J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

“The Jaco out-witted, by a Pig!

As Russell Potter, author of the new novel Pyg, has been finding in the research he shares on his blog, Federalist printers rarely resisted a chance to use the celebrity and metaphor of a learned pig against their political enemies. The Federalism of the early republic had more than a little snobbery about it.

Here’s an item that appeared in Springer’s Weekly Oracle, published in New London, Connecticut, on 7 Jan 1799:
Portland, (District of Maine) Dec. 6.

The JACO out-witted, by a PIG!

While the Learned Pig was at Saco, lately an admirer of the French requested the pig to tell which was the best nation, France or America? The pig immediately held up a card, with “d--m the French!” thereon. The brave querist would have stabbed the pig on the spot, had he not been stopped by a federalists!
The Weekly Oracle printer appears to have worked hastily, producing two or three typographical errors in one short paragraph.

Evidently the exhibitor of this pig had prepared with a crowd-pleasing anti-French card. But I heartily doubt that this ever happened as described. Americans who admired Revolutionary France—so-called Jacobins, or strong Jeffersonians—didn’t argue that France was better than America. They argued that it was a better model and ally for America than Britain.

Federalists disagreed, and their printers were happy to misrepresent the Democratic-Republicans. Today their equivalents might claim that Jeffersonians were “apologizing” for America, recognizing neither the breadth of the American political mainstream nor the meaning of the word “apology.”


Daud said...

You're tickling the dragon on that last paragraph...

J. L. Bell said...

Surely no one would admit to recognizing members of their own party in that description.