Show-Me State

Grant Barrett gbarrett at AMERICANDIALECT.ORG
Mon May 3 16:39:18 UTC 1999

For the record, because this comes up now and again, the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazzette tells the story of how Missouri became the "Show-Me State." As
Donald Lance will tell you, there is still a Vandiver (boulevard, avenue,
street, I can't remember) in Columbia, Mo.


Centennial flashback: 1899 'show me' speech showed off Missouri to nation

Monday, May 03, 1999

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer 

Old-time Congressman William Duncan Vandiver ought to be the patron saint
of the sound bite.    

Vandiver campaigned in an era without microphones or ratings points, but
he turned a phrase that was so good it still makes politicians and media
spin doctors jealous.

A native of Columbia, Mo., Vandiver made his mark in an 1899 speech
before a naval banquet in Philadelphia.

"I come from a state," he said, "that raises corn and cotton and
cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.
I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

Grammar teachers might have scolded Vandiver for using the needless word
"got," but he scored with everybody else.

Missouri was transformed in the press from a Western outpost to a place
populated by stubborn, independent thinkers. In three stout sentences, the
congressman had created "the show me state."

The precise date of his speech has been lost. Neither the Missouri state
government nor its university historians can place it. But after 100
years, "show me state" is so much a part of Americana that it still appears on
Missouri license plates.

Grant Barrett 
gbarrett at

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