Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass (1855)


  • the Hegelian ardor of the preface embraces male and female as equals in the same breath as slavery and abolition (8)
  • “as soon as histories are properly told there is no more need of romances” (19)
  • “there will soon be no more priests. Their work is done.” (24)

Leaves of Grass (191-92)

  • opens book with “One's-self I sing,a simple separate person, / Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.” (165)
  • presents his poems to foreigners as the definition of democracy (167)
  • Ends “Backward Glance” and the book: “the strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung” (672)

Specimen Days

  • “Maybe, if I don't do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” (690)
  • calls “two great spectacles, immortal proofs of democracy” the sudden mobilization at the start of the war and the disbandment at the end (707)

Democratic Vistas

  • begins by comparing the variety and freedom in nature to that of new world democracy (929). his hope is not in the past but the “to come”
  • warns of “the appalling dangers of universal suffrage” and expects America to “dominate the world” (930)
  • the real proof of democracy is in its literature and schools (932)
  • democracy requires a change of “men's hearts, emotions and belief” (935)
  • declares the democracy a material success but a spiritual, moral, literary failure (938)
  • the necessary contradiction of the mass and individualism (940-41). “Our task is to reconcile them” — and gestures toward an integration through patriotism
  • objective of democracy is that man should be the law unto himself (942)
  • Secession War as proof of democracy's capacity to correct itself (944-45)
  • “to be a voter with the rest is not so much… But to become an enfranchised man [listing various freedoms that entails] that is something” (947-48)
  • “I say at the core of democracy, finally, is the religious element. All religions, old and new, are there.” (949)
  • consensus now that democratization is inevitable. The question is only how (950)
  • a footnote on the necessity of materialism and business to furnish the change he envisions (951)
  • “The average man of a land at last only is important” (954)
  • yet nothing is greater than “a well I contested American national election” (954)
  • “did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruits in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between men and their beliefs… democracy in all public and private life” (956) - and a note on the regressive structures of the military
  • the essential futurity of democracy: “thus we presume to write, as it were, upon things that exist not, and travel by maps yet unmade, and blank. But the throes of birth are upon us” (957)
  • “We have frequently printed the word Democracy. Yet I cannot too often repeat that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawaken'd, notwithstanding the resonance and the many angry tempests out of which it's syllables have come, from pen or tongue. It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.” (960)
  • against a discourse of “culture” inaccessible to the masses (962)
  • personalism as the philosophy that fuses individual and community (965)
  • be skeptical of parties (966)
  • the neglected narrative of the strong woman, provides some examples (967-68)
  • the need for a theory of character not born of feudalism or aristocracy (969)
  • continually mourns the absence of a national literature
  • his contradictory bards: “Come forth, sweet democratic despots of the west!” (974)
  • footnote on the centrality of “manly friendship” (981-92)
  • Spinozistic phrase: “Lo! Nature, (the only complete, actual poem,)” (988)

Democracy in the New World

  • After war, “I can conceive of no better service in the United States, henceforth, by democrats of thorough and heart-felt faith, than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.” (1065)