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Title: Reform In Congress

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: April 23, 1842

Whitman Archive ID: per.00591

Source: New York Aurora 23 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: Cayden Miller, Jason Stacy, Samuel Goggin, and Kevin McMullen

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Reform In Congress

Within a few years back, public opinion seems to have taken a dislike towards the long sessions of our national legislature. That this dislike is formed from reasons of justice, a brief examination will render conclusive. According to the constitution a session of congress constitutes two years, and two sessions of congress comform1 to the presidential term of office. The great objection to congressional legislation is its interminable length of session, and the consequent lack of decision upon important matters relating to the public.

The first meeting of congress subsequent to an election for president has no limit except within itself, until the fourth of March two years thereafter. Now the alteration of the constitution is almost impracticable, nor indeed is it of any use, if the PEOPLE will take the whole matter in hand. It is their own fault—we say it fearlessly—it is the PEOPLE'S own fault, that national legislation is so interminable and vexing. How is it to be remedied? is the enquiry. By the simplest method in the world—the ballot box. For many years, both the national and state legislatures of our whole union have been controlled by the immense number of lawyers they have elected to office—men that in a majority of instances (we do not say all) make our legislative halls mere debating rooms to exercise their lungs to the tune of eight dollars a day, who would not earn that sum a week in any court in the union. Now is not this true? we ask any reflective elector to view this matter in a correct light, and he, or they, will answer to its truth. The fact is, in regard to electing members of the House of Representatives, a few leaders pull the wires, and the mass are deluded into support, because their candidates profess to belong to the same party with themselves. And yet who constitute the men they support? Why, a pareel2 of designing fellows, that look as much to the general interests of the people of the United States, as the followers of the Great Mogul.3

They consider that the people placed them in office to blow their own trumpets, and make wonderful speeches for Buncombe.4 The matter finally resolves itself into this—the voters must regulate their own rights—instead of acquiescing in every nomination made by their own party, they should speak for themselves—instead of nominating for members of congress speaking gentlemen, let them nominate and support reflecting ones. Let this course be pursued throughout the Union, and we would see congress adjourn in a proper time. If our city would send to the national legislature two mechanics, one merchant, and one man of moderate fortune, we should be setting an example that would be followed throughout the country. Our city, in its political bearings and influence, has a great control over a large portion of the Union; and our position would be regarded accordingly. Let the farmers and agriculturists throughout the land look at these matters in their places, and say what is the use of our sending men to congress for the purpose of talking only? We are the representatives of constitutional powers, and we will use our endeavors to make less work and "more cider."5

It is easy to look at the subject in a half satirical light; but a moment's reflection will convince every voter, from Maine to Louisiana, that it will be best for them to know the person they nominate for congress. We have too much talk, talk—instead of sending such men to represent you at Washington, send a sensible mechanic, a sensible merchant, a sensible planter, a sensible manufacturer, and now and then a sensible lawyer, and the people of this country will find better laws, shorter legislation, and more honesty. Look to it, ye people.


1. "Conform" is misspelled in the original issue. [back]

2. "Parcel" is misspelled in the original issue. [back]

3. The third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, consolidated the Mughal Empire in modern India in the 16th century. For more information see Stanley Lane-Poole, History of India, In Nine Volumes—Vol. IV, Mediaeval India from the Mohammedan Conquest to the Reign of Akbar The Great (Edinburgh: The Grolier Society, 1906). [back]

4. Sometimes spelled "bunkum," this refers to "political speaking or action not from conviction, but in order to gain the favour of electors, or make a show of patriotism." The word comes from the name of a county in North Carolina (Oxford English Dictionary Online [accessed December 13, 2018]). [back]

5. Likely a reference to Whig William Henry Harrison's 1840 presidential campaign in which he was labeled by a Democratic paper as being content with a pension, a cabin in the woods, and a barrel of hard cider. The Whigs quickly repurposed this insult, dubbing him the "hard cider candidate" to symbolize his comradery with the common man. See Duff Green, "[Untitled]," The Pilot and Transcript 1, No. 78 (Baltimore, July 15, 1840): 2; Richard Brookhiser, "We've Been Here Before: William Henry Harrison Showed Rich Presidential Candidates How to Win," American History 47, no. 2 (June 2012): 22–23. [back]


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