Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of Leaves of Grass

By Martin Klammer | Go to book overview

4
THE 1850 COMPROMISE AND AN EARLY POETICS OF SLAVERY

Even before Whitman arrived home from New Orleans in June 1848, events on the national political scene were determining the direction of his future. The national conventions of both parties--the Democrats' in late May in Baltimore and the Whigs' in early June in Philadelphia--led to further intraparty fragmentation over the slavery question. New York Hunkers and Barnburners each sent a separate delegation to Baltimore, and when the convention voted to seat both delegations, the Barnburners walked out. The Democrats then nominated Cass, an arch-opponent of the Wilmot Proviso, to head their ticket. The Whig convention nominated the Mexican War hero Zachary "Rough and Ready" Taylor with the assumption that his ownership of more than one hundred slaves on Louisiana and Mississippi plantations would assure his "safety" on the slavery issue. Soon thereafter a faction known as "Conscience Whigs," opposed to the extension of slavery supported by "Cotton Whigs," bolted the party with the express purpose of realigning the political spectrum and forming what Charles Sumner called "one grand Northern party of Freedom."1

____________________
1
Sumner to Salmon P. Chase, 7 February 1848, Chase Papers, Library of Congress. Quoted in McPherson, Battle Cry, 60. For a discussion of the politics of slavery in the election of 1848, see McPherson, Battle Cry, 58-64.

-61-

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Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of Leaves of Grass
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Construction of a Pro-Slavery Apology 7
  • 2 - The Failure of Borrowed Rhetoric 27
  • 3 - Emerson, New Orleans, and an Emerging Voice 45
  • 4 - The 1850 Compromise and an Early Poetics of Slavery 61
  • 5 - An Audience at Last 85
  • 6 - A Slave's Narrative 115
  • 7 - Speaking a New Word 141
  • Epilogue - "On the Extremest Verge" 159
  • Bibliography 165
  • Index 171
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