Thursday, March 27, 2008

A mugwump awakes - Part 1

Imagine you're a mugwump, placed in a deep slumber for a century, awakening to the horrors of our government run amok. What would strike you? What would you do now, with the added benefit of experience and a few more tools in the economic-theory toolbox?

In the tale of Rip van Winkle, Rip wakes only to find himself adrift in a new land, having fallen asleep for twenty years. He missed the American Revolution.

[Rip van Winkle] now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the village inn, but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, "The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall, naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes. All this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singular metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, General Washington.

There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility. He looked in vain for the sage Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of Congress—liberty—Bunker's Hill—heroes of Seventy-six—and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.

Our mugwump then is like Rip, except everything is reversed. The liberty poles are gone, where they once abounded. All but our mugwump have forgotten who Columbia is, with her liberty pole, topped with a red cap. When he fell asleep, Americans still sang their anthem to her. Hers was the poetic name for America. As late as the Columbian Exposition in 1893 her statue stood center-stage, her liberty cap perched higher than the symbols of Congress's mace. Where has her liberty pole gone?

Here are two examples of America personified by Columbia with her liberty pole, from the 1780s.

And another from the Seated Liberty dollar, which circulated from 1840 to 1873.

Will we ever top our flagpoles with the liberty cap again and raise our liberty poles from their slumber?

Here's our mugwump in younger days.


Dream City by Halsey Ives (1893) via Illinois Institute of Technology

Library of Congress - here and there

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