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About this Item

Title: Incidents of Last Night

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 13, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00409

Source: New York Aurora 13 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: Kevin McMullen, Nolan Shan, Amanda Kapper, and Jason Stacy

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Incidents of last Night.

The democratic head quarters, Tammany Hall, and the whig head quarters, National Hall, were filled with the respective partizans, anxious to hear the returns from the various wards, and to obtain a knowledge of the result of the contest.

During the latter part of the day there had been a great row down in the neighborhood of the Tombs,1 between some squads of Irish, and a number of Americans, whom they insulted grossly. The Irish had armored themselves with billets of wood, and in the course of their triumphal passage through the streets, it seems they met with some spirited young fellows who had no great taste for submitting to their abuse and domineering bravado. The consequence was that there was a general battle. The bog trotters,2 were completely routed, and many of them, with a portion of their assailants, captured by the police.

About 9 o'clock we stepped in at Tammany Hall, where we found the crowd great, and the passages and walks in front filled with an immense mass of people—some attracted by curiosity, but most of them anxious to hear the returns, as they were brought in by emissaries from the wards. Edging our way with infinite difficulty, we managed at last to effect an entrance into the great room. We will not pretend to criticise the speaking we heard during our five minutes' stay; it was beneath the depth of deepness. At intervals, the presiding officer would read off the majorities, as he received them at the hands of people just arrived from the polls.

It took us nearly half an hour to squeeze ourself down stairs and out in the street again. In the course of the evening, we stepped up to National Hall, but meeting an immense current flowing outward from the door, and being informed by a friend whom we recognised, that "the people there were all sick, and were going home for the night," we did not think it judicious to attempt an entrance.

Coming homeward, squads of men were at every corner, and along on the curbstones, holding animated discussions upon the result of the day's contest, and the causes of that result. As near as we could judge from their remarks, the democrats were far from satisfied with themselves and the course they had pursued. They felt, as they ought, like people who had been guilty of something by no means creditable to their manliness.

There was no rejoicing during the evening, at Tammany—none of the usual enthusiasm—none of joyous gratulation, with which they are wont to greet one another in times of victory. In fact never have we beheld such evidences of conscious wrong performed. All the pleasure of their triumph was deadened by their remembrance of the means through which it had been obtained.

In the course of the evening, some of the windows of the priest Hughes'3 residence were broken by brickbats.4 Had it been the reverend hypocrite's head, instead of his windows, we could hardly find it in our soul to be sorrowful.

There were rumors, late at night, that two or three persons had been seriously, perhaps fatally injured in the melee. It is impossible, however, to tell, to any degree of certainty, whether they are correct.

☞ Since writing the above, we hear from our windows at this moment (between 12 and 1 o'clock, morning) the sounds of martial array in the Park. Two companies of the Washington Greys,5 on horse-back, are defiling through the large gates, into Chatham street, and so up the Bowery.6 Strong fears are entertained that there will be disturbances before daylight. The police force, and the military, we are informed by one of the reporters, just from the mayor's office, will be kept on duty all night.

The indignation of large numbers of our citizens is roused to a pitch altogether ungovernable, against the insults and absolute trampling upon American citizenship, by the Catholics and the ignorant Irish. What conduct this indignation will exhibit itself in, it is impossible to tell. Hughes' house is much injured; and in all likelihood the cathedrals would have been attacked and sacked, if the people had not been deterred by the military.

In view of the transactions of the past weeks, who can wonder that such things are acted as we record in the last two or three paragraphs?


1. Located in the most notorious slum in nineteenth-century America, the Five Points neighborhood, the Tombs was a colloquial name for New York City's Halls of Justice and was the physical representation of nineteenth-century criminal justice. Considered by many to be the most famous prison of its time on the continent, the Tombs contained the entire corpus of criminal law: judges, juries, magistrates, attorneys, courtrooms, and cells of incarceration. For further reading on the Tombs, see: Timothy J. Gilfoyle, "'America's Greatest Criminal Barracks': The Tombs and the Experience of Criminal Justice in New York City, 1838–1897," Journal of Urban History 29, no. 5 (July 2003): 525–554. For further reading on the Five Points neighborhood, see: Tyler Anbinder, "We Will Dirk Every Mother's Son Of You": Five Points And The Irish Conquest Of New York Politics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003). [back]

2. A bogtrotter is one who lives in a boggy country. Typically meant as an offensive term, the word bogtrotter had been applied specifically to the Irish as far back as 1682 (Noah Webster, An American Dictionary Of The English Language: Exhibiting The Origin, Orthography, Pronunciation, And Definitions Of Words [White and Sheffield, 1839], 88; and Geoffrey Hughes, An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-speaking World [Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2015], 254). [back]

3. Bishop John Hughes (1797–1864) led the fight in New York City for parochial schools to be publicly funded, a major issue of early 1840's New York politics; Hughes was hated by nativist Democrats, including Whitman. For further reading, see Joseph McCadden, "New York's School Crisis of 1840–1842," Thought 41, no. 4 (1966): 561–588. [back]

4. According to the 1839 edition of Webster's English Dictionary, a brickbat is a piece or a fragment of a brick (Noah Webster, An American Dictionary Of The English Language: Exhibiting The Origin, Orthography, Pronunciation, And Definitions Of Words [White and Sheffield, 1839], 106). [back]

5. The Washington Grey's were a volunteer militia group in New York during the antebellum period that were called in to quell domestic unrest when local police forces proved unable to control outbreaks of violence. The Washington Grey's recruited its members largely from the upper class and celebrated its social prominence; the Grey's were known for brilliant uniforms and military prowess. For further reading, see: Nancy L. Todd, New York's Historic Armories: An Illustrated History (SUNY Press, 2006); and Clifton Hood, In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City's Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016). [back]

6. The Bowery was a street in the Five Points neighborhood of lower Manhattan that would give its name to a notorious gang of young thugs called the Bowery Boys. Charles Dickens described the Bowery in 1842 as rife with poverty, wretchedness, and vice in his American Notes for General Circulation (109). For further reading, see Peter Adams, The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005). [back]


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