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Reconstruction Correspondence (1866-1876)

Status: 1223 published of about 1360 known letters from this era

1223 of 1360 published

Here we present Whitman's correspondence from the postbellum period known as Reconstruction. Whitman wrote and received more than 1,300 items of personal correspondence during the years 1866–1876. Along with the correspondence Whitman drafted as a clerk in Washington, D.C., these documents give voice to Whitman's experience of the aftermath of war and contribute to our understanding of a key historical period. This correspondence illuminates social and civic aspects of Washington during this time and highlights the intricacies of Reconstruction-era policy and its real-world effects. These were quiet years in Whitman's personal life, but the scene around him was tumultuous as Congress, led by radical Republicans, set out to construct a multiracial society; as President Johnson tried to resist, he developed an enmity with Congress that would lead to his impeachment. Whitman discussed these momentous events vigorously with his friends William Douglas O'Connor, Charles Eldridge, John Trowbridge, and the others who gathered in O'Connor's Washington, D.C. home nightly to debate the issues of the day. These letters also give new insight into both his views on President Johnson and also his increasingly ambivalent position on race relations in the newly post-slavery country. The results of our work will allow students of American history to see the Reconstruction years from Whitman's unique standpoint in Washington, at the epicenter of efforts to remake the nation in the immediate post-war years. The personal and governmental correspondence demonstrate the innumerable ways that his civil servant work intersects with his notebooks, letters, and newspaper articles; they also develop our understanding of how one of Whitman's major works, Democratic Vistas, emerged out of the concrete legal issues of post-war America.

This collection, made possible by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, brings together previously edited print material and freshly edited material that has never appeared in print. We thank all those holding relevant manuscripts—a great number of repositories and private collectors—for their cooperation with our project. The location of the original manuscript is indicated for each letter in the "About this Document" section. Once we finish publication, for the first time, all of Whitman's letters from this period will be gathered and both sides of his correspondence (outgoing and incoming) will be presented together. Previously unpublished letters are presented with scans of the original documents—and scans of all manuscripts will be added over time. In short, the Archive will feature the first complete edition of Whitman's correspondence for the Reconstruction period. For more information on the transcription and encoding of these diverse materials, please see our statement of editorial policy.

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