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Title: The Late Riots

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 15, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00380

Source: New York Aurora 15 April 1842: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This piece is unsigned. However, Whitman was the editor of the Aurora when this editorial was written, and Herbert Bergman identified him as its author in Walt Whitman, The Journalism. Volume I: 1834–1846 (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period.

Contributors to digital file: Ashley Veath, Jordan Walters, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen

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The Late Riots.

A very incorrect idea has gone abroad with respect to the degree of guilt attributable to certain parties in the riots of last Tuesday.1 We have carefully gleaned from authentic sources and from eye witnesses, a history of the whole affair, which may be relied on as giving the right view of the case.

About the middle of the afternoon, a squad of tipsy fellows, Yankee Sullivan, Ford, and several Spartans,2 came down the Bowery, followed by a long string of boys, and some larger idlers,3 attracted, probably, by the expectation of seeing "fun." They shaped their course for the Sixth Ward4 Hotel, and when arrived there, amused themselves with getting into a squabble with some Irishmen, (one party as much to blame as the other,) whom they thrashed, and then allowed to escape. After this, Yankee Sullivan and the Spartans strolled off in another direction, little thinking of the events that were going to follow.

In the meantime, the exasperated Irish retreated to their homes and neighborhoods, gathered over a hundred of their countrymen, armed with bludgeons, sticks of cordwood,5 &c., and returned to the field of their late rout. Finding the victors gone, they marched up and down Centre street, wreaking vengeance on every person whose appearance or conduct they took a fancy to dislike. No one dared oppose them. Their shouts and howls were perfectly terrific; and we are told the residents in that quarter of the town expected every second to see devastation commence upon their dwellings and their families.

Things went on in this way for a couple of hours, when the Spartans, hearing, in some distant part of the city, of what was being transacted, and, no doubt, feeling ripe for a little mischief, returned and showed signs of fight. The Irish drew up a threatening front; but so indignant were the Americans who had been witnessing the outrageous insolence of these foreign rowdies, that they joined with the Spartans; and both turning heartily to, the enemy was completely demolished a second time.

The Irish fled, and entrenching themselves in the houses in the neighborhood, still kept up the fight by throwing down stones, blocks, and other missiles upon the heads of their pursuers. The Spartans, determined to make the lesson a complete one, burst in the doors, dragged out their antagonists, and cracked their heads.

Much sympathy has been thrown away upon the defeated party. The fact is, they brought on their punishment by their own bravado and by themselves being the attackers. We have no disposition to palliate rows or rowdies—but as far as the Spartans and the other American citizens were concerned in the affair, we can see nothing in their conduct to condemn.


1. Violence broke out following the common council elections on April 12th, the Tuesday before this editorial was published. Whitman comments on the fraught politics of selecting the New York City legislative body in the April 12th, 13th, and 16th issues of the Aurora. [back]

2. Yankee Sullivan (1811–1856) was a famous bare-knuckle boxer. As a prizefighting champion, Sullivan had many followers. One of his loyal followers was William Ford, also known as Bill. The Spartans were a Democratic faction lead by Mike Walsh (1810–1859) that was known for their working-class bona fides and violent nature (Anonymus, Life and Battles of Yankee Sullivan: Embracing Full and Accurate Reports of His Fights with Hammer Lane, Tom Secor, Harry Bell, Bob Caunt, Tom Hyer, John Morrisey [Philadelphia: A. Winch, 1854]). For further information, see: Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood‬ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012). [back]

3. "One who does nothing; one who spends his time in inaction. A lazy person; a sluggard" (Noah Webster, John Walker, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York, N. and J. White, 1839], 427). [back]

4. The Sixth Ward, also called "Five Points," was a poor, predominantly Irish, neighborhood in New York City. See: Tyler Anbinder,"'We Will Dirk Every Mother's Son of You': Five Points And The Irish Conquest of New York Politics," in Eire– Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 36, no. 1/2 (2001): 29-46; and Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of The Underworld (New York: Vintage Books, 2008). [back]

5. "Wood stacked in 'cords'; wood for fuel cut in lengths (usually) of 4 feet" (Oxford English Dictionary). [back]


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