In honor of Independence Day, we’re sharing the story of Congress and Uncle Sam.
In response to the Cold War era anxiety over “disciplined communism,” Congress wanted to make “the symbol of ‘Uncle Sam’ official and permanent.” Acting in accordance with this desire, the Senate issued a report in 1961 chronicling the history of Uncle Sam. The report states that Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York, the model for Uncle Sam, was born in 1766. He enlisted in the Revolutionary Army at the age of 14, became a bricklayer, and later opened a slaughterhouse where he inspected beef for the Army during the War of 1812. Meat that was inspected by Wilson was stamped “EA-US.” His staff joked that the US stamp stood for Uncle Sam, Wilson’s nickname, instead of United States. Over time Uncle Sam became synonymous with the United States.
However certain the Senate was with their findings, the House of Representatives became concerned that there was another Samuel Wilson and that their identities had become crossed. This concurrent resolution, S. Con. Res. 14, was passed by the House on September 6, 1961 with a series of amendments that struck out Wilson’s birth and burial places. After a bit of back and forth, the final version of the resolution as passed by both the House and Senate states that Samuel Wilson, of Troy, New York, was indeed the progenitor of the national persona of Uncle Sam.
"Day We Celebrate" by Clifford Berryman, 7/4/1903, U.S. Senate Collection (6010432)
S Con Res 14, 9/6/1961, Records of the U.S. House of Representative
Tumblr Tuesday: America,
F—kHeck Yeah! Edition
America’s Great Outdoors
The U.S. Department of Interior posts amazing photos of public American lands in their new photo project, Summer in America’s Great Outdoors.
Vintage photographs of old New York. Not a selfie in sight.
Because some people really get into reliving our nation’s wars.
Daily scans and photos of the various documents found in the U.S. National Archives.
The American Guide
With photojournalism and essay contributions by the likes of American Student Radio, NPR, and the Bureau of Land Management, The American Guide is overflowing with pieces of Americana, old and new.
Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives.
We’re getting ready for our Independence Day celebration on the steps of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC!
We’ll be posting “Four Photos for the Fourth” every few days until the big event.
Our first set of four photos features past Independence Day celebrations, including a previous July 4 here at the National Archives.
Join us on July 4! The National Archives will be celebrating the Independence Day with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, special musical guests, and fun family activities.
Decoration Day, 05/30/1911
Did you know that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day? Shortly after the Civil War, a group of Union veterans called for a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers on May 30. The date was perhaps selected because flowers were in bloom all across the U.S. by late May.
In 1888, Congress declared Decoration Day a federal holiday in the District of Columbia so that veterans in federal employ could honor their fallen comrades and not lose a day’s pay. Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day as the holiday expanded to commemorate veterans of all wars.
In 1968, Congress passed a law that named and moved several federal holidays. Included in H.R. 15951 was the official declaration of Memorial Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.
March Seventeenth, 03/17/1918
On Saint Patrick’s Day Clifford Berryman shows a determined Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves and preparing to use a large club to deal with the many German propagandist snakes slithering in the grass around him. Teddy bear is by his side wielding a smaller stick. Throughout World War I the U.S. Government was forced to divert substantial resources to counter skilled German propaganda aimed at weakening the resolve of the American people to continue the war effort. Berryman uses the Saint Patrick’s day theme of driving the snakes out of Ireland as a model for driving out the German propagandists.
Cartoonist Clifford Berryman’s proposal for improved government efficiency:
This untitled illustration by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Evening Star on March 9, 1916, is a response to the proposal made by Representative William Patterson Borland of Missouri that an extra hour be added to the government work day. Here, Uncle Sam watches as government workers rush by below on their way to work wearing roller skates to ensure their early arrival and wondering why he had not thought of it.
(Thankfully never implemented. We can only imagine disaster would ensure in the Archives’ conservation labs…)
Let Congress Take Warning, 03/06/1909
The Inauguration Day of William Howard Taft was one of the worst Inauguration days ever due to rain, snow, sleet, slush, and chilling winds. In the cartoon, telegraph lines are shown falling over because of the strong winds and snow. Uncle Sam is bundled in winter gear while holding a resolution to change the date of Inauguration Day and telling Congress that they shouldn’t let the same thing happen again. Because of the bad weather, there was much support in changing Inauguration Day to April 30, which is when George Washington was inaugurated. The resolution was not successful until 1933 though, when Inauguration Day was changed to January 20.
Following the Spanish-American War, tensions between the burgeoning Filipino independence movement, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, and U.S. forces erupted into a war with the Battle of Manila on February 4, 1899.
Cartoonist Clifford Berryman shows the futility of a small, indigenous independence movement fighting against the large boot of Uncle Sam.
“Have You Gentlemen Any Idea When You’re To Get Off?” 07/26/1912
From the Clifford Berryman Political Cartoon Collection
The second session of the 62nd Congress began on December 4, 1911, and as the 1912 election neared, there was no end in sight. This cartoon has Uncle Sam dressed as a train conductor asking the House and Senate when they will adjourn so members could return home to campaign. Congress remained in session for another month after this cartoon was published.
The U.S. flag was formally adopted by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. While the first presidential proclamation celebrating flag day was not signed until 1916 and the first congressional legislation wasn’t passed until 1949, Americans still celebrated the birth of our nation’s flag on June 14. In this 1901 cartoon by Clifford Berryman Uncle Sam is celebrating flag day while carrying a large flag and small boy dressed as a sailor.
Flag Day 1901, 6/14/1901, U.S. Senate Collection (ARC 6010370)