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Mania for FreedomAmerican Literatures of Enthusiasm from the Revolution to the Civil War$
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John Mac Kilgore

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469629728

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469629728.001.0001

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The Free State of Whitman

The Free State of Whitman

John Brown, the Civil War, and the Dis-memberment of Enthusiasm in the 1860 Leaves of Grass

(p.165) Chapter Five The Free State of Whitman
Mania for Freedom

John Mac Kilgore

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines Walt Whitman’s poetics of enthusiasm in the 1860 Leaves of Grass, specifically in relationship to John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry and the politics of the Civil War. The author makes a case for Whitman, not as the national bard of American Unionism and integralism who speaks for all and heals the nation’s fragmentation, but as the bard of American civil war and international sectarianism who speaks only for the enthusiast of justice in a global context and calls for political dismemberment of the Union. First, in an analysis of Civil War rhetoric and responses to John Brown, the chapter demonstrates that enthusiasm enacts a “fractured state,” a will to political dismemberment (civil disunion) in the name of justice towards the slave. Second, the chapter shows how Whitman’s composition of a dismembered self and poetry in the 1860 Leaves is meant to enact an insurrectionary form of democratic camaraderie and love. Next, the author does a close reading of Whitman’s cluster of poems, “Songs of Insurrection,” in order to tease out Whitman’s enthusiastic politics in detail, before turning to Whitman’s application of that enthusiasm while working in Civil War hospitals.

Keywords:   Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, John Brown, Civil War, Songs of Insurrection

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