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Today’s word: Yellow dog Democrat
Fifteen or so years ago I used to consider myself one. As far as I knew, it meant I’d vote in every election, I’d vote for everyone on the party line- never splitting, and I’d vote for a yellow dog if there was a D next to its name. You could say I’ve evolved though I still can’t spell worth a dam.
I used the phrase recently in a conversation with a political neophyte who had never heard it before and I was asked indignantly what the hell I meant by that! I tried to explain as best I could, when I was interrupted and asked “yes but why the term yellow dog?” as if I had just dissed every yellow labrador retriever fan on earth. Labs are great! I really like them and they like jumping on me and licking my face! Honest!
So why the term yellow dog? I had to admit I was completely stumped. I guess I’m just not as well read and worldly as I pretend to be. Who’s the neophyte now she asks.
Following Auntie Mame’s advice, first stop, Merriam-Webster. Everyone one has had an Auntie Meme figure in their life right? To the inter tubes!
Definition of YELLOW-DOG
1: mean, contemptible
2: of or relating to opposition to trade unionism or a labor union
First Known Use of YELLOW-DOG
Next Word in the Dictionary: yellow-dog contract
Well that’s Not Cool. I’ve never considered myself anti union. Even back in 1998 when I was a self labeled YDDem. Mean & contemptible… well that depends on who you asked.
I had a vague recollection about yellow-dog contracts from a junior high history class. Better click on that to see how truly Not Cool this is.
Definition of YELLOW-DOG CONTRACT
yellow-dog contract – noun
an employment contract in which a worker disavows membership in and agrees not to join a labor union in order to get a job
First Known Use of YELLOW-DOG CONTRACT
Ugh. My 1998 self was not my best self.
So the first known use of Yellow-Dog was in 1880.
First known use of yellow dog contract was 1920.
But wait, there’s more. Onto wikipedia.
Yellow Dog Democrats was a political term applied to voters in the Southern United States who voted solely for candidates who represented the Democratic Party. The term originated in the late 19th century. These voters would allegedly “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican”. The term is now more generally applied to refer to any Democrat who will vote a straight party ticket under any circumstances.
The first known usage to date of “yaller dog” in relation to Democrats occurred in the 1900 Kentucky gubernatorial contest involving Kentucky Governor William Goebel. Theodore Hallam was criticized at a Democratic Party meeting for first supporting Goebel, then campaigning against him.
The critic pointed out that Hallam earlier had said “if the Democrats of Kentucky, in convention assembled, nominated a yaller dog for governor you would vote for him” and asked “why do you now repudiate the nominee of that convention, the Honorable William Goebel?” Hallam responded:
“I admit,” he stated blandly, “that I said then what I now repeat, namely, that when the Democratic Party of Kentucky, in convention assembled, sees fit in its wisdom to nominate a yaller dog for the governorship of this great state, I will support him – but lower than that ye shall not drag me!“
There are indications that the term was in widespread and easily understandable use by 1923. In a letter written in Huntland, Tennessee by W. L. Moore of Kansas City, Missouri on May 9, 1923, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Moore writes:
“I am a Democrat from inheritance, from prejudice and principle, if the principle suits me. But I have passed the yaller dog degree.”
Emphasis mine. The only wiki link I included in that quote from the yellow dog page was the one for that Democratic Kentucky Gov William Goebel. If you click through you’ll learn that he really was a pretty unscrupulous politician even by politician standards. As you might expect he shifted loyalties and principles as needed. Though after rigging his own election for Governor, he was shot the day before he was to be sworn in. He only served for 4 days before he kicked the bucket. No one was convicted. Cough.
More from the wiki:
The phrase “yellow dog” may be a reference to a breed of dog known as the Carolina Dog indigenous to the Americas, specifically the Southern United States, and not descended from Eurasian breeds.
The Carolina Dog, or American Dingo, was originally a landrace or naturally selected type of dog which was discovered living as a wild dog or free roaming dog by Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin. Carolina Dogs are now bred and kept in captive collections or packs, and as pets. A breed standard has been developed by the United Kennel Club that now specifies the appearance of these dogs.
Carolina Dogs were discovered during the 1970s living in isolated stretches of longleaf pines and cypress swamps in the Southeastern United States.
Clicking through to the wiki on Carolina Dogs, it seems unlikely anyhow that Abe Lincoln and the others that used the term Yellow Dogs were referring to this breed or any other yellow haired dog. You could break it down a bit more and look up all the possible meanings of the word Yellow and the word Dog. But I don’t think that answers the deeper question of how this phrase came to be used as a point of pride. That will take someone better than me.
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