Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Treat this Whip-Syllabub of a Post as a Perfect Nihility

In the course of reading Pauline Maier's excellent Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, I've run across some fun words I'm determined to work into conversations, as well as a nice little story.

Our first word is "nihility", which I particularly like as a former Classics major. The quotes are from a letter by none other than George Washington to John Jay, dated August 15, 1786, discussing the powerlessness of the Confederation Congress:
Requisitions [by the Confedration Congress for funds] were "a perfect nihility," he [Washington] wrote Jay in August 1786, and "if you tell the [state] Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace [with Great Britain] and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done?"
Our second item is "whip-syllabub", as used by Rep. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina exactly three years later, on August 15, 1789, to describe the proposed amendments to the Constitution then being considered by the House of Representatives:
In the course of those extended debates [in the House during August 1789], critics insisted that the proposed amendments would never satisfy their constituents. Rather than "those solid and substantial amendments which the people expect," Aedanus Burke sad, the select committee's proposals were "whip-syllabub," an eighteenth-century dessert that was "frothy and full of wind, formed only to please the palate," not the stomach; or "like a tub thrown out to a whale" by sailors to divert it from attacking their ship.
And, finally, we have Amos Singletary, who provides not a word, but a witty repartee. Mr. Singletary, "a onetime gristmill owner" from Sutton, Massachusetts, served as a delegate to the January 1788 Massachusetts ratification convention, where he proved to be (in the phrase of a newspaper report) "as remarkable for his taciturnity, as his zeal for religion," hemming and wiping his brow before he explained his objections to "this here self same constitution."

But I digress. The story I meant to relate involving Mr. Singletary concerns "a story about him from a period long before 1788, when the town [of Sutton] was shaken by a religious revival."
A local manufacturer of hoes "being under concern of mind" caught sight of Singletary, who was a justice of the peace and an "earnest Christian," and called out to him: "O Squire! O Squire! What shall I do to be saved?" Singletary had scarcely brought his horse to a stop when he answered: "Put more steel in your hoes."
Amos Singletary "died in 1806, in his mid-eighties."

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