WHITMAN AND THE CIVIL WAR
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CIVIL WAR for the history of the American democratic faith is suggested by the evolution of the thought of one man. Walt Whitman was no ordinary citizen. He looked upon himself--correctly--as both seer and poet. He understood the ruling ideals of mid-nineteenth-centuryAmerica; he made its dominant moods his own. He developed with the American people but he was no mere follower. When Whitman shifted his emphasis, he was usually in the van. From 1855 until 1873, when he was stricken with paralysis, his was an authentic American voice. What the war did to Whitman's thought concerning the democratic faith, it did also to that of his articulate fellow countrymen of the North and West and ultimately of the South.
Whitman was one of the first to coin the phrase "democratic faith." He used it in an editorial in the Brooklyn Eagle on November 7, 1846, when a young journalist of twenty-seven years. His early editorial writings reflect the exuberant and bombastic creed of the age when Manifest Destiny was at flood tide. "Let us not think," he wrote in the Eagle on July 28, 1848, "that because we are ahead of the tyrannical system of the Old World that we of the New have no advance to make. Every season, indeed, witnesses a great onward movement, even now. . . . The old and moth-eaten systems of Europe have had their day. . . . Here, we have planted the standard of freedom, and here we will test the capacities of men for self-government."1 Whitman in 1847 belonged with those American republicans whom Melville satirized so mercilessly two years later in Mardi.
In 1855 the journalist sent to Ralph Waldo Emerson a small sheaf of poems gathered under the title, Leaves of Grass. Emerson was intrigued by the strange cadences of the lines, stirred at their expres-