In Whitman's Hand

Scribal Documents

In this section, the Whitman Archive offers to users approximately 3,000 documents Whitman produced while working as a clerk in the Attorney General's office, 1865–1873. For these documents—identified by Ken Price during a series of trips to the National Archives II building, College Park, Maryland, 2008–2010—we provide both transcriptions and facsimile images of the original documents. It is important for users to have access to the facsimile images, and to examine the handwriting themselves, because only a handful of these documents are signed or initialed by Whitman. The identification of almost all of these items relies on recognition of Whitman's handwriting. We wish to unveil this discovery at the earliest possible time, and thus we are making the documents available even before they are annotated. As always, users are invited to contact the editors if they wish to question our identification of the handwriting or if they spot an error in our transcriptions.

The documents themselves detail routine administrative matters (e.g., appointments of officials, salary payments, and book orders) as well as policy regarding civil rights, war crimes, treason, western expansion, the Ku Klux Klan, international incidents, and many other matters. These documents provide raw material for new cultural and historical understanding of Whitman and his times. Previously, Whitman's clerical work has been all but ignored in biographical and critical studies of the poet. This large trove of previously unidentified manuscripts should enable a whole array of new interpretations.

Some users of the Archive may wonder why this material is included at all in a project that provides an edition of Whitman's writings. It could be argued that these documents are not "authored" by Whitman and so should be excluded. Actually, the Whitman Archive includes an edition but it is also much more than an edition. The Archive is a digital thematic research collection, and we provide an array of information beyond what was traditionally found in print editions in order to shed light on the life and career of one of the most innovative American writers. Exactly what Whitman's role was in the creation of these documents probably varies from item to item and ranged from mere copyist to co-author. In one sense or another, he was a creator of all of these documents. And all of the content went through his mind and fingertips.

These documents have been prepared for the Whitman Archive with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.