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Before Uncle Sam, There was Brother Jonathon

The new country known as the United States of America went through quite a few mascots before settling on Uncle Sam. There was Yankee Doodle, Columbia, Lady Liberty, and Brother Jonathan. Who? Jonathan was sometimes used as a term of disrespect, but like Yankee Doodle, Americans took a stereotype and shook it back at those who would belittle us.

While Yankee Doodle was primarily a comedic figure, Brother Jonathan was a more sinister one. Winifred Morgan, author of An American Icon: Brother Jonathan and American Identity sees Brother Jonathan during this period as a trickster in the tradition of Native-American and African-American folklore. “Tricksters are phenomenally powerful characters,” says Morgan. “They’re tough, they’re resilient, and Brother Jonathan has those qualities. But tricksters are also sly and self-interested.” And Brother Jonathan had to be. After all, he represented ordinary Americans who were trying to make their way in the harsh new world.

Americans liked to think that their wit and tenacity had won them their independence. They continued to see themselves as scrappy underdogs and turned their noses up at any whiff of pretension. This attitude played out in the political cartoons of the day which pitted Brother Jonathan against John Bull is a battle of old-world pomposity against new-world smarts.

The problem with Brother Jonathan was that he was long known to be a Yankee from the North, which didn't sit well with a large part of the country after the Civil War. Uncle Sam, while stern and  harsh, was from all of America. Read about Brother Jonathan and how he once personified America at Atlas Obscura.


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