Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Contemporary Americans , , , presume an unjustified familiarity with their Revolutionary forbears"

I was taken by the opening sentences of the Introduction to Drew R. McCoy's The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America:
Contemporary Americans all too often presume an unjustified familiarity with their Revolutionary forbears. It is easy to assume that our basic concerns were theirs, and especially that our understanding of the American Revolution and its legacy accurately reflects the meaning and significance they attached to it. While most of us recognize that our modern world of experience would be utterly foreign to the eighteenth-century mind, few acknowledge how frightening and utterly distasteful twentieth-century America might appear to the members of a Revolutionary generation that was steeped in the values and assumptions of a quite different age. It may be reassuring to think that modern America represents the fulfillment of the original spirit of the Revolution, but such a presumption is both dubious and dangerously misleading.
The illustration, entitled The Prairie Dog sickened at the sting of the Hornet – or a Diplomatic Puppet exhibiting his Deceptions!, has nothing to do with the post other than the fact that it refers to Thomas Jefferson. I saw a copy of the illustration at Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog (highly recommended) about a week ago and have been hunting for an excuse to reproduce it here ever since:
James Akin's earliest-known signed cartoon, "The Prairie Dog" is an anti-Jefferson satire, relating to Jefferson's covert negotiations for the purchase of West Florida from Spain in 1804. Jefferson, as a scrawny dog, is stung by a hornet with Napoleon's head into coughing up "Two Millions" in gold coins, (the secret appropriation Jefferson sought from Congress for the purchase). On the right dances a man (possibly a French diplomat) with orders from French minister Talleyrand in his pocket and maps of East Florida and West Florida in his hand. He says, "A gull for the People." . . . The print was probably published in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where Akin was working in 1804-6.


  1. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Thanks for mentioning our blog, and glad you liked the cartoon!

    There is a classic song from the "Hawaiian Renaissance" period called "Hawaii '78" by the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau. Though over 30 years old now, the song has a perennial relevance due to the sadness expressed over the very themes you touch on in your post:

    If just for a day our king and queen
    would visit all these islands and saw everything
    How would they feel 'bout the changing of our land

    Could you just imagine if they were around
    and saw highways on their sacred grounds
    How would they feel if they 'bout this modern city life

    Tears would come from each others eyes as
    they would stop to realize
    that our people are in great, great danger now

    How would they feel
    would they smile, be content
    or would they just cry

  2. franceshunter,

    I visit your first-rate blog all the time. A brief mention was the least I could do. The pleasure is all mine.


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