The Genteel Humorist and the Journalist of the American Frontier
An Examination of Baldwin's The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi, " A Domestic Scene," " Sloshing About," and " A Hanging Case in Kentucky"
Valerie K. Hardy
As America entered the nineteenth century, she entered an era marked by uncertainty. When the ideals and principles of American government so firmly established along the Eastern coastline stood triumphant against the second British invasion in 1814, it seemed as though America had claimed victory and secured the rule of her government, the validity of her principles, and the order of her people. However, as the era of the Frontier dawned in American history, so too did an era of renegotiation. As the frontier pushed westward and new towns flourished, the differing needs of these frontier towns came to the forefront of America's mind. One of the biggest concerns, as reflected in the journalism and literary offerings of the period, was the renegotiation of the legal system of the day. As Joseph G. Baldwin, a prominent frontier humorist of the time, notes in his legal sketch, "The Bar of the Southwest,"
Every State has its peculiar tone or physiognomy, so to speak, of jurisprudence imparted to it, more or less, by the character and temper of its bar. That had yet to be given [. . .] A new state of things [. . .] called for new rules or a modification of old ones (Baldwin 310).
To what extent was the traditional legal system able to work in the different environment of the frontier? What types of situations and types of people was the legal system dealing with? How did these situations and people affect the legal proceedings and professionals, and how, in turn, did these proceedings and professionals affect the frontiersmen? These questions are evident in both the journalistic pieces "A Domestic Scene," "Sloshing About," and "A Hanging Case in Kentucky," published in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner in 1848 and 1854 respectively, as well as in the many sketches of Joseph Baldwin, later compiled to create his novel, The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi. Both the journalistic pieces and Baldwin's literary offering, though markedly different in their style and purpose, offer an examination of these legal issues and renegotiations through a humorous vein, taking full advantage of the popularity and interest in humor writing of the Southwest during this period. Both types of writing explore the same portrayal of the great American paradox of the frontiersman, utilize the same basic exploitation of comic incongruities as a humorous device, and give evidence of both the entertainment value provided by the legal profession during this period as well as an illustration of the legal climate. At the heart of this humor, and these works in particular, emerge both the burgeoning of a literary tradition to be fully explored by later writers such as Mark Twain, and a recording of a cultural history during the era of the American Frontier.
Both Baldwin's sketches and the journalistic pieces share a similar concern with what many have come to term the "great American paradox" found in frontier humor writing of this period.
The paradox--one that has bothered Americans for many years--was that the character with the frontier attributes of self-reliance, disrespect for authority, and gumption might in fact be an outstanding all-American. On the other hand, he might be the lawless radical who acknowledges no authority but strength and cunning (Blair and Hill 188).
Certainly "A Domestic Scene" exemplifies this paradox. Despite being a journalistic human-interest story appearing on the back page of the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, its characters offer a journalist's concise portrayal of this paradox. Mary Lavere (or McFeal) shows all of the qualities that make her an "all-American," as Blair and Hill suggest. She shows a self-reliance in her prideful independence, as when she asserts that she financially supports Pierre and references "' the house for which I pay every crass of the rint, and he don't pay a brass farthin'" (4). While her credibility in such matters may not be established to back this claim, she is certainly portrayed as a woman who is not afraid to state her claims and attack (literally) anything that she finds an interruption to her domestic sphere. Her gumption is illustrated in her vicious attack of Pierre and her equally vicious slander of Marie in the courtroom, calling her a "jaundice-faced jade" (4). Such is Mary's disrespect for authority, both in the form of her husband and the Recorder, that she refuses even to make a defense, saying, "I'd scorn to make a defince; I wouldn't condescend to do it" (4). Mary is an all-American frontier woman, capable of all that commands a respect (albeit perhaps a respectful distance) required for life on the frontier. But with this acknowledgement comes the equally valid concern that these qualities may be those of an ultimately lawless individual who relies only on strong-arming the law and exploiting her personal strengths at the expense of others--and on a greater social leve--at the expense of order and justice of the day. Within Mary there is the "lawless radical," one who cannot keep a domestic quarrel out of the courts, who slashes her husband and upsets domestic balance through use of brute force. While possessing the qualities that make her an American pioneer, she is also a social danger. Behind the humor of the account lurks a darker social concern of the era.
