Thursday, April 18, 2013

Another Echoing Voice

A 1890s political cartoon from the County Capital 
In her speech at Cooper Union Hall in New York City on 11 August 1896, (referenced in last week's blog post, "Echoing Voices from the Past,") Mary Elizabeth Lease spoke the following:  "Once we made it our boast that this nation was not founded upon any class distinction.  But now we are not only buying diamonds for thier wives and daughters and selling our children to titled debauchees, but we are setting aside our Constitution and establishing a gold standard to help the fortunes of our hereditary foe."  This cartoon is a perfect illustration of Mrs. Lease's accusation!

Titled "Fruits of American Plutocracy," the cartoon shows a wealthy American father bestowing his blessings on his daughter's  marriage to a "Foreign Prince," linking his family with the "Nobility."  The dialogue at the bottom of the image reads:

"American Millionaire:  So, Duke, you want my daughter's hand in marriage?
The Duke:  I would give name and honor through her hand.
American Millionaire:  Have you scrofula?  Are you dissipated?  In other words, have you all the contaminations common to noble blood?
The Duke:  I'm afflicted with scrofula, epilepsy, am dissipated, disreputable, and a scoundrel.
American Millionaire:  Take her, then, and may heaven bless my children." 

Mary Elizabeth Lease declared in her Cooper Union speech that "There are two great enemies of thought and progress, the aristocracy of royalty and the aristocracy of gold..."  It is said that George Washington declined when asked to be made King of the United States, and our Declaration of Independence states that "All men are created equal."  Yet, the fairy tale lure of kings and queens, and the romance of a simple girl marrying a handsome prince has appealed to many Americans.  Magazines with photographs of William and Kate on their covers sell well, and many Americans wept for the death of William's mother, Princess Diana.
Nothing offers greater proof of Americans' fascination with English nobility than the current popularity of the television series, "Downton Abbey."  Consider its plot.  Downton Abbey has fallen into financial distress, so the young male heir, Lord Grantham, marries Cora Levinson, the daughter of a wealthy American, in order to save the estate! 
Obviously, not all of us share the scorn of Mary Elizabeth Lease as we tune in each week during the all-to-brief season to watch the lives of the Crawley family and wistfully long to see what is going to happen to them as we wait for the months to pass until the next season begins.  For those of us who admit to being fans of that show, we shouldn't be too critical of the Plutocrat in the cartoon who wants to be aligned with the nobility through the marriage of his daughter to a Duke!


The Blog Fodder said...

Is a class structure based on money rather than on hereditary titles any less abusive of its power? Even in a classless society such as the Soviet Union professed to be, there was a class structure based on political connections which abused its power no end as well.
Some days I despair of the whole human race. We seem to be hard wired to mistreat each other.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Don't despair. The temptations of the human race are ancient--categorized by the early Catholic Church as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony...the Seven Deadly Sins, but the opposite traits have also been (and continue to be) present in humans--patience, charity, diligence, humility, chastity, kindness, and temperance. The issue is, which traits predominate in each generation? This struggle provides inspiration for writers and artists around the world and through the centuries!