Uncle Sam’s Farm: “One grand, ocean-bound republic”

This powerful quote comes at the end of Stephen A. Douglas‘s hour-long opening speech at the third Lincoln-Douglas Debate (Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15, 1858)

I now come back to the question, why cannot this Union exist forever divided into free and slave States, as our fathers made it? It can thus exist if each State will carry out the principles upon which our institutions were founded, to wit: the right of each State to do as it pleases, without meddling with its neighbors. Just act upon that great principle, and this Union will not only live forever, but it will extend and expand until it covers the whole continent, and makes this confederacy one grand, ocean-bound Republic. We must bear in mind that we are yet a young nation, growing with a rapidity unequaled in the history of the world, that our national increase is great, and that the emigration from the old world is increasing, requiring us to expand and acquire new territory from time to time, in order to give our people land to live upon. If we live upon the principle of State rights and State sovereignty, each State regulating its own affairs and minding its own business, we can go on and extend indefinitely, just as fast and as far as we need the territory. The time may come, indeed has now come, when our interests would be advanced by the acquisition of the Island of Cuba. (Terrific applause.) When we get Cuba we must take it as we find it, leaving the people to decide the question of slavery for themselves, without interference on the part of the Federal Government, or of any State of this Union. So, when it becomes necessary to acquire any portion of Mexico or Canada, or of this continent or the adjoining islands, we must take them as we find them, leaving the people free to do as they please-to have slavery or not, as they choose. …

Why should we not act as our fathers who made the Government? There was no sectional strife in Washington’s army. They were all brethren of a common confederacy; they fought under a common flag that they might bestow upon their posterity a common destiny, and to this end they poured out their blood in common streams, and shared, in some instances, a common grave. (Three hearty cheers for Douglas.)

Note the unfixed national borders of Douglas’s politics — he speaks at a time when the United States could (indeed, in his mind, should) grow to encompass most of the hemisphere.  Juxtaposed (seemingly without irony) atop this expansive vision of territorial acquisition (conquest?) is his stated commitment to let each state “do as it pleases”.  Douglas frames the argument for popular sovereignty as a conservative position, preserving the original US Consitution “as our fathers made it” (with slavery intact, if local voters so wish).

Let’s add to the mix The Hutchinson Family‘s song, “Uncle Sam’s Farm”:

Uncle Sam's Farm

SOURCE = “Hutchinson Republican Songster” (1860)

In this lyric, Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. presents the westward expansion of US territory as an international opportunity for common people — “a general invitation to the people of the world” (although presumably not for Native Americans).  Hutchinson wrote the lyrics to fit the popular minstrel stage tune, “History ob de World” (a.k.a. “Walk in the Parlor”).

Here are resource links for certain lines:

UNCLE SAM’S FARM.

TUNE.–Walk in de Parlor and hear de Banjo Play.

Of all the mighty Nations, in the East or in the West,
Oh! this glorious Yankee Nation, is the greatest and the best;
We have room for all creation, and our banner is unfurl’d;
Here is a general invitation, to the people of the world.

CHORUS.

Come along, come along–make no delay;
Come from every nation; come from every way;
Our land is broad enough–don’t be alarmed,
For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm.

St. Lawrence marks our Northern line, as fast her waters flow,
And the Rio Grande our Southern bound, way down to Mexico;
From the great Atlantic Ocean, where the sun begins to dawn,
Leaps across the Rocky Mountains, away to Oregon.

Come along, come along, &c.

The South may raise the cotton, and the West the corn and pork,
New England manufactories shall do up the finer work;
For the deep and flowing waterfalls that course along our hills,
Are just the thing for washing sheep, and driving cotton mills,

Come along, come along, &c.

Our Fathers gave us liberty, but little did they dream,
The grand results that flow along this mighty age of steam;
For our mountains, lakes and rivers, are all a blaze of fire,
And we send our news by lightning, on the telegraphic wire.

Come along, come along, &c.

Yes, we are bound to beat the nations, for our motto’s go-ahead,
And we’ll tell the foreign paupers that our people are well fed
For the nations must remember, that Uncle Sam is not a fool,
For the people do the voting, and the children go to school.

Interestingly, this songsheet lacks a verse (appearing in Asa Hutchinson’s 1858 collection of Hutchinson Family Singers’ lyrics  and again in John Hutchinson’s 1860 Republican Songster) that references Bleeding Kansas:

A welcome, warm and hearty, do we give the sons of toil
To come to the West and settle and labor on free soil;
We’ve room enough and land enough, they needn’t feel alarm –
O! come to the land of freedom and vote yourself a farm.

“Uncle Sam’s Farm” appears briefly in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By The Shores of Silver Lake — Pa sings it as the family heads out onto the prairie; in fact, Laura marks it as “the song he sang oftenest”!

Several updates to this song appear during the war, including one (from 1861?) that boasts of “gallant” Northern officers & politicians in the early days of the war:

We might note also that the wartime verses have, in verse 3, replaced a lingering look at rivers with a proud recognition of the value of iron mines and wheatfields, both of which were needed by the growing Union armies …

So it appears that both anti-slavery Free Soilers like the Hutchinsons, pro-Union patriots, and proponents of popular sovereignty all rallied around the image of the boundless American West.  But would these new western dynamics protect & strengthen the Consitution, or tear the old Union apart? …

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