This is off topic for me but I often remind my readers that when they frequent businesses and companies that support issues that they find abhorrent, for example Chick-fil-a ACTIVELY discriminates against LBGTQ and non-Christian people (both potential employees and patrons); and GM. UPS, American Airlines, Tyson Foods all made multimillion dollar donations to Donald Trump effectively funding the January 6 insurrection. When you give these people your money, YOU are supporting the politics and candidates they support and you are underwriting their crimes. Which brings us to Charles Boycott.
The act of boycotting is an ancient form of protest. We have evidence that the Romans did it. Boycotts were a highly effective tactic during the American Revolution. Those opposing slavery and all manner of social injustice are known to actively avoid certain commodities and businesses. The word “boycott,” however, is relatively new. It entered English usage in 1880 after a highly publicized campaign to ostracize a certain English land agent, Charles Cunningham Boycott, gained wide coverage in the British press.
In 1873, Boycott became the land agent to the 3rd Earl of Erne who owned more than 40,000 acres of land in Ireland. Boycott’s responsibility was to collect rents from tenant farmers and evict those who didn’t or couldn’t pay. Boycott, believed “in the divine right of the masters, and the tendency to behave as he saw fit, without regard to other people’s point of view or feelings.” Boycott’s high handedness and unsavory character made him unpopular with the tenants. He was known to exact fines on hapless tenants for the pettiest of transgressions, such as if their livestock strayed on to his lands, or if they were late to work. These fines sometimes exceeded their wages.
In 1879, Michael Davitt, the son of a small tenant farmer in County Mayo, formed the Irish National Land League, whose aims were to reduce rents and to stop evictions. The league’s ultimate goal was to make tenant farmers owners of the land they farmed. In September 1880, Lord Erne’s tenants were due to pay their rents. The tenants requested Lord Ernie a rent reduction of 25 percent because of poor harvest the previous year, but Lord Ernie would allow a concession of only 10 percent. Boycott was then granted permission to recover the outstanding rents, and evict eleven tenants who had refused to pay. Some of the tenants paid their rents in due course, but three families were subsequently evicted for non-payment.
The eviction of three tenants and their families became a rallying cause for Michael Davitt and his Land League. Outraged by the events, the Land League called a mass meeting to discuss how to rise against the tyranny. A few days previously, Charles Stewart Parnell, Member of Parliament and leader of the Land League, had given a speech in Ennis, County Clare to a crowd of Land League members, in which he spoke:
“When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.”
Based on these ideas, the Land League called a general strike and instructed everyone in the community to socially ostracize Boycott and cease all relations with him. Those who didn’t were threatened with “ulterior consequences”. Subsequently, Boycott found himself isolated in his community. No one would buy from him; no one would sell to him. He was unable to harvest his own land or transact business of any kind in the community. Even the postman stopped coming.
The Boycott affair became a big news in Ireland, England and other English-speaking countries. Boycotting dramatically strengthened the power of the peasants, and by the end of 1880, there were reports of boycotting from all over Ireland. The events at Lough Mask also increased the power of the Land League, and the popularity of Parnell as a leader. Soon, the new word was everywhere. The Illustrated London News described how “to Boycott” had already become a verb active, signifying to ‘ratten‘, to intimidate, to ‘send to Coventry’, and to ‘taboo’. Apparently, no other word in the English language existed that adequately described the dispute.
So, we are once again entering a political season. Once again there are principled candidates and unprincipled candidates (it seems party affiliation is not a clear indicator as both exist on both sides). They will ask for your money, they will ask the businesses you frequent for YOUR money, and history has shown that fundraising often contributes to success in politics. So, if someone like Charles Boycott is in the race, “…you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him – you must shun him in the streets of the town – you must shun him in the shop – you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, … by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old – you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed.”