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Title: What's the Row?

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: March 28, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00391

Source: New York Aurora 28 March 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: Keenan Adams, Victoria Bruno, Kaleb Weaver, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen

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What's the Row?

Some week or two ago, we gave the readers of the Aurora as fair and distinct a view of "political prospects," in our country, as sharp eyes and attentive observation could delineate.1 All judgment, as to who will be candidate for President in 1844, is, of course, merely a matter of speculation. No human eye has the power of piercing the dark veil of the future, or calculating exactly the chances of each individual's success. A thousand whirls in the wheel of fortune, may bring to pass expressions of opinion, or separations of friendship, or alliances between enemies—the most distant idea of which it has not entered into the brain of man to conceive.

As remarked by us in the article alluded to, we do not feel a doubt that Mr. Van Buren will be brought in the field.2 At the worst, he cannot but rally round him all the ancient might of his party—the accustomed friends—the old adherents—the drilled and disciplined "regulars" of the army. Van Buren has always been faithful to his friends—faithful through triumph and doubt, despair and glory, sunshine and tempest, rank and retirement. Perhaps no man ever went into power through the strength of so little personal enthusiasm in his behalf. Few persons have retired from high station, leaving such ardent attachment, and such warm and personal friends behind them.

Van Buren will have a noble antagonist in Henry Clay!3 For the friends of Henry Clay seem to be determined to wait no longer for a "lucky moment." They have evidently made up their minds to run him into the Presidency, or else let the enemy have it their own way. To all appearances, they will make a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together.

Yet who can hold the balance, and weigh what is to be? One year ago, who thought that in two months the then newly elected President would be shrouded in his coffin, and laid away in the bosom of earth, the great mother of men?4 Who thought that an obscure, milk and water politician,5 from Virginia, would be swept onward by the wind of accident, to the most glorious place of power the whole world can afford? Who thought it possible that the whig party, having full swing in every branch of the government, would refrain from chartering a national bank?6

Still these marvellous things have come to pass. And in that mighty volume wherein are recorded the events and changes of the future years, haply there may be wonders greater, and occurrences more unimagined, than any we have now spoken of.


1. Whitman probably refers to the editorial entitled "How Bears the Wind?" from the March 11, 1842 issue of the Aurora. [back]

2. Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) served as Secretary of State and Vice President under President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), and president between 1837 and 1841. Van Buren is often credited by historians with creating the first political party in the United States, the Democratic Party. In the election of 1840, Van Buren lost to William Henry Harrison (1774–1841), a former general during the war of 1812 and first Whig president, who was replaced by John Tyler (1790–1862), who was politically Democratic, but ostensibly left the Democratic Party to run with Harrison. [back]

3. Henry Clay (1777–1852), Senator from Kentucky and leader of the Whig Party, ran for president in 1844, but lost to the Democratic candidate, James K. Polk (1795–1849). [back]

4. President William Henry Harrison died from complications of pnuemonia four weeks after taking the oath of office. [back]

5. "Milk and water" here means "weak." Whitman is referring to John Tyler. [back]

6. Since its destruction during the Jackson Administration, the rechartering of the National Bank had been a perennial goal of the Whig Party under the leadership of Henry Clay. With President Harrison's inauguration in 1841, the Whigs controlled Congress and the presidency and seemed poised to recharter the Bank. However, Harrison's death that year, and the elevation of his Vice President, John Tyler, himself a former Democrat who joined the Whigs, dashed these hopes when Tyler consistently vetoed Clay's legislation. [back]


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