Now that we are approaching March, most of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are dreaming of warmer weather as we start to see patches of green sprouting up around us.
I sat down to think about the words “everything green” and was amazed at the number of images brought to mind. Some are associated with facial expressions: You look green, meaning one who has lost color and looks ill or “green with envy, one who is sneering with jealousy over another’s possessions. Then there are those phrases that apply to something or someone new, inexperienced or untested. New lumber is “green lumber”; a newcomer to a job is called a “greenhorn.” Not surprisingly, the word green is applied in the plant world. If you have a gift for gardening, you have a “green thumb.” When told to eat her vegetables, a child may be told to “eat your greens.” There is another set of words referring to places. A greenbelt is an area of land that is left largely undeveloped to conserve the environment. A “green room” is a lounge where performers wait before going on stage or television. Even the White House has a green room in which guests gather before a formal state affair begins.
In mid-March our attention turns to St. Patrick’s Day and the “wearing of the green.” Actually, blue was the color originally associated with St Patrick. The term “wearing of the green” came from an Irish ballad written in the 18th century. Because the country of Ireland has more than 400 shades of green within it and became known as the “Emerald Isle,” green seems more appropriate. Also, St. Patrick is alleged to have used the green Irish shamrock to explain the Trinity. The Irish flag contains the color green. Over time the color associated with him became green. Today cities like New York and Chicago dye street lines and rivers green for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
What I find especially interesting is the story of the “greenback.” In 1862 after fighting the Civil War for one year, it became evident that war would be long and costly. State banks had already placed paper money in circulation, but the federal government issued gold coins only, which were rapidly disappearing as the war continued. So on February 25, 1862, the United States government approved the issue of paper money not backed with precious metals but with “full faith of the government” to be valid for all public and private debts. To avoid counterfeiting this paper, a patented ink which was difficult to erase and strictly guarded as a secret formula, was used on one side of these notes. The green color was difficult to photograph or copy. Because of this green color, Union soldiers who received them as pay began calling them greenbacks. Soon everyone else followed suit. Similarly, the gray or blue paper money issued by the Confederacy were known as bluebacks or gray backs.
Throughout the rest of the 60’s and 70’s the federal government issued approximately three to four million of these greenbacks not backed with gold. The increased amounts of cash was attractive to southerners and westerners who did not want to rely on the national banking system of the east which limited their ability to expand. Many of these proponents known as Greenbackers who sprang from agrarian, Jacksonian roots distrusted banking and big business. The debate continued until the Greenback party could not agree on other issues and their opponents succeeded in returning to the gold standard in 1879.
We find ourselves in the same controversy today asking questions about how much money should be in circulation,and how it should be controlled. In any case, the greenbacks are here to stay.
Enjoy the green that is popping up all around us. Happy Spring!
Barbara Ann Mojica