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JOHN L. O'SULLIVAN SERVES THE CONFEDERACY Sheldon H. Harris Among the Northerners who flocked to the Confederate standard in the spring of 1861, the volatile John Louis O'Sullivan was perhaps the most articulate and most eminent recruit. Certainly the South could not boast that many former leaders of the Free Soil party had joined its ranks. Inasmuch as this one-time agitator against slavery expansion also enjoyed some reputation as a U.S. diplomat, the Confederate States of America obviously gained an unusual and important adherent.1 That there are some men who appear to be drawn irresistibly to lost causes, stumbling from one disaster to another throughout their careers, is a truism in history. The magnitude of their failures rivals the doomed feat of Cervantes' immortal Don. John L. O'Sullivan was a failure of Quixotian proportions. Few individuals in that remarkable generation prior to the Civil War possessed more talent, ability and opportunity to advance themselves than did O'Sullivan; few could have frittered away each opportunity with more ease, grace or exquisite finesse. O'Sullivan stemmed from a long line of Irish adventurers.2 An honor graduate of Columbia College, a member of the New York bar, a cognoscible of the New York City's antebellum social and literary elite, O'Sullivan had embarked upon a literary-political career at an early age.3 In partnership with his brother-in-law, Samuel Langtree, O'Sullivan cut his journalistic teeth on the tri-weekly Georgetown (D.C. ) Metropolitan in the 183(Xs. Then, in the midst of the panic of 1837, Langtree and O'Sullivan launched in Washington The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. Although the periodical was a financial failure from the beginning, it did become a respected national journal. Under O'Sullivan's brilliant editorial leadership, the Democratic Review presented each month a combination of radical, fiercely partisan Democratic commentary and some of the finest literary offerings produced 1 Sheldon H. Harris, "The Public Career of John Louis O'Sullivan" ( Ph.D. dissertation , Columbia University, 1958). 2 Florence Addicks, "A Genealogical History of the O'Sullivan Family" ( MS, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). 3 Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences, 1819-1899 (Boston, 1900), p. 79. 275 276CIVIL WAB HISTOBY during America's "Golden Age" of literature. Among the Review's contributors were Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walter (not yet Walt) Whitman.4 A self-proclaimed adherent of the Van Buren wing of the New York Democracy, O'Sullivan in the 1840's and 1850's busied himself with a bewildering assortment of humanitarian activities. The causes he supported varied in scope from the peace movement to the abolition of capital punishment. His pen scribbled tirelessly to promote many reforms . Tenure in the New York assembly in 1841 and 1842 enabled O'Sullivan to introduce an elaborate program of Jacksonian legislation; little of it became law, but its author became closely identified with the radical element in New York politics. Historians, in discussing O'Sullivan's career, generally stress either his remarkable friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne or his invention of the term exploited by all expansionists after 1845 in their appeals to the American people: "Manifest Destiny."5 Contemporaries were more impressed, however, with his practical contribution to the triumph of the New York Democracy in 1844,6 to the relative success of the FreeSoilers in New York in 1848, and to the election of Franklin Pierce in 1852. In addition, O'Sullivan's spectacular role in the Cuban annexation movement of the late 1840's and the 1850's catapulted him into national notoriety.7 The high point of his antebellum activities came with his appointment as Pierce's chargé, later minister, to Portugal.8 O'Sullivan was relieved of his ministerial duties one year after the Buchanan administration took office. President James Buchanan adopt- * Landon E. Fuller, "The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, 18371859 ; a Study of Its History, Contents, and Significance" (Ph.D. dissertation, Universitv of North Carolina, 1948). O'Sullivan moved the Democratic Review to New York 'in 1841, and sold it in 1848. 5 See, for example Julius...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 275-290
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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