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In January, 1830, the first Downing Letter ever written appeared in the
Daily Courier, published in Portland, Maine. This paper had just been
started by the author, and was the first daily paper published in the country
north or east of Boston. The Courier was started as an independent paper,
devoted to no political party—a position for a paper in those days likely to
command but small support. The Maine Legislature met in Portland on the
first of January, and the two political parties were so evenly balanced, and
partizan feeling ran so high, that it was six weeks before they got fairly organized
and proceeded with the business of legislation. The political papers
were hot and furious, and there was no small excitement throughout the
State, which even spread in a considerable degree to other portions of the

At this juncture of affairs, the author of these papers, wishing to show the
ridiculous position of the legislature in its true light, and also, by something
out of the common track of newspaper writing, to give increased interest and
popularity to his little daily paper, bethought himself of the plan to bring a
green, unsophisticated lad from the country into town with a load of axe-handles,
hoop poles, and other notions, for sale, and while waiting the movements
of a dull market, let him blunder into the halls of the legislature, and
after witnessing for some days their strange doings, sit down and write an
account of them to his friends at home in his own plain language. The plan
was successful almost beyond parallel. The first letter made so strong a
mark that others had to follow as a matter of course. The whole town read
them and laughed; the politicians themselves read them, and their wrathful,


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fire-eating visages relaxed to a broad grin. The Boston papers copied them,
and all Boston tittered over them. The series was inaugurated and must go
on. The letters continued from time to time, and spread over the whole
country, and were universally read.

The name of Downing was entirely original with the author, who had never
heard or seen the name before, and did not then even know that there was a
Downing street in London, or an oyster dealer by that name in New York.
In a year or two the letters became national in their character, and young
Mr. Downing repaired to Washington, where he became the right hand man
and confidential adviser of President Jackson. The author continued the
letters in the Portland Courier for seven years, when he sold that paper and
removed to New York. After an interval of a few years he resumed the
series again, publishing the letters in the National Intelligencer at Washington,
and continuing them till near the close of the administration of President

Thus these papers, begun and continued partly for emolument, partly for
amusement, and partly from a desire to exert a salutary influence upon public
affairs and the politics of the country, have grown up to their present condition.
In presenting them in this collected form, with original illustrations,
to render them more attractive, the author could not let them go out into
the world to make new acquaintances, and possibly down to posterity to
help furnish political lessons to “Young America” for generations yet to
come, without a careful retrospection to consider their whole moral and
political character and influence. For should they contain

“One line which, dying, he could wish to blot,”

he would certainly wish to blot it now. But, believing the work will be
harmless, and, he hopes, salutary, he leaves it to his countrymen, praying
for Heaven's blessing on our whole common country.