[Ads-l] hirelings and slaves (UNCLASSIFIED)

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Wed Aug 31 21:03:28 UTC 2016

But "slave[ry]" at the time of the Revolution was widely used in contrast to "liberty" -- "slavery" was being subject to British rule, not being in involuntary servitude; "liberty", or "freedom", was being free from submission to the British parliament and king.  I don't think that "slaves" in instances of "hirelings and slaves" from the 1770s has the same meaning as uses in 1814 (by Key) and during the 19th century generally.

(Bill's quotation is from before the Revolution, so "hirelings" must refer to something other than military mercenaries.  My guess is that it refers to "placemen", officials who accepted appointments to royal positions in the colonial governments only for the salary and other perquisites -- civil mercenaries; see OED sense 2 -- but were widely seen by the colonials as incompetent and corrupt.)

I am convinced of the "stronger alternative theory" presented in the Snopes article:  "the word "hirelings" in The Star-Spangled Banner refers literally to mercenaries and "slaves" refers literally to the enslaved, persons (predominantly black, of course)  in involuntary servitude.  That is, "hirelings" refers to hired British soldiers (such as Hessians) and "slaves" refers to black slaves offered freedom by the British if they were to escape from their owners and join the British forces.

By the way, from what I remember, those former slaves, like those who joined the British side during the Revolution, were not treated well by Britain after the end of warfare; they were essentially abandoned.  But I do not have specifics at hand.


      From: "MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY RDECOM AMRDEC (US)" <william.d.mullins18.civ at MAIL.MIL>
 Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 3:43 PM
 Subject: [ADS-L] hirelings and slaves (UNCLASSIFIED)

More support for JL's interpretation

[Philadelphia] _Pennsylvania Gazette_ 18 Jan 1770 p 3 col 2
"Happy, Like you, in the Name of Britons, and secure of your Affection to this your native Kingdom, we would rather give up all we hold most dear, than disturb your Peace, or the good Order of Government; but we cannot silently let pass those tyrannical Measures which your Majesty's Servants have adopted, nor tamely suffer those Rights to be trampled on, which were purchased by the Blood of our illustrious Ancestors; nor can we weakly submit to see the Treasures of the Nation thus basely confiscated by Self-interested Men, and prostituted to the vilest Purposes -- to pension Hirelings, Slaves, and Murderers."

Speech of Alderman Wilkes to the Livery at Guildhall, Oct 8 1772
London _Public Advertiser_ 9 Oct 1772 p 2 col 1
"I congratulate you, Gentlemen, that you possess several excellent Magistrates, who in a good Cause have the Fortitude to meet the Rage of a Senate, composed chiefly of Hirelings and Slaves."

Address to the Patriots of Belfast by Rev. James Glass
Belfast Northern Ireland _Northern Star_ 14 Mar 1792 p 4 col 1
"When hireling slaves the rights of man oppose,
In you they ever meet undaunted foes;
Their threats and mandates you indiff'rent hear,
And tell them, "Patriots spurn at servile fear;""

_Edenton [NC] Gazette_ 9 Dec 1808 p 3 col 2
"In the space of three months Buonaparte had defeated the Austrian armies, taken the capitol of the empire, and finally terminated the war by the signal defeat of the Russians, and Austrians, at Austerlitz -- But he was contending with hireling slaves, and traitors; he has now to contend with a people, brave and patriotic."

A stanza from "Ode to the Pensioned Presses"
NY _Evening Post_  7 Apr 1834 p 2 col 6
"And wear on your foreheads the brand you have sought!
Prove that yours is the task of the hireling and slave,
Whose honour and conscience are sold and are bought,
And who toils in the ditch of his own freedom's grave!"

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 1:13 PM
> Subject: Re: "slave"
> I believe Snopes and some of the historians have dropped the ball on this.
> Have they any understanding, themselves, of what the song and its third stanza are about?
> Don't they know (Duhhh...Why should they?) that "hirelings and slaves" was a political idiom of the period meaning, essentially,
> "contemptible mercenaries and gutless lackeys."
> ECCO, ?1747: "Their Senators shall be Fools and Debauchees, Hirelings and Slaves."
> 1748: "And dare the Hireling slave recommend the suppressing of our JUST and LEGAL LIBERTY?"
> Etc.
> JL
> On Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 1:12 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> > This piece has been widely circulated over the last few days:
> >
> > https://theintercept.com/2016/08/28/colin-kaepernick-is-
> > righter-than-you-know-the-national-anthem-is-a-celebration-of-slavery/
> >
> > Snopes investigates:
> >
> > http://www.snopes.com/2016/08/29/star-spangled-banner-and-slav
> > ery/
> >

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list