Pre-Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman’s Journalistic and Political Background

1231 Words5 Pages
Walt Whitman had an interesting background as a journalist and a man of politics before he wrote poetry. In fact, much of his interest in writing poetry came from the political landscape of the United States before the Civil War. Whitman worked as an editor during the 1840s for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a Democratic newspaper, and was able to publish editorials about various topics, including politics. The political climate of the United States in the 1840s was one of unrest—citizens were dealing with issues of slavery, states’ rights and political parties—and all of these problems were weighing on Whitman’s mind. Because of his position as an editor of a Democratic newspaper, Whitman was supposed to support President James K. Polk’s proslavery stance (Erkkila 45). This very issue, one of slavery, was what plagued Whitman the most about United States’ politics because he could not blend his personal views on the subject with those of the Democratic Party he was supposed to support. Whitman did not support extreme political views one way or the other, even when it concerned slavery, his biggest issue with the political condition of the United States. He thought Abolitionists were fanatics and he also strongly opposed those who were for slavery. This is because he believed that extreme political views were dangerous to the unity of the country; because of these strong convictions, “he began tentatively testing out statements that balanced opposite views, as though simple rhetorical juxtaposition would dissolve social tensions” (Reynolds 119). Before he wrote poetry extensively, Whitman experimented with language as a journalist because he believed in the power of rhetoric. Neutral language that accepted both sides of an issue, for Whitman, was better for the unified state of the country than extreme language. For example, in the Eagle in 1846, he wrote:
Open Document