The Myths and History of Red Hair

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Red Hair in America

America

Like Britain, America is another place that's had its fair share of red-haired leaders. In fact George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were all red-haired. Even the famed discoverer of the Americas, Christopher Columbus, was a freckle-faced redhead.

George Washington

As a young man Washington had red hair. This fact often gets overlooked as he also used to powder his hair white, giving him the iconic look that we still associate with him today. His red hair seems to have been forgotten even by earlier historians, as I discovered from the following article, published in the New York Times in 1922. It stated:

"Albert Bushnell Hart, Professor of Government at Harvard University, addressing a Washington's Birthday celebration here today, declared that the first President of the United States had red hair. "Although it has been ignored by posterity," he said, "Washington had red hair, covered by his wig"."

I've since read elsewhere that it was a myth that Washington wore a wig, inspired by his hair powdering, although it clearly does look like a wig in the representations of him.

Incidentally, I also came across a similar New York Times article, only this time about Robespierre. It stated that he had "blue eyes, carnation lips, and light chestnut hair." If this was the case it's interesting to note that Washington, Cromwell and Robespierre - the three respective leaders of the revolutions in England, France and America, were all owners of copper-coloured locks. The colour of revolution it would seem.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States and was nicknamed "Old Hickory." He was tall, with penetrating blue eyes and a shock of unruly red hair. He is now probably most famous for his opposition to the National Bank, believing it to increase the fortunes of an "elite circle" at the expense of the rest of the country.

Martin Van Buren

Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States. He was only five and a half feet tall and had red hair and red sideburns. He was nicknamed "the Little Magician" and "the Red Fox of Kinderhook," partly because of his appearance and partly because of his political astuteness. However, he is probably more famous today for the Van Buren Boys episode of Seinfeld than he is for his time in office.

Thomas Jefferson

In my opinion America's greatest president. Thomas Jefferson was pretty much the architect of modern America and served as President from 1801 to 1809. He also drafted the American Declaration of Independence. He was apparently very tall and bony in appearance and had red hair and a sprightly step. He also had a penchant for wearing red breeches, which were often ridiculed by his political opponents.

His unique dress sense was remarked upon by his contemporaries:

"His dress was simple, and adapted to his ideas of neatness and comfort. He paid little attention to fashion, wearing what-ever he liked best, and sometimes blending the fashions of several different periods. He wore long waistcoats, when the mode was for very short; white cambric stocks fastened behind with a buckle, when cravats were universal...[he] did nothing to be in conformity with the fashion of the day."

Like Washington, Jefferson was also the subject of a New York Times article about hair colour. This one was published in 1904 and it simply read:

"The Milwaukee News remarks: "Judge Parker's hair is red. A redhead has not yet been elected President." The News does unintentional injustice to the memory of one of the greatest of Presidents, who was also one of the greatest of Americans. Thomas Jefferson had red hair."

Another interesting source of information I found was a discourse titled, "The Virginia Convention of 1776," published in 1855. In it Jefferson is described thusly:

"His eminent qualities were set off by a graceful and imposing person. His height exceeded six feet; his form was spare; his step even in old age light and springy; his hair was inclined to red. His eyes were blue, and had a most benignant expression."

The discourse also contained some interesting information regarding the frequency of red hair in Virginia during the days of Jefferson.

The Great Seal of the United States with Red-haired Woman

"Red hair was another peculiarity of the Virginians. One who saw the Virginia troops pass through Petersburg on their way to join the army of Greene, told my informant that two-thirds of the officers had red hair. Jefferson, Campbell, the hero of King's Mountain, Arthur Campbell, John Taylor of Caroline, many of the valiant race of Green, had red hair."

I'll finished this piece with another passage that I came across in this discourse. It's not red hair related, but it bears repeating for its spirited tone. In it the writer compares the American Revolution with Britain's Glorious Revolution - the revolution that replaced James II with William of Orange.

"The British Revolution was but the exchange of one king who refused to obey the laws of the realm for another king who consented to obey them. It was the exchange of one hereditary dynasty for another hereditary dynasty to be removed, if ever, by another Revolution. But the American Revolution was to teach a far more imposing lesson than any that could be drawn from a mere change of rulers. It taught, and will teach forever, that the people are the only legitimate source of power, that all government is a trust to be executed for the benefit of those who create it, that personal worth, and not the worth or want of worth of ancestors, is the true test of merit and the rule of honor, that all the children of the same parents are entitled to equal favor in the eye of the law, that the soil beneath our feet belongs to the living not to the dead, and that man may worship God without the fear of man according to the dictates of his conscience."

Words like this go some way in explaining why the United States of America has become the great torchbearer of freedom and democracy, and why our beloved Britain has wallowed aimlessly in want of destiny. British people should read such words and feel how the weight of history implores us to modernise our country - or to put it more simply, remove the royal family and make the House of Lords a truly democratic body. We've come so far, but remain unfinished. Our destiny exiled across the seas. May God return it.

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