My name is Haines

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The expression, "My name is Haines," meaning "I need to leave now!" gained momentary currency in the mid-nineteenth century. It supposedly originated with a man named Haines's encounter with Thomas Jefferson. The story of this encounter first appeared in the New Orleans Weekly Picayune on February 17, 1840[1] and was subsequently published by a number of other newspapers around the country during 1840 and again in 1845. The story is as follows:

ORIGIN OF THE TERM. There are thousands of people in this country who make use of the common expression "My name is Haines," when they are about leaving a place or party suddenly, yet few know from whence the expression is derived. A more common saying or one in more general use, has never been got up. We hear it in Maine and Georgia, Maryland and in Arkansas; it is in the mouths of old and young, the grave and gay -€“ in short, "My name is Haines," enjoys a popularity which no other slang or cant-phrase has ever attained. "I'm o-p-h, "I must mizzle," "I must make myself scarce," are frequently used, but the expression which heads this article leaves them all out of sight. Having said this much of the reputation of the phrase, be it our next care to give its origin.

Some thirty-five years since, a gentleman named Haines was travelling on horseback in the vicinity of Mr. Jefferson's residence in Virginia. Party spirit was running extremely high in those days. Mr. Jefferson was President and Haines was a rank Federalist, and as a matter of course, a bitter opponent of the then existing administration and its head. Not being acquainted with that gentleman, also travelling on horseback, his party zeal soon led him into a conversation on the all-absorbing topic. In the course of the conversation Haines took particular pains to abuse Mr. Jefferson; called him all kinds of hard names, ran down every measure of his administration, poked the non-intercourse and embargo acts at him as most outrageous and ruinous, ridiculed his gun-boat system as preposterous and nonsensical, opposed his purchase of Louisiana as a wild scheme - in short, took up every leading feature of the politics of the day, and descanted upon them and their originator with the greatest bitterness. Mr. Jefferson, all the while, said but little. There was no such thing as getting away from his particular friend, and he did not exactly feel at liberty to combat his arguments.

They finally arrived in front of Mr. Jefferson's residence, Haines, of course, not acquainted with the fact. Notwithstanding he had been vilified and abused "like a pickpocket," to use an old saying, Mr. Jefferson, with true Virginia hospitality and politeness, invited his travelling companion to alight and partake of some refreshments. Haines was about getting from his horse, when it came into his head that he should ask his companion's name.

"Jefferson," said the President, blandly.

"The d___l! What, Thomas Jefferson?"

"Yes sir, Thomas Jefferson."

"President Thomas Jefferson?" continued the astonished Federalist.

"The same," rejoined Mr. Jefferson.

"Well, my name is Haines!" and putting spurs to his horse, he was out of hearing instantly.

This, we have been informed, was the origin of the phrase.[2]

We have found no record of such an encounter in Jefferson's papers, but the story bears a general resemblance to other stories about ordinary citizens unknowingly encountering Jefferson. Lucia Stanton, in her article, "'A Well-Ordered Household': Domestic Servants in Jefferson's White House," attributes the proliferation of such stories in part to Jefferson's habit of taking solitary rides each day: "The absence of an attending servant on Jefferson's daily rides shocked Washington society and spawned numerous stories of his encounters with citizens who abused their president without realizing they were conversing with him."[3]

Footnotes

  1. Read, Allen Walker. "The First Stage in the History of 'O.K'," American Speech 38(1):5-27
  2. Transcription from the Raleigh Register and North-Carolina Gazette, Friday, March 13, 1840
  3. Lucia Stanton, "'A Well-Ordered Household': Domestic Servants in Jefferson's White House," White House History 17(2006): 13.

Further Sources

  • Bernard, John. Retrospections of America, 1797-1811. New York: Harper, 1887. See pp. 240-2 for a rather extensive description of an "anonymous" Jefferson encounter.
  • Randolph, Domestic Life, 289-90. In this account, Jefferson meets a political detractor from Kentucky and invites him to dinner.

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Discussion

says

This is a great example of a social phenomenon which I personally find fascinating, and which is probably common in some form or another with all public figures - the "I met Jefferson and didn't know it" story. There are at least four or five stories that I know of that tell of someone meeting an anonymous stranger, usually verbally abusing him, and then finding out later that the anonymous stranger was Mr. Jefferson. Oops! For some other examples, check out the footnotes in this article.

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