This investigation focuses on the United States national personification "Colombia" and its relationship to another national personification, "Uncle Sam." The period of this investigation is between 1776 and 1850, specifically, the American Revolution and the height of Colombia's popularity, and the period of Colombia's gradual fall from the public eye. I will evaluate the use of both symbols in print, as well as the origins of both, including Columbia's original use as a derogatory term for American and Uncle Sam's origin in the War of 1812.
Primary sources such as political cartoons will be used, as well as scholarly works by historians, found in online databases and in libraries. This primary research question of the investigation is: In what ways are Uncle Sam and Columbia similar and different in their usage and meaning?
"Columbia" is first used as a name in reference to America in 1697 by Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall (Schlereth 938). It was initially used as a synonym for the whole continent, as Amerigo Vespucci, who the continent was named after, was considered a lesser explorer in favor of Christopher Columbus (Schlereth 937). It again appears in publication of the debates of British Parliament in a publication called The Gentlemen's Magazine. (Massachusetts Historical Society)
However, as the American Revolution took hold in the colonies, a Columbia as a nation symbol for the colonists began took gain prominence among the colonists themselves. She appears in the newspapers. She began to accrue items of association, such as "the liberty pole and cap, the American flag, shield, and eagle, the chain of states, the thirteen stars, and the dates of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (Schlereth 941)." "Columbian" became synonymous with supporting the ideals and goals of the nation, especially in the 1790s and beyond (Schlereth 938). She was originally depicted as wearing a plain, white gown, but as her visibility increased she appeared wearing the national colors, similar to her counterpoint, the British national personification, Britannia (Schlereth 941). In fact, Columbia developed in many ways as a response to Britannia (Berg).
Colombia then became a prominent symbol of American expansionism and Manifest Destiny. A famous painting circa 1872, entitled American Progress (See Appendix), depicts the personification of America leading settlers west. In her left hand she is laying down telegraph wire, and her gaze is fixed steadily westward. This illustrates her role as the image of manifest destiny, the idea that the American people had a right, a responsibility, and a fate to travel west (Tejani).
Columbia endures into the 19th century, as well. During WWI, she is used in a number of propaganda posters, most conspicuously in the "Be patriotic--sign your country's pledge to save the food" poster (See Appendix), in which she asks viewers to save food to support the war. Other appearances...