22, No. 10, Nov. 20, 2003
Biography focuses on journalist
by Bill Wiegand
L. O'Sullivan and His Times," by Robert D.
Sampson (Kent State University Press)
The life of a 19th
century journalist, diplomat, adventurer and enthusiast for lost causes
is brought to life in a new biography. “John
L. O’Sullivan and His Times” was researched and written
by Robert D. Sampson, communication specialist in the Office of Information
Technology and Communication Services in the College of Agricultural,
Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
O’Sullivan’s life is usually glimpsed only in brief episodes
in other biographies or books about the United States in the two decades
before the Civil War, perhaps because the components of his life are
sometimes contradictory, Sampson said.
“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,”
Sampson said. “Although he popularized the phrase ‘manifest
destiny,’ O’Sullivan condemned war in his publications and
during service in the New York State Assembly. Yet he lost thousands
of dollars and nearly went to prison in an effort to violently free
Cuba from Spain and annex it to the United States.”
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.
It also explores the friendship between O’Sullivan and Nathaniel
Hawthorne that played a significant role in the development of the author’s
national reputation and describes their close brush with a duel that
might have ended the life of one or both.
Much of Sampson’s research for the project was done in UI’s
Rare Book Room. “What made this project possible was the existence
of a complete run of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review
in the Rare Book Room,” Sampson said. “I spent a lot of
time in there going through magazines for the period 1837 to 1846, trying
to understand O’Sullivan’s world view and take on events
of his time. I also had great cooperation from librarians in the Lincoln