History, History Column

A Short History of Bullies

By ©2022 Sarah Becker

British historian Andrew William Kinglake, best known for his 1874 book The Invasion of The Crimea, published his first tome Eothen, or Traces of Travel, Brought Home from the East in 1844. It is for reason of the latter that his poem Stick and Stones became forever famous.

Kinglake’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me….” The rhyme has long been “used as a defense against name-calling and verbal bullying.”

The Virginia Code [22.1-276.01(A)] defines bullying as “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power balance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma.” Cyber bullying is included: ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict is not.

In 1844 former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Tennessee Governor James K. Polk [D-TN] defeated statesman Henry Clay [Whig-KY] for President. America’s anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum, as was Polk’s plan to annex the Republic of Texas. Anti-slavery Whigs thought annexation troubling and Polk supporters responded by claiming Clay “spent his days at the gambling table and his nights in a brothel.”

In 1862 Congress forbid slavery in federal territories and President Abraham Lincoln [R-IL] completed the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation. The black community, free and enslaved became enthused and the African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church—“born in protest against slavery”—rallied. The Church adapted an “old adage,” Kinglake’s Sticks and Stones and delivered. Said the AME’s Christian Reporter in March 1862, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.”

The first black members of the U.S. Congress were elected in 1870. Two years later Southern Republicans, Negroes were “told to stand on their own two [political] feet.” The Freedmen’s Bureau—formed by President Lincoln in 1865—closed on June 10, 1872. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me,” London’s Mrs. Cupples replied.

Name-calling as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: [1.] “the use of offensive names especially to win an argument or to induce rejection or condemnation (as of a person or project) without objective consideration of the facts.” [2.] “The use of abusive names to belittle or humiliate another person in a political campaign, an argument, etc.”

“Research has consistently shown that bullying can have a negative impact on how well children and adolescents do in school,” stopbullying.gov said. “Exposure to bullying in any manner—by being bullied, bullying others, or witnessing peers being bullied—has long-term, negative effects.”

Bullying and violent aggression are often linked. According to Hanover Research only 58% of ACPS school children feel safe in city schools. Thirty-nine percent of ACPS students cite bullying, cyber bullying as a problem. Thirty-two percent fear a gang presence problem.

My poodle, Parker, a reading education assistance dog was sometimes called a “dumb-mutt”—as were children, the “dumb-nuts” reading aloud to him in public places. Always Parker responded by standing tall next to the child, his tail wagging proudly. Name-callers did not understand that reading aloud not only improves the brain it also increases the child’s vocabulary, his or her familiarity with the printed word.

“Skeezie Tookis is not the only one who gets names slapped on him just on account of…,” James Howe wrote in 2001 in The Misfits. “Names come Addie’s way, too, only in her case it is because of her being so tall, in addition to the factor of her intelligence, both of which fall on the plus side of the ledger if you happen to be a boy and are major liabilities if you were born in the world a girl. At least, that is my impression of how it goes in the dreaded middle-school years.” Bullying’s Four Ps: Power, Pain, Persistence, and Premeditation.

John Adams [F-MA] and Thomas Jefferson [DR-VA] were both dedicated to country.  Each participated in the American Revolution. Both signed the Declaration of Independence.  Each served as a U.S. Minister overseas. But they clashed: politically, philosophically in 1796 and almost irreconcilably in the election of 1800.

Washington’s Vice President John Adams was a Federalist [F]. His Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was Democratic-Republican [DR].  Adams defeated Jefferson in the presidential election of 1796 and the rules, as then written, gave the Vice Presidency to Jefferson.

“They were an incongruous pair,” Joseph J. Ellis wrote. “Adams, the short, stout, candid-to-a-fault New Englander; Jefferson, the tall, slender, elegantly elusive Virginian; Adams the highly combustible, ever combative, mile-a-minute talker, whose favorite form of conversation was an argument; Jefferson, the always cool and self-contained enigma, who regarded debate and argument as violations of the natural harmonies he heard inside his own head…Choosing between them seemed like choosing between the head and the heart of the American Revolution.”

