Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘James J. Kilpatrick’

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.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians

Posted by Admin on September 8, 2011

When someone says there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians what they are really saying is that there are too many people wanting to be, or acting like, the boss and not enough people actually doing the work.

On May 29, 2009 the Daily News out of Los Angeles published a Letter to the Editor written by Janice A. Slaby entitled, “Cut chiefs, not Indians.” The article dealt with a recently published article that dealt with debt problems in the state of California. The letter stated in part:

If the federal, state and local officials were laid off or forced to forgo their salaries, it would be surprising how fast the fiscal crisis would resolve itself. Having worked for the city of L.A. for 30 years, I know there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. If any group of people should be laid off or furloughed, it should begin with mayoral, council and noncivil service personnel.

Thirty years earlier, the Evening Independent newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida ran the James J. Kilpatrick politics column on May 24, 1979  and discussed how former members of congress had gathered in Washington the previous week to discuss the failings of the White House. The article was entitled:

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The Sarasota Journal published a news story from New York on April 21, 1954 written by James Flowers and entitled, “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” The story was about Leonard R. Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches. When he took over the company that was founded by his grandfather 50 years earlier, he re-organized it. At first, he took advice from the established executives at the company only to discover that there were some who had no idea what was going on outside their own departments and he decided to change that way of doing business within the company. The article reported that:

In the shakeup the heads of two vice-presidents rolled, and promotions were made from within the organization. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the way Rogers described it. The move paid off. In the years, young Rogers boosted his company’s sales to $1,500,000 a year. Last year he showed a 40 per cent increase in profits and now talks about a new factory and a $6,000,000 volume “in a few years.”

The Eugene Register-Guard edition of August 22, 1951 published an interesting and enlightening news article on the “Indians of Ulcer Gulch.” Ulcer Gulch was the nickname for the Pentagon and the Indians were the anonymous junior officers who work out plans and recommendations on which the Big Chiefs based their final decisions on military matters. In other words, whoever wasn’t considered a chief at the Pentagon was said to be an Indian. The article, written by Don Whitehead of the Associated Press, reported the following in part:

The Indians came into being about the time of Pearl Harbor when it seemed everybody around headquarters was the chief of a branch or a section of some sort. The workhorses said: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

The chief was the man who said to a junior officer: “See what you can do about this.”

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of this expression prior to this one however for it to be used so openly and easily in a news article from 1951, it is not unreasonable to date this expression back to sometime during WWII.

The meaning of this expression is not dissimilar to the expression too many cooks spoil the broth which was covered by Idiomation earlier this year on March 8, 2011.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »