Does Your Mother Know You're Out?
DESCRIPTION: "Does your mother know you're out? (x2), How are you, Horace Greeley? Does your mother know you're out?" "Mother, is the battle over? What are the men about? How are you, Horace Greeley? Does your mother know you're out?"
EARLIEST DATE: 1942 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: political battle
1872 - Horace Greeley's presidential campaign
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
BrownIII 398, "Does Your Mother Know You're Out?" (1 text)
cf. "Mother, Is the Battle Over?" (floating lyrics)
NOTES: The editors of Brown speculate that this is from Horace Greeley's 1872 presidential run. Greeley lost decisively to Ulysses S. Grant, then died, and his electoral votes went to the four winds.
DeGregorio,p. 267, quotes Eugene H. Rosebloom as saying "Never in American history have two more unfit men been offered to the country for the highest office." Greeley's biggest single issue was probably the corruption that had occurred under Grant (who had no political background at all and was unable to control his underlings; indeed, the Republicans booted his 1868 vice president off the 1872 ticket because he was associated with corruption). But Greeley had no background in politics either.
Randall/Donald, p. 15, described Greeley this way: "Animated by enthusiasms that tended toward fanaticism, and marred by personal eccentricities that laid him open to ridicule, this Yankee printer had risen from stark poverty to influence and power; and, as a supporter of the Whig and later the Republican party, had demonstrated in areas widely distant from his sanctum the tremendous force of political journalism. With defects of character that were to grow with the years, he showed the finer idealism of his ardent nature in efforts to improve the workingman's lot, in generous support of movements for popular education, and in championship of progressive social movements generally."
Gillette/Schlesinger, pp. 1313-1314, reports, "'Uncle' Horace was a gawky man with a big round face and bald head, neck whiskers, drooped eyeglasses, crumpled clothes, and a slouched figure. his white hat, squeaky voice, and illegible handwriting reinforced an impression of eccentricity. And his views were often no less peculiar.... At various times, he was a utopian socialist, a spiritualist, a vegetarian, and a prohibitionist. He even campaigned against women's corsets.... His opinions were often excenntric, his partisanship intense, his language intemperate, and all who disagreed with him weew denounced vehemently. Charles A. Dana of the Sun called him 'a visionary without faith, a radical without root, an extremist without persistency, a strifemake without courage....' Greeley, as fierce crusader, noisy crackpot, and unconventional personality, both appealed to and was joked about by nineteenth-century Americans, who read and relished his newspaper for all those reasons."
Morison, p. 730, says of his 1872 run for the Presidency, "As a 'headliner,' Horace Greeley could not have been bettered. In his thirty years' editorship of the New York Tribune he had built it up to be the country's leading newspaper, whose articles and editorials were quoted nationwide. His personal integrity and moral earnestness were unquestioned. But he was also something of a crackpot... and at one time or another he had espoused unpopular causes such as socialism, temperance, spiritism, and women's rights."
He was, of course, the editor of the New York Tribune, which he founded in 1841, and, yes, he did write, "Go west, young man" (DAB, volume IV, p. ).
Bunting, p. 127, says he was "founder and editor of the New York Tribune, had argued with characteristic brio in behalf of both sides of most major issues for the Civil War and its aftermath. He was known as a strong supporter of high tarriffs; he was on record, many times, as having been violently critical of the Democratic party, with whom the liberal Republicans proposed to ally themselves for the election. He seemed, further, to lack gravitas. In appearance he was a character out of illustrations in Dicken's novels: plump, with a bald red head like a pumpkin, frequently dressed in bizarre dusters, given to strange fads and nostrums -- like arguing for the particular agricultural efficacy of human manure."
Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1315, "[H]is journalistic assets were political liabilities. His zeal as an editor seemed scatterbrained demagoguery on the stump. His openmindedness on the editorial page appeared emtpy-mindedness in politics. His enthusiasm generated familiarity with readers, but his lack of reserve failed to command their respect at the polls. Indeed, Greeley lacked both sense and nerve, lacked the politician's intution, when to speak and when to remain silent...."
