Published Works


About this Item

Title: The School Question

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 2, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00455

Source: New York Aurora 2 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: Alex Ashland, Gabrielle K. Engstrom, and Kevin McMullen

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We are glad to be able to inform our readers that there is not much doubt but what Maclay's bill will be lost.1 The Senate have soared superior to mean considerations, and shown that they can be just to their consciences and to their constituents.2 Messrs. Varian and Scott cannot be praised too highly.3 They have taken a high and honrable stand—lifted themselves above the narrow limits of bigotry and selfishness—and fearlessly stood out against the storm with which demagogues assail all who oppose a change in the schools. They need not fear but that they will have their reward.


1. A bill written by William B. Maclay (1812–1882), a New York Democrat, as a response to Governor William Seward's (1802–1872) call for the reorganization of the New York 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. Whitman and the Aurora were strongly opposed to the bill, and despite Whitman's optimism here that the bill would fail, it was signed into law by Seward on April 11, 1842. The day after the bill's passage, Whitman wrote an editorial in the Aurora, stating that "[w]e feel almost too shocked, too shamed at the very name of New York legislative honor, to give full utterance to our thoughts on this matter." For more on the Maclay Bill, see Jon Gjerde, Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 153. For more on Whitman's reaction to the bill's passage and the reasons for his hatred of the bill, see his Aurora editorial of April 11 and its accompanying annotations. [back]

2. Referring to the New York State Senate in Albany, not the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. [back]

3. Isaac L. Varian (1793–1864) served on the New York State Senate as a Democrat from 1842 to 1845. John B. Scott (1789–1854) also served on the Senate as a democrat, from 1841 to 1844 (Franklin Hough, The New York Civil List: Contains the Names and Origin of the Civil Divisions, and the Names and Dates of Election or Appointment of the Principal State and County Offices, from the Revolution to the Present Time [Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons, and Co., 1858], 133). [back]


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