Yankee Doodle, dandy?

1760 America's Historical Imprints

The above image depicts a 1760 colonial printing of Yanky Doodle alongside a British patriotic poem/hymn. This version of the now popular American song originates from the Seven Years War in which the American colonists helped the British fight against the French. The lyrics of this version, written by the British, do not directly criticize the colonists who would fight alongside them in the war, unlike later versions whose purpose was largely to attack and make fun of soldiers from both the British and Colonial forces (both nations used the song to ridicule one another). These lyrics are more of a call to the colonists to take up arms and support the British, noting that a “full fifty pounds shall be paid down” as payment to the colonists who fight.

Most of the attacks here are against the “proud” French who have settled in the Canadian provinces to the north at this time. The closest the British come to mocking the colonial soldiers appears in the first line of the second stanza where the text reads, “Besides a suit so neat and cute”, pointing out the sharp, polished look of British soldiers; without directly stating it, this contrasts with the well known image at the time of the shabby appearance of the colonial soldiers who looked poorly dressed in comparison to the well suited British troops. One other interesting point to note is that the lyrics saying, “For to take Care of Mother” call attention to the fact that the colonists need to defend Britain because it is their mother country. The image of England as a mother figure is very important, as it pops up later on during the war for independence in loyalist/British propagandist pieces as a way of urging the colonists to remember their homeland in a child-to-parent relationship.

America's Historical Imprints

The above image comes from a 1786 printing of Yankee Doodle printed under the title “The Father and His Son’s Return From a Visit to the Camp” (unfortunately, the 1775 version was unavailable for viewing). The new lyrics present a much harsher viewpoint of the colonists, calling them “As thick as Hasty-pudding” after a sloppy, British dish of porridge. The text goes on to criticize General Washington in his “Meeting-Clothes” as opposed to a formal uniform; the riches of the colonists that they waste and that the speaker wishes “could be saved”; and the many freshly turned graves that cause the speaker, who is a young boy, to run and not stop “till I got Home, / Lock’d up in Mother’s Chamber.” Again the British have presented the idea of England as the protective mother figure, but this time, her representation is used to show that England has become a refuge for loyalists because the colonies’ resistance is now so disgusting and frightening, that they must flee to their mother’s safety.

1788 America's Historical Imprints

The above image comes from a 1788 printing in which the colonists take over the lyrics of the song, radically altering them to celebrate the ratification of the United States Constitution. Here the colonists mention that Hancock is the key figure who delivers the “federal address” to the convention voting on the constitution. In previous British versions, the speaker notes that he will take Hancock down, making this new colonial version a direct confrontation to the British attacks on Hancock. The text also notes that the colonists won by vigilance in fighting “til opposition silenc’d [was],” mounting their resolve to the British to maintain their campaign for independence.

Interestingly, the colonial viewpoint does not mention any kind of tie to England in the child-to-parent relationship England used, not even in the context of rebelling or fighting against what would be the parental authority. It seems the British alone are open to this tactic of using the notion of family in arguing their cause. The colonists seem more removed on the whole from such direct, familiar language; their attacks in this version are low key and subdued unlike the British who blatantly accuse the colonists of being fat, poorly trained, and shabbily dressed. Instead, the colonists simply state that they fought on and won because they held fast to their cause.


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