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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 4 September 1848

Many of the high officers of Government are at present sojourning among us; three of the President's Cabinet are here, and it is expected that the President1 himself will arrive in the course of a week. By good rights New York should be the proper place for all these functionaries to reside, in their official capacity. It is, in reality more central than Washington, and every way more convenient. A second rate city is liable to objections, as the seat of Government; but a large and first class city is not—indeed it is the proper place.

Main street, Brooklyn, was the scene of a disastrous conflagration this morning. Fifteen houses were burnt—several of them used as stores. Much personal property was destroyed, besides; and the loss can hardly have been less than $50,000.

There is a "grand mass meeting" of the Free Soilers2 at Abingdon Square, this evening. John Van Buren3 is to hold forth. So it seems he has had to take his coat off again, and mount the platform.

Thus far the yellow fever4 has not made its appearance, if the physicians can be believed, in New York, although existing for a fortnight past at Staten Island. Intercourse is debarred between the city and Quarantine. The occasion is seized to try the virtues of a new and powerful disenfectant, prepared by a gentleman engaged in an office in the Navy Department here. Certain medical personages speak of it as remarkably superior to "any thing out"—as better than chlorine, and not at all injurious to the lungs. "Forewarned, forearmed," is the motto that ought to keep off contagious diseases. We shall see how it acts in this case. I find it altogether impossible to convince folks that the yellow fever is not contagious, like small pox. Should we get the malady prevalent, some of your New Orleans doctors would come very acceptable here. I believe you have some of the best in the world. By the way, how comes on your University? Don't let the New Orleanois be discouraged at any difficulties in the way of establishing a school so worthy their great city, and so necessary in the South-west.

We don't hear any thing more of that "Buffalo Hunt on the Rio Grande."5 Is it given up? A thousand adventurous spirits here hope not. The President, it is true, per the Washington Union, talks dignifiedly about observing our "obligations of treaties toward Mexico." Well, let him—as far as concerns him. But if there be a real disposition, in earnest, to go on this hunt, and three thousand tough fellows could be got together for the purpose, with American officers, I should say, "go it;" and it seems difficult to imagine how Mr. Polk could stop 'em. However, there may be something about the move, which you in New Orleans understand better than we do here. One thing there can be no mistake about; that the timid, malignant, idle and shiftless Mexican population south of us, must give way, sooner or later, to Anglo-Saxon energy and selfishness—for we have about as much of the last as the first.

The weather here is hot—no rain for a long time—gutters abominable—omnibus horses sad and drooping—butter dear and scarce—politics waxing fiercer and fiercer—decapitations of office-holding Barnburners6 begun, and doubtless to be continued actively.



  • 1. 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]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. Yellow Fever is 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]
  • 5. The "Buffalo Hunt" was a name given to a scheme in which men who had served in the Mexican-American War and some military officers would gather on the pretense of a hunting excursion but, through violence, would take possession of Mexican territory west of the Rio Grande. The conquered territory would be called the Republic of Sierra Madre ("Incidental Results of the Mexican-American War," Advocate of Peace 7.22–23 [October and November 1848], 282–285). [back]
  • 6. 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]
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