Similarly, "A Hanging Case in Kentucky," though perhaps a more somber story, also takes advantage of this paradox. The reader is subject to equal parts of both respect and abhorrence for Wright's actions in killing Cushing, the man who insults Wright's wife. While the punishment for Cushing's actions--his death--does nto necessarily fit the crime, these is a rather perverse respect for Wright's defense of his family. He shows tremendous gumption and self-reliance in taking the law into his own hands, choosing to "solve" the dilemma on his own terms rather than respecting the authority of the law. His "justice" is quick and backed by a decisive believe of right and wrong, independent of the various legal statutes and channels for prosecution. At the same time, there is the element of Wright's reckless abandon of the law and his usurpation of authority to decide Cushing's fate. He is both equal parts of lawless radical and devoted family man. The story ends paradoxically as well, noting the jury's quick "twenty minutes' absence" for convicting Wright as well as relating the reactions of Wright and his wife, a "mournful, harrowing scene [that] afflicted judge, jury, bar, and spectators" (1). Wright, his wife, the law, and the community feel the disparity between "Wright the family man" and "Wright the radical." While Wright the radical must ultimately pay the price for his actinos, payment is not without equal alarm and sentiment from both the legal system and the community.
Considered one of the most adept at portraying the legal humor of the time, Joseph Baldwin did not leave his work untouched by this paradox despite its more literary techniques and genteel approach. Rather he plays off of the paradox, especially in his use of Simon Suggs, Jr., the son of one of the most beloved frontier characters of the same name by Johnson Jones Hooper. Like Mary, Simon Suggs, Jr., has within him the self-reliance, gumption, and disrespect for authority, those admirable and somewhat perversely admirable qualities of a frontiersman.
Simon, in his zeal to take advantage of the "flush times" within the legal community, enters the legal profession in a truly "Suggs-ian" fashion, by stealing his law license. In his newfound profession, Simon immediately exhibits those qualities requiring a sort of perverse respect, filling the docket and becoming perhaps the greatest example of the frontier rainmaker "so indefatigable was he in instructing clients as to their rights" (Baldwin 329). Rather than feeling defeated or overwhelmed by his circumstances, though, "difficulties, so far from discouraging him, only had the effect of stimulating his energies" (Baldwin 331). Even in deceit, Simon is self-reliant. In his zeal Simon fills the docket with cases and then proceeds to resort to anything but the law in arguing them, becoming "acquainted with all the arts and contrivances by which public justice is circumvented" (Baldwin 331). Simon, the representative and enforcer of order, is a lawless radical. While his contrivances of court cases and rather ingenious method of obtaining a law license make the readers of both yesterday and today smile in appreciation for his cunning, they are equally concerned, if not appalled, at the havoc wreaked by his gumption and his disrespect for authority.
Both the journalism and the genteel humor of this period have a similar crux--portraying the American paradox. Additionally, both the journalistic pieces and Baldwin's sketches utilize comic incongruities within their characters and their characters' situations to create humor. In the writing of this period
There was an amazingly consistent exploitation of the confrontation between a settled culture and an unsettled one. Much of the time, caste and social levels were distilled into the personalities of a pedantic narrator and an ignorant character. The contrasts between their language, their social graces, their notions of propriety, and their legal attitudes could all make for comic incongruities" (Blair and Hill 188).
However, though the journalism and literature of the time use this same technique in the creation of their humor, a difference arises out of their respective use of the comic incongruities which they utilize.
