Sunday, September 25, 2022

Origins of the U.S.A.’s Most Enduring Images

By Jennifer Uhlarik


Today, I thought I’d share with you some interesting factoids about the history of our nation, The United States of America, and the pictures and images that go along with it.


The “United Colonies”?


I’m sure anyone who has been through even a few American history lessons understands that what we know as the United States of America today was once a set of British colonies. But did you know what those who populated those colonies didn’t necessarily call the area in which they lived the “British Colonies”? At least, not toward the end of their time as British subjects. As Americans grew tired of Britain’s authoritarian actions, the First Continental Congress convened in 1774 to discuss and respond to Britain’s Intolerable Acts. I’m sure those men sent to that First Continental Congress had to find an easier and more palatable way to refer to the colonies than by naming each individually in documents, or calling them the “British” colonies. By mid-April of 1775, war had broken out, and the colonists were in a fight for their freedom from Britain. So calling the colonies “British” didn’t sit well with many on this soil. Thus, the name of “United Colonies” had become the term by which this part of the world was called—at least by its residents.

And, of course, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. In that founding document, Thomas Jefferson wrote “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” However, the name “United States of America” did not become this nation’s official name until September 9, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was printed, signed, and sent to Britain’s king.



Uncle Sam


This story is interesting, so I’m going to share it, though there are some who say that it’s more fable than truth. 


So how did the federal government of the United States come to be nicknamed “Uncle Sam”, and where did our image of “Uncle Sam” come from? As the story goes, during the War of 1812, a meatpacker from Troy, New York—one Samuel Wilson—sent barrels of beef to feed the American troops. Each barrel was marked with the letters E.A.-U.S. The E.A. was in reference to the contractor, Elbert Anderson, who transported the barrels, and the U.S. stood for United States. But, those from around Troy, New York, knew Samuel Wilson and affectionately called him “Uncle Sam,” so it didn’t take long before the U.S. labeling on the barrels grew to mean “Uncle Sam” rather than “United States.” In 1961, the United States Government officially adopted this history as the official origin point for “Uncle Sam”—though some historians have come back with seeming proof that the name Uncle Sam was used to reference the U.S. Government at least two years before the War of 1812. Thus, the question of whether this is the actual origin or not—but it’s a great story, and so I share it with you.


The iconic image we now think of as Uncle Sam was first drawn by the famous political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in the 1860s. Nast changed and perfected his design of this iconic American symbol over many years, until he drew the white-bearded, top-hat-wearing image we think of today. But the most well-known image of Uncle Sam was drawn by another artist in World War I, when James Montgomery Flagg put Sam on the “I Want You for the U.S. Army” poster. 



Two Other American Icons


It’s hard to separate the images of the donkey from the Democratic party and the elephant from the Republicans. But who popularized these images with those respective political factions? Well, once again, it’s our formerly mentioned political cartoonist, Thomas Nast. Nast wasn’t the first to associate the elephant with the GOP—that came during the Civil War, when someone else paired the Grand Ole Party with “seeing the elephant”—a phrase that meant “to see battle” or learn hard life lessons. However, these enduring images of American politics have hung on in large part because of Thomas Nast.

A political cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast, depicting the
Democrat party as a donkey going over a cliff--and the
Republican party as a dead elephant.

During his career as artist for Harper’s Weekly (from the early 1860s to the late 1880s), Nast drew many satirical pieces, poking fun at Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as tearing at the fabric of many illegal schemes and corrupt government entities. While Nast was a proud Republican, a supporter of the Party of Lincoln, he didn’t hesitate to call out bad actors or their actions on either side of the aisle. Many of his political cartoons showed elephant and donkey running amok in one way or another. His biting cartoons associated each respective party with those animals so well that today, more than 150 years later, we still use the images of donkeys and elephants to represent them during elections.


It's Your Turn: Have you ever considered where any of these images, or even the name of our country, came from? Were you aware of any of these historical tidbits before today?



Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.





Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today! I had never heard of how the elephant and donkey became symbols of the party, and hadn't heard the story of the Uncle Sam name before either.