Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Amos Tappan Akerman, 9 January 1871

Hon. A. T. Akerman,1 Attorney General. Sir:

I hereby respectfully make application for the office of Pardon Clerk, now vacant in the Department of Justice.

I have served in the Department under Attorney Generals Speed,2 Stanbery,3 Browning,4 Evarts,5 Hoar,6 & yourself—am familiar with the general routine of the office (am the oldest in continuous service of any of the present clerks)—think I could soon learn the special duties of the pardon desk—and hope I should conscientiously seek to perform them, both with regard to their great official, and still greater moral obligations.

I would refer to Mr. Speed and Mr. Stanbery, Attorneys General, & Mr. Ashton,7 Assistant Attorney General, under whom I have acted as clerk, some of them for several years—and to Mr. Pleasants,8 late Chief Clerk—and if agreeable to you, or desirable, would bring written testimonials from them.

Very respectfully, Walt Whitman

Should it not be convenient to grant the foregoing application I respectfully ask to be promoted to a fourth-class clerkship, to date from 1st. of February, 1871.9

Walt Whitman


  • 1. Amos Tappan Akerman (1821–1880) served in the Confederate Army and was Attorney General from 1870 to 1871. [back]
  • 2. James Speed (1812–1887) was appointed Attorney General in 1864 by Lincoln; because he was opposed to Johnson's policies, he resigned on July 17, 1866. [back]
  • 3. Henry Stanbery (1803–1881) was appointed Attorney General in 1866 by Andrew Johnson but resigned on March 12, 1868, in order to defend Johnson at his impeachment trial. [back]
  • 4. Orville Hickman Browning (1806–1881) completed the unexpired term of Stephen A. Douglas after his death in 1861. Defeated for re-election in 1862, he established a law firm in Washington, and later actively supported President Johnson, who appointed him Secretary of the Interior in 1866. Browning was appointed Acting Attorney General on March 12, 1868. At the conclusion of Johnson's administration, he returned to private law practice. [back]
  • 5. William Maxwell Evarts (1818–1901) was chief counsel for Andrew Johnson during the impeachment trial. As a reward for his services, Johnson appointed Evarts Attorney General later in the year; Whitman reported the news in his July 17, 1868 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Evarts was Secretary of State from 1877 to 1881 and U.S. Senator from New York from 1885 to 1891. [back]
  • 6. Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar (1816–1895) was Attorney General from 1869 to 1870 and was later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. [back]
  • 7. J. Hubley Ashton, the assistant Attorney General, actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs, and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
  • 8. Matthew F. Pleasants, who later became chief clerk in the Attorney General's office. [back]
  • 9. The letter is endorsed: "Received Jany 10, 1871 | Dated Jany 9 1871 | From Walt Whitman Clerk | Subject: Asks for position of pardon clerk | Action. [unfilled space] | Filed June 2, 1871." [back]
Back to top