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Walt Whitman to John Parker Hale, 14 August [1852]


A word from a stranger, a young man, and a true Democrat I hope.—

You must not only not decline the nomination of the Democracy at Pittsburgh, but you must accept it gracefully and cordially.1 It is well to know when to be firm against others' wishes; but it is better, to know when to yield in a manly and amiable spirit.—

Out of the Pittsburgh movement and "platform" it may be that a real live Democratic party is destined to come forth,2 which, from small beginnings, ridicule, and odium, (just like Jeffersonian democracy fifty years ago,) will gradually win the hearts of the people and crowd those who stand before it into the sea.—Then we should see an American Democracy with thews and sinews worthy this sublime age.—

It is from the young men of our land—the ardent and generous hearts—that these things are to come.—Do you, then, yield to the decision at Pittsburgh, shape your acceptance to that idea of the future which supposes that we are planting a renewed and vital party, fit to triumph over the effete and lethargic organizations now so powerful and so unworthy. Look to the young men—appeal specially to them.—Enter into this condition of affairs, with spirit, too.—Take two or three occasions within the coming month to make personal  nhh.00001.002_large.jpg addresses directly to the people, giving condensed embodiments of the principal ideas which distinguish our liberal faith from the drag-parties and their platforms.—Boldly promulge these in that temper of rounded and good-natured moderation which is peculiar to you; but abate not one jot of your fullest radicalism. After these two or three speeches, which should be well-considered and not too long, possess your soul in patience, and take as little personal action in the election as may be.—Depend upon it, there is no way so good as this face-to-face of candidates and people—in the old heroic Roman fashion.—I would suggest that one of these addresses be delivered in New York, and one of Cincinnati—with a third either in Baltimore or Washington.—

You are at Washington, and have for years moved among the great men.—I have never been at Washington, and know none of the great men.—But I know the people.—I know well (for I am practically in New York) the real heart of this mighty city—the tens of thousands of young men, the mechanics, the writers, &c &c.—In all these, under and  nhh.00001.003_large.jpg behind the bosh of the regular politicians, there burns, almost with fierceness, the divine fire which more or less, during all ages, has only waited a chance to leap forth and confound the calculations of tyrants, hunkers, and all their tribe.—At this moment, New York is the most radical city in America.—It would be the most anti-slavery city, if that cause hadn't been made ridiculous by the freaks of the local leaders here.—

O my dear sir, I only wish you could know the sentiment of respect and personal good will, toward yourself, with which, upon seeing a telegraphic item in one of this morning's papers, that you would probably decline. I forthwith sat down, and have written my thoughts and advice.—I shall make no apology; for if sentiments and opinions out of the great mass of the common people are of no use to the legislators, then our government is a sad blunder indeed.—

How little you at Washington—you Senatorial and Executive dignitaries—know of us, after all.—How little you realize that the souls of the pople ever leap and swell to any thing like a great liberal thought or principle, uttered by any well-known  nhh.00001.004_large.jpg personage—and how deeply they love the man that promulges such principles with candor and power.—It is wonderful in your keen search and rivalry for popular favor that hardly any one discovers this direct and palpable road there.—

Walter Whitman Cumberland st. near Atlantic Brooklyn N.Y. Walt Whitman Aug 14. 1852

John Parker Hale (1806–1873) was a lawyer and politician from New Hampshire. He served in the United States House of Representatives and in the United States Senate, representing the state of New Hampshire. Early in his political career Hale was a Democrat; later he aided in the founding of the Free Soil Party before becoming a member of the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln appointed Hale an ambassador to Spain, and Hale served in this role from 1865 until 1869.


  • 1. Although the Free Soil party had been badly beaten in the 1848 election, Whitman helped persuade Hale to accept the nomination in 1852. For more on Whitman’s engagement with politics, see Bernard Hirschhorn's "Political Views.," J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 2. In response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Democrats, Whigs, and Free Soilers, including Hale, joined the newly formed Republican Party. When Hale returned to the Senate it 1855, it was as a Republican. [back]
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