The life of nineteenth-century journalist, diplomat, adventurer, and enthusiast for lost causes John Louis O'Sullivan is usually glimpsed only in brief episodes, perhaps because the components of his life are sometimes contradictory. An exponent of romantic democracy, O'Sullivan became a defender of slavery. A champion of reforms for women, labor, criminals, and public schools, he ended his life promoting spiritualism. This first full-length biography reveals a man possessed of the idealism and promise, as well as the prejudices and follies, of his age, a man who sensed the revolutionary and liberating potential of radical democracy but was unable to acknowledge the racial barriers it had to cross to fulfill its promise. Sure to be welcomed by scholars of the Jacksonian era and others interested in nineteenth-century American history, John L. O'Sullivan and His Times presents an in-depth examination of O'Sullivan's ideas as they were expressed in the Democratic Review and other newspapers and literary magazines that he edited.
O'Sullivan was a crusader whose efforts to end capital panishment came within a hair's breadth of ending hanging in New York; an editor who called down the wrath of the people upon speculators, promoters of privilege and monopoly, and eloquently praised the virtues of majority rule and citizens' right to control and transform their government; a political operative who supported the radical wing of the Democratic party, battled nativists, and plotted strategy with a young Samuel J. Tilden; a promoter of a fresh American literature who significantly aided Hawthorne's career and familiarized his readers with the works of Whitman, Poe, Whittier, and Thoreau. Through extensive research of primary materials - including contemporary correspondence and journals of public figures such as Martin Van Buren, William Marcy, Benjamin F. Butler, Samuel Tilden, and James K. Polk - author Robert D. Sampson explores the many facets of this enigmatic figure, a man described by Nathaniel Hawthorne as "one of the truest and best men in the world."