The Subterranean claimed to speak for the “shirtless Democracy,” the “subterranean” masses of workingmen and immigrants whose swelling numbers were daily adding pressure to what another contemporary journalist referred to as “the volcano under the city.”
But in reality, it was more or less a mouthpiece for Mike Walsh, a flamboyant Irish-born politician and leader of the “Spartan gang” of anti-Tammany Democratic enforcers. Walsh’s uncompromising attacks on “the wages system” and his many memorable turns of phrase have led some historians to paint him as a proletarian radical or even as a proto-socialist, but only rarely could he be accused of consistency. That was certainly the case with slavery. Although Walsh claimed he “abhorred” the institution, he championed the political career of proslavery ideologue and states’ rights theorist John Calhoun, and during his brief stint as a congressman elected from the lower wards of Manhattan voted for the proslavery Kansas-Nebraska Act.
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