"A Domestic Scene," while a piece of journalism, nonetheless provides a brief account of a situation in which the humor is created almost entirely from comic incongruities, namely incongruities that arise from comparison of its characters. Certainly the heavy dialect granted to the litigants in this case provides a basis for social class, as does the author's mention of their working-class, immigrant roots. In comparison to the Recorder, who speaks an educated English with a notable lack of any traces of dialect, the litigants are juxtaposed socially against him and Watchman Burnet, who speaks in a dialect of the frontier but is lacking the immigrant roots and dialect of Pierre and Mary. Each social class is then set up in a hierarchy of grace, propriety, and legal understanding. At the bottom of this hierarchy appear Mary and Pierre, whose heavily accented English adds to the comedy as Pierre is asked (in perfect English) by the Recorder how the "disturbance commenced." Pierre replies, " 'dere be'--pointing to his bellicose partner, the big Irish woman--'ere be de commence--de middle-de finale--de all" (4). The incongruity in language creates the comedy both through a general lack of understanding caused by a language barrier, through the heavy dialect that this journalist took time to record and call attention to with the repetition of "dere be," and through the author's pointed reference to his wife's Irish descent. Similarly, Watchman Burnet's social status is defined by his language and his response to the Recorder's questioning. When asked (again in perfect English) "What part did this colored girl take in the affray, that you arrested her?" (4), Watchman Burnet replies, "I didn't see her do nothing--but Mrs. Wat-do-you-call-her, here, called on me, in the name of the law, to arrest her, and that bein' a purfessional appeal, of course, I couldn't resist it, no how--so, I took her along with the others" (4). Again, the incongruity of language and the juxtaposition of the elevated diction of the Recorder and use of formal words such as "affray" in comparison to Watchman Burnet's marked frontier dialect serve on a greater level as a mark of social incongruity. The incongruities mark the presence and lack of social graces, reflect the participants' notions of propriety, and mirror their legal attitudes. These legal attitudes encompass the disrespect of the Laveres, the misunderstanding and misapplication of law and duty by Watchman Burnet, and the professional attempts to find facts and punish accordingly by the Recorder.
In much the same way "Sloshing About," which appeared in the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner in May of 1854, depends upon the comic incongruities it establishes through dialect. While this story lacks the number of dialects that "A Domestic Scene" uses, it sets up a similar hierarchy of dialect as a mirror of social class and legal understanding. In this case, the language and dialect of Nat, the defendant Saltonstall's lawyer, is juxtaposed with the chief witness of the prosecution. Nat speaks in an educated English without any traces of dialect, asking the witness, "Come, witness, say over again what it was that Mr. Saltonstall had to do with this affair?" (4). The witness replies in a heavy frontier dialect, saying, "Why, I've told you several times, the rest of 'em clinched and paired off, but Saltonstall, he jist kept sloshin' about" (4). The witness' dialect proves him less educated than Nat as the story progresses. At the same time, howevver, Nat insists that the witness define what he means by this non-standard phrase marked by his heavy dialect, saying, "We want to know what that is. It isn't exactly legal evidence in the shape you put it. Tell us what you mean by sloshin' about" (4). Attention is again called to the juxtaposition of these two men's language as the witness continues with his story, stopping at the end of every sentence to ask, "That's in a legle form, ain't it?" to which Nat replies in educated English without any traces of dialect, telling the witness to "Proceed" with his story (4). Dialect and language continue to be signals of a greater social hierarchy. With Nat's elevated language and lack of accent comes a greater legal understanding as well as higher social class. Thus, the witness's marked English signals him as a less educated citizen of a lower social class.
Through these incongruities the comedy is allowed to progress. Despite his legal education and higher social class, it is Nat who is duped inthe courtroom. In his zeal to earn the "handsome fee" he is promised and with "the air of the avenger of injured innocence," he presses the key witness--against his legal option not to cross-examine--to explain the phrase "sloshing' about" (4). It is at his insistence that the witness finally testifies that "Saltonstall made it his business to walk backwards and forwards, through the crowd, with a big stick in his hand, and knock down ever loose man in the crowd as fast as he come to 'em! That's what I call sloshin' about!" (4). It is the frontier language that reveals the truth in this tale, not educated English or legal know-how. The hierarchy created through the telling of the story is inverted in the end, with Nat's client found guilty as well as Nat's sheepish admission that it is "quite as well for the defendant to waive his right to cross-examine" (4).
