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The word "boycott" originated in Ireland around 1880.    

                              Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832–1897)


    How did the term "to boycott" originate?

     Northern Ireland of the 1880’s was mostly owned by relatively rich landowners, many of whom were of English descent and Protestants, while the land was worked by tenant farmers, mainly Irish and Catholic. As predictably happens whenever one group controls  the assets and there are numerous asset-less workers, the tenants were often exploited. In the 1870’s, there had been a depression, so farm prices dropped, as well as a famine. Many farmers were unable to pay their rent.

     Lord Erne, 3rd of his name, owned estates in County Mayo in Northwest Ireland.  His landlord’s agent was Captain Charles Boycott.  An Englishman, Boycott had a tenant farm himself.  As agent, his main job was collecting rent from Lord Erne’s tenant farmers.

     The tenant farmers had complaints. They felt their rent was too high; that they had no rights to improvements they made to the land they worked.  They felt the situation unfair, demanding at the least a reduction in rent following years of low prices for their produce and a lengthy famine. The Irish Land League was formed in 1879, campaigning for the three F’s:  Fair rent, Fixity of tenure, and Free sale.  For the next few years, the Land War ensued throughout Ireland.

     The main choice of protest entailed refusing to pay rent unless the landlord agreed to a rent reduction.  This tactic succeeded in getting a 25% rent reduction from a Catholic Bishop in one of the first protests.  But Lord Erne was made of sterner stuff. He refused his tenants' demands for lower rent and had Boycott evict the non-paying tenants.

      Previous similar incidents often turned violent; Irish revolts had been repeatedly crushed by England’s superior force; agrarian violence in the Land War resulted in many deaths, harsher criminal penalties, and eventually disbandment by force of the Irish Land League.  However, this time, the Irish adopted a new tactic.  

      On September 19th, 1880, Charles Stuart Parnell, the Irish Land League President. gave a speech. During it, Parnell asked: "What do you do with a tenant who bids for a farm from which his neighbor has been evicted?"  The crowd had some answers. "Kill him," "Shoot him," "Refuse him whiskey!" Parnell replied:

    “I wish to point out to you a very much better way – a more Christian and           charitable way, which will give the lost man an opportunity of repenting.

     “When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, Shun him in the   streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed”.

    Irish revolts which used force had repeatedly failed.  The new tactic—shunning, refusing to do business with them at all—was first tried against Lord Erne and Captain Boycott.

     The locals refused to harvest Lord Erne’s crops and isolated Boycott.  People refused to speak to him; no one would do business with him; washerwoman refused his laundry; the mail carrier refused to deliver his mail.  Boycott claimed the mail carrier—a mere boy!—had been threatened with violence if mail service continued.  Even shop owners in a nearby village refused to serve him.

     The matter garnered great attention when the London Times published Captain Boycott’s letter complaining about his situation.  The English newspapers sent correspondents to Ireland.  The English papers viewed the situation as Irish Nationalists victimizing a dutiful servant of a Peer of the Realm.  

      To be sure, Boycott's version of events, as supported by later witnesses, question whether the tenants' actions were violence free as Parnell's speech urged.  The sheriffs trying to evict Lord Erne's tenants, for example, swore they were pelted by stones and dung.  Thrown by women no less.

     To harvest Lord Erne’s crops, fifty protestant Orangeman traveled to Lord Erne's estate; to protect them, the crown deployed an entire troop regiment and more than 1,000 Royal Irish Constabulary.  Approximately £10,000 was spent to harvest £500 worth of crops.

     The shunning of Captain Boycott proved successful (depending on your point of view one must say) in at least a few respects:  

     Boycott left Ireland in December 1880.  

     British newspapers began using the “boycott” not as a proper name but to describe a tactic of protest.  The verb "boycott" entered the English, Dutch, and other lexicons.

     And, in 1888, a young man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandh arrived in London to study law.  Ghandi came to learn, eventually becoming a barrister. Ghandi refined the non-violent protest technique of a "boycott" and used it extensively.  It succored India’s independence from the British Empire.

Originally posted to MugWumpBlues on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 10:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Shamrock American Kossacks, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent. (14+ / 0-)

    Just a terrific read, and a great tale :)


    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 10:16:19 PM PDT

  •  This is apropos to something I've been thinking (10+ / 0-)

    about: How to defund the Corporate State.

    For example, can a list be made of all ALEC-member corporations and then use it to start a nationwide campaign to shame and boycott these companies.

    Can a list be made of all Koch Brothers' companies and start a campaign to educate the public about the anti-democratic influences of these guys.

    About a Walmart boycott?

    There are so many potential targets...

    •  Having boycotted Dow Chemical and "grapes" myself (4+ / 0-)

      I can tell you that boycotting ... like "keeping Kosher" -- FEELS really good for those who can do it.  It certainly reminds you "which side you are on" -- and it establishes your moral superiority to those who do less.  

      Self awareness and self esteem ARE good things whatever the anti-Public Education people say.

