Barely literate internet trolls may seem a recent phenomenon but only the medium is new. Ask Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States. As can be imagined, Abe was less than popular with his constituents in the southern states. An expression of the president’s unpopularity can be found in this barely legible item of hate mail, sent to Lincoln by a Mr A G Frick in February 1861. Frick’s spelling, grammar and punctuation appear exactly as written:
Mr Abe Lincoln
if you don’t Resign we are going to put a spider in your dumpling and play the Devil with you you god or mighty god dam sunnde of a bith go to hell and buss my Ass suck my prick and call my Bolics your uncle Dick god dam a fool and goddam Abe Lincoln who would like you goddam you excuse me for using such hard words with you but you need it you are nothing but a goddam Black nigger
Mr A. G. Frick
[PS] Tennessee Missouri Kentucky Virginia N. Carolina and Arkansas is going to secede Glory be to god on high”
The Comstock Act (passed 1873) was a United States federal law that made sending obscene materials through the mail a criminal offence. Under the Comstock provisions, the definition of ‘obscenity’ was very broad. Some of the prosecutions launched by postal authorities involved sexual health material, marriage handbooks, ‘coming of age’ guides, saucy poetry and love letters. Even the most sacred of books was not sacred under the Comstock law. In 1895 John B. Wise of Clay County, Kansas was arrested and charged with sending obscene materials by mail. The material in question was a postcard containing two quotations from the Bible:
“Wise… sent a quotation of scripture by mail to a preacher friend, with whom he was having a scriptural controversy. As the quotation was obscene, the preacher got angry and caused Wise’s arrest for mailing obscene matter. The case is in the Topeka federal court… if the quotation is adjudged obscene [then] then Bible as a whole is unmailable matter.”
Wise’s case went to trial the following year and he was convicted by jury and fined $50. He declared his intention to appeal, however press archives do not contain any mention of this.