“Persecuted For Wearing The Beard”

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 11 2011 @ 3:46pm

A reader writes:

I've been reading through Frank Mott's A History of American Magazines vol. 1, 1741-1850 (1930), when I came across a paragraph about beards in the 1840s.  The first half is – to a rather bored, bearded grad student anyway – rather funny.  I thought of your blog while reading it and figured I should share:

Beards became a political issue for a time in the early forties.  For several decades before that they had been almost unknown.  Joseph Palmer, the Joseph-palmer-grave transcendentalist, "expressed himself" by wearing a long beard, which caused no small excitement wherever he went; finally, he injured some representative of the established order who attempted to cut the unusual appendage off by duress, and was thrown into jail.  If he had been a martyr to some great religious faith instead of to the sanctity of his beard, he might now be celebrated rather than forgotten. 

Philobarbus, in the Southern Literary Messenger, commented in 1842 upon "the temporary obscuration of beards for nearly a century past—and their wonderful resuscitation at the present time."  The secretary of the navy, however, considered whiskers of certain styles and lengths in contravention of discipline, and issues a famous "Whisker Order" bringing them within proper limits, thus almost causing open mutiny in the United States Navy.  Beards continued to grow in spite of all obstacles, official and tonsorial; the Mexican War appears to have helped the fad along.  (477-478)

(Photo via Jon Dyer. The inscription reads, "Persecuted for wearing the beard.")