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Life on the Road (USA, 1860)

circus tent

New York Clipper, 29 September 1860

We have on more than one occasion called attention to the imposition practised upon travelling circuses, menageries, and such like shows; and circumstances have recently occurred, which impel us to revert to the subject, and show the wrong done our travelling friends. In New Hampshire, they extort from circus people, for a license to exhibit in each town, thirty dollars a day; in Vermont, they won't allow either circus or caravan to appear at all; while in Tennessee, and one or two other Southern States, the tax amounts almost to a total prohibition, being one hundred dollars for each show — or two hundred dollars a day — and fifty dollars an evening for musical entertainments. It is proper to state, however, that the mass of the people are everywhere unanimously in favor of the show: it is only the puritanical and narrow-minded officials, stupidly put in office by them, who make the objection. There never was a more reviled, slandered and generally abused professional class than show-people; nor did a more outraged, cheated, plundered, persecuted, and, at the same time, enduring set of victims ever invoke public justice or appeal to popular sympathy. In their perambulating excursions through the country, showmen, always and everywhere, seem, as if by common consent, to be legitimate prey to all with whom they have dealings. Everybody wrongs them — from the stable-boy that cleans the horses up to that sublime dignitary, the "village trustee." The first robs the beast of his oats, while the other compels the man to bribe him with family tickets to an indefinite amount, before he will grant him a license to pursue his lawful business. Outsiders in general vie with each other who shall steal the most, or which can excel in meanness and duplicity in all their transactions with the show. Villainous hotelkeepers, hypocritical town-officers, slandering and scurrilous newspaper editors, foul-mouthed town-loungers, and even sanctified preachers join in the universal clamor — all striving which can say the most ill-natured things against, or reap the greatest harvest from, travelling circuses and caravans. All this spite, envy, jealousy, narrow-mindedness, and grasping egotism, has its origin in the general belief that there are no expenses attending public exhibitions, and that every quarter taken in at the door is so much clear profit to the proprietors. Under this amiable hallucination all the world and his family give themselves a license to extort from showmen whatever they can squeeze out of them. The same game is played in every city or petty village whenever an exhibition — particularly a circus or menagerie — is announced. It is commenced the very moment the agent appears to make his application and continues up to the settlement with the last extortionate landlord, and the payment in full of every rascally stable-keeper into whose clutches they may have the misfortune to fall. Some of these same rustic vampires have the meanness frequently to encourage vagabond country scamps and idle boys to destroy the showmen's property. And whenever this violence is successfully resisted, as it invariably is, by giving the ringleaders of the dunghill rabble a sound thrashing, the inoffensive strangers are always sure to be arrested, charged as the aggressors, and made to pay blackmail to some of the town dignitaries, an imposition which they submit to rather than to fall into the hands of ragged pettifoggers, backed up by ignorant and corrupt magistrates and other official vermin well known in the rural districts. This state of things would not long exist if the people would show less apathy at their elections, and choose none but honest, capable, and liberal-minded men to represent them.

Source: "The New York Clipper", Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection
Page created: 09-VI-2016
Last updated: 11-VI-2016