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Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

V. November Boughs

18. Small Memoranda

  • Thousands lost—here one or two preserv’d.
  • ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE, Washington, Aug. 22, 1865.—As I write this, about noon, the suite of rooms here is fill’d with southerners, standing in squads, or streaming in and out, some talking with the Pardon Clerk, some waiting to see the Attorney General, others discussing in low tones among themselves. All are mainly anxious about their pardons. The famous 13th exception of the President’s Amnesty Proclamation of—, makes it necessary that every secessionist, whose property is worth 20,000 or over, shall get a special pardon, before he can transact any legal purchase, sale, &c. So hundreds and thousands of such property owners have either sent up here, for the last two months, or have been, or are now coming personally here, to get their pardons. They are from Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and every southern State. Some of their written petitions are very abject. Secession officers of the rank of Brigadier General, or higher, also need these special pardons. They also come here. I see streams of the 20,000 men, (and some women,) every day. I talk now and then with them, and learn much that is interesting and significant. All the southern women that come (some splendid specimens, mothers, &c.) are dress’d in deep black.

    Immense numbers (several thousands) of these pardons have been pass’d upon favorably; the Pardon Warrants (like great deeds) have been issued from the State Department, on the requisition of this office. But for some reason or other, they nearly all yet lie awaiting the President’s signature. He seems to be in no hurry about it, but lets them wait.

    The crowds that come here make a curious study for me. I get along, very sociably, with any of them—as I let them do all the talking; only now and then I have a long confab, or ask a suggestive question or two.

    If the thing continues as at present, the property and wealth of the Southern States is going to legally rest, for the future, on these pardons. Every single one is made out with the condition that the grantee shall respect the abolition of slavery, and never make an attempt to restore it.

    Washington, Sept. 8, 9, &c., 1865.—The arrivals, swarms, &c., of the 20,000 men seeking pardons, still continue with increas’d numbers and pertinacity. I yesterday (I am a clerk in the U. S. Attorney General’s office here) made out a long list from Alabama, nearly 200, recommended for pardon by the Provisional Governor. This list, in the shape of a requisition from the Attorney General, goes to the State Department. There the Pardon Warrants are made out, brought back here, and then sent to the President, where they await his signature. He is signing them very freely of late.

    The President, indeed, as at present appears, has fix’d his mind on a very generous and forgiving course toward the return’d secessionists. He will not countenance at all the demand of the extreme Philo-African element of the North, to make the right of negro voting at elections a condition and sine qua non of the reconstruction of the United States south, and of their resumption of co-equality in the Union.

    A glint inside of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet appointments. One item of many.—While it was hanging in suspense who should be appointed Secretary of the Interior, (to take the place of Caleb Smith,) the choice was very close between Mr. Harlan and Col. Jesse K. Dubois, of Illinois. The latter had many friends. He was competent, he was honest, and he was a man. Mr. Harlan, in the race, finally gain’d the Methodist interest, and got himself to be consider’d as identified with it; and his appointment was apparently ask’d for by that powerful body. Bishop Simpson, of Philadelphia, came on and spoke for the selection. The President was much perplex’d. The reasons for appointing Col. Dubois were very strong, almost insuperable—yet the argument for Mr. Harlan, under the adroit position he had plac’d himself, was heavy. Those who press’d him adduc’d the magnitude of the Methodists as a body, their loyalty, more general and genuine than any other sect—that they represented the West, and had a right to be heard—that all or nearly all the other great denominations had their representatives in the heads of the government—that they as a body and the great sectarian power of the West, formally ask’d Mr. Harlan’s appointment—that he was of them, having been a Methodist minister—that it would not do to offend them, but was highly necessary to propitiate them.

    Mr. Lincoln thought deeply over the whole matter. He was in more than usual tribulation on the subject. Let it be enough to-say that though Mr. Harlan finally receiv’d the Secretaryship, Col. Dubois came as near being appointed as a man could, and not be. The decision was finally made one night about 10 o’clock. Bishop Simpson and other clergymen and leading persons in Mr. Harlan’s behalf, had been talking long and vehemently with the President. A member of Congress who was pressing Col. Dubois’s claims, was in waiting. The President had told the Bishop that he would make a decision that evening, and that he thought it unnecessary to be press’d any more on the subject. That night he call’d in the M. C. above alluded to, and said to him: “Tell Uncle Jesse that I want to give him this appointment, and yet I cannot. I will do almost anything else in the world for him I am able. I have thought the matter all over, and under the circumstances think the Methodists too good and too great a body to be slighted. They have stood by the government, and help’d us their very best. I have had no better friends; and as the case stands, I have decided to appoint Mr. Harlan.”


  • [Written on the fly-leaf of a copy of “Specimen Days,” sent to Peter Doyle, at Washington, June, 1883.]

  • Pete, do you remember—(of course you do—I do well)—those great long jovial walks we had at times for years, (1866–’72) out of Washington City—often moonlight nights—’way to “Good Hope”;—or, Sundays, up and down the Potomac shores, one side or the other, sometimes ten miles at a stretch? Or when you work’d on the horse-cars, and I waited for you, coming home late together—or resting and chatting at the Market, corner 7th Street and the Avenue, and eating those nice musk or watermelons? Or during my tedious sickness and first paralysis (’73) how you used to come to my solitary garret-room and make up my bed, and enliven me, and chat for an hour or so—or perhaps go out and get the medicines Dr. Drinkard had order’d for me—before you went on duty? … Give my love to dear Mrs. and Mr. Nash, and tell them I have not forgotten them, and never will.
    W. W.


    GERMANTOWN, PHILA., Dec. 26, ’83.

    In memory of these merry Christmas days and nights—to my friends Mr. and Mrs. Williams, Churchie, May, Gurney, and little Aubrey.… A heavy snow-storm blocking up everything, and keeping us in. But souls, hearts, thoughts, unloos’d. And so—one and all, little and big—hav’n’t we had a good time?
    W. W.


  • From the Philadelphia Press, Nov. 27, 1884, (Thanksgiving number.)

  • Scene.—A large family supper party, a night or two ago, with voices and laughter of the young, mellow faces of the old, and a by-and-by pause in the general jovialty. “Now, Mr. Whitman,” spoke up one of the girls, “what have you to say about Thanksgiving? Won’t you give us a sermon in advance, to sober us down?” The sage nodded smilingly, look’d a moment at the blaze of the great wood fire, ran his forefinger right and left through the heavy white moustache that might have otherwise impeded his voice, and began: “Thanksgiving goes probably far deeper than you folks suppose. I am not sure but it is the source of the highest poetry—as in parts of the Bible. Ruskin, indeed, makes the central source of all great art to be praise (gratitude) to the Almighty for life, and the universe with its objects and play of action.

    “We Americans devote an official day to it every year; yet I sometimes fear the real article is almost dead or dying in our self-sufficient, independent Republic. Gratitude, anyhow, has never been made half enough of by the moralists; it is indispensable to a complete character, man’s or woman’s—the disposition to be appreciative, thankful. That is the main matter, the element, inclination—what geologists call the trend. Of my own life and writings I estimate the giving thanks part, with what it infers, as essentially the best item. I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature; I should say love and faith would quite lack vitality without it. There are people—shall I call them even religious people, as things go?—who have no such trend to their disposition.”