Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 25 November 1848

A most savage feeling is beginning to pervade the public mind in New-York, towards the infernal class of villains who commit the incendiarisms which for the past three months have been laying waste so much property, as well as human hope and comfort, here and in Brooklyn. The destruction of Murphy's large stables1 last Sunday morning, contributes to intensify this wrath. Woe be to the first of these incendiaries who shall be caught! I should not be much surprised if a dash of Lynch law were to come in play, then, unless the police muster strong.

You will notice by the papers that Van Buren2 runs considerably ahead of Cass,3 in this State. The Free Soilers4 say that large numbers of their men voted for Taylor,5 with the determination of defeating Cass at any rate. Probably this is so; but then some of the dissatisfied Whigs6 voted for Van Buren. All that the Michiganian received in this State is attributable to the strong attachment of the Democrats to "regular nominations." But here I am babbling of politics—without any need.

The other night, Mr. Fillmore,7 the Vice President elect, (you know he was defeated in '44, when he ran against Silas Wright,8 for Governor,) had a complimentary dinner given him at the Irving House. Many celebrities and jovial folks were there. But Fillmore isn't over-popular even among the Whigs. He is generally understood as belonging to the Courier and Express side, in opposition to the Tribune side. O, Lord, how those "sides" do hate each other!

Much learned debate is held in certain quarters, especially among the medical and municipal functionaries, about the probable approach of the Cholera.9 It seems to be the general opinion that we have got to take it. If so, the sooner it comes, the better. It is queer to see the antics "some people" cut up, at the mention of the cholera. Consumption,10 dysentery,11 and inflammatory attacks all around us, are ten times worse than the cholera, but you can't make the people think so. Isn't there something in "a name?" Something? Why, the whole civilized world is governed by names.

About 11 o'clock this morning, your humble servant went to take a stroll in Broadway. Never did the gay thoroughfare look more lovely! Never did the sun shine more gladsomely, or the air feel balmier, or the women look sweeter! True, there was a little mud—and if one didn't take good care, he received awkward splashes of the same; but "what can't be cured, must be endured," and mud in New York must be endured, most emphatically. (This is a kind of "Free Soil" doctrine, however, that all people won't agree with.)

On the other corner of Rector street, (Trinity Church,12 you know, fills the upper side,) they are putting up a large brick and marble structure, whose depth and recesses, as you stand in Broadway and look at them, make one think of those endless perspective halls that the "flats" on the stage sometimes represent. The walls of Grace Church—delightful, musical Grace, where Malibran13 used to sing in the choir, and which always was celebrated for its singing—the old walls that stood threateningly for two years, have been pushed and pulled down;—and here goes up this flaunting, measureless hall. What it's for, nobody yet knows.

New York is unusually full of stray visiters. A score or two of miscellaneous thousands make no great difference, of course; but a few hundreds, who dress well—only a little different from "the touch"—and who go about seeing sights, form an item that people are not sorry to behold. They add to trade, for one thing; and do the office of "lookers on in"—New York. What good were all the fine things of the metropolis, if people didn't come and admire them?



  • 1. Whitman is referring to the fire at the stables of Messrs. J. & M. Murphy, which resulted in the death of more than one hundred horses and destroyed twenty-five omnibuses and several nearby houses ("Destructive Fires," The Evening Post, November 20, 1848, 2). [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. 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]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Millard Fillmore (1800–1874), a member of the Whig Party, was elected Vice President of the United States in the 1848 election. He later became the thirteenth president of the United States, serving from 1850 to 1853. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine that is spread through contaminated water. Cholera causes severe dehydration and diarrhea. [back]
  • 10. Consumption, more commonly known now as tuberculosis, is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs, resulting in coughing, sweating, fatigue, and weight loss. [back]
  • 11. 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]
  • 12. Located at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway in Lower Manhattan, Trinity Church is a historic church in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The current church building was constructed between 1839 and 1846, and it is adjacent to the Trinity Churchyard burial ground. [back]
  • 13. Maria Malibran (1808–1836) was a well-known Spanish operatic soprano who sang in a choir in Grace Church, where crowds gathered to watch her. [back]
Back to top