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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 1 September 1848

The arrival of the steamer Niagara last evening, confirmed the intelligence of a total triumph by the "bloody Government" of England, over the Irish patriots.1 Let others say what they may, I believe few will, at heart, differ from the following opinion:—that the masses in Ireland have none to blame so much as themselves. The determination to achieve their freedom and rights, would effect that result. They have been tried in the balance and found wanting. Their most noble-hearted and devoted young leaders—men of as chivalrous courage and pure patriotism as ever warmed the human breast—have been caught and handcuffed by the minions of English tyranny, in the midst of the people, who ought to have laid down their lives before letting those brave spirits be thus imprisoned and outraged. What another few years may bring forth, we can only see as the time elapses; but for the present, I am free to confess, for one, I have lost my enthusiasm for the Irish people. They are to be pitied, for their sufferings, no doubt; but after craven conduct like that of the past month, our pity will hardly fail of borrowing a tinge of contempt. For a noble people, oppressed but dauntless, we utter our warmest sympathies; nor will America ever be backward in tokens of more substantial aid, when it can reach them. But for a people three times in number what our forefathers were when the latter defied the proudest earthly power, and defeated it too—for a people, oppressed beyond all conquered communities that history ever mentioned, to flunk at the vital hour when resolution and action would have overthrown their loathed tyrants—I openly confess I sicken of such conduct, and think it but right to apply fiercely the terms it surely deserves. As to the Irish not being "united," little excuse is there in that. The Americans were not "united" either, in '76; wealth and influential tories were numerous; but the party of independence had determination and COURAGE and would to a man, or women either, have fought against any odds, and died fighting before deserting the meanest of their leaders. "Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow;"2 and until they show the hearts and the hands to do it, let them never ask for assistance from abroad.

The isle of New York is somewhat frighted from its propriety, just now, by the advent of Yellow Jack,3 who has appeared in force at the Quarantine station five miles below the city, on Staten Island; and has, indeed, sought some victims in the neighboring villages of that lovely spot. The weather is bad for the fever—being very hot, stifling, and dry. The heat has caused a considerable emigration of city people again to country place near by.

Half the town is annoyed by the odor caused by the burnt gas-works—which, by the by, have removed already to better and more appropriate quarters, up on 21st street.

Yours, &c., MANHATTAN.


  • 1. 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]
  • 2. Whitman is quoting a line from the second canto of Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, see The Works of Lord Byron, ed. Thomas Moore (New York: George Dearborn, Publisher, 1837), 3:63. [back]
  • 3. "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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