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Midway through his tenure as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe exposed a hoax. “Maelzel’s Chess Player” undertook to debunk a sensational automaton, a chess-playing “Turk,” that in its near flawless performance seemed to defy logic. While Poe reveled in creating his own hoaxes, this apparent wonder cut too close to home. A carnival figure that could execute the most subtle feats of reason seemed to assail not only common sense but also creative sovereignty, undermining Poe’s almost priestly conception of art. And so it was that, after recounting Maelzel’s various magician’s maneuvers in opening and displaying the box on which the Turk and his chessboard rested—an interior apparently honeycombed with compartments and gears—Poe attacks the illusion with prosecutorial zeal, demonstrating how a slender operator could hide within, guide pieces, and execute moves. The wonderful contrivance was an outright fraud.

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  1. 1.

    Southern Literary Messenger 2 (1836): 318–26. In most cases, I will use the original journal in which Poe’s work first appeared or was reprinted. Citations will be given parenthetically in the text, and indicated, where necessary, by SLM. All journals are available online through

  2. 2.

    Terence Whalen, Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

  3. 3.

    See, for example, Betsy Erkklia, “Perverting the American Renaissance: Poe, Democracy, Critical Theory,” Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Jerome McGann (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012), 65–100; Peter Coviello, “Poe in Love: Pedophilia, Morbidity, and the Logic of Slavery,” ELH 70 (2003): 875–901; Joan Dayan, “Amorous Bondage: Poe, Ladies, and Slaves,” American Literature 66 (1994): 239–73; Dayan, “Poe, Persons, and Property,” American Literary History 11 (1999): 405–25; Erkkila, “The Poetics of Whiteness: Poe and the Racial Imaginary,” Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Liliane Weissberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 41–74; Jared Gardner, Master Plots: Race and the Founding of an American Literature, 1787–1845 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 125–59; Lesley Ginsberg, “Slavery and the Gothic Horror of Poe’s ‘The Black Cat,’” American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert Martin and Eric Savoy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998), 99–128; Maurice Lee, Slavery, Philosophy, and American Literature, 1830–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 14–51; Ed White, “The Ourang-Outang Situation,” College Literature 30 (2003): 88–108; Sam Worley, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and the Ideology of Slavery,” ESQ 40 (1994): 219–50; Jonathan Elmer, Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995); Leland Person, “Poe’s Philosophy of Amalgamation: Reading Racism in the Tales,” Romancing the Shadow, 205–24; Teresa Goddu, “Poe, Sensationalism, and Slavery,” The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Kevin Hayes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 92–112; and Dana Nelson, The Word in Black and White: Reading “Race” in American Literature, 1638–1867 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 90–108. For a cogent review of the first wave of social approaches to Poe, see Scott Peeples, The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe (Rochester: Camden House, 2004), 93–123.

  4. 4.

    John Calhoun, “Exposition and Protest,” Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, ed. Ross Lence (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), (initially accessed 12/24/2015). Citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  5. 5.

    Elizabeth Varon, Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789–1859 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

  6. 6.

    Appendix to the Register of Debates in Congress, 22nd Congress, 2nd Session, vol. 9, part 2 (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1833), 151. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  7. 7.

    The Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America, ed. George Minot and George Sanger (Boston: Little, Brown, 1859), 11: 776, 777.

  8. 8.

    Richard Ellis, The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights, and the Nullification Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 78.

  9. 9.

    Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829–30 (Richmond: Samuel Shepherd for Ritchie and Cook, 1830), 29. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text. The phrase “alter or abolish,” from the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), was heard repeatedly during the 1829–1830 convention. See, for example, Proceedings and Debates, 26.

  10. 10.

    Alison Freehling, Drift Toward Dissolution: The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831–1832 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 77–78. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  11. 11.

    Richmond Enquirer, January 24, 1832. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  12. 12.

    Mary Young, Redskins, Ruffleshirts, and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830–1860 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), 49–113. See also Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005), 112–49.

  13. 13.

    The Cherokee Nation argument appears in The Case of the Cherokee Nation against the State of Georgia, ed. Richard Peters (Philadelphia: John Grigg, 1831), 33, 28. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text. On questions of sovereignty raised by the dispute, see also Ronald Satz, American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975), 3, 26, 54.

  14. 14.

    Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States, January Term, 1831, ed. Richard Peters (Philadelphia: Grigg, 1831), 22. Subsequent citations will appear parenthetically in the text.

  15. 15.