"A Hanging Case in Kentucky" differs in that it does not use dialect or language as a means of comic incongruity. Rather, the comic incongruity occurs between the occasion for the murder--a case of mistaken identity--and the murder itself. The disparity between the two offenses creates the perverse respect and fear of vigilante justice. The murder of Cushing is seen as even more outrageous by the telling of the incident involving the case of mistaken identity, as the reader is told that "In an instant [Cushing] discovered his mistake, and apologized, but the lady left in a rage, and soon after her husband and she returned to the shop, when the unfortunate young man was show down in his tracks" (1). The age-old comic incongruity of asking "Does the punishment fit the crime?" yields an obvious "no" in this story, thereby allowing for comedy in the process, albeit a more sobering comedy in this instance.
Baldwin uses the same device of comic incongruities to reflect humor and a greater social incongruity. In his sketch "My First Appearance at the Bar," Baldwin relates the narrator's first experience trying a case and the incongruity visible between law as it is read and law as it is experienced on the frontier, emphasizing the importance placed on law's presentation. The comic incongruity occurs between the experience of Caesar Kasm and the inexperience of the young narrator, naïve though not not oblivious to the workings of a frontier courtroom. The young lawyer knows it will take art to prevail over Kasm's bombastic courtroom style, regardless of the facts of the case, saying,
My conscience--I had not practiced it away then--was not quite easy. I couldn't help feeling that it was hardly honest to be leading my client, like Falstaff his men, where he was sure to be peppered. But then it was my only chance; my bread depended on it; and I reflected that the same thing has to happen in every lawyer's practice (Baldwin 560).
Baldwin's use of comic incongruities differs from those of "A Domestic Scene" as well as "Sloshing About," which rely on the use of dialect and language to relay both the humor and social position that give way to humor. In contrast, Baldwin's characters are of equal rank if not of equal footing. The young narrator must learn the code of propriety that governs even the most corrupt of frontier courtrooms, where "zeal for a client was one of the chief virtues of a lawyer" (559). In attempting to "cow" (561) his esteemed and experienced opponent, the young lawyer turns his case into a performance, and is ultimately cowed by Kasm, later finding out his client was even granted a new trial "by reason of the incompetency of his counsel, and the abandonment of his cause" (565). The incongruity between the two lawyers themselves, and on a greater level, between the purpose, order, and respect expected of lawyers in the most crooked of courtrooms, adds both to the comic flair, but for Baldwin the novelist, his comic incongruities appeaer to depict a greater purpose and commentary that are not so readily available or deciphered from pieces of journalism such as "A Domestic Scene," "Sloshin' About," and "A Hanging Case in Kentucky."
As an author of frontier humor, Baldwin's sketches of The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi are imbued with both comic elements and moralistic commentary. This commentary is perhaps best seen in his sketch "Ovid Bolus, Esq., Attorney at Law and Solicitor in Chancery" in which Ovid Bolus, a famed liar and cheat is, in the end, not only forced into exile, but pointedly rebuked in his artless swindling of "poor Ben" (Baldwin 316). Similarly, Baldwin does not neglect the opportunity to moralize on Simon Suggs, Jr.'s devious actions at the end of his tale as Simon becomes claims agent for the Choctaw Indians, expressing in a wry, satiric tone, "May his shadow never grow less; and may the Indians live to get their dividends of the arrears paid to their agent" (333). "Baldwin's ironic characterization reveals a dual motive: the moralist keeps step with the humorist" (Current-Garcia 174). Indeed, "Behind the most hilarious of his situations stands the attitude not of the roistering clown or ring-tailed roarer, but of the sober, judicial citizen who perceived the comic aspects of human vice and pretentiousness without, however, condoning them" (175).
