And now for something completely different..., Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

Geese Beware!

Or, Trafficking in Goose Proverbs

Silly Goose by Kris *V*, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Kris *V* 

Amidst some recent research,I ran across a pro-Jeffersonian Embargo (probargo?) newspaper piece which opened its partisan catechism with a curious saying:

I guess the fox is a Federalist?

“For the Columbian Phenix,” Columbian Phenix (Providence, RI), 12 November 1808

The editorial itself is a dialogue, where one side, expressed in italics, offers simple opinions by someone who opposes the Embargo (I admire the administration of Washington or I like not your republican principles etc), and the longer answers, in plain text, offer detailed rebuttals. Since the Phenix [sic] appears to be a Jeffersonian newspaper, the piece seems to be a preaching-to-the-choir editorial, aimed at mobilizing the base — a GOTV operation. (The catechism form of political hackery is a bit different from how we present things today, but you could think of it as a sort of talking points memo).

But as someone with a vested interest in things brantaïc, I was more curious about the epigram than the Republican politicking.

From a few searches in the usual places (Google Books, HathiTrust, etc), it seems the phrase was common enough – and old enough – to be rooted in the primers and spellers, the basic textbooks of the 16th through 19th centuries. Specifically, it proverb appeared in an often-reprinted list of the “best English proverbs” in books like the New England Primer:

~Westminster Assembly. The New-England primer, improved, for the more easy attaining the true reading of English. To which is added, the Assembly of divines catechism (Hartford : Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, M,DCC,LXXXVIII. [1788].)

Perhaps unsurprisingly –- and despite its later Republican bona fides –- these geese-centric proverbs don’t appear in Noah Webster’s (successful) attempt at a nationalist reconstruction of language, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language (1783). The more influential of his works during his own lifetime and for well after (who reads a dictionary after all?), the GIEL included a speller, a grammar, and a reader, all aimed “[t]o diffuse an uniformity and purity of language in America, to destroy the provincial prejudices that originate in the trifling differences of dialect and produce reciprocal ridicule, to promote the interest of literature and the harmony of the United States…” — or so, at least, he explained in the Preface to the American Spelling Book.

In that light, one can hardly expect the best English proverbs to have remained, once all the thoroughly monarchist and colourful extra vowels have been removed, right? And as go the English proverbs, so go the geese. Flown away, but not forgotten.

Archival Follies, Knowledge Droppings, Our Glorious National Heritage

A Song of Whales and Profits

Or, Winter Is Coming (to New England)

Earlier this summer I read (consumed, devoured) the latest installment of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and perhaps that’s why I can’t help but see in my sources a certain Westerosian tinge now and again.

But honestly, I’m only reading that into it so far –- sometimes it’s just there. For example, doesn’t this French official make the semi-desperate, post-Revolutionary mariners of New England sound a bit…Ironborn?

“Those [states] that manage best are the Northern States; New England especially displays astonishing activity and resources: I am assured that this year Massachusetts alone has put to sea 900 ships of 70 to 180 tons. Forty have been Whaling in the seas off Brazil and on the coasts of the Country of the Patagonians up to the Falkland Islands. These voyages are long and perilous. But the Seafarers of the North are hardened to fatigue and to the Sea: they live with an extreme sobriety, and the size of the profits makes them scorn danger.1

A bit less raiding, I suppose. But is it so much of a stretch to think that Ahab’s ancestors, limned here, might have worshipped the Drowned God in a slightly different universe?

1.) François Barbé de Marbois to Comte de Vergennes [translation], Philadelphia, 14 July 1784, in Mary A. Giunta, et al., eds., The Emerging Nation: A Documentary History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Under the Articles of Confederation, 1780-1789, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: National Historical Publications and Records Commission, 1996), II: 418.

Image: Abraham Storck, “Walvisvangst bij de kust van Spitsbergen — Dutch whalers near Spitsbergen,” Stichting Rijksmuseum het Zuiderzeemuseum. 022296, Wikimedia Commons, accessed 16 September 2011.

Archival Follies, Knowledge Droppings

Antebellum America Runs on Dunkin’

Or, A Democratic Party Plank Worth Bringing Back

you moused over! good for you!

You may celebrate the Jacksononians for their commitment to democracy, or you may loathe them for their violent, heathenish, small government ways and fanatical campaign against of sensible currency regulation.

