PART V: THE POLITICS
Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency in 1828 began this period of reform. During the 32 years that followed, the Democratic Party controlled the White House for all but 8 years. Twice the opposition candidate won the election, only to die soon after taking office. To assume that the Jacksonians faced no effective opposition would be a mistake. It took a number of years for Jackson's opponents to coalesce into an effective national political organization. By the mid-1830s the Whig party, as the opposition came to be known, was able to battle the Democratic Party on almost equal terms throughout the country. By 1840, the Whigs were strong enough to oust a Democratic president, Martin Van Buren, from the White House.
The Whig Party had been formed in 1836 out of the National Republican Party. The leaders of the Whigs were John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. Adams and Clay were nationalists who supported internal improvements and moral reforms. They desired a gradual westward expansion along with economic growth and modernization. The Whigs were based in New England and New York. They were made up mostly of northern middle-class people, market-oriented farmers, and native-born skilled workers. In 1836, the Whigs broke into several factions, but generally united against Jackson's policies of the last eight years. They especially disliked Martin Van Buren, Jackson's hand-chosen successor. We again have this dichotomy between north and south which seems to be a constant in Brownlow's life. Brownlow, a southerner with southern beliefs, joined a party of mostly northerners. He opposed the southern state's secession from the United States while supporting slavery.
In 1840, William Henry Harrison was running for the Presidency of the United States. Harrison's claim to fame rests not on his administration. He died of pneumonia only one month after his inauguration. It was this strange campaign, by which in 1840 he attained the high office that leads to that fame. He was a minor military hero, having won the Battle of Tippecanoe in the War of 1812. He rode to glory by saying nothing (General Mum, his critics called him). His party, the Whigs, capitalized on a propaganda blunder by their Democratic opponents to proclaim Harrison a simple man used to living in a log cabin.
The Whigs, seeking victory at almost any price, passed over Henry Clay, who was their true leader. They chose the aging General W. H. Harrison, instead. The Whig Party was a New England/New York political party, so to appeal to the South, they chose states’ rights southern Democrat, John Tyler, as his running mate. The Whigs were convinced that they could win by blaming the severe economic depression of the time on the policies of President Martin Van Buren.
They also derided “Van” for his alleged aristocratic manners. They commanded Harrison to be silent on the issues. The party then refused to present a platform, but they waged a rousing campaign, using the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Taking advantage of a sneering Democratic reference to Harrison as a man content to sit in his log cabin sipping hard cider, the Whigs’ propaganda transformed the Virginia aristocrat into a poor farmer.
This was an amazing piece of politics. They pandered to the prejudices of the people. It won them an election. The 1840 presidential campaign was, without a doubt, one of the most exciting, and colorful. It was certainly the dirtiest presidential campaign in American history. And Brownlow was right in the middle of it all in his little corner of Tennessee, surrounded by both North Carolina and Virginia and not far from Kentucky, a big frog in a little pond.
Harrison was college-educated and brought up on a plantation with a work force of some 200 slaves. Yet his Democratic opponents had already dubbed him the "log cabin" candidate, who was happiest on his backwoods farm sipping hard cider. Harrison's supporters enthusiastically seized on this image. They promoted it in a number of colorful ways. They distributed barrels of hard cider, passed out campaign hats and placards, and mounted eight log cabins on floats. Harrison's campaign brought many innovations to the art of electioneering.
For the first time, a presidential candidate spoke out on his own behalf. On the morning of Saturday, June 6, 1840, before a Columbus, Ohio, crowd of 25,000, Harrison gave the first campaign speech ever delivered by a candidate. All previous candidates had chosen to let others speak for them. Beside the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," slogan, Harrison's backers also coined these other first campaign slogans: "Van, Van is a used up man," and "Matty's policy, 12 1/2 cents a day and french soup, Our policy, 2 Dollars a day and Roast Beef."
