Walt Whitman and Slavery
Slavery was a major theme that emerged in Walt Whitman's works, as many of them explored race relations. For example, the first three editions of Leaves of Grass differed dramatically from the next three editions in his views concerning slavery. It is important to note in Walt Whitman and Slavery research papers that the first three additions were published while the practice of slavery was still legal in Southern states. In general, Whitman appeared to support the black cause more when the issue was simply one of slavery. Following emancipation, his views suggested that he was against equal rights for blacks, even though he strongly favored freeing them.
Walt Whitman and Slavery research papers make note of the inconsistencies of Whitman’s views on slavery. Like Reynolds, Klammer notes that Whitman published conflicting views. In some poems Whitman portrayed himself as the “champion of equality” while in others he spoke of keeping the black man in his place because the black man was inferior to whites. The reason for this may be simpler than many critics would like to admit. Like most individuals of his day Whitman faced the prospect of trying to determine how the African American individual fit into white society. It is plausible that he despised slavery in that it represented cruelty yet at the same time opposed assimilation in that no one really knew how or if assimilation would work.
Walt Whitman and Slavery research papers state that Whitman’s views on slavery were a direct result of his upbringing and his personal experiences. For example when he was twenty-nine years old he worked as a reporter for the New Orleans Daily Crescent. It was during this time that he witnessed the auction of slaves on the street. Six years later this experience was obviously fresh in his mind when he wrote, “I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business… If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred.
Walt Whitman and Slavery research papers provide another possible reason for Whitman’s changing views on the issue of the fate of the African Americans. After moving to New York Whitman continued to voice his opposition to slavery while working as the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Freeman. It was during this time that he grew to hate the abolitionists for being “hypocritical” and “corrupt”, and for fighting amongst themselves. His changing views may be more reflective of his growing dismay with the abolitionist movement rather than a fear of contaminating the white society in which he lived.