But whatever the case, I now offer you proof that must come together and appreciate their foresight in at least one area. For the Dems did get one thing right: America runs on Dunkin’! Or rather, cheap caffeine. Sweet cheap caffeine … And in the 1840s, that meant the cry of FREE COFFEE echoed throughout Congress’s halls alongside meeker requests for free soil and labor, etc.:

No person can deny that the Democrats came into power with professions against a tea and coffee tax; and it is equally undeniable that to the Democratic party is entitled the credit of keeping those articles free ever since the year 1832. Sir, this good old Democratic policy of keeping the foreign necessaries of life down as low as you can, has gained our party a great many votes; and both policy and justice require that we should not turn our backs upon it. Had Mr. Clay been for free tea and free coffee and Mr. Polk against it, who doubts but the election of 1844 would have differently resulted?

~John Wentworth, Free Tea, Free Coffee, Free Harbors, and Free Territory.: Remarks of Mr. John Wentworth, of Illinois, Delivered in the House of Representatives, February 2, 1847, Upon the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Bill, with His Personal Explanations, in Answer to the Attacks of the Washington Union. To Which Is Added a Portion of the Speech of His Colleague, (Mr. Douglass,) Touching the Course of the Union’s Reports Thereof (Washington, D.C.: Printed at the Office of Blair & Rives, 1847). Emphasis mine.

UPDATED:Turns out that coffee is still free! and tea nearly so (for some reason, only green tea imports are taxed, but then only at a very low 6.4% rate).

So it would seem that our current union still maintains some vestiges of the old, pure Democracy… or that modern governments are funded by income taxes rather than customs.

But definitely one of those, for sure.

Image: “Dunkin’ Donuts,” Steve Garfield /, Flickr, CC License

And now for something completely different..., Archival Follies

My New Favorite Jefferson Quote

In Which TJ Explains Why It’s Okay That He Changed His Mind

In this case, he’s explaining why he went from being dead set against protecting manufacturing in the U.S., to seeing protectionism as a positive good (hint: it has to do with Great Britain).

“For in so complicated a science as political economy, no one axiom can be laid down as wise and expedient for all times and circumstances. Inattention to this is what has called for this explanation to answer the cavils of the uncandid, who use my former opinion only as a stalking-horse to keep us in eternal vassalage to a foreign and unfriendly nation

~Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Austin, as quoted in Mathew Carey, Addresses of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of National Industry(Philadelphia: Published by M. Carey and Son, 126, Chesnut Street, 1819), 161. Emphasis in Carey’s original.

Also? “cavils of the uncandid” is my new “stalking-horse of eternal vassalage” cover band.

Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

A House Divided Will Not Subscribe

Or, The Damn Thing Is All Ads Anyway

As those of you who are so unlucky as to follow me on Twitter know already (twitter being what I’ve been distracting myself in between bouts of what I’ll call, for the sake of argument “writing”), of late I’ve been mucking through Congressional records.

Yes, yes, I see you nodding off, but listen: this time it’s different. This time I’m bushwhacking through the annals of the First Congress. The beginning one!

The timing lends the even the most boring speeches and bills a brassy burnished halo. The Era of Washington! The birth of our empire, and all our liberties! Days when spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real [republican] men, women were real [republican] mothers, and small furry creatures from [the Indies] were real small furry creatures from [the Indies], to paraphrase my favorite Adams.

Good times.

Right, where was I? Ah yes, mucking through annals. Well, today I ran across something that makes me think that — age of heroes or no — there never was a newspaper printer with sound marketing sense.

Consider, if you will, the following passage from the journal of William Maclay, a delightfully cantankerous one-term U.S. senator from Pennsylvania:

nothing clever to see here

Maybe I’m misunderstanding Maclay here, but were the local printers really trying to drum up business by scamming members of Congress? Hoping a politician will pay you for services unordered…well that seems a bit daft. Moreover, there’s the question of subscriber base. The combined houses of Congress, at this point, consisted of about ninety members* — hardly a sustainable audience. And once the House voted down subscribing to anything…this seems like it got perverse right quick, no? And if cash wasn’t the goal, that’s even worse; this was decidedly not the group most likely to be swayed by hacky political commentary — or interested in advertisements, either.

Seems to me like the printers of the Early Republic operated on the same principle as all the (failing) local newspaper publishers who insist on stacking eternally unread issues like cord-wood on my stoop every morning. I doubt it worked any better then…

*It was early days. Not every state got their act together to send representatives on time…


William Maclay, Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania, 1789-1791, ed. Edgar S. Maclay (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1890), 64. The passage appears in the entry for June 3, 1790.