In , however, by which time the United States had absorbed, subsequent to the famine, some 2. They had moved ahead in the workforce to become tailors, shoemakers, metalworkers, and masons, while still filling those roles they had earlier claimed as carters, coachmen, housemaids, longshoremen, and ferrymen. Most had been within his family structure. Thomas Jefferson Whitman, or Jeff, the brother to whom he had felt closest since their six-month sojourn in New Orleans in , had moved to St.
Louis with his wife and two daughters. Leaves of Grass had seen its fourth edition in , and he continued to work on poems to be added to the next edition. In the same year he would produce Passage to India , the title poem of which is arguably the last of his great poems. Since the publication of some of his poems in England in , he had become a focus of attention for a number of prominent figures there, among them a female admirer, Anne Gilchrist, who sent an impassioned marriage proposal he did not accept.
Although he had lived in Washington, D. New York, then as now, had a tendency to believe itself the center of the world, but Whitman would have been quite conscious of the fact that the District of Columbia had been provided for the first time with a form of territorial government. Of more immediate interest to the vacationing Whitman would have been some New York events of that summer: work on the bridge between the cities of Brooklyn and New York entered the second of its fourteen years; more than a hundred people were killed when a boiler exploded aboard the Westfield , a Staten Island ferry; and at least fifty people were killed in a riot involving Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants.
All of these events would have impressed Walt Whitman, but we have his comments on only one, the Irish riot. Just three months earlier he had been declared dead by the New York World , which ran a lengthy obituary in the mistaken belief that he had been killed by a railroad train in Croton, New York. When not with her, Walt told Pete, he was riding the ferry and visiting Coney Island.
To Pete he wrote: There was quite a brush in N. Orangemen, originally members of an Ulster Protestant Society in Ireland dating to , were, in the United States, members of an ethnic organization whose principal activity was its annual celebration of the Battle of the Boyne. The observance had been given an extra boost by the fact that in May President Grant had declared the government would no longer tolerate the Irish Catholic Fenian Brotherhood functioning as a kind of separate government within the United States.
On July 12 they had a procession up Eighth Avenue to a park located at Ninetieth Street, where a picnic and dance were to be held. The Metropolitan Police were notified, but by the time they reached the park a shower of stones was falling on the Orange-men. A general melee followed, with clubs, sticks, and anything that could serve as a weapon being brought to bear. The militia were called, but by the time they arrived the injured were scattered about the streets.
Groups from both sides of the combat tried to crowd into horsecars to escape, and as the fighting continued it brought wreckage to the cars and animals as well as to innocent passengers. At the time, the New York Irish were as closely linked to the powerful Tweed Ring as any politically motivated ethnic group could hope to be. William M. Connolly was the city comptroller. The Irish had been in America long enough to be able to see some of their number move up into the ranks of the well-to-do, and some even became Republicans.
For example, in Edward Gleason, superintendent of the Union League Club, a highly respectable Republican political group, was able to build a house on th Street near Fifth Avenue.
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Labor activism among Irish immigrants throughout the midcentury had focused mainly on improved wages, and this limited objective hampered any strides toward overall improvement of working conditions. In addition, Irish workers originally impeded their own progress by forming rival groups and secret societies whose memberships were determined by place of origin in Ireland. Benevolent societies, forerunners of organized labor unions, had political and religious as well as occupational roots. A partial victory was claimed by reading aloud letters from contractors who had agreed to the demanded wage, among them Messrs.
Collins, Brady, S.
While Whitman makes no mention of this, note the Irish names of the contractors, who may have been Americans born to immigrant parents and who are indicative of entrepreneurial advancement possible in a labor-dominated economy that was beginning to break down, creating the need for unions.
Craft workers, among whom the prefamine Irish immigrants numbered highly, were essential to the working class that developed in New York from the s to the mid-nineteenth century. In his Eagle article Whitman warmly supported the organization of a benevolent society but denounced the attempt to regulate wages, which he saw as similar to tariffs, fair trade laws, and other such restrictions on business, to all of which he was opposed.
He examined the case of the workers, however, and found it worthy of attention, pointing out that they labored from sunrise to dark for sixty-four and a half cents and were docked exorbitantly for being only minutes late.
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Let our philanthropists not go to oppressed England and starving Ireland for samples of scanty comfort. The following day the editor reported that several of those in the association had called upon him and made him realize he had not done its members justice, for they were in fact ready to receive any work when available.
One supposes that the contingent of workers with whom he met included more than a few Irish, for Whitman went on to a lengthy discussion of the condition of Irish laborers. There was violence, especially when the construction firm brought in German workers to replace the striking Irish. In the Atlantic Dock strike German workers were attacked and badly beaten, for which a number of Irish were indicted.
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The indictments broke the strike, and though many of the Irish returned to their jobs, the workforce was carefully set at half Irish, half German, which meant that many Irish workers lost jobs. Most devastating, however, there was no increase in salary for the laborers on land, who were mostly Irish, while the dredgemen, all Germans, received an increase of five cents an hour, bringing their hourly rate to eighty-five cents, five cents more than the Irish were paid.
The Irishman took the Germans to the boat and saw them safely across the river, where, with no common language in which to do so, they made every effort to convey to him their gratitude. Subsequent strikes, in , , , and , though undertaken for higher wages, also involved violence aimed at black workers brought in to replace the strikers. On principle, in the s and s Whitman did not support the idea of organized labor, which he saw as an attempt to interfere with business and manufacturing.
There was always the hope, however, that the narrowness of focus that shaped the views of most immigrants would expand under the influence of democracy. The only ethnic paper on the list is the Irish-American , at Nassau Street, and while there is no direct evidence that Whitman actually published in it, the paper was the one Irish newspaper in New York that would have welcomed such a liberal approach. In Boston Lynch had used his paper to support revolutionary movements in Europe and repeal of the enforced union of England and Ireland.