For that 1840 time period, it is more than amazing that Harrison's supporters staged log cabin raisings. They erected a 50-by-100-foot cabin on Broadway in New YorkCity. They also sponsored barbecues. At the barbecue in Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), a crowd devoured 360 hams, 26 sheep, 20 calves, 1500 pounds of beef, 8000 pounds of bread, 1000 pounds of cheese, and 4500 pies. Harrison's campaign managers even distributed whiskey bottles in the shape of log cabins, filled by the E. C. Booz Distillery of Philadelphia. The word "booze" was added to the American vocabulary. As an aside, these bottles empty or no are now very collectible.
It was a flamboyant time. And the news in Washington became the news in the now, West Virginia, as well as in Virginia itself and Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. Communication flourished during this time period. The Whig Party while defending their man as the "peoples' candidate," heaped an unprecedented avalanche of personal abuse on his Democratic opponent. The Whigs accused President Van Buren of eating off of golden plates and using lace tablecloths. They wrote that he drank French wines, while perfuming his whiskers, and wearing a corset.
The Whigs in Congress denied Van Buren an appropriation of $3665 to repair the White House. They claimed that he would turn the executive mansion into a "palace as splendid as that of the Caesar's." The object of this rough and colorful kind of campaigning was to show that the Democratic candidate harbored aristocratic leanings. Harrison was shown as truly representing the people. This type of personal abuse seeped down from national politics into all the byways of America, including Jonesborough, TN and Brownlow's Jonesborough Whig.
It is important that we recognize the huge difference this campaign had on every facet of American life, the press included. An emphasis on symbols and imagery over ideas and substance was begun with the political race for President in 1840. All future political races were changed. Harrison offered no indication "about what he thinks now, or what he will do hereafter," in this race. And the people in Jonesborough, and in fact the whole of Tennessee and surrounding states knew what was going on. They in turn followed suit.
In the 1840 ELECTION FOR THE FOURTEENTH TERM, 1841-1845, all 15 of Tennessee's Electors voted for William Henry Harrison of Ohio, and John Tyler of Virginia. The people of Jonesborough knew about the elections, they knew who was running. They knew where they came from and what was being decided. This was National news and they were a part of the nation. They were notisolated from the main stream communities and what they knew would also be known elsewhere. In 1840, ridges were not divisive and communities were sharing information.
The new campaign techniques produced an overwhelming victory. The voter turnout in 1840 was the highest it had ever been in a presidential election. Nearly 80 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The log cabin candidate for president won 53 percent of the popular vote and a landslide victory in the Electoral College. And he had no platform and told no one what he believed or what he would do. The use of rhetoric and abusiveness replaced civility just as symbols and imagery replaced ideas and substance.
It is no wonder that Harrison won. The Democrats of that time, favored localism and freedom from modern institutions such as banks, factories, and reform movements. They had a commitment to states' rights, a limited government, and an agrarian ideal. The Democrats believed in westward expansion by the acquisition of new territories. They were made up of three groups of people: Northern artisans who felt threatened by industry as well as farmers hurt by tariffs and immigrants who desired to keep their own traditions. The Southerners and Westerners in favor of land acquisition were also a part of the Democratic Party. In 1836 they threw their support behind Andrew Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren.
The Liberty Party with James C. Birney as its head was the political 'Third Party' at this time. The Liberty Party took votes away from both the Democrats and the Whigs, but the Whigs drew support from former Republicans. The Liberty Party was the political outgrowth of the growing anti-slavery movement. It began in 1839, when the movement broke up into conservative and radical parts. The radicals followed William Lloyd Garrison, who demanded the immediate ending of slavery, denounced the U.S. Constitution, and allowed female activists into the movement. The conservatives formed the Liberty Party and sought to end slavery gradually through traditional, political channels.
All of this was known in Jonesborough and throughout the region of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. All participated in this 1840 election with equal abandon. All knew what the other knew. Communication while still not modern was available to all. And into all of this came 'Parson' Brownlow, his Jonesborough Whig, and his most unusual claim to fame. He frequently and freely announced his views. He made one mention of one word, 'malungeon.' He followed the national tradition of heaping an unprecedented avalanche of personal abuse on his opponents. He and they knew what the term 'malungeon' meant because it was a word that was familiar in the community and in the region. His readers were also familiar with the term or he would not have used it.
