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Title: The Latest and Grandest Humbug

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 8, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00394

Source: New York Aurora 8 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: Nicole Lindsey, Natalie Loless, Nolan Shan, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen

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The Latest and Grandest Humbug.

During the last three or four days, the Home Leaguers1 have been holding a convention at the Tabernacle in this city.2 We went up yesterday to see what they were about; we listened to several speeches from their great guns, and then came away.3

Sensible men have of late years been flattering themselves that the old, rusty, antiquated doctrine of a Protective Tariff had been given the go by. It seems that it is not so. A few cliques of selfish manufacturers, joined with a few sap head simpletons, are raising a great hue and cry to get up the old system with a new name.4 We hope the American nation will not allow these hypocrites to deceive them. The whole pith and essence of their movements is self. Under loud mouthed demonstrations of patriotism, they would push ahead measures for their own interest. They worship the Almighty Dollar—and to aid themselves therein, they take the name of national prosperity in vain.

The Home League are in favor of strong measures to protect American manufactures. Now, if this movement came from persons of impartiality, it would not be quite so bad—though it is a silly movement at best. But when we behold the men whose direct pecuniary interest it is to have high duties, banding with one another, and with a few frail partisans, to push ahead this revamped humbug—we may well give utterance to our disgust and condemnation.

Let the Home Leaguers look at England; she presents a glorious picture of the benefits of high duties. A government swarming with bloated parasites, and pompous lordlings—her treasury wrung from the bloody sweat of her masses, and distilled through the hot crucible of poverty, with groans and curses, and howlings of torment—her thousands of greedy human leeches, fattening on legalised extortion and theft—is she not a pretty example for us to imitate?

And the Home Leaguers cloak themselves under the pretext that it is necessary to put duties on, for purposes of revenue. Granting this—let the duties be no more than enough to raise revenue. And let no partiality be shown. What right has one man to expect that the fostering care of government may be given to him more than to his neighbor?

It would be far better, were the national expenses paid by direct taxation. These roundabout, circumlocutory ways of getting money always have more or less villainy interwoven in them. They open a door for favoritism. People do that, indirectly, which, were it done directly, would be scouted from one end of the land to the other. Simplicity, straight forwardness, and honesty, are a trio that go hand in hand, as much in matters of political economy as private conduct. The Home Leaguers war with the whole of the three.


1. The Home League was formed in 1841 in response to tariff reductions mandated by the Compromise Tariff of 1833. The group's purpose was "promoting home interests, aloof from party and sectional bias." Its members felt as though the United States government was "withdrawing its paternal care" by not implementing protective tariffs. Many people felt that the Home League was created to simply help a collection of wealthy manufacturers looking to "add a few more dollars to their treasury" (Home League, Address of the Home League to the People of the United States [New York: James Van Norden & Co., 1841], 3, 8; The People's Democratic Guide [New York: James Webster, 1842], 1: 314). [back]

2. The Tabernacle in question is the Broadway Tabernacle Church located in New York on 34th Street and Broadway. The church originally formed in fall of 1829 as the Union Presbyterian Church and became the First Free Presbyterian Church in spring of 1830. In 1835, the building of the Broadway Tabernacle began, which was completed in 1836. At this time, the Sixth Free Church organized as the Broadway Tabernacle, with Charles Finney as reverend. In 1842, the Broadway Tabernacle was a Congregational Church owned by David Hale, with E. W. Andrews as reverend. Measuring 100 feet wide, 150 feet deep, and 90 feet tall, the Tabernacle could seat up to 1,600 people (Susan Hayes Ward, The History of the Broadway Tabernacle Church [New York: The Trow Print, 1901], xi-xiv, 105). [back]

3. The "great guns" were likely the leaders of the Home League speaking at the National Home Industry Convention, which began April 5, 1842. The convention was called to order by Joseph Blunt, who then appointed Henry Shaw as Chairman and Loring Chapin as Secretary. After further deliberation, a committee was formed who then appointed a president, one vice president from each representing state, and four secretaries. They were as follows. President: James Tallmadge (NY). Vice Presidents: Robertson Hall (VA), Henry Shaw (MA), Stanford Newell (RI), Thomas K. Brace (CT), Stephen Warren (NY), Harmar Denney (PA), Mahlon Dickerson (NJ), Judge Howard (MD), Robert E. Little (IL), A. J. White (MI) and Robert McCaibe (DE). Secretaries: L. D. Chapin (NY), Stephen Conger (NJ), H. D. Maxwell (PA), and W. O. Bartlett (MA) (The American Laborer [New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1843], 1: 35). [back]

4. A Protective Tariff is a tax placed on imported goods. The goal of a protective tariff is to make the price of imports higher, and as a result, the price of domestic goods become more attractive to consumers. They were a common policy of the early nineteenth century until the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which called for a "gradual reduction of duties until the year 1842, when they were to be 20 percent, or under" (Blair and River, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, [Washington: The Globe Office, 1844], 440). As the final reductions of duties were being made in 1842, manufacturers began to clamor for an increased tariff, and as a result, the Black Tariff of 1842 was passed under Whig President John Tyler. For further reading, see: Douglas A. Irwin, "Antebellum Tariff Politics: Regional Coalitions and Shifting Economic Interests", The Journal of Law and Economics 51, no. 4 (2008): 715-41. [back]


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