“COLUMBIA” AS SYMBOL: VALUE NEXUS OF PRE-CIVIL WAR AMERICA
Symbols, other than in human form, reflect the values of an age. McClung Fleming’s “Symbols of the United States: From Indian Queen to Uncle Sam” is an illustration of the importance of Symbol as reflection of the values of an age. (Archives – Wintherthur Museum). Between the years 1755 to 1850 some of these symbols were used and the time periods of their use overlapped. The Indian Princess, the Neo-classical Plumed Goddess, the American Liberty, Columbia, Brother Jonathan, and Uncle Sam–each suggests something about the society in which it was popular, the rise of American nationality, and the major values associated with America. My interest focuses primarily on the symbol Columbia because it best illustrates the value nexus of pre-Civil War America. Columbia first appeared in the 1730’s, but by 1810 it had changed in meaning. An unknown artist, in 1810, showed Columbia holding an American flag in the left hand, placing a wreath upon the marble bust of Washington, crushing the British Crown beneath her feet. Columbia appeared everywhere in the Pre-Civil War Era symbolizing first, liberty, and secondly, Columbus’ voyage. The voyage from Europe represented Europe as the quest in a radically new world, the promise of finding earth’s first paradise in the East by the general movement westward. Columbia represented the fulfillment of history by a return to Eden. The promise of finding earth’s original paradise in the East necessitated a movement to the West to complete the full circle leading to the Eden somewhere in the East. Columbia, however, came to mean in the Pre-Civil War Republic the belief in liberty. Liberty and Columbia soon fused into American liberty–an image of the Republic’s great historic mission with its great moral ideal. Columbia as symbol suggested the quest for national solidarity, a society built upon morality, and a nation with a unique world mission.