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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 29 September 1848

On Tuesday next, October 3d, the Fair of the American Institute (exhibition of American manufacturers, is the proper phrase,) commences at Castle Garden. I stepped in yesterday afternoon, and made my way with difficulty through the vast confusion of articles that lie along the covered bridge, and the ample area inside. Time was when this exhibition produced good effects; but that time has gone by. Under the management of superannuated old men, wedded to the notions of the past, it is entirely behind time. This is a pity, too; because an institution of this sort is capable of doing much real benefit. It must strike higher though, than the aim of bringing together some large pumpkins, rich plum-cakes, and curiously patched bed-quilts.

A new daily paper, to be called "The Drawing Room Journal," is on the eve of its appearance in this city; its editor is Mr. G. G. Foster.1 Book publishing languishes badly enough, about now. Harpers, Wiley, Putnam, Appleton, etc., now and then bring out a reprint; but all are waiting till after election before doing much in this way.

Towards sundown yesterday afternoon, Capt. Jas. Baker,2 of the ship Thomas H. Perkins, lying at one of our wharves, Narrowly escaped with his life from the hands of an infuriated mob, who seized him because he had shot and cut one of his crew, named Wm. Leonard. The latter was a sort of rival to the Captain, in the good graces of a female steerage passenger. He went, yesterday, in the cabin for his pay; was ordered out; altercation arose, and the Captain ran for a pistol and cutlass, and shot and cut Leonard so that his life is despaired of. A mob rapidly collected, and were so incensed that they dragged, cuffed, and bruised Baker pretty severely. The police came down in force, and, partly by stratagem, and partly by force, carried the Captain off to the Tombs, where he is at present locked up. The public mind here in New York is highly incensed, of late, against the cruelty of marine officers. There is a plentiful dash of Jacobianism among the "common people," which breaks out, sometimes a little too hastily perhaps, against those in authority. Jacobianism is far, far, far better though than the lethargic cowardice which will let a whole people stagnate in mean submission to any sort of tyranny.

John S. Austin,3 well known as a prominent member of the Empire Club, was arrested last night, charged with the murder of a young man named Timothy Shea. The affair occurred in a low place in Leonard street.

Postmasters, Customhouse officers, and other United States officials, are being removed pretty extensively in this State; cause—adhesion to Van Buren4 instead of Cass5 and Butler.6 The Customhouse and Naval office were closed yesterday, in respect to Mr. Hoffman,7 deceased.

I confess plumply to have made a blunder in predicting the nomination of Walworth8 by the anti-renters. It appears that they have nominated John A. Dix,9 the Barnburner candidate for Governor.10 This is somewhat remarkable, for Dix was understood to stand by Gov. Wright11 in his anti-rent measures.

The Odd Fellows of this State seems to be getting up a little bit of a row among themselves. What it is about I must confess I do not exactly understand. The Lodges of the Oneida District have resolved not to submit to a certain important decision of the Grand Lodge of the United States. Very likely you know more about it than I do.

Greeley12 comes out in this morning's Tribune with the regular whig13 ticket flying at the head of his paper. His leader, attempting to fortify his course, is lame and impotent. Still, time remains for him to plaster the flaws up, pretty well, before the election. Undoubtedly these defections from the Free Soil14 ticket will reduce its vote considerably. The whigs hold a grand pow-wow at Vauxhall this evening, to clinch the "harmonizing" of the elements, and the return of the various prodigal sons. Leslie Coombs15 is to speak. Both whig and democratic (Cass) meetings, thus far, have had the worst speaking that has marked any political campaign within my remembrance. Every body acknowledges that the orators and the addresses are positively shocking.



  • 1. George G. Foster (d. 1856) was a city reporter, writer, and man about town. He was the author of New York in Slices by an Experienced Carver (1849) and New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches (1850) [back]
  • 2. William Leonard was a sailor on board the ship Thomas H. Perkins. During a voyage, Captain Baker put Leonard in irons. Later, when Leonard went to receive his pay, he and Baker argued, and Baker fired a pistol at him (and missed), then assaulted Leonard with a cutlass. For an account of the incident, see "Affray on Board Ship in New York," New Orleans Delta (October 9, 1848), 8. [back]
  • 3. John S. Austin was President of the political organization known as the Empire Club, which engaged in voter intimidation on behalf of Tammany Hall and was credited with helping to secure the election of James K. Polk (1795–1849) as President by delivering New York votes for Polk. Austin got into a fight with Timothy Shea, owner of a groggery Austin visited. After Austin sustained a head injury, he fired shots from the street into Shea's establishment, killing Shea ("Correspondence of the Examiner and Herald," Lancaster Examiner, October 4, 1848, 2. [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. 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]
  • 6. William Orlando Butler (1791–1880) was a United States Army Major General, having served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, as well as a politician. He served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Kentucky. In 1848, Butler was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic party. He and Presidential nominee Lewis Cass (1782–1866) lost the election to Whig Candidate Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), who went on to serve as the twelfth president of the United States, from 1849 until his death in 1850. [back]
  • 7. Michael Hoffman (1787–1848) was a New York born lawyer and politician. He served as a naval officer, a judge, a canal commissioner for New York, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York. Hoffman's political ideology centered upon imposing strict constitutional limits on the powers of State governments. For more information on Hoffman, see James A. Henretta, "Michael Hoffman and the New York Constitution of 1846," New York History 77.2 (April 1996), 151–176). [back]
  • 8. Reuben H. Walworth (1788–1867) was a lawyer and politician. He served in the War of 1812, and was elected a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York in the early 1820s. He also served as the Chancellor of New York—the highest judicial officer of the state at the time—for nineteen years. [back]
  • 9. John A. Dix (1798–1879) was a military officer and a politician who lead Union forces as a Major General during the American Civil War. He held the offices of United States Senator from New York and United States Minister to France. Although he was not elected to the office of Governor of New York in 1848, he went on to become the states twenty-fourth Governor, serving from 1873 to 1874. [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Silas Wright (1795–1847) of Massachusetts studied law and set up a practice in New York before entering politics. He served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York, as a Senator from New York, and as the state's fourteenth governor, from 1845 to 1846. [back]
  • 12. Horace Greeley (1811–1872) was editor of the New York Tribune and a prominent advocate of social and political reform. Greeley generally supported the Whig Party in his early years, though he helped found the Republican Party in 1854. He ran for president as Liberal Republican in the election of 1872. For more information on Greeley, see Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2006). [back]
  • 13. 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]
  • 14. 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]
  • 15. Whitman may be referring to Leslie Combs (1793–1881), a Kentucky native, who served in the War of 1812 and then held the offices of Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and the Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives. [back]
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