Sunday, March 28, 2010

Criminations and Cob-Houses

Two nice little turns of phrase from the speeches at the Virginia Secession Convention, as reported in Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union.

First, before you can have recriminations, you've got to have criminations, right? From Waitman T. Willey's
speech of March 4, 1861:
The first [evil that would result from secession], in my opinion, would be that our country would not only be divided in a Northern Confederacy and into [a] Southern Confederacy, but, soon or later [as an aside, notice that he uses the phrase "soon or later" rather than "sooner or later"] it would be divided into sundry petty Confederacies. We would have a Central Confederacy, a Confederacy of the States of the Mississippi Valley, a Pacific Confederacy, a Western Confederacy, an Eastern Confederacy, a Northern and a Southern Confederacy. . . . We would have between these several Confederacies a perpetual warfare, criminations and recriminations, inroads, strife and discord, until the energies and the wealth of this great people would be utterly destroyed and exhausted. . . .
I wondered whether "crimination" was a real word (just 'cause you can be "rejected" doesn't mean you can be "jected"). However, a quick search indicates that there is precedent for the word "crimination" and indeed for the phrase crimination and recrimination.

The other phrase comes from a Unionist speech delivered by John S. Carlile on March 7, 1861. The context makes clear that a cob-house is something like a straw man:
I know that gentlemen, when they speak of coercion [by the federal government], cannot mean . . . a power to coerce a sovereign state, as such. There is no such power. No man in the land contends for such a power; and if no one contends for it, why level your anathemas against it? Why build up cob-houses that you may have the pleasure of knocking them down?

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