its most unmanageable cases are those in persons under 16 years of age. Nor does a change of residence to the country afford any relief. Several families that have been for some time out in the country, principally on account of their children, have been obliged to return; in one large country boarding-house on Long Island, seven persons died last Sunday, and five on Monday.

The surrounding regions are suffering very much from drought. Corn and potatoes, in certain section, will be quite cut off—many fields are so already. A heavy shower here, a few days since, was confined to the immediate neighborhood of the city; and even here it does not seem to have modified the heat.

Our city streets present a plentiful sprinkling of well-dressed, bronze-faced personages, from the West Indies—families who have removed hither in consequence of the troubles among the slaves of those regions. A great many hundreds of these West Indians are in town. They must affect lounging in Broadway; and their easy, indolent air, sometimes exemplified in the person of a fine-looking brunette, may be seen on that famous pavement, at almost any hour of the day.

The editors of New York are vigorously plying their pens in politics—each with his peculiar preferences and dislikes. Our friend of the Tribune hath a somewhat vague, disconsolate method of procedure; the tendency of his editorials, however, is plainly in support of "the Buffaloes." The Courier and Enquirer is ardent and most industrious in its advocacy of Gen. Taylor,2 each number having one or more vigorous articles to the praise and admiration of the old hero. The Express has also, since the nomination, laid its Clayism3 on the shelf, and goes for Taylor, "without a why or wherefore." The Express likes, as a side amusement, to have one or two little personal quarrels with brother newspapers—and generally, indeed, is furnished with abundance of such recreation. The Evening Post contains incessant appeals and arguments in behalf of Van Buren4 and "the non-extension of slavery;" with occasional dashes at Mr. Polk5 and Secretary Marcy.6 The Globe ditto—only more so. The Herald gives its editorial speculations and its "news to the latest moment," as usual. The Sun "goes in" for Cuba; and furnishes its habitual melange of news and advertisements. The Morning Star seems to be pursuing an imitative tack after the Sun. The Commercial Advertiser is certainly conducted with more ability than ever before;—it supports Taylor, with an occasional squinting towards Buffaloism. The Sunday papers are professedly neutral; but I believe the Atlas goes for Taylor, and the Times leans to Cass.7

We have another great meeting to-night, at Vauxhall, in behalf of Ireland's rights,8 and to collect money for her, now, in her time of sorest need. Funds are pouring in by thousands—and thousands more behind! O, that we may not be disappointed in our hopes!



  • 1. Dysentery is an infection and inflammation of the intestines. It causes abdominal pain and severe diarrhea with blood. Dysentery can be the result of a bacterial or a parasitic infection, and it is spread as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. [back]
  • 2. Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), a Southern slaveholder and a well-known American miltary leader in the Mexican-American War, was the Whig Candidate for president in the 1848 United States Presidential Election. Taylor won the election and went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [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. 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]
  • 5. From 1845 to 1849, James K. Polk (1795–1849) served as the eleventh President of the United States. He had previously held the office of the Governor of Tennessee, serving from 1839 to 1841. [back]
  • 6. William L. Marcy (1786–1857) was a lawyer and a judge. He served as the United States Secretary of War from 1845 to 1849, during the adminsitration of President James K. Polk. He also sereved as the United States Secretary of State, and he was responsible for negotiating the Gadsden Purchase of land in southern Arizona and New Mexico. [back]
  • 7. 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]
  • 8. Whitman is referring to the Young Ireland movement—an Irish nationalist movement that supported Irish independence. The movement had its origins in the Repeal Association's campaign to repeal 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]
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