“The [presidential] campaign of 1800 was a collision of three republican ideas: the oligarchic republic of Alexander Hamilton and the High Federalists, the balanced republic of John Adams (a balance between the few and the many), and the representative republic of Jefferson and Madison (in our terms a democratic republic),” editors Fischer and McPherson noted.

Scandalous charges were hurled. “Most vicious were the charges that Adams was insane,” David McCullough said. “If Jefferson was a [French] Jacobin, a shameless southern libertine, and a ‘howling’ atheist; Adams was a [British] Tory, a vain Yankee scold, and, if the truth be known, ‘quite mad.’”

Adams lost the Presidency by 211 electoral votes, a resounding defeat. The Federalist Party all but collapsed: except in Alexandria. Adams’ Attorney General, Federalist Charles Lee lived in Alexandria.

Other Presidents verbally abused: Martin Van Buren [D-NY, 1837-1841], President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and later Vice President. His opponents called him “Martin Van Ruin.” Still he won the 1836 presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump [R-NY, 2017-2021] is, by most accounts a name-calling, verbal bully. He seems to have a nickname for almost everyone who gets in his political way. Trump calls his successor, President Joe Biden [D-DE] “One percent Joe.” Former Attorney General Bill Barr is a “weak and pathetic RINO, Republican in Name Only.” Vice President Kamala Harris is “Nasty” and outgoing Republican Representatives Liz Cheney [R-WY] and Adam Kinzinger [R-IL], members of the January 6th investigating Committee are “Crazy” Liz and “Cryin’” Adam.

“Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, appealed to our ‘better angels,’” former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg [R], “Little Michael” said in 2016. “Donald Trump has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember.”

The time has come for politicians of both political parties, those of all religious sects and economic situations to stop the name-calling, the bullying and lead. Children, the country need role models of an exemplary type.

From Unitarian Universalist Minister William Ellery Channing’s oft quoted 1819 speech, I Thessalonians 5:21 King James Bible: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

In 2019 the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey found that “22% of students, ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school.” Not surprisingly “more females than males” felt the Pain. “About 16% of students in grades 9–12 reported being electronically bullied.” As for Congress:

In 2020 the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.Res. 1154, 317-18, Condemning QAnon and rejecting the conspiracy theories it promotes. “Whereas, throughout history, conspiracy theories that falsely blame secret cabals [political cliques] or marginalized groups for society’s ills have fueled prejudice, genocide, and acts of terrorism;…

Whereas, QAnon is a movement promoting a collection of unfounded conspiracy theories that have spread widely on the internet since 2017;…theories that likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the ‘modern information marketplace’…Resolved, That the House of Representatives urges all Americans, regardless of our beliefs or partisan affiliation, to seek information from authoritative sources and to engage in political debate from a common factual foundation.” Two of the Resolution’s six sponsors: former Representatives Adam Kinzinger and Denver Riggleman [R-VA5], author of The Breach.

H.Res. 1154 may slow political bullying, but it will not stop school bullying. A 2022 Associated Press poll found that about half of both youngsters and parents view social media as having a mostly negative effect.

Start your New Year by observing No Name Calling Week, January 16-20. The national celebration is organized by K-12 educators and students to end name-calling and verbal bullying in schools. The Code of Virginia 22.1-279.6 “requires school boards to include rules against bullying in their Codes of Student Conduct….”

Bullying not only pervades our politics and corrupts our culture, it empowers the bully: gives the bully the means to demean others. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but name-calling harms us all: children, adolescents and adults. The physically disabled, emotionally and mentally impaired.

Column Reply: OTC, A Brief History of Guns, Sept. 2022. According to the U.S. Gun Violence Archive the total number of gun violence deaths from January 1, 2022-December 15, 2022, was 42,295. The total number of mass shootings was 628, down slightly from 690 in 2021. As readers again suggest let the New Year’s resolutions begin!

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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