Brownlow was an ardent supporter of the Union. He was a fiercely vocal opponent of the abolition of slavery. No other chief executive of a former Confederate state was both. According to many of his admirers, the influence of slavery caused this opposition though it was likely done unconsciously to him. His friends thought that this opposition defrauded him of his just rank in the scale of true nobility and honorable fame. In Brownlow's Jonesborough Whig, he wrote: "We have just learned, upon undoubted authority, that Gen. Combs, in his attempt to address the citizens of Sullivan County, on yesterday, was insulted, contradicted repeatedly, limited to one hour and a half, and most shamefully treated." I believe that this General Combs might be Elijah Combs. It might be interesting to track down General Combs and the others mentioned in Brownlow's writings. I will leave that for others. I did find one thing of interest in this respect though.
The 1898 Dickey Diary Interview of John S. Combs names Jesse, Jackson and Elijah, Jr., stating that "Elijah lived in Perry. He was General of the Militia." Elijah was residing in Tennessee by 1798, according to the birth location of his son, Jesse; in Virginia ca 1799, according to the birth location of daughter, Nancy and in Kentucky by 1803, according to the birth locations of his remaining children. If this is the General Combs of Brownlow's writings, then Combs came from Kentucky into Tennessee to speak. This would show the interconnectedness of the area at that time. I would like confirmation of this belief or in lieu, more information on just which Gen. Combs mentioned here that this might be. Genealogical data on this Elijah Combs family can be found at: www.combs-families.org/combs/families/c-elijah8.htm
Brownlow continues his harangue with: "to get an impudent Malungeon from Washington Cty, a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan, in reply to Combs!" Now knowing how prone Brownlow was to rhetoric should we believe that this 'impudent Malungeon,' was in actuality a Melungeon? Or did Brownlow actually mean he was a Negro/half Indian? Or perhaps this 'malungeon' was just simply someone who opposed Combs views and Brownlow's. Certainly Brownlow's use of the term 'malungeon' was meant to be disrespectful and hurtful.
PART VI: SOME CONCLUSIONS and PROOFS
I believe that we can firmly establish as fact that the term 'Malungeon' was being used in this 1840 time period in Jonesborough, TN as a word of disrespect. With the proximity of Virginia and North Carolina and the not too far off Kentucky, it is quite likely that the word was known there as well. Knowing Brownlow's belief in the RIGHT of slavery and its concomitant belief in the inferiority of anyone with even one drop of Negro blood, Malungeon was likely to have been even worse than just a term of disrespect. Some have proposed that Brownlow's SINGLE USE of the word, coupled with the term scoundrel, give us the true meaning of the word Melungeon. There has been a THEORY proposed that the term comes from the word MALENGINE, an Old English word found in a variety of places including Spenser's Faerie Queen.
It has been said that this work would have been available to educated people in the area at this time. Knowing the state of education and the fact that most of the educated were either politicians, or lawyers, I wonder if it really would have been a part of the 'common school experience' in which Brownlow took part. The word does look similar to the word Melungeon and this is a very nice but perhaps too easy assumption based upon the spelling of the term and its meaning. The two terms are not pronounced alike. It is impossible at this time to know exactly what the origin of the term Melungeon is. But in this 1840 instance, at least, I believe that we can prove that 'malungeon' did not mean the same thing as the word 'malengine.' It did not mean a scoundrel in 1840. There are several reasons that I believe this to be so.
First, according to C S Everett in the Appalachian Journal magazine:
“In the Jonesboro Whig and Independent Journal of October 7, 1840, Brownlow, later the editor of the Knoxville Whig, used the word “Melungeon” to refer to a presumably half Indian/half Negro from “Washington City”: “[A]nd withal an effort was made, to get an impudent Melungeon…a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan…” Over the course of the next two weeks, Brownlow referred to the same individual as “the big Indian Negro,” “the Negro,” “impudent Free Negro”- “a miserable loafer” who was “a half-breed Cherokee Indian” and a “half-breed Cherokee Negro.”
