He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Franklin D. Roosevelt? Abraham Lincoln? Thaddeus Stevens? Benjamin Butler? Philip Cook? Bill Higgins? John Franklin Carter? Justin Herman? Wayne Hays? Alistair Cooke? Cordell Hull? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A participant in the harsh domain of political power often faces difficult decisions. For example, should one promote a member of one’s party even when one knows that the individual is a scoundrel? Also, should one maintain support for an ally even when the ally is disreputable or barbarous? The following dialog depicts a challenge and response:

“How can you support that scoundrel?”
“He may be a scoundrel, but he’s our scoundrel.”

Over the years many other words have been used to describe the miscreant, e.g., rascal, scalawag, scoundrel, so-and-so, son-of-a-bitch, and bastard. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a Wilmington, North Carolina newspaper editorial in 1868. The two participants in the dialog were not identified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We are forcibly reminded by these arguments of the Radicals of the reply of one of their party, in attempting to persuade a rather conscientious member to vote for a certain candidate whose character was none the best. “He is a great rascal,” indignantly proposed the friend. “Ah! but he is our rascal,” was the significant rejoinder.

Many instances conforming to this template have appeared during the ensuing decades. Here is a sampling showing the key line together with a year:

1868: Ah! but he is our rascal.
1875: Of course, of course, but which of ’em is our damned rascal?
1889: Yes, I know, but then he’s our scalawag.
1895: Never mind that; all we want to know is that he is our scoundrel.
1904: Yes, I know, but he is our scoundrel.
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our So and So!
1934: After all, Blank isn’t so bad. He’s our son-of-a-bitch!
1948: He’s a sonofabitch but he’s ours.
1962: He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.
1969: He was a Grade-A bastard, but at least he was our bastard and not theirs.

QI wishes to acknowledge researchers Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Barry Popik who identified many valuable examples.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Is a Great Rascal. Ah! But He Is Our Rascal

Notes:

  1. 1868 July 26, The Daily Journal, “Our Rebels”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Wilmington, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)