Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1864’

In High Cotton

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2015

It’s not often that you hear of someone living in high cotton, but when you do, you know that person is living the easy life and is doing well financially.

The roots of this idiom are found in the southern United States in the years before the American Civil War. When cotton grew high and was abundant (in other words, a bumper crop), a good price could be had for that cotton leaving the farmer flush with cash. That same cotton crop came with bonuses for field workers as well by way of shade courtesy of the high cotton, which spared field workers from the harsh rays of the scorching sun overhead.

Just this month, the idiom was used in an article on August 4, 2015 on San Antonio’s Express-News website. The article was about how the Lubbock wineries were defying all odds and producing some amazing wines. A photo of owner, Vijay Reddy standing alongside some of his vines on his 100 acre vineyard showed how well the venture was doing. The article included this intriguing paragraph.

Vijay Reddy, a soil expert, emigrated to West Texas from India and wound up in high cotton himself. But, although there’s no history of grape-growing or winemaking in his family, Reddy’s relatively newfound passion has led him to plant more than 20 varietals over about 100 acres on his spread near Brownfield.

About twenty years ago, nationally syndicated columnist, Charley Reese wrote about the state of affairs in Washington in an article entitled, “Budget Balancing Act All An Act.” His column took on the issue of $1.4 trillion in federal spending couples with another $800 billion in state and local spending. When all was said and done, it was clear that Charley Reese wasn’t impressed with what was going on in Washington. He kicked off the column with this statement.

If we could manage our own finances the way the Congress does the nation’s, we’d all be living in high cotton and eating high on the hog.

The column by James J. Kilpatrick that was published on July 21, 1970 in the Herald-Journal newspaper took Washington to task as well, this time on the issue of consumer protection, and Maryland Senator Joe Tydings Consumer Class Action Act.  The Act didn’t address the problem of bad workmanship or poor design or anything else along those lines. The operative words in the Act were “unfair” and “deceptive.”

It is more accurately an act to line the pockets of ingenious attorneys. If this bill passes, the lawyers will be in high cotton; their client consumers will be still hoeing the short rows.

On page 114 of Volume 170 of The Atlantic Monthly magazine published in 1942, the expression could be found in this short story.

You have been walking in high cotton for a long time; keep it up! I was born in the deep South, lived all over the U. S. A., and have seen and experienced much abroad.

The fact of the matter is that the cotton industry helped to grow the American economy in the 1830s and 1840s, and it wasn’t long before people cottoned on to the slogan, “Cotton is king.” After sugar and tobacco, cotton considered a luxury commodity around the world. By the time the mid-1800s rolled around, cotton was America’s leading export. What’s more, raw cotton had become essential to the European economy.

Cotton was to the economy then what oil has become to the economy now. Not only did cotton generate large revenues for plantation owners in the United States (and indirectly for the United States of America overall), it impacted on the American government’s ability to borrow money in the global market.

How much cotton was produced by America for the European market, you ask? Prior to the American Civil War, 77 percent of the 800 million pounds of cotton used by Britain came from the United States. It provided two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton outside of Britain.

And how was America able to provide so much cotton to the world’s economies? In 1793, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin had teeth with which it could comb out and separate the seeds from the cotton. Because of this, cotton became an extremely profitable cash business that eventually surpassed even tobacco production. Once cotton became a lucrative crop, many plantation owners in the Antebellum South amassed impressive fortunes.

Back in 1860, cotton sold for $0.10 cents a pound, but by 1864, cotton sold for $1.89 a pound. Understandably, the better the crop, the higher the price that could be demanded for that crop.

And this is how in high cotton came to mean an easy life with more than enough money to rely on.

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Change Horses In Midstream

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2011

To change horses in midstream refers to someone literally trying to move from one horse to another while crossing a stream.  Over time, it has also come to mean to make major changes after something has already begun.

On January 12, 2000 the Worcester Telegram and Gazette newspaper in Massachusetts reported on the 6-month moratorium on cell tower applications in the town of Spencer. It reported the following:

I don’t think we should change horses in midstream,” said Mr. Hicks. Both Mr. Hicks and Mr. Cloutier argued that the full board should be involved in the process leading to any decision whether to keep the current law firm or hire another.

David Lawrence wrote a news story for the Lewiston Daily Sun newspaper entitled, “Convention Ignores New World Crisis” that was published on July 12, 1960.  The story was about the national political conventions and the crisis going on in the world that could lead to war. He wrote in part:

As recently as 1956, the pressure of international issues was evident, and during the campaign the Suez crisis helped the Republicans because the country was in no meed to “change horses in midstream.”

The Arizona Republican reported in its story, “Oppose Change In Organization Of G.O.P. Committee” published on September 17, 1920:

In the belief that it would be the height of folly to change horses in midstream, Republican nominees for congress and state office have united in an effort to preserve the present efficient organization of the Republican state committee.

Now it may not be strictly a favourite expression of Republicans in the United States, but Republicans certainly appear to use the expression more often than Democrats.

To wit, a variation of the expression was popularized by, but did not originate with, Abraham Lincoln in a speech in 1864 when he discovered that the National Union League was supporting him for a second term as President. 

Abraham Lincoln told the Republicans upon accepting his renomination that the honour had not come because he was the best man but because Republicans had come to the conclusion that “it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.”  He added further, “I am not so poor a horse that they  might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

The expression “don’t swap horses while crossing the river” had been around earlier in the century and evolved into today’s “don’t change horses in midstream.”

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When Hell Freezes Over

Posted by Admin on January 12, 2011

If you say that something will happen when hell freezes over, you mean that it will never happen. 

For example, when the Eagles broke up in 1980, the band members stated the band play together again “when Hell freezes over.”  Well, Hell hadn’t frozen over by the time 1994 rolled around however, in 1994, the Eagles — consisting of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and Timothy Schmit — regrouped and released a live album entitled, “Hell Freezes Over.”

Of course, the Eagles were premature with their announcement about Hell as the U.S. Weather Station in Hell, Michigan can attest to the fact that in all the years the government has been tracking the weather in Hell, it only froze over once and that was in 2004 — 10 years after the Eagles‘ live album.

Back on October 27, 1928 the Afro American newspaper published in Baltimore, a story written by William Pickens reporting on Oscar DePriest who was allegedly forced to quit the race for Congress in Chicago was published.  The article read in part: 

“If he were guilty and afraid, he would agree to quit under condition that the indictment be dropped. But to their surprise, when they went to him and said:  “Now, won’t you withdraw?” — he replied:  “You go to hell, and when hell freezes over so you can skate around on it, bring me proof of that and maybe I’ll think about quitting.”

The man has more plain courage than any other politician I have ever met.  He laid all his cards on the table at a meeting in Chicago on October 14 … He told just how he stood, frankly stated his opposition to some of the most powerful leaders: said in bold but brief outline what he would do as Congressman and what he wouldn’t.

Back on November 23, 1863 during the Civil War, 2nd Lieutenant, Richard B. Dobbins from Company D of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion was captured at Pulaski, Tennessee.  Records show that he was sent to Camp Chase (OH). Was asked when he was going to take the oath, and his reply was, “When Hell freezes over.”   He was released by special order of President Lincoln, April 23, 1864.

While the earliest recorded version of “when Hell freezes over” appears to be 1864, the manner in which it was used implies that it was a common saying among those in the southern states.  It is not unreasonable to believe that the expression dates back at least to the 1850s if not farther back.

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