Walt Whitman is probably best known for the great work of American poetry, Leaves of Grass. However, his early published writing came from his work as a journalist for local New York newspapers. From these writings, Whitman’s political views and his writing style are clearly illustrated. The University of Iowa Press has put together an impressive collection of Whitman’s early writing.
Whitman’s views tend to be complex rather than simple. One the issue of slavery, Whitman opposed the spread of slavery but spoke out against the abolitionists. He did, however, support the Wilmont Proviso, preventing the spread of slavery into new territories. In an interesting article, Whitman supports Oregon’s constitutional provision preventing blacks from settling in the state. He reasons that since blacks will never be seen as equals and will never maintain the rights of white, perhaps it was better that they were not in Oregon to begin with. Whitman sided with the Free Soil Movement, a political party who believed that labor by free men was morally superior to slave labor.
Whitman also writes on a variety of issues from the 1840s through the 1860s. He takes sides in the Mexican American War with enthusiasm. He discusses the 1860 Presidential Election and the effects of the splintering of the Democratic Party. Whitman speaks well of Long Island and agrees with the ideas of others that Long Island could be its own state of its own. He also writes of local New York issues and politics. His writing covers a wide range of issues and topics.
In today’s newscasts, where currently two major news hosts are under fire for the inaccuracy of their reporting, sensationalism is the lead story. Twenty years ago Dateline NBC rigged a GM vehicle to explode to prove a claim of a faulty gas tank. Before then the standard theme was “If it bleeds, it leads.” The News is a business and does what it needs to to gain readers/viewers. In a far distant past, when there were as many newspapers in a city as churches, there was a many reporters, and many ways to make your mark and become successful. Whitman’s writing is what sets him apart. His use of words and style supersede the substance of the article. The reader feels compelled to read the article even if he or she does not agree with the subject.
Each news article is cited with detailed information. The source of the article and most importantly historical notes related to the article. People mentioned and even historically obscure events are detailed to allow the reader to put the article into historical context.
Walt Whitman’s Selected Journalism is an interesting look at the early prose writing of a great poet and a look at the reported news in the United States. The history is what the average person would have read in the newspaper, however, the writer is far from average. This is an impressive collection of historical viewpoints by a great American writer.