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The myth of Uncle Sam

The myth of Uncle Sam
I. Introduction
Whether in times of war or crisis, in the United States, one
figure comes back and turns out to be the propaganda vector
which incites the people to the war, it is a judicious way to
create the citizen-soldier, and this figure is called Uncle Sam.
II. Who is Uncle Sam ?
Uncle sam is a national personification of the American
government, in all of its apparitions, we can see it in posters
calling for the war like the famous “I want you in the U.S
army” .
In fact, this popular symbol of the American culture
appeared for the first time in the First World War to
transmit a patriotic emotion to the nation and calling young
people to fight.
He usually appears in comics, like an Hero who struggles for
noble causes, wants the best for his country and who
advocates equality, peace and liberty. All that, in a suit
bearing the American flag.
As a result, subconsciously, we see the American
government like a power which guarantees a protective
Physically, Uncle Sam is dressed with a star-spangled suit,
the always piercing look denoting a great confidence, his age
confers him a particular Wisdom ; what makes him the
perfect archetype to be the mascot of the United States.
III. The History of Uncle Sam
Although, the historians aren’t totally in agreement, the
most plausible hypothesis is that Uncle Sam was named after
Sam Wilson, a Butcher who sold his meat to the U.S authority
during the war and was used to put his salty meat into
barrels marked with the initials : “U.S”.
The soldiers were saying, surely for joking, that the initials
means “Uncle Sam” in place of “United States”.
Added for that, Samuel Wilson was fair, honest, and devoted
to this country, his personality, will inspire, later, James
Montgomery Flagg for his famous poster “I want you to the
U.S army” in 1917 for the First World War.
However, we could note some divergences between, the
physical portrait of Uncle Sam, and that of Sam Wilson, for
example, Wilson was clean-shaven while Uncle Sam has
usually a white goatee. So, its appearance is more the result
of the artist and political cartoonist’s imagination .
IV. The different theories
Several theories about
Thomas Nast, a prominent 19th-century political cartoonist,
produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam.
However, historians and collectors take note: Many of Nast's
cartoons may appear to depict Uncle Sam, while in fact they
depict Yankee Doodle or "Brother Jonathan."
It is easy to mistake a Brother Jonathan cartoon for one of
Uncle Sam, since both figures wear star-spangled suits of
red, white and blue. As a rule, Brother Jonathan was drawn
with a feather in his cap, while Uncle Sam was not; and Uncle
Sam is nearly always drawn with a beard, while Brother
Jonathan was clean-shaven.
Some have suggested that Dan Rice, a 19th-century clown,
inspired Thomas Nast's Uncle Sam cartoons. Rice's clown
costume consisted of a hat and star-spangled suit, much like
the costume worn by Uncle Sam. However, Rice was born in
1823, and did not begin clowning until 1844; and Uncle Sam
cartoons appeared as early as 1838. Therefore, it seems
unlikely that Rice was, in fact, the inspiration for Nast's
The Sam Wilson’s theory is therefore the most reliable.
V. The National Icon
From his original inception as merely a phrase used amongst
the troops of 1812, to a character with actions and
personality, and then to an icon recognizable around the
world, Uncle Sam has fulfilled many roles in the construction
of American symbology. He has been an icon with which
Americans could identify, and by which others identified us.
On another level, Uncle Sam has helped to define the
relationship between the American people and their
While Uncle Sam is globally associated with the nation as a
whole, for many Americans Sam is a symbol specifically of
the federal government. He is comparable to a kinder,
gentler, Big Brother. Yet despite this strong relationship in
popular culture between Uncle Sam and the government, he
was not officially adopted until 1950. It was then that the
State Department finally recognized the need for a
standardized image of Uncle Sam, not only for Americans -who had a pretty good idea what he looked like and stood for
already -- but especially for the rest of the world, which had
been producing its own, often uncomplimentary, versions.
VI. Conclusion
Today Uncle Sam has entrenched himself in American
symbology. His image is permanently intertwined with the
concept of the nation that the American public holds in its
mass consciousness -- an image which also rests in the minds
of every want-to-be citizen not yet or just recently arrived.
Perhaps even more important than the part Sam plays in our
own self-identification, is his crucial role in the way the rest
of the world relates to us. For all intents and purposes, Uncle
Sam is here to stay.
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