Friday, March 16, 2012

Lincoln's Political Humor

As a politician, Lincoln used humor with devastating effect. Lincoln got a tremendous laugh from the audience when he said that the arguments of his Senate opponent Stephen A. Douglas were, “as thin as… soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” On another occasion he said of a political opponent, “He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met,” suggesting that it is, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”


Of a political opponents ideas Lincoln asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.” Of the opponents policies Lincoln said, “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” The opponent was clearly like, “The man who murdered his parents, then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.”

Political opponents saw their arguments forgotten by audiences after Lincoln followed up their speeches with a homely stories and humorous anecdotes.

Link to: Civil War Humor


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Lincoln's Love Life

We get an inkling of Lincoln’s sometimes savage wit in his description of his early love life.  In autumn 1836, Abraham Lincoln, then a twenty-seven-year-old Illinois representative studying law, agreed rather enthusiastically to marry Mary S. Owens, whom he had met three years earlier when she was visiting her sister in New Salem, Illinois. Essentially, Lincoln entered into a scheme with Mary's sister to entice Mary from her home in Kentucky to Illinois, never doubting that she would be willing to accept him for a husband. But Lincoln had not seen Mary since her previous visit, and upon her arrival, found himself in a predicament. Mary was not nearly as beautiful as he remembered. In fact, as he explained to another friend: "I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an 'old maid,' and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appellation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years; and, in short, I was not all pleased with her."   Mary detected his true feelings and rejected his dutifully repeated proposal of marriage.

 
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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Abortion in Colonial America


Originally designed as a protection against syphilis, the condom began to come into use as a contraceptive in the eighteenth century. Condoms were usually made from sheep gut and were stocked by brothels and a few specialist wholesalers such as London’s Mrs. Philips who advertised to apothecaries, druggists, and “ambassadors, foreigners, gentlemen, and captains of ships going abroad.” Condoms were not widely used by the general population.


Abortion, rather than contraception, was the primary form of artificial birth control. Most available abortion material relied on folk remedies for ending pregnancy. Bloodletting, for example, was thought to be helpful. It was hoped that bleeding from any part of the body might flush the womb. Similarly, bathing went back to primitive beliefs that pregnancy could simply be washed away. The health risks involved in bringing on an abortion by falling or taking strong purgatives were relatively low, or at least not much worse than childbirth itself. In the absence of any legislation, abortion in America prior to 1800 was governed by traditional British common law. The common law did not recognize the existence of the fetus in criminal cases until it had quickened (begun to move perceptibly in the womb). This occurred late in the fourth or early in the fifth month. According to the prevailing view of the time, the fetus had no soul before quickening and had not demonstrated its independent existence through movement. Until quickening, the fetus was regarded as an extraneous part of the pregnant woman that could be removed without ethical constraint. After quickening, the expulsion and destruction of a fetus without due cause was considered a crime.



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Monday, March 05, 2012

Marriage in Early America

The first permanent English colony in North America was established at Jamestown, Virginia on May 14, 1607 by the Virginia Company of London. The party consisted of 104 men who came to America not to settle but to become rich. Within a short time it became apparent to the colony’s sponsors that their great venture in the New World was in danger of being wrecked, “…on the shoals of dissolute, irresponsible, manhood.” It was not until the fall of 1608 that “the first gentlewoman and woman-servant” arrived. The gentlewoman was already married to colonist Thomas Forrest; the servant, Ann Burrus, would soon marry John Laydon, the first marriage to be solemnized in Virginia. More women crossed the Atlantic to Virginia and Maryland in the next several years, but they remained relatively few in number. By 1619, the Virginia House of Burgesses, petitioning that wives as well as husbands be eligible for grants of free land, argued that in a new colony, “it is not known whether man or woman be the most necessary.”

The Virginia Company’s London recruiters began searching for women of marriageable age, offering free passage to Virginia and trousseaus for girls of good reputation. New husbands reimbursed the company with 120 pounds of good leaf tobacco when they married. The first shipment of ninety “tobacco brides” arrived in Jamestown in the spring of 1620. The youngest was Jane Dier, aged fifteen. The oldest was Alice Burges, aged twenty-eight.

Some over eager British merchants, hired to provide the colonies with wives simply kidnapped any young woman who came to hand. In October 1618, a warrant was issued for one Owen Evans, who was kidnapping young women from their villages and sending them off to be sold in Virginia as indentured servants. As time went on, most of the single women who came to the Chesapeake Bay colonies voluntarily sold themselves as indentured servants. They re-paid the cost of their passage with a term of four or five years in service. At the end, the women were supposed to receive food, clothing, and tools to give them a start in life, then emerge into a world filled with wife-hungry young men and take their pick.


 

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