ERIC Number: EJ704136
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2004
Reference Count: N/A
1863 Letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson about Walt Whitman
Potter, Lee Ann
Social Education, v68 n4 p246 May-Jun 2004
Biographers have called Walt Whitman "America's most influential and innovative poet" and some have even called him "the greatest of all American poets." But in the winter of 1862-63, even as he was gaining a reputation as a talented poet, Whitman was forty-three years old, volunteering as a nurse in Union hospitals, and looking for a steady job in the nation's capital. The federal bureaucracy during these years was growing. Whitman knew that while government jobs were available, the so-called "spoils system" still dictated who was hired (and would for another twenty years until the passage of the Pendleton Act). Under this system, many officials obtained their positions, not because of special skills, but because of whom they knew. Whitman wrote to his friend, the American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, and asked him to write letters of recommendation on his behalf to the secretary" of state and the secretary of treasury, who were both acquaintances of Emerson. Emerson's handwritten letter to Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the treasury, dated January 10, 1863, is featured in this article. In it, Emerson described Whitman as a man "of strong original genius" who was "self-relying" and "large-hearted." He described Whitman's writings as "more deeply American, democratic, and in the interest of political liberty than those of any other poet," He stated that if the government had work that Whitman could do, "it may find that it has called to its side more valuable aid than it bargained for." As part of "Teaching With Documents" the author, head of Education and Volunteer Programs at the National Archives and Records Administration, presents teachers and students with questions for class discussion relating to the letter, a list of related web sites, as well as opportunities for independent research. The letter featured in this article comes from the General Records of the Department of the Treasury, Record Group 56, and is in the holdings of the National Archives.
Descriptors: Discussion (Teaching Technique), Office Occupations, Poets, Job Applicants, Government Employees, Personnel Selection, Writing (Composition), Persuasive Discourse
National Science Teachers Association, 1840 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201-3000. Web site: http://www.nsta.org.
Publication Type: Guides - Classroom - Teacher; Historical Materials; Journal Articles
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: District of Columbia; New York; Virginia; Washington