Though America had been a nation for nearly 80 years, it was incomplete. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution--those were political documents, pragmatic in their designs for democracy. What America lacked was what Emerson called for: an evocation of what being a democratic man or woman *felt* like at its best, day to day, moment to moment. We had a mind, the mind created by Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders, but we did not know our own best spirit.
"I was simmering, simmering, simmering," Whitman told a friend. "Emerson brought me to a boil." Whitman understood that he was a part of one of the greatest experiments since the beginning of time: the revival of democracy in the modern world. The wise believed that it probably could not be done. The people were too ignorant, too crude, too grasping and greedy to come together and from their many create one. Who were we, after all? A nation of castoffs, a collection of crooks and failures, flawed daughters and second sons of second sons, unquestionable losers and highly dubious winners. Up to now, our betters had kept us in line: The aristocracies of Massachusetts and Virginia had shown us the enlightened path and dragged us along behind them. Whitman knew (and Emerson did too) that this could not last forever. By sheer force of numbers, or force plain and simple, outcasts and ne'er-do-wells were eventually going to take over the nation.