      (I should also admit that somewhat earlier in life, I boycotted Spanish Olives because Gen Francisco Franco was not only Still Alive ... he was still a Fascist and still firmly in control of the Spanish Republic.  Which was fine and noble on my part ... except for the fact that Spanish Olives were being grown in California, at the time.)

      BUT ... the last SUCCESSFUL boycott was the Montgomery Bus Boycott ... and it might be worth noting that THAT one wasn't won because the Montgomery  yielded to "Market Forces".  They were willing, and probably able to withstand whatever loss of revenue the boycott inflicted.

      But faced with an adverse Supreme Court ruling on the subject, not to mention a President who WOULD send Federal troops to enforce Supreme Court decisions -- Montgomery gave in.

      However, we regard the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a great success because it drew so much mainstream media attention to the struggle in the South.  It WAS such a great success in large part because it was a well coordinated, highly organized and LOCAL movement targeting a single, clearly defined objective, and because the boycotters were prepared to endure enormous personal inconvenience and sacrifice in service of the larger cause.  

      So ... a boycott of Walmart?  Sure.  Why not?  It's a point around which to raise consciousness and contributions.

      Make a list of Koch-suckers and boycott all of them?

      "I guess" ... and "whatever" -- "It couldn't hurt."

      Someone ought to do it.  Maybe.

  •  Just watched a movie (7+ / 0-)

    ... on Netflix about this, entitled "Captain Boycott." Who knows what liberties Hollywood took with the story, it managed to be both informative and entertaining, an old B&W entry from the days before TV.

    Mark Twain: It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

    by Land of Enchantment on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 10:38:01 PM PDT

    •  Captain Boycott (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      According to Wikipedia, there is a movie and 2 books

      "The first movie was "Captain Boycott’', a 1946 romantic novel by Phillip Rooney. This was the basis for the 1947 film ‘'Captain Boycott," ... More recently the story was the subject of the 2012 novel Boycott, by Colin C. Murphy."

      Any good?  Wiki lists some actors I never heard of.

      “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers

      by MugWumpBlues on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:01:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lessons taught by Irishmen in the 1880's should (8+ / 0-)

    be relearned today. The one action taken by Americans that strikes fear in the heart of corporate America is the boycott and its sister-in-protest, civil disobedience.

    It is astounding how a concerted boycott can get the attention - and grudging cooperation - of corporate America when its bottom line is threatened. The reduction in profits by boycotting companies that refuse living wages, safe working conditions and even minimum health benefits is a great convincer.

    What is equally astounding is how little the American public uses the boycott to make its demands known. Serfs obey power; free citizens stand up for their rights.

    •  the American public can't decide between Coke and (7+ / 0-)

      Pepsi, never mind boycott sugar and give a concerted effort to walk away from soda. I for one have been quietly, personally boycotting anything I discover relative to the Carlyle Group, which was why I knew who Bain was before the "debates" began.

      Call me unAmerican but I refuse to Run on Dunkin'.

      Meanwhile, before he passes on can someone please ask GHW Bush to reminisce about what was going on in his world the week after Labor Day, 2001?

      We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

      by nuclear winter solstice on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 04:42:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm with you. I do the same thing. (4+ / 0-)

        I teach my daughter why we can't eat at Olive Garden, and other places or services.  She gets it.  I would love it if this new generation would learn to just walk away.  Just walk away.  Get picky about where the dollars are spent.

        We know this works because some companies are already going green and putting the word out so those tuned to that green message will give them business.

        Look at the gun issue:  Starbucks has asked gun owners to leave their guns at home.

        Look at hate spewing churches...shine some light on them and people stop donating.  Looks like the Pat Robertson empire is deflating.

        We know this tactic works, we just need to do it all together.  It is my hope that this younger generation learns the benefits of pulling together.  Their voting rate is still low.  If every young voter grabbed one, just one, other nonregistered youth and got them set up to vote, they would have power.  With those two things, voting and the ability to walk away from power, they would own this nation.

      •  A major differnce between 19th century (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alwaysquestion, marykk, TomFromNJ

        rural Ireland and 21st Century America ...

        In rural Ireland, life without servants and tradespeople was more than "inconvenient" -- it was barely possible.

        Just keeping the fires tended, the food cooked and the laundry done was a  job for  one full time worker, and probably a helper as well.  Want the clothes ironed and the floors swept?  Hire another servant.

        And if on top of that the local butcher, baker and dairyman not only refuse to deliver, they refuse to do business at any price ...  well, judging by his photo, Captain Boycott might have been able to live on the quail and rabbits he shot and cooked for himself -- but not happily.

        So ... remembering that 50% of the American public cannot be bothered to vote, much less "sacrifice",  unless they perceive a direct, dire threat to their own well-being or treasured prejudices ...

        I'd say "boycotting" and "wearing lapel pins" have a similar impact on Corporate thinking.

        •  boycotting--how to apply pressure (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          That's not correct.   There are myraid circumstances.  Sometimes boycott's work sometimes they dont.

          The guys (or girls) running corporation's DO feel pressure.  And they try to make rational choices.  I've met some of these guys and I know how some of them think.