In the October 28th edition of the Whig, Brownlow reported: “[a] half Negro and half Indian has been speaking to the citizens of Sullivan on the subject of politics! This surely is a great insult and ought not to be tolerated…we have seen and heard the vile scamp. And he was put up by the Democratic party, and by that party sustained, and now apologized for, on the ground of his having some Indian blood…”
“In a final affront a week later, the Whig referred to the speaker as an “infamous and discipated [sic] Mulatto” as well as a “kinky headed villain,” while also acknowledging that the Sentinel [the Democratic opposition paper] referred to the individual as “part Indian…" In Brownlow’s language, the connotations are unambiguous -- “Malungeon” unequivocally meant “black-Indian.” Again symbols and imagery over ideas and substance seem to come into play in this usage.
Tim Hashaw on the Gowen Foundation site notes that "Today’s political mudslinging is tame in comparison to the inflammatory rhetoric used by politicians in Brownlow’s day." And certainly the politics shown in this piece as well as other examples of Brownlow's writing confirms that. Brownlow's effort was to taint and besmirch his party's opponent -- this impudent Black/Indian -- as inferior based on his ancestry. Obviously Brownlow was repeating the term in a context understood by his readers in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky. Malungeon equaled black-Indian.
Brownlow knew what the term 'malungeon' meant and what it meant to his readers. He used it in a manner common to his time and place because he had known what it meant. So did his readers. He intended it to be a racist term and he used it in a derogatory manner. I believe we can say with firm belief based upon the evidence that the term Malungeon was known in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky in 1840. It appears that at this time period this term meant anyone of black/Indian ancestry, scoundrel or no.
The addition of the word 'scoundrel' added to Brownlow's argument would be superfluous IF indeed Melungeon just meant a scoundrel, a malengine. To call someone a Malungeon AND a scoundrel would in essence be saying that they were a "Scoundrel Scoundrel," if thiswere indeed so. To say that they were an 'evil Malungeon' or a villainous Melungeon would be the same, a repetition in terms, if malengine were the meaning of Malungeon in 1840. In the Oct. 28th edition no mention of Malungeon was made, but Black/Indian was and we do know that the term, Melungeon, was a slur denoting the addition of 'Negro' ancestry to the bloodlines as in some of the other written records that have been found.
Secondly a few years after this time period, Price in his notes shows "The Knoxville Register, Knoxville, Tennessee, Sept. 6, 1848. Carries a letter from a correspondent of the Louisville Examiner discussing the Melungeons and giving the Portuguese theory and suggesting an Indian-Negro admixture (Price 1966, 2 n2)." No mention here of scoundrels.
But finally and most importantly, in the discussions that I have read about this little piece, it is most frequently called "The Impudent Malungeon," and no one has mentioned that the actual HEADLINE for it is NEGRO SPEAKING, not "Malungeon Speaking", or that 'impudent malungeon.' I think that this title that Brownlow used can finally settle this. There are many theories as to the origin of the term Melungeon. I believe that the best use of this 'Whig mention' is to prove that the term was KNOWN and likely common in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky in 1840. I also believe that this proves that at least in 1840, the term Malungeon meant someone who is half Negro and half Indian or at least 'tainted' by 'Negro' blood. It was used here in a derogatory way to defame this Negro speaker.
It did not mean scoundrel although some Melungeons may well have fit this description. The meaning of Melungeon was likely common in 1840 and did not change when used elsewhere although other terms may have, as Wilson has said, been substituted for it. Melungeon in 1840 was a racist term denoting a person who had black ancestry. The meaning of the word had apparently changed again.
I don't think any one person has yet satisfactorily found HOW it came to mean that or where it came from originally. I have my favorites of course, as do others. Again, I would love to see someone knowledgeable in linguistics give this word a whirl. And should this happen, I would be delighted to change my opinion.
Nancy Sparks Morrison
You can learn more about Nancy Sparks Morrison and the Melungeons by visiting the folowing websites:
Sparks Genealogy: http://SparksGenealogy.net
(Select: Index/Nancy's Corner/The Melungeon Connection)
(Select: Index/The Melungeon Media Release)
The MELUNGEON HEALTH EDUCATION AND SUPPORT NETWORK:
Also includes several urls.
Melungeon Information and Common Surname List:
Diagrams of physical characteristics
Fibromyalgia in YOUR family? Inherited? Maybe!!
Causes of Fibromyalgia
Melungeon Heritage Association