Skip to navigationSkip to content
CHOOSING DAY

The timeless joy of Walt Whitman’s “Election Day, November, 1884”

Adam Fohlen, his son Ari, center left, and others, wait in line outside a polling place at the Nativity School as a poll watcher sits nearby, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
The stretch of North and South arous’d.
  • Thu-Huong Ha
By Thu-Huong Ha

Reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

For Walt Whitman, America’s beauty lies not in its rolling hills, but its polling booths. Over 100 years ago, the great American poet celebrated this momentous day of choosing with “Election Day, November, 1884.” The poem, which appears in an annex of Leaves of Grass, still resonates today as a reminder of the nation’s ideals of a peaceful democratic process.

Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

In the poem, Whitman praises not the person we elect but the “quadriennial choosing,” the act of voting. He did however hold strong political views and wrote the poem to commemorate the election of Grover Cleveland after a particularly mudslinging election. It’s worth keeping in mind that though he sings to the “still small voice vibrating,” the poet was ambivalent on abolition and the right for African-Americans to vote.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.