US Bachelorhood in Historical Context: The 18th Century
In Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States, author John Gilbert McCurdy locates the rise of bachelorhood "as a distinct identity and unique cultural category" around 1750. Male singleness had become a recurring theme in social and political bulletins, inspiring debate on the nature of the unmarried male.4 Take, for example, this passage from a letter by American statesman Benjamin Franklin to an acquaintance, John Alleyne, in 1768