Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Biglow Papers is political satire and, as such, cannot be understood or appreciated until the reader is acquainted, first, with the policies and ideas being satirized and, second, with the conditions of publication. In short, like all satire, it must be seen in historical perspective before it can be evaluated.
There are two series of The Biglow Papers. The first is an attack, from the Whig-Abolitionist point of view, on the Mexican War and the policies of President James Polk and the proslavery forces that authorized it; the second—all but the last paper—is an attack, from the Northern Republican point of view, on the rebellious, slaveholding South, the Democrats, and the interventionist policies of England during the first years of the American Civil War; the last paper is a condemnation of the “retrograde movement” of President Andrew Johnson.
The history of the papers is rather complex. In one sense, it dates back to 1840 and the beginning of James Russell Lowell’s relationship with Maria White, who became his wife in 1844, for it was this visionary and forceful young woman who first converted him to the abolitionist cause. In any case, by the time of the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, Lowell had identified himself with the movement by contributions to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, which he edited for a short time. Such a radical position was more in keeping with the spirit of the...
(The entire section is 1461 words.)
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