In this vein, Baldwin's sketch "The Honorable Francis Strother" serves as a marked departure from Baldwin's other sketches in the collection typified by lawlessness and comic incongruity. Instead Strother is upheld as a model for the frontier lawyer, of which Baldwin writes,
He had passed through the strong temptations which beset a man in a new country, and such a country, unscathed, unsoiled even by suspicion, and ever maintained a reputation above question or challenge [. . .] He was the Genius of labor (253).
Though this sketch relays only one small anecdote as to his performance in a courtroom, it is remarkable more for its establishment of Baldwin's model of what a frontier lawyer should be and further reveals a moralist amidst the humorist.
Of the three journalistic pieces, "Sloshing About" comes the closest to revealing a moral message within the story. The piece begins with a directg revealing of this message, saying, "The Judges often tell stories on the members of the bar, albeit they are much oftener the subjects of stories themselves. We lately heard one of the former illustrating the propriety of "letting well enough alone," by the following anecdote:" (4). The second moral allusion occurs at the end of the story, when the reader is told that "Nat is of opinion, now, that unless a prima facie case is made out by prosecution, on the direct examination of their witnesses, it is quite as well for the defendant to waive his right to cross-examine" (4). These "moral allusions," as they are perhaps better termed differ from Baldwin's moral purpose. The difference lies in the journalistic use of these allusions as a type of framing device, as opposed to Baldwin's greater purpose to establish moral codes and moral practitioners through his inclusion of such shining examples as Francis Strother, who is set in direct contrast and in the direct midst as far as placemenet is concerned in his sketches, as a morally sound model for the frontier lawyer. The inclusion of these "moral vignettes" in "Sloshing About," on the other hand, serve only as a sort of mock moral to the story of Nat's humiliation in court, and only illustrates him as the type of lawyer which Baldwin cautions against. The morality is not "real," however much Nat may (or more than likely may not) have learned from his experience. The frame serves only as that--a frame--while Baldwin's morality is one of more deep-seeded caution and concern.
While Baldwin's literature took advantage of the ability to imbue his humor with morality, the journalism of "A Domestic Scene" and "Sloshing About" takes greater advantage of the dialect and language which Baldwin rarely utilizes. Baldwin "talks about his subjects instead of letting them talk" (Ferguson 57). Only in the smallest of sections does Baldwin attempt dialect, as in the preface to "Simon Suggs Jr., Esq." where Simon and the editor of a magazine are negotiating the terms of Simon's inclusion in the magazine. Here, Baldwin makes a point of having Simon write of his letter, "I got a friend to rite it--my own ritin being mostly perfeshunal" (Baldwin 66), offering an apology of sorts to the editor adn simultaneously the reader. His contribution to the literature and cultural history of the era is not marked by his contribution to the dialect that is more readily used and played upon in the shorter, journalistic pieces such as "A Domestic Scene" and "Sloshing About." With Baldwin's added literary elements comes, in his work, a loss of firsthand reporting and exposition of language.
The merit of such journalistic pieces such as "A Domestic Scene," "Sloshing About," and "A Hanging Case in Kentucky," besides those already discussed, lies primarily in its mode--a journalistic piece, a direct report of the happenings of a courtroom in the Louisiana Delta, Montgomery, Alabama, and Lexington, Kentucky, respectively. The insight is firsthand into the events, people, and issues, unclouded by authorial interruption, exploitation, or commentary. In direct contrast, Baldwin, as a more genteel humorist, seeks immediately to separate himself from the events and characters he portrays in his book, as critic Jesse Bier posits, marking himself off "from his material, thereby defining his superiority" (Bier 57). Further emphasizing this authorial separation is Baldwin's dedication in his book which reads "'To The Old Folks at Home, My Friends in the Valley of the Shenandoah." Indeed, Baldwin's sketch "How the Times Served the Virginians," the only piece not directly or indirectly dealing with legal proceedings or concerns, seems to emphasize this separation, describing the frontier landscape, saying,
Such is a charcoal sketch of the interesting region--now inferior to none in resources and the character of its population--during the Flush Times; a period constituting an episode in the commercial history of the world--the reign of humbug and wholesale insanity, just overthrown in time to save the whole country from ruin (751).
