"Git out of this," Mrs. Judy Buchanan exclaimed in this 1857 cartoon titled "ROTATION IN OFFICE." "Ye've been sittin' there long enough, an' there's some dacint boys wants your sates," she continued, "an' a dale o' scrubbin' they'll need before they'll be clane enough for 'em to sit on." Suiting her action to her words, Mrs. Buchanan picks up the bench occupied by appointees of the previous administration and overturns it, and them. [For a larger version, click on the image.]
Andrew Jackson first introduced the notion of "rotation in office" when he fired just about every government officeholder appointed by John Quincy Adams. By the time of Buchanan's inauguration in 1857 it had become a normal part of every administration's beginning and thus fair game for political humor. Historian Robert Darnton noted that one of the best ways of seeing how well one understands the period one is studying is to determine how well one "gets" the jokes of the day. This is very much a joke of the time. A cartoon portraying President Obama in a dress would provoke a furor, not a smile.
Portraying male public figures as women was a commonplace in the middle of the nineteenth century. American public culture, as Charlotte Perkins Gilman famously lamented in Women and Economics at the end of the nineteenth century, was "oversexed." What she meant was that virtually every activity, emotion, sentiment, or pursuit was defined as peculiarly masculine or feminine. Almost nothing was simply human. Consider the following cartoon, also from 1857:
Miss Raymond [to Buchanan's left] -- "That odious Black Republican! Lor, Mr. Buchanan, I don't mean to have anything to do with him. In fact, I always did admire a certain person I could mention a great deal more."
Miss Bennett. -- "That forward minx! I declare she's making up to him."
Henry Raymond was editor of the New York Times; and James Gordon Bennett was editor of the New York Herald. Both papers sought to become the administration "organ," its semi-offficial voice.
Let us go back to the first cartoon. Cleaning is "woman's work." And it was common to speak of presidents as "cleaning house" or making a "clean sweep" when they put their own appointees into office. By the 1850s, cleaning was the work of a particular sort of woman, an Irish domestic popularly known as Bridget or "Biddy." Her male counterpart was Patrick or Pat. The cartoon played upon the growing presence of the Irish in the Democratic Party and therefore in this process of patronage. Irish Democrats were the "dacint boys" who wanted the "sates" of the current appointees. And "Mrs. Buchanan" was not about to disappoint them. This leads to another consideration. If the "true woman" of the period was dainty to the point of fragility, the Irish domestic portrayed here was the exact opposite, a tower of strength. "Mrs. Buchanan" has no trouble overturning the bench and its occupants.
The following cartoon and accompanying poem invoke several stereotypes about Irish domestics, including their tyrannical tendencies. Here is "Brother Jonathan" on "Biddies" from the February 7, 1860 issue of Vanity Fair. [Click on the image for the full text.]
Brother Jonathan, the immediate predecessor to Uncle Sam, represented the archetype of the American male. He was strong, brave, and common-sensical. As the poem noted, his "Brother Zeke," who resembled him in many ways one presumes, had moved to the big city and made a lot of money. None of this benefited poor Zeke:
Mrs. Judy Buchanan shared in the characteristics attributed to these terrible queens of the kitchen, including their tyrannical ways. "Biddy" did more than overturn benches. She overturned the legitimate authority of her master.
"The Present Intelligence Office having been found to work badly," the caption of an 1863 Harper's Weekly cartoon read, "Mrs. Blackstone establishes an office on a new system -- the Engagement of Employers by Servants. Mrs. Bridget O'Flaherty, who wants a place as cook, calls to inspect the employers present, and Mrs. Blackstone presents Mr. Jones to her, and gives him a fair character." An "intelligence office" was an employment agency. [For a larger version, click on the image.] Mrs. O'Flaherty sits as Mrs. Blackstone "presents" Mr. Jones to her. He stands, hat in hand, eyes cast downward. Next to him is another potential employer who also exhibits an air of supplication. Biddy is indeed the "terrible queen of the kitchen." The cartoon presents her as Queen Victoria with a brogue.
Portraying President Buchanan as an Irish domestic, in short, rang a number of changes upon ethnic stereotypes in addition to those associated with the "woman's sphere." Were this a singular instance, an anomaly, we could ignore it. It was not. In the crucial winter of 1860-61, to cite an important case in point, this cartoon appeared.
The "Mrs. Buchanan" of 1857 had vigor and power, even though her ability to rule the roost was an inversion of the proper order of things. The "old schoolmarm" of 1860 was "in trouble." The "children are growing too strong for me." This too was an inversion. The teacher is supposed to be in charge. It is tempting to connect Buchanan's weakness with the popular notion of the "natural" fraility of the native-born white American woman. This is a temptation worth resisting. Buchanan's schoolmarm was weak and ineffectual not because she was a woman but because she was an old woman. Lucretia Mott observed at the first national woman's rights convention in 1850 that a woman "has nothing but her outward semblance in her favor; when that ceases all respect for her vanishes; for an old woman is simply an object of ridicule, and anything that is ridiculous or foolish is said to be only fit for an old woman." Here is an example from Vanity Fair.
In another cartoon on secession using the identical metaphor the school-mistress is a "provoked" Lincoln who demanded that Caroline spell Constitution. She recited: "Se-con-ces-sti-consti-tu-constitu-on-tion-constitution." Lincoln snapped: "Caroline, you are the most obstinate brat in the whole school, and if you don't mend your ways I'll try what effect stripes will have." "Don't spell it any other way," a second pupil reassures Caroline, "and Miss Sissy, Miss Souri and Louisa Anna and all of us will back you up."
1) One could argue that most of these cartoons use women's clothing as a way of delegitimating the person(s) portrayed. The cook is not supposed to the ruler of the household or even of the kitchen. "Coquettes," are by definition insincere. Is this true of the portrayal of presidents Buchanan and Lincoln as school-mistresses?
2) Is it true of the portrayal of South Carolina and other seceding states as female pupils?
In answering you should know that the seceding states were often portrayed as rebellious young women. In part this was an accident of their names. It would have been hard to turn New Hampshire or Pennsylvania into a woman's name. But it was also because Americans used gender, sex in their usage, as a fundamental way of making sense of the world about them. It shaped their ideas of politics and perceptions of politicians as powerfully as it did their beliefs about family. Did "Caroline" seek to throw off the authority of "Brother Jonathan" or "Uncle Sam"? Americans, after the contentious 1850s during which woman's rights was debated endlessly in newspapers and magazines, on lecture platforms, and around dining-room tables, had a ready-made set of gendered metaphors with which to discuss the secession crisis.
Historians divide up their subject into women's history and the history of sexualities and ethnic history and political history and so on and so forth. The people living that history, just like us as we live our own lives, encountered all of human life in one continuous stream. We will, accordingly, cast our nets very widely in this course. We will not worry overmuch at the outset how things will fit together. We will instead operate on the assumption that, if we are patient and persistent, some of these connections will fall into place for us.