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Title: The Mask thrown off

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 7, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00398

Source: New York Aurora 7 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: Shane Lewis, John Clayton, Amanda Kapper, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen

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The Mask thrown off.

At last, the Catholics have put away disguise, and openly told us what their course is to be. We thank them for it. We shall now be able to meet them in open combat, and not fight as heretofore with foes who battle in the Indian method, by stratagem, and each man hid behind a stump or a bush. At the great meeting of the Hughes faction, in St. John's Hall,1 last Monday evening, they adopted a resolve, that if the Senate pass Maclay's school bill,2 O'Connor, the "Independent Democratic Republican" candidate for Mayor will be withdrawn—if not, not The same threat is reiterated by a stupid, wishy washy Catholic paper, started a few days since somewhere hereabouts; and, moreover, it is matter of town talk.

Will the democracy yield? Shall a gang of false and villainous priests, whose despicable souls never generate any aspiration beyond their own narrow and horrible and beastly superstition—shall these dregs of foreign filth—refuse of convents—scullions3 from Austrian monasteries—be permitted thus to dictate what Tammany4 must do?

The bulwark of truth—the "unterrified democracy,"5 ruled by a tattered, coarse, unshaven, filthy, Irish rabble! Americans, high in reputation, degrading themselves worse than the slavish nobles who of old kissed the toe of the triple crowned! They knelt to the Pope himself; Americans, to the abjectest menials of the Pope.6

We know there are large numbers of democrats to whom this is a bitter pill—but they think it must be swallowed to insure their candidates success. In order, then, that a few paltry offices may be filled by "our party,"7 they are content to be thus servile!

But we cannot think the democratic voters will be led by the nose in this manner. Let them act as men—come out, as American patriots, and defy the priest Hughes to do his worst. He and his allowed to sway political elections?

"Rather than so, come fate into the list,
And champion me to th' utterance."8

It were better that all should be lost, than such a precedent established. The foreign riffruff9 once yielded to in this case, and there will be no end to their demands and their insolence. Now is the crisis. If Tammany bends, she breaks. Democracy, instead of remaining a term or honor—will be but another word to signify the rule of hypocritical monks, reverend traitors who steal the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.


1. The "Hughes faction" is a reference to the supporters of Bishop John Hughes (1797-1864) and his fight for public funding for Catholic schools in New York through support of the Maclay Bill. St. John's Hall is now one of the four residence halls at Fordham University in New York City. The university itself, initially known as St. John's College, was founded in 1841 by Hughes (Richard Panchyk, Catholic New York City [New York: Arcadia Publishing, 2009], 100). [back]

2. As passed in 1842, the Maclay School Bill stated that the Board of Education could distribute the education fund, supervise, and otherwise give power to schools with the stipulation that no funds could go to schools that taught religion. [back]

3. A "scullion" is, "A servant that cleans pots and kettles, and does other menial services in the kitchen" (Noah Webster, John Walker, An American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: N. and J. White, 1839], 732). [back]

4. Tammany, fully known as Tammany Hall, was the political machine of the Democratic Party in New York for much for the nineteenth and early twentieth century. For more on Tammany Hall, see: Terry Golway, Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014). [back]

5. This phrase was commonly used by Democrats of this period to portray themselves as unafraid of social superiors. By using the phrase Democrats intended to convey themselves as "proud, manly, and incorruptible" (Joanna Innes and Mark Philp, Re-imagining Democracy in the Age of Revolutions: America, France, Britain, Ireland 1750-1850 [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013], 31). [back]

6. The Pope at this time was Gregory XVI, born in Venice as Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari (1765–1846). He was consecrated as Pope on February 2, 1831, and served until his death in 1846. [back]

7. Whitman here implies that Irish Catholic influence in the Democratic Party of New York City has usurped Anglo-American power. [back]

8. From Scene II, Act III of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. [back]

9. Most likely a typographical error, meant to be "riffraff." [back]


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