    Tim Garrison, The Legal Ideology of Removal, 190. For Indian Removal, see also Patrick Wolfe, “After the Frontier: Separation and Absorption in US Indian Policy,” Settler Colonial Studies 1 (2011): 13–51; Alfred Cave, “Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1830,” The Historian 65 (2003): 1330–53; Anthony F. C. Wallace, The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993); Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (New York: Knopf, 1975); Dianna Everett, The Texas Cherokees: A People Between Two Fires, 1819–1840 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990); and Gregory Smithers, The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 93–145. On missionary activities among the Cherokee, see Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism, 102–120, 130–150.

  16. 16.

    Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832), Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of The United States, January Term 1832, ed. Richard Peters (Philadelphia: Desilver, 1832), 519. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text. On Worcester, see also Garrison, Legal Ideology, 179–215.

  17. 17.

    Register of Debates, 22nd Cong., 1st sess., House, Appendix, 3105. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  18. 18.

    Congressional Globe, 28th Cong., 2nd sess., House, 121. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  19. 19.

    Congressional Globe, 29th Cong., 1st sess., Senate, 98.

  20. 20.

    On resistance to racial others in Mexico, see also Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 230–46.

  21. 21.

    Alisdair Roberts, America’s First Great Depression, 8. Citations from Roberts will be given parenthetically in the text. The account in this paragraph is shaped by both Roberts and Jessica Lepler, The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). See also Jerry Mashaw, Creating an Administrative Constitution, 164–170. For the Panic’s impact on the South, see Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 271–78. Overviews of the antebellum economy appear in Douglass North, The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790–1860 (New York: Norton, 1966); Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution; Joshua Rothman, Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012); Steven Deyle, Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); and Calvin Schermerhorn, The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815–1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

  22. 22.

    Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine 4 (1841): 415.

  23. 23.

    United States Magazine and Democratic Review 2 (April 1838): 7, 10. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  24. 24.

    “Edgar A. Poe: ‘Possessed of no Property,’” Prologue Magazine 47:3 (2015), Poe bankruptcy petition, Schedule B, National Archives,, accessed March 10, 2016.

  25. 25.

    Papers of Andrew Jackson, ed. Harold Moser, Daniel Feller et al., 10 vols. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980–), 5:334.

  26. 26.

    Citations are from The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849, ed. Dwight Thomas and David Jackson (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987), 216, 506–7.

  27. 27.

    Southern Literary Messenger 1 (1834–1835): 2. All citations, from the online resource,, will be given, by volume and page, parenthetically in the text.

  28. 28.

    Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams, 217–22.

  29. 29.

    Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention, 133, 204.

  30. 30.

    Richmond Enquirer, January 19, 1832, p. 2.

  31. 31.

    Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 40–41.

  32. 32.

    Richmond Enquirer, February 4, 1832.

  33. 33.

    Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine 5 (1839): 322.

  34. 34.

    Citation appears in “The Visionary,” Southern Literary Messenger 1 (1835): 637. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  35. 35.

    Poe revised “Ligeia” in 1842 for the unpublished “Phantasy Pieces.” Thomas Mabbott considers this version definitive. Citation appears in The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Mabbott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 2:312.

  36. 36.

    Poe revised “The Man That Was Used Up” as well for Phantasy Pieces. See Collected Works 2:377. Citation is from Burton’s, 5 (1839): 66. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  37. 37.

    Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine 7 (1840): 268. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  38. 38.

    Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville (New York: Knopf, 1958), 160.

  39. 39.

    Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine 5 (1839): 147. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  40. 40.

    See Gavin Jones, “Poor Poe: On the Literature of Revulsion,” American Literary History 23 (2001): 1–18.

  41. 41.

    Graham’s Magazine 18 (1841): 167. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  42. 42.

    See especially, White, “Ourang-Outang Situation.”

  43. 43.

    The Collected Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ostrum, Burton Pollin, and John Savoye, 3rd ed. (New York: Gordian Press, 2008), Letter 197 (May 4, 1845), 1:504; Poe to Frances Osgood, Letter 214, (late October 1845), 532.

  44. 44.

    John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” United States Magazine and Democratic Review 17 (July/August 1845): 7.

  45. 45.

    Congressional Globe, House, 28th Congress, 2nd session, 332. Subsequent citations from this House session will be given parenthetically in the text.

  46. 46.

    William Henry Seaton, Campaign Sketches of the War with Mexico (New York: Harper, 1847), 62.

  47. 47.

    George Kendall, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, ed. Gerald Saxon and William Taylor, 2 vols. (1847; Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2004), 1:116. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  48. 48.

    Levi Woodbury, Congressional Globe, 28th Congress, 2nd Session, 299. Subsequent citations from this congressional session will be given parenthetically in the text.

  49. 49.

    An Address to the People of the United States in Behalf of the American Copyright Club (New York: Copyright Club, 1843). Citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  50. 50.

    Meredith McGill, “Poe, Literary Nationalism, and Authorial Identity,” The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 285–87. On Poe’s relation with Young America, see also Claude Richard, “Poe and ‘Young America,’” Studies in Bibliography 21 (1968): 25–58.

  51. 51.

    John O’Sullivan, “The International Copyright Question,” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 12 (1843): 117.

  52. 52.

    Evert Duyckinck, “Literary Prospects of 1845,” American Review 1 (1845): 148, 146.

  53. 53.

    Mark Tushnet argues that, by the early antebellum period, many Southern judges were protecting bondspeople against damage and even criminal claims. Mississippi Judge Francis Brooke, for example, reasoned that the communal value of the enslaved “cannot enter into the calculation of damages by a jury.” In an 1820 decision, North Carolina Chief Justice John Taylor wrote that “every individual in the community feels and understands” that a slave’s criminality “may be extenuated by acts … with a due regard to … the just claims of humanity, and to the supreme law, the safety of the citizens.” But, as Tushnet shows, such mitigations were less likely when bondspeople directly and violently challenged their paternalist masters. Conversely, during the same period, as Morton Horwitz demonstrates, Northern judges were increasingly abandoning the principle that the preservation of property rights trumped competition. Responding, in part, to the expansion of cotton milling in the Northeast, judges came to reject a prime assumption of the people’s welfare: avoiding injury to others in the use of personal property. The judicial duty to prevent harm now seemed an untenable restraint on trade. See Tushnet, The American Law of Slavery, 1810–1860: Considerations of Humanity and Interest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 101; and Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), 21–22, 102.

  54. 54.

    Broadway Journal 2 (1845): 193. Poe touts the piece—undoubtedly a puff for the journal’s editor, Thomas Dunn English—as “one of the most interesting sketches we have seen in a year,” and also notes with approval both “Metaphysics of Bear Hunting” (Poe refers to the story as “San Saba Hills,” a phrase in the subtitle, “An Adventure in the San Saba Hills”), and the darker tale “Jack Long.” Citations from the Journal will be given parenthetically in the text.

  55. 55.

    “Travels in Texas,” Aristidean 1 (1845): 26. Subsequent citations will appear parenthetically in the text.

  56. 56.

    “Metaphysics of Bear Hunting,” American Review 2 (1845): 174. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  57. 57.

    Winterfield’s narrative appeared in the American Review 1 (1845): 280–88; 2 (1845): 365–84, 504–518, 599–613; and 3 (1846): 17–28, 311–319; Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 83, 79.

  58. 58.

    C. Wilkins Eimi, “The Shot in the Eye,” Democratic Review 16 (1845): 147, 153. Poe praised the identical tale appearing in the American Review as “Jack Long” (1:121–36).

  59. 59.

    Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).

  60. 60.

    Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Selected Writings, vol. 4, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003), 335.

  61. 61.

    Walter Benjamin, “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” Selected Writings 4:40. Subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.

  62. 62.

    Review of Longfellow’s The Waif, New York Weekly Mirror, January 25, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews, ed. G. R. Thompson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 702. Subsequent citations from this volume, designated ER, will be given parenthetically in the text.

  63. 63.

    Andrew Horn, “Poe and the Tory Tradition: The Fear of Jacquerie in ‘A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,”’ ESQ 29 (1983): 25–30; Michael J. S. Williams, “Poe’s Ugly American: ‘A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,’” Poe Studies 34 (2001): 51–61.

  64. 64.

    Christina Zwarg, “Vigorous Currents, Painful Archives: The Production of Affect and History in Poe’s ‘Tale of the Ragged Mountains,’” Poe Studies 43 (2010): 27.

  65. 65.

    Boyd Carter, “Poe’s Debt to Charles Brockden Brown,” Prairie Schooner 27 (1953): 190–96; Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker, ed. Sydney Krause (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1984), 104.

  66. 66.

    “The Domain of Arnheim,” Tales and Sketches, ed. Patrick Quinn (New York: Library of America, 1984), 866. Subsequent citations will appear parenthetically in the text.

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Fichtelberg, J. (2022). Poe’s Chess Game. In: Exceptional Violence and the Crisis of Classic American Literature. American Literature Readings in the 21st Century. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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