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“We must consult Brother Jonathan”*…

 

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan gets the better of John Bull

 

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

During the nation’s first hundred years, America tried on many characters in search of the perfect fit for its new independent status. There was the feminine Columbia, the indigenous bald eagle, the stoic Lady Liberty, and the bumbling Yankee Doodle. Out of this personification soup, only a few emerged that had some staying power.

Many of these national stereotypes were depicted in popular ballads and stage comedies before America had even achieved its independence; Yankee Doodle was among them. He was originally a British invention—a caricature of a naive, upstart American colonist who was created as a foil for John Bull: the imposing personification of England. Though he never completely faded out of existence, after the Revolutionary War Yankee Doodle was mostly assimilated into another stage character: Brother Jonathan.

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride…

Brash, bold, and bigoted, he made for an uneasy national mascot: “Before America Got Uncle Sam, It Had to Endure Brother Jonathan

* George Washington’s familiar reference to his secretary and aide-de-camp, Col. Jonathan Trumbull; the phrase, Brother Jonathan, later came to mean the American people, collectively (though some scholars believe that “Brother Jonathan” as an avator for America and Americans originated as a common British derisive for colonists)

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As we parse patriotism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that George Washington, acting on legislation passed by Congress three days earlier, created the first federal agency, The Department of Foreign Affairs– what we now know as The Department of State.

state source

 

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