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Title: [We have read with attention]

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 1, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00577

Source: New York Aurora 1 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.

Contributors to digital file: Jamie Lanman, Jason Stacy, Casey Lampitt, and Kevin McMullen




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☞We have read with attention the article of some correspondent who has written without a signature, touching the school question,1 in connection with our foreign population.2 It is written with animation and power, but while we frankly confess that we agree with every sentiment and principle of the writer—nothwithstanding the proffer of his name—that often hateful word "expediency," forbids its publication.
Every word he utters is truth; but we may not speak it now a days, upon the question of which he treats. "Where" asks the writer, "are the thunders of the American press?" Alas, were we to publish what he has written, we should hear enough of those, with not enough of American thunder to sustain us.—Commercial of last evening.3

Col. Stone is a candid man.4 Unlike the other editors, he openly confesses that he dare not offend the foreign interest in this city. The rest of the newspapers are under the influence of the same feeling, but they have not the sincerity to acknowledge it.

We deplore this state of things. And more, we shall set our face against it. We shall, as long as we wield the editorial pen—as along as we have a brain to think, or a finger to move—never fear to utter what we believe to be right. We cannot trim our words and shift our sails to suit the varying tide of "expediency." We do not intend to follow in the wake of public opinion, but to lead it—to purify it—to renovate it with new vigor, and life, and freshness.

The Commercial dare not publish the truths which its correspondent offers, because it dreads the enmity it may arouse—the thunders that will be launched against it. Let the writer for the Commercial send his communication here; we are governed by no such considerations as influence the Commercial.

Let no one mistake us. It is not rashness—it is not egotism, that leads us to speak in this way. We have a lofty sense of what the press should be. We desire to stir up men's minds—to move the waters of the fountains of thought; and for these objects we shall never flinch from the expression of opinion—never hold back when honor waves us onward. True, we may occasionally be led to the use of warm words and harsh epithets, but we know that our motives are good, and that our aim is holy; and that therefore we shall be absolved from blame.5


Notes:

1. The "school question" refers to the controversy surrounding early 1840s public schooling in New York City under the Protestant-influenced Public School Society. Irish Catholics were by far the most vocal and politically influential group opposing the teaching methods of the New York Public School Society (PSS), going so far as to pressure the Democratic Party to abolish the PSS, and endorsing the Maclay Bill that would eventually forbid the inclusion of any religious curriculum in public schools. For further reading on the public school issue, see Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000), 27–91. [back]

2. By the 1840s, over a full third of the population of New York City consisted of immigrants, nearly half of which were Irish. The majority of the Irish community was displeased with having to subject their children to the teachings of a Protestant curriculum, where educators were often actively hostile to the Irish and practicing Catholics. For further reading on the Irish and public schooling, see Ravitch, 20–57. And for more in general on the Irish population of the United States during this time period, see David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 2002), 133–163. [back]

3. The Commercial Advertiser was a New York-based newspaper whose content was tailored to the elite and businessmen of the city. Throughout the mid-1800s, its editors were staunch supporters of the Whig party whose beliefs and goals directly opposed those of the largely Democratic working class and immigrant population (James Grant Wilson, The Memorial History of the City of New-York [New York: New-York History Company, 1893], 142–144). [back]

4. William Leete Stone (1793–1844) was described in an 1856 biographical sketch as "the editor and one of the proprietors of the New York Commercial Advertiser," where he worked from 1821–1844 (John Lauris Blake, A Biographical Dictionary: Comprising a Summary Account of the Lives of the Most Distinguished Persons of All Ages, Nations, and Professions; Including More than Two Thousand Articles of American Biography [Philadelphia: H. Cowperthwait & Co., 1856], 1186). [back]

5. This passage is a reflection of writer and editor John O'Sullivan's democratic ideals and rhetoric of manifest destiny. In Whitman's written appeal to the minds of all men (where "all men" refers to native-born white males), he emphasized the idea that the thoughts of all men were equal, a crucial tenet of antebellum democracy. However, his assertion that the press possessed a divine duty to better the minds of men, coupled with the claim that the press would be absolved of any negative fallout in their righteous pursuit of editorial progress, smacks of the ideals present in O'Sullivan's notion of American manifest destiny (John L. Sullivan, "The Great Nation of Futurity," The United States Democratic Review 6, no. 23 [1839]: 426–430). [back]


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