United States it am de place (Rice, 1858)

This mysterious half-dialect minstrel song from Rice’s 1858 Method for the Banjo offers an intriguing glimpse into the economics and racial politics of the antebellum era:

If I was rich, I’d have money,
(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh)
I’d build a stable for my donkey,
(Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah)
But taxes are so very high,
Dey make rents go up to de sky,

~ CHORUS: ~ 
United States it am de place, 
Where old Columbus first did land, 
De English dey laid low for blue flies, 
Putnam sang out good bye John.

If I was a soger I’d be some,
I’d beat de fife and blow de drum,
De sogers say dat fightin’s funny,
But when dey’d fight, I would runny.
~ United States it am de place, &c.

De greatest man dat eber lived,
Was Barnum, now see what he did,
He made de ring tail monkey dance,
And bro’t a Russian cat from France.
~ United States it am de place, &c.

Some points of interest:  

  • Where old Columbus first did land — A patently, purposefully absurd assertion, establishing the unreliability of the singer (and therefore his ability to make statements outside the expected status quo).
  • De English dey laid low for blue flies — Did English forces suffer from Southern insects during the American Revolution?  Could this health risk have something to do with the Master’s fate in Dan Emmett’s 1846 song, “De Blue Tail Fly”?
  • Putnam sang out — Is this famed Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam?
  • I’d beat de fife and blow de drum — This dismissive portrayal of the (blackface) slave as a poor soldier fits into the (incorrect) Civil War era claims that “Colored regiments” would not make effective combat units.  Many other period songs actually highlighted African American contributions to national and international conflicts, most notably the “Song of the 1st Arkansas,” T. D. Rice’s “Jim Crow,” and even earlier, Micah Hawkins’ seminal “Backside Albany.”

This song appears in another form, with longer lines (& presumably slower gait) in the Library of Congress’s “America Singing” songsheet archives, with the credit, “As composed and sung by Dr. J. B. Kimball, (magic oil man)”:

Good Bye John

Lines of especial interest here:

Now SOUTH CAROLINA they tried to raise a fuss, …
With “MAJOR GENERAL ANDERSON,” they tried to raise a muss, …
But they could not scare de Major any nor could not make him run,
For dey got his “KENTUCKY”dander up and he spiked up every gun.

Major General Anderson was a southerner by birth, and President Buchanan placed him in charge of Fort Sumter with the expectation that he’d do nothing to agitate fire-eating secessionist spirits in Charleston, SC.  Adam Goodheart writes of the resulting posturing, midnight maneuvers, violence, and ultimately all-out war in his excellent 1861: The Civil War Awakening.

If I was in Congress, I’ll tell you what I’d do, …
I’d shove the slavery question in de House clear through, …
I’d tell the Southern Fire Eaters, dey had better stay at home,
And de crazy abolitionists had better leave de South alone.

This is a classic position of antebellum conciliation — “If everyone will just leave each other alone, we can all get along.”  See also: The Crittenden Compromise, and Stephen Douglas on “Popular Sovereignty” (+ “Uncle Sam’s Farm”).

Here, as well, the English suffer from a plague of… black ducks?

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