The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America

By Joseph Andrew Orser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Southern Curiosities

The Siamese twins had long been used ironically as symbols of American nationalism. The earliest pamphlet about the twins published in the United States in the early 1830s featured a title page image of a flying eagle carrying a banner that read “E Pluribus Unum,” and beneath that was the phrase “United We Stand.” This appeared opposite a frontispiece that pictured the twins as dark-skinned boys wearing queues and loose Oriental garments. The 1836 pamphlet published under the twins’ direction similarly featured a bald eagle clutching the national shield, beneath which were the words “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Analyzing the Siamese twins and American identity, scholar Allison Pingree argued that these exhibition booklets, which juxtaposed the parlance of the day describing conjoinedness—“united brothers” or “united twins”—with the symbolism of the American eagle holding an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, were playing to political concerns of the period. Even as nationalists appropriated the bond to symbolize union, proponents of states’ rights could claim that “connecting the states too closely was ‘monstrous’ and excessive.”1

This symbolism of the 1830s carried even more resonance in 1860. By this time, with the twins famously slaveholders and family men, representations of the twins and union were framed around the theme of a house divided, brother against brother, and the absurdity and tragedy of the moment. The political imagery began in July when the Louisville Journal took aim at discord in the Democratic Party. “It is said that Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins, differ in politics,” the widely reprinted “news” item reported. “Both are veteran democrats, but Chang is now for Breckinridge, and Eng for Douglas.”2 The idea that the twins, longtime Whigs, supported either Democratic candidate—Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, who many southerners believed would not protect slavery, or Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who was staunchly proslavery—apparently

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The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Monster Now before Us 1
  • Chapter One - In and Chun 9
  • Chapter Two - Under Their Own Direction 37
  • Chapter Three - The Connected Twins 76
  • Chapter Four - Asiatic Americans 105
  • Chapter Five - Southern Curiosities 147
  • Chapter Six - Over Their Dead Bodies 174
  • Epilogue - The Past Rears Its Head 193
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 253
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