Friday, October 12, 2012

Bourbon Ballads and the Exodusters

Extra edition number 52, published by the New York Tribune in September 1879, was titled "Bourbon Ballads: Songs for the Stump."

As the paper said the special edition "contains nearly all of those humorous political songs which have been written for the Tribune by Mr. William A. Croffut, under the general title 'Bourbon Ballads.' These poems have been copied by the Republican press of the country and their flavor is pretty well known. Nearly all of them are written from what is assumed to be the Democratic point of view, but members of that party will perhaps hesitate to adopt the utterances as their own."

The reason the Democrats probably wouldn't have used them was because they were largely satirical. The "Bourbon" in the title is a reference to the Southern states that returned to local control after Recosntruction officially ended in 1877, and is taken from the Bourbons of France who returned to power following the First French Empire under Napoleon.

One of these "Ballads" caught my attention for its references to Kentucky and apparently the Exoduster Movement of African Americans to Kansas in the late 1870s to seek opportunities. It is titled -

Uncle Sam:
Who bids? Again for the blacks are up at auction!
The man and babe and mother - who's the bidder?
Peremptory - without regard to section -
Impartial - 'tis our purpose to consider
With favor the first guaranty that comes,
Of fair play, freedom, peace and happy homes!

Ah Gentlemen! This is a happy session!
Come Mississippi, Kansas and Kentucky,
Now speak up! Give us lively competition;
The buyer of this labor will be lucky!
Bid sharp! This is your crisis of your fate,
For work is wealth and underlies the State.

I bid - a home for every pickaninny
Whose dad or mam'll earn it by their workin';
O, fer the times we had in Ole Virginny,
Wen nigs was nigs an' white folks did the shirkin'!
I'm good at shirkin', an I can't agree
Thet any nigger is ez good as me!

Uncle Sam:
You hear the bid - who goes a triffle better?
Who guarantees the ballot? Who proposes
To have the spelling book replace the fetter,
And wreathe this rugged auction-block with roses?
Who offers to protect the rights of men,
And turn the slave into a citizen?

I'll make 'em free! The mandate of the Maker!
Men serve themselves the best, it stands to reason;
And land that's $5 by the acre
I'll rent 'em for $10 by the season.
I'll let 'em vote. If rifle clubs use force
And say they sha'n't, why, then they can't, of course.

Uncle Sam:
Too late by far! You promise no protection!
To make the free - but merely free to suffer;
A voice rings hither from another section;
Your bid is beaten by another offer!
Now raise it Mississip, or you are flat;
I hear a dozen bids as good as that!

I bid! - a home for every man and woman,
A school for every child: - a field to labor;
The guaranty of every right that's human;
Respect that sees in every man's neighbor;
The richest soil a farmer ever saw,
And equal rights for all before the law!

Uncle Sam:
Do I hear more? This is a happy session;
Come, rally, Mississippi and Kentucky!
One! Two! Now going! Is there competition?
Just going! O, the buyer will be lucky!
Going! From where the torrid fever tans us -
Last call! A-going! - going! - gone! - to Kansas!

To see this edition the Library of Congress American Memory website click here.

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