"The Greeley choice came as a shock to many people. Greeley, for all his intelligence, sincerity, idealism, and journalistic aplomb, was erratic, crotchety, unpredictable, and thoroughly incompetent in the art of politic. About all one could say of him as a candidate was that he was a national celebrity. With his cherubic face, big blue eyes, pilgarlic pate, steel-rimmed glasses, and shuffling gait, he looked more like a character out of a Dickens novel than a presidential hopeful" (Boller, p. 128).
According to Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1317, many Democrats found Greeley's nomination shocking; he largely refused to work with the party and was by no means a regular Democrat. (Of course, his opponent U. S. Grant was not a regular Republican, and admitted to having voted for Buchanan in 1856.) But no one else came forward to deny Greeley the nomination; the 1872 Democratic convention lasted only six hours (Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1318). Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1323, quotes a contemporary observer as saying, "Never was a good cause so badly handled."
It was a truly absurd situation. In early 1872, a group of disaffected Republicans, who called themselves "Liberal Republicans," held a convention and, for five ballots, deadlocked between several respectable candidates including Charles Francis Adams. On the sixth ballot, the convention made a surprise turn to Greeley. So he was initially nominated as a Republican protest candidate. But the Democrats, who would take anyone over Grant, decided to back Greeley rather than split the opposition (Boller, pp. 127-129).
"Given the two candidates -- a 'man of no ideas,' as someone put it, versus a 'man of too may' -- the campaign was predictable" (Boller, p. 129). "Greeley made a strong speaking campaign, but the Republicans had the money and the organization, and the average citizen, having to choose between an old soldier whose very name stood for patriotism, and a journalist who had been as often wrong as right, voted for Grant. The President carried all but six states with a popular vote of 3.6 million as against 2.8 million for his opponent" (Morison, p. 730).
Indirectly, the effect on the political situation was dramatic. Liberal Republicans, having despaired of Grant and the spoils system, had turned to Greeley -- and, as an organization, were destroyed by his defeat (Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1329). Liberalism as a political force in America was ruined for a quarter century -- until revived in the crackpot populism of William Jennings Bryan. Greeley probably would have been a terrible President -- but his defeat led to a period of stagnation probably worse than any except that from 1836 to 1860 which led to the Civil War.
It's likely enough that this song comes from the 1872 campaign -- described as exceptionally bitter, and also quite strange, given that Greeley was endorsed by both ends of the spectrum: the independent (generally radical) Republicans *and* by the reactionary Democrats. The pressure of the campaign was so extreme that Greeley, after his defeat, his wife's death (just before election day; Gillette/Schlesinger, p. 1329), and his discovery of a sort of palace coup at the Tribune, went insane after the election, and died soon thereafter.
And Greeley during the Civil War was quite strident and also rather unstable; one can easily imagine someone at the time taunting him, "Does your mother know you're out?"
Or it could be two mixed-up songs. It rather looks that way to me.
According to Partridge's entry on "Mother know you're out," that question itself was used at least as early as 1838, in Bentley's Miscellany. It was "addressed to a person showing extreme simplicity or youthful presumption." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.7
- Boller: Paul F. Boller, Jr., Presidential Campaigns, second revised edition, Oxford University Press, 1984-2004
- Bunting: Josiah Bunting III, Ulysses S. Grant [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2004
- DAB: Dumas Malone, editor, Dictionary of American Biography, originally published in 20 volumes plus later supplementary volumes; I use the 1961 Charles Scribner's Sons edition with minor corrections which combined the original 20 volumes into 10
- DeGregorio: William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents , 1993 edition, Barricade Books
- Gillette/Schlesinger: William Gillette, "Election of 1872," in Arthur M. Schlsinger, Jr., editor; Fred L. Israel, associate editor, History of American Presidential Elections 1789-1968, volume II (covering 1848-1896), Chelsea House, 1971
- Morison: Samuel Elliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press, 1965
- Partridge: Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (combined fifth edition with dictionary and supplement), Macmillan, 1961
- Randall/Donald: J. G. Randall, The Civil War and Reconstruction, second edition by David Donald, Heath, 1961
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