Whitman’s tenure at the Eagle coincided with the height of the roaring 1840s—an explosion of economic growth, political expansionism, and cultural achievement in the United States. The era between 1825 and the Civil War was sometimes called “the age of go-ahead,” suggesting a time of uninhibited ambition when anything seemed possible—especially in New York City, which at this time was coterminous with the island of Manhattan. This boom mentality led to significant population growth and economic investment across the river in Brooklyn, contributing to its incorporation as a city in 1834. When Whitman’s family arrived in Brooklyn in 1822, it was an independent village of seven thousand. By 1855 it was the fourth largest city in the United States. In Whitman’s editorials and elsewhere, the Eagle frequently remarked on the city’s changing landscape.
In nearly all his reporting and editorials Whitman seems more interested in the people he observed than in any events taking place. He delights in crowds, human enjoyment, and lived experience. As a journalist, he was as likely to describe the imagined feelings of a crime victim as the minutes of a council meeting, and his descriptions of green spaces, gathered people, and urban life are heartfelt and often touching.
Whitman believed that art could be a force for good—that art, theater, and literature could impart moral values to its audience. He saw the same potential in newspapers: they could shape people’s ideas and educate them about the world. On June 1, 1846, the newspaper rebranded as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat. On the occasion of this rechristening, Whitman addressed his readers: