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About this Item

Title: The School Bill

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: March 29, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00445

Source: New York Aurora 29 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: Stefan Schöberlein, Gabrielle K. Engstrom, and Kevin McMullen

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We understand that the Senatorial delegation from this city1 are unanimously in favor of the existing Public School system, and opposed to any alteration.2 If so, the sentiment is an honor to their judgement and their independence.

Why do not the advocates of a change accept our proposal to let the whole matter be decided by a vote at the ballot boxes? We court that test; we would abide by its result with the utmost cheerfulness. But never while we hold a pen—never while our tongue can utter the dictates of a heart swelling with love for our native land and for the glorious freedom which makes that native land worthy our deepest love—never will we stand tamely by and witness a cabal of foreign priests lording it over our citizens in questions of civil polity! We will not cease to denounce such proceeding And we shall use such strong terms, as will express the gushing of a soul, jealous, even to the extreme, of any introduction of religious fanaticism in our elections, and in matters which must be decided at the ballot boxes.


1. Referring to the New York state senate in Albany, rather than the federal Senate in Washington, D.C. [back]

2. William Seward (1801–1872), as governor of New York, passed the so-called Maclay Bill to increase funding to private school systems so that immigrant Irish-Catholic children could be taught by Catholic teachers. The move was part of an effort to sway Catholic voters from the Democratic Party (which they had traditionally supported) to Seward's Whigs. The Maclay Bill was written by William B. Maclay (1812–1882), a New York Democrat, as a response to Seward's call for the reorganization of the public school system. The goal of the bill was to form separate school districts in each of New York's wards, with each electing their own school administration (Jon Gjerde, Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012], 153). [back]


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