          One good example--if I have this right my memory is not 100% accurate-- is a Mother Jones story where the strike is something of a disaster but she gets to talk to Mellon I think it was.  And once she lays out the facts, he's like "I had no idea this was going on"  and makes adjustments to the workers are comfortable with their dealnot getting screwed over.

          In that last story, the work boycott somehow succeeded.  

          One person acting alone usually cannot accomplish too much.  

          There has also been times where the guys protesting really just want a free buck for themselves and they paid  $ just to make these guys go away.  Like paying off a drunken bum that accosts you when you leave a nice restaurant with a date.  You might pay just so he doesnt cause  a scene and spoil the evening.  You know he's going to take the $ and buy more booze.

          Depends.  Lots of different situations.    

          “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers

          by MugWumpBlues on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:11:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Andrew Mellon and Mother Jones were 19th Century (0+ / 0-)

            In fact ... they were contemporary to Captain Boycott and the Irish Land League  -- 1880s.

             And yes, at that time there WERE Robber Barons who wanted to be thought of as Philanthropists ... or at the very least felt that keeping ragged and starving workers   reflected as badly on them, personally, as keeping mangy and starving carriage horses.

            So ... in your example:  What, Where, Who, When, Why? Was it a boycott ... or was it a strike.  A boycott in support of a strike?  By whom.  And in the end was it the personal embarrassment, the boycott or the work stoppage, that brought Mellon to see reason?

            One great strength of the modern Corporation ... and HG Wells wrote about this in Anticipations (c. 1906) ... is that it is NOT an individual tycoon's enterprise, and subject to his/her whims and personal code of morality.  

            Responsibility is distributed among very large Boards of Directors ... and more importantly "hired help" -- the CEOs and their subordinates.

            It's a lot easier to do dirty deeds when "It's not my decision, the Committee voted for it ."

            That's why Colorado put three trip-levers on their gallows ... it soothed the sensibilities of those who had to carry out the executions.   (They later adopted  the automatic gallows so hangings could proceed without an actual Hangman or committee of hangmen. )

      •  The problem with boycotts (0+ / 0-)

        is the lack of alternatives. With few exceptions, a boycott of one bastion of evil usually just drives one right into the arms of another bastion of evil. What is one supposed to do when the only viable option is to choose from a list of assholes?

        •  Life is not perfect (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marykk, Egalitare

          Some problems are not tractable.  Life is not perfect.  Never was and never will be.  Even if you accept that, you can work at making it better.

          Step one is identifying which problems are intractable.  Step #2 not reflexively placing blame on people trying to deal with them or making a living working on them.  

          “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers

          by MugWumpBlues on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 11:16:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Blame? (0+ / 0-)

            What "blame?" How do you pull "blame" from that comment?

            Jesus Christ - is there anything that doesn't start an argument around here anymore?

          •  Step one (0+ / 0-)

            would be to drop the condescending attitude.

            •  woah (0+ / 0-)

              Woah like stopping a horse.  Sorry to offend you, buddy.  Disagreeing on nuances was not meant to be condescending.  IMO, describing someone as an "asshole" is placing blame.  My $.02.  Maybe they are.  But people IMO have the right to advance their own interests.  How far they go in advancing those interests is what can make someone an "asshole."  

              I don't like analysis based on situations where people take   reflexive positions one side good the other side bad.    That was my point.  Sorry for offending you.  I just meant to offer my proposed solution to the problem posed by your comment--take a step back and don't characterize everyone as an asshole--which was not meant to be  "condescending."  

              “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” ― Will Rogers

              by MugWumpBlues on Mon Sep 23, 2013 at 11:17:27 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Apology accepted: (0+ / 0-)

                But I hope you can understand how telling someone who has been on this site for many years (as evidenced by my ID#) that the world is not perfect could be interpreted as condescending.

                I think you might have misinterpreted my comment. The "assholes" in question are the targets of the hypothetical boycotts, not the persons/groups doing the boycotting. And it is often the case that boycotts are limited in their effectiveness by a lack of alternatives to patronize: e.g., one can buy toilet paper from the Koch brothers or from some other corporation that contributes millions to Republican candidates and PACs. That's not always true: sometimes there is a clear "good guy" to run to. But most of the time it just becomes a game of political whack-a-mole. I'm not saying that boycotts are always pointless, but I would suggest that they be employed very sparingly and only when clear results are possible; otherwise they are just wasted energy.

        •  Not always (0+ / 0-)

          The pressure to shun Limbaugh, for example, or to avoid Starbucks so long as guns were permitted.

          If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

          by marykk on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 03:35:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  It must become personal. (6+ / 0-)

    I almost never go into Wal-Mart.  The reason is simple enough to explain to a second grader, which I certainly have: CCC.  Cheap crap from China.  

    Courtesy is owed. Respect is earned. Love is given. (Unknown author, found in Guide to Texas Etiquette by Kinky Friedman)

    by marykmusic on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:54:37 AM PDT

  •  Very good explanation (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alwaysquestion, bumbi, marykk, Egalitare

    I have to be SO careful when I teach the prelude to the revolution and the non-importation acts. It's so tempting to say 'boycott," and so anachronistic.

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 07:22:03 AM PDT

  •  Thank you! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

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