The Free and Unlimited Coinage of Silver

A Demoralized Drum
A Demoralized Drum



Air — “Yankee Doodle.

Cleveland took his hook and line and started off a-fishing.
He fished for suckers all the day, but took it out in wishing.
It seems the suckers all were off attending decoration,
And this, and other things as bad, raised Grover’s indignation.

Chorus .

Yankee Doodle, mind the steps, Ben. Harrison’s the dandy,
We’re sure that in November next we’ll vote him in so handy.

Says he to Dan, a I’ll show ’em how I like this sort of fashion.
This waving of the bloody shirt has raised my deepest passion.
I’ll send for Drum and have them call the Brigadiers together;
I’ll have them come (I will by gum)! arrayed in hat and feather.

“The war is over now, and we should march in one procession,
The Southern Democrats in front, the Northern in succession.
To prove I mean to treat them white, I’ll give them back their banners —
The time has come to muster out the pauper Union grannies.”

“But, noble sire,” Dan made reply, “think well before you venture.
The times are perilous, and you may meet with public censure.”
“Well, well, replied the President, “for trouble I’m not wishing,
But if the worst comes to the worst, why then I’ll go a-fishing.”

— Athens Messenger.


Grover Cleveland, incumbent Democratic president and candidate for re-election in 1888, was fishing for voters (a common cartoon trope of the time was a politician with a rod and reel).   The suckers could be the citizens of Illinois, “The Sucker State.”  Or…

“These poor emigrants from the slave States were jeeringly and derisively called ‘suckers,’ because there were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth…” — Governor Thomas Ford.

Suckers are also a kind of fish that migrate seasonally up and down the Mississippi.

“Attending decoration” likely refers to observing Decoration Day, the last Monday of May, when the graves of the Civil War dead would be decorated with flags and flowers.  This practice started in Illinois in 1868.  Cleveland allegedly spent Decoration Day, 1887, in fishing rather than observing his patriotic duties.

Ben Harrison, the Republican candidate for president, had himself been a general in the Civil War, fighting for the Union.

Dan is likely Daniel Manning, who as head of the New York Democratic Committee oversaw Cleveland’s nomination in 1884, and was rewarded by being named Secretary of the Treasury.   Cleveland and Manning were in favor of the Gold Standard, and opposed to Free Silver.  (Free Silver had been a Republican platform plank since the very first Republican presidential candidate, John C. Frémont:  “Free Men, Free Silver, and Frémont!”)  Alas, today, all that remains of this once-burning question is a magic trick in J. B. Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic: “The Free and Unlimited Coinage of Silver.”  I recommend Bobo (and a four-disk DVD by Ben Salinas demonstrating many of the tricks and routines) to anyone interested in magic in general, and coin magic in particular.

The return of Confederate battle flags captured by Union forces was a contentious issue at the time, and continues so: they still haven’t been returned.  “Waving the bloody shirt” referred to a practice of the Radical Republicans, mostly focused on Reconstruction issues, raising images of  the Union wounded and dead.  “Drum” is likely Adjutant General Richard C. Drum, who, together with Secretary of War  Endicott, was involved in the battle flag controversy.

On April 30, 1887, Adjutant General Richard Drum sent a letter to Secretary of War William Endicott informing him that several captured Confederate flags were being stored in the basement of the War Department.  The adjutant general broached the possibility of returning the battle standards to their home states in the South.  On June 7, the secretary informed Drum that the president had agreed and issued an executive order to that effect.  

“Northern in succession….”  I’m certain that the word “succession” was chosen as a pun on “secession.”  (The split between the Northern and Southern democrats was what got Lincoln elected in 1860.)

“To prove I mean to treat them white” is exactly as racist as you’d think it is.  (The phrase “that’s mighty white of you,” to mean “you have acted nobly” is still heard today, but more rarely than in former times….)

“The pauper Union grannies”:  At the time, “granny” could mean “grandfather” as well as ‘grandmother.”  Soldier’s pensions (and pensions for soldiers’ widows) were a big part of Harrison’s campaign.  (He would later be accused of emptying the Treasury to pay them.)

Whatever accent the songwriter had, I find it amusing that they rhymed “banners” with “grannies.”

My father, a WWII veteran, told me that, as a boy, he had met and shook the hand of a Grand Army of the Republic veteran who, as a boy, had met and shook the hand of a  veteran of the American Revolution.   Which, if I’m counting it right, puts me personally at three degrees of separation from the Revolution and y’all, who know me, at four.

Tomorrow: The Free-Trade Pinafore.

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