Juxtaposed against his descriptions of the unesettled legal system of the frontier are his descriptions of his homeland, Virginia, as he writes, "Eminently social and hospitable, kind, human, and generous is a Virginian, at home or abroad. They are so by nature and habit. These qualities and their exercise develop and strengthen other virtues" (748). Baldwin keeps his ties to the more genteel, ordered ways and people of Virginia, marking off his social roots that seem to deny his involvement in the corruption he portrays. The writings are retrospectives of a day gone by in the era of the American Frontier. As James H. Justus writes, "Implicit throughout Flush Times is a then-and-now contrast that protects the imaginative latitude of an author who is also a social historian" (Justus, xxv). These "then-and-now contrasts" both allow Baldwin opportunities for social commentary and moralistic exposition denied in the journalistic accounts, but also deny the reader those attributes of the journalism, namely a firsthand account of an event immediately after its occurrence, an exposition of dialect and language in the interactions of various social classes, and the incongruity between frontier crime and frontier justice.
Similarly, though, both Baldwin and these journalistic pieces are valuable as recorders and contributors of another cultural phenomenon--the establishment of frontier courtroom humor as a means of entertainment. In Baldwin's sketch "My First Appearance at the Bar," the action centers around the idea of public spectacle. This is not merely the young lawyer's first case, his first opportunity arguing with an established and respected lawyer in front of a judge--more importantly, it is his first experience trying a case before the public. The young lawyer comments on this phenomenon, saying, "The citizens of the town and those of the country, then in the village, had gathered in great numbers into the courthouse to hear the speeches; and I could not miss such an opportunity for display" (561). It is then that his youth and inexperience, as he says, "began to get the better of my judgment" (561). The courtroom is transformed from merely court to a primitive movie theatre of the era, only increasing in the number of spectators after the new lawyer's fiery closing remarks. After recess for dinner and with the closing remarks expected of Kasm, "The public interest, and especially that of the bar, grew very great. There was a rush to the privileged seats, and the sheriff had to command order--the shuffling of feet and the pressure of the crowd forward was so great" (562).Kasm's experience in both the court and in the public's eye ultimately humiliates the young lawyer and results in his leaving town. Kasm's closing remarks are completely irrelevant to matters of the case, but rather focus solely on the merits--or lack thereof--of the young lawyer. By the end of Kasm's remarks, Baldwin writes,
The fun, by this time, grew fast and furious. The country people, who have about as much sympathy for a young town lawyer, badgered by an older one, as for a young cub beset by curs; and who have about as much idea or respect for poetry, as for witchcraft, joined in the mirth with great glee. They crowded around old Kasm, and stamped and roared as at a circus. The Judge and Sheriff in vain tried to keep order. Indeed, his honor smiled out loud once or twice; and to cover his retreat, pretended to cough, and fined the Sheriff five dollars for not keeping silence in court (564).
Court is a performance, a drama complete with a cast of characters, the tragic downfall of a chief character (in this case the young lawyer), humorous interludes, and a full house to cheer the events on.
In his "The Bench and the Bar," Baldwin again makes the reader aware of the performance aspect of the frontier courtroom. He writes, "After J.T. had concluded his opening speech, Washington rose to open for the defence. The speech was a remarkable specimen of forensic eloquence. It had all the charms of Counsellor Phillips' ornate efforts, lacking only the ideas" (680). Later he writes that, "T. never made a jury speech without telling an anecdote. Whatever else was omitted the anecdotes had to come" (680). Again, the law has a marked aspect of performance inherent in its practice on the frontier. In this case, "The jury having been sufficiently confused as to the law by which about twenty abstract propositions bearing various, and some of them no relation to the facts [. . .] retired from the bar to consider of their verdict" (681).
Similarly, "A Domestic Scene" and "Sloshing About" have their own audience. Though no mention of a courtroom audience is made directly in either piece, the very methods which they use to present the case, as well as its journalistic form, imply audience. These pieces are not written as small anecdotes or straight reports of things that occurred in the respective cases. Rather, teh journalists go to extreme lengths to establish the dialect and language used by the litigants and the legal officials, implying a secondary motive to their pieces. They are not merely an account of happenings, but pieces meant for entertaining readers with their colorful depiction of comic courtroom scenes, comedy promoted by the journalists' attention to comic incongruities.
"A Hanging Case in Kentucky," on the other hand, does make a brief but important mention of an audience at the conclusion of the trial when a verdict of murder in the first degree is rendered. There is the obvious attendance of Wright's wife, who lets her presence be known through her screams, shouting, "Oh, why did I do this? Why did I do this? Oh, how could those men find him guilty, when they have families? Oh, I will die!" (1). The reader is then tolod that "The screams gradually subsided into sobs of grief and anguish, while the mournful, harrowing scene afflicted judge, jury, bar, and spectators" (1). As in Baldwin's sketches, teh courtroom as a means of entertainment is made apparent. Unlike Baldwin, this specific mention of spectators is not one that influences the case of exposes a corruption within the system.
And finally, both Baldwin's sketches as well as "A Domestic Scene" and "A Hanging Case in Kentucky" share a common source for their inspiration--the realm of the domestic. Baldwin exploits this fodder in both "Simon Suggs Jr., Esq." and "Ovid Bolus, Esq., Attorney at Law and Solicitor in Chancery." Ovid's outrageous lying, the reader is told, began at home. "His experiments upon credulity, like charity, began at home. He had long torn down the partition wall between his imagination and his memory [. . .] all ideas were facts to him" (Baldwin 313). One of Simon's most successful cases occurred with his encouragement of his landlady to file for a bill of divorce in an effort to protect her property from her husband's creditors. Additionally, the reader is told of Simon's divorce from his wife "on the grounds of infidelity," though he "magnanimously [gives] her one of the Negroes, and a horse, saddle and bridle" (332). His next wife is the celebrated daughter of a Choctaw Indian warrior and coincides with Simon's appointment as claims agent for the Choctaws. In Baldwin's work, the domestic is a rich source for comic incongruity. "A Domestic Scene," of course, concerns itself entirely with the realm of the domestic, relying solely on Mary and Pierre's marital relationship as their impetus for their courtship appearance. "A Hanging Case in Kentucky" also relies upon marital jealousy and outrage as an impetus for Cushing's murder. These similarities suggest yet another dark comic strain with which both journalists and genteel humorists dealt.
Both the literature of the genteel humorists and frontier journalists shed light on the state of law and its guardians as America pushed westward and became, for a time, an entity separate from the established order and rule flourishing on the Eastern seaboard. Though its independence was finally firmly established, the nation's "growing pains" were not a thing of the past. Rather, America entered a new phase--and a new test--in her rise to meet the ideals of democracy and the dream of manifest destiny. The works of Baldwin as well as journalistic pieces such as "A Domestic Scene," "Sloshing About," and "A Hanging Case in Kentucky" share a surprisingly similar cultural record of these growing pains, even using similar techniques and trends in their exposition. Through the analysis of such works, a greater understanding of a bygone era in America's history is gained, an era characterized by re-evaluation and re-negotiation.
Anonymous. "A Domestic Scene." Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner 20 Oct. 1848, page 4.
Anonymous. "A Hanging Case in Kentucky." Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner 27 June 1854, page 1.
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