Lynch learned from his experience, and in moving to New York to begin publication of the Irish-American , he made an effort to reconcile Irish American republicanism and Roman Catholic interests. In the first issue of the paper he indicated he would support democratic-republican principles but would not forsake Catholicism, and in later editorials he scrupulously defended the honor of the Church.
The process of democratization, Whitman knew, had begun long before among the Irish Protestants who had arrived in the States earlier.
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It could continue among the more recent Catholic arrivals, he believed, if the influence of their priests could be overcome. The Irish had started coming to North America before that continent boasted a free and independent nation. Many proved themselves valiant in both the Revolutionary War and the War of A slow but steady immigration rate continued, with an upsurge early in the s that seemed to signal the spiraling rate of increase that would follow the famines in Ireland.
Among those who came in the years of a declining economy in the southern counties of Ireland, immediately preceding the famine, were Catholics who then found themselves at odds with the already established Protestant Irish when such issues arose as the controversial move to fund parochial schools with public tax monies.
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The famine, of course, brought the great waves of Catholic immigration. So many of them remained in the city that in New York was the most Irish city in the United States, with the Irish population totaling some , out of a total population of , Census figures for show a New York City Irish-born population of , Oakey Hall as mayor and John T. Hoffman as governor. The Irish had played a vital role in shifting the political power base away from Albany and toward New York City. The earliest Irish immigrants found their way into whichever of the parties suited their political philosophy, but as the immigrant population increased and especially as it became clear that the immigrants intended to remain in the city, they were viewed by the Democratic Party as a means of gaining power through sheer force of numbers.
This brought the Irish into the rivalry between upstate and downstate politicians in which Albany Whigs, later Republicans, sought to keep the city submissive to the state government.
When the doors to the Tammany Society and the Democratic Party were opened to them they entered in great numbers, eventually finding their way, by , to Albany. For some years William Tweed wielded great power in the state legislature. Of its fewer than thirty members, nine were native Irishmen, the parents of another eight had been born in Ireland, and three had other Irish family connections. With the help of the Metropolitan Police, however, Tweed was able to prevent the meeting at which the takeover was to occur, an indication not only of his influence on the police force but of the large number of Irish who marched in its ranks.
Other powerful forces were at work as well, led by wealthy reformers who, stimulated to action by disclosures in the Republican New York Times of massive fraud and financial misdealings within the city government, now sought to oust Tweed and restore fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, any threat to Tweed was seen by the Irish political bloc as a threat to them.
In January their rival political factions, Catholic and Protestant, had vied for the honor of welcoming five Fenian prisoners recently released from English jails. Spring brought its own troubles. In May there had been labor unrest, with Irish workers striking for pay increases.
The Catholics sought to have the mayor issue an order restraining the Orangemen from parading, but Hall chose to hide behind his superintendent of police and had him issue the ban.
This cowardliness, as well as the ban itself, stirred the non-Irish of the city to public outcry. In an effort to quiet things, Governor Hoffman issued a proclamation sanctioning the observance.
Resentment at this edict coming from the governor they had elected spilled over into the streets as gangs of Irish laborers set upon the marchers with results much as Whitman described them. At the height of the riot, with the procession of Orangemen determinedly advancing on their tormenters, a shot was fired from a nearby window, and the militia of the Eighty-fourth Regiment, called out by the governor, fired into the crowd killing and injuring scores of people. The count of dead and injured on this one July day was in the neighborhood of In this [the Boyne Day riot], as well as in the draft riots, they have left a record of which any city might be proud.
He wrote to Peter Doyle: The N. Whitman appears to have been looking at the police from a dual perspective, both of which aided his newly acquired respect. For one thing, he associates them with veterans of the Civil War, a group he held in the highest regard and personal affection. The question of character was a subject on which most nineteenth-century New Yorkers held opinions, since character and its national determination had come very much to the foreground of public discourse, largely as the result of the great influx of Irish.
Connolly was the principal factor in the downfall of the Tweed Ring because of financial malfeasance from which he personally profited, to the tune of some six million dollars he is believed to have taken with him when he fled the country to avoid a jail sentence. In he was elected to the Tammany Society and worked his way up.
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In May , before leaving Washington for New York, Whitman had prepared an editorial defending Francis Doyle against newspaper claims of brutality in the arrest of a young boy on theft charges. The larger issue in the Whitman letters is his changed attitude toward the Irish in general. It was a leap shared by many Americans, for whom the Civil War and the heroic participation of thousands of Irish-born immigrants proved a turning point in attitudes.
But despite his changed attitude, there is little reason to believe Whitman would not have continued to justify his intent, if not his rhetoric, in the New York Aurora in when he publicly reviled the Irish and took on no less a figure than the Reverend John Hughes, bishop later the first archbishop of New York. When he could dissociate the Irish from their religion he found much about them to his liking, even identifying his poetic persona with them in Leaves of Grass. When the twenty-three-year-old Whitman joined the staff of the Aurora in , first as the writer of a series of articles and then as editor, the two-penny daily was one of many newspapers produced in New York City.
As editor, Whitman would alter this. For one year, —, he was owner, editor, and printer of his own paper, the Long Islander , produced near his birthplace in Huntington. He treated me well. John L. John Louis was born on a British warship off the coast of Gibraltar in and was brought to New York in Though baptized a Catholic, he was an Episcopalian for most of his life, before returning to the Catholicism of his family.
Despite his own scholarly achievements, he eschewed the fields of teaching and the law to enter the world of newspaper and magazine writing.