Hoax Archive: Time Periods
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Antebellum & Civil War Political Hoaxes
The Roorback Hoax, 1844 (August 1844)On August 21, 1844, the Ithaca Chronicle published an extract from a book titled Roorback's Tour Through the Western and Southern States in 1836 written by Baron Roorback. The extract, it said, had been sent to them by a correspondent who called himself "An Abolitionist."
Part of the extract described an encounter between Roorback and a gang of slaves led by slave traders on the Duck River in Tennessee. These slaves, Roorback was informed, belonged to James Polk, who in 1844 was running for President of the United States as the Democratic candidate. All of Polk's slaves had been branded with his initials. More→
The Southern Conspiracy to Confederate with Mexico, 1850 (August 1850)On August 3 and 4, 1850 a letter appeared in various newspapers throughout the United States detailing a sinister plot supposedly hatched by Southern conspirators to leave the Union and confederate with Mexico. According to the correspondent, who used three different pen-names ('Independent,' 'Veritas,' and 'Viator'), an influential Southern gentleman highly placed in the American government had traveled incognito to Mexico earlier that year in April. This gentleman had then contacted Mexican officials to whom he proposed a plan whereby the South would leave the Union and join together with Mexico. The capital of the proposed new nation was to be Mexico City.
Supposedly the Mexican foreign minister welcomed the offer, and the British charge d'affaires in Mexico City also encouraged it. However, the Mexican cabinet rejected it. Thereupon, the Southern emissary departed from Mexico and traveled to California.
Did the South really offer to confederate with Mexico in 1850, or was the entire story a hoax? The historian Mark Stegmaier investigated the issue and determined it was a hoax. More→
The Hopkins Hoax (March 1862)At the beginning of the Civil War wild rumors swept through the northern states about plots to overthrow the government. These plots were supposedly organized by various secret societies of Southern sympathizers. One group in particular, known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, was especially feared. This secret society really did exist, and many northerners feared that its members were organizing in the midwest to lead a pro-Southern insurrection.
Into this atmosphere of paranoia a letter appeared in March, 1862 published by two Republican papers that implicated ex-President Franklin Pierce, a democrat, in one of these feared treasonous plots. The letter appeared to be from a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle and described how "Presdt. P__" (easily recognizable to contemporary readers as an abbreviation for President Pierce) had secretly met with members of the Knights of the Golden Circle during a trip through Michigan, and was in league with them to overthrow the government. More→
The Miscegenation Hoax, 1863 (December 1863)Shortly before Christmas, 1863, a 72-page pamphlet appeared for sale on newsstands in New York City. It was titled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. The pamphlet opened with an explanation of its title. 'Miscegenation' was a word the author of the pamphlet had coined, and he explained that he had invented it by combining two latin words: miscere (to mix) and genus (race). The pamphlet went on to expound a social philosophy which, by modern standards, sounds enlightened, but which by the racist standards of 1863 was highly inflammatory. He wanted to promote the practice of miscegenation. In other words, he wanted to encourage white and black people to have children with each other. The pamphlet ended by suggesting that Lincoln should add a miscegenation plank to the Republican party platform.
It was eventually revealed that the Miscegenation pamphlet was written by a couple of Democratic newspapermen as a way to insert the inflammatory issue of miscegenation into the presidential election. They had hoped to spread the idea that Republicans encourage miscegenation, and by doing so turn white, working-class voters against the Republican party. The hoax didn't work. Republicans won the election anyway. But the hoax did bring a new word, miscegenation, into the English language. More→
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