Everyone knew it was coming. "THE GREAT ECLIPSE OF 1831 will be one of the most remarkable that will again be witnessed in the United States for a long course of years," alerted Ash's Pocket Almanac. One editor reported that the February 12 eclipse would even surpass historic occasions when "the darkness was such that domestic fowls retired to roost" and "it appeared as if the moon rode unsteadily in her orbit, and the earth seemed to tremble on its axis."
On the day of the eclipse, from New England through the South, Americans looked to the heavens. One diarist saw "men, women and children ... in all directions, with a piece of smoked glass, and eyes turn'd upward." The Boston Evening Gazette reported that "this part of the world has been all anxiety ... to witness the solar eclipse.... Business was suspended and thousands of persons were looking at the phenomena with intense curiosity." "Every person in the city," noted the Richmond Enquirer, "was star gazing, from bleary-eyed old age to the most bright-eyed infancy."
Unlike previous celestial events, thought some commentators, the eclipse of 1831 would not produce superstitious dread that the world would end. "Idle fears and gloomy forebodings of evil formerly raised by the appearance of phenomena caused by the regular operation of natural laws," one writer claimed, "have yielded to pleasing admiration; a change which the march of science and general diffusion of knowledge have largely contributed to effect." Another writer mocked the notion that eclipses were "signs or forerunners of great calamities." Eclipses, he thought, "necessarily result from the established laws of the planetary revolution, and take place in exact conformity with those laws.... Those who entertain the opinion that eclipses of the sun are tokens of the Divine displeasure can produce no warrant from scripture for their irrational belief. If we would look for the signs of the displeasure of God towards a nation, we can see them, not in eclipses, but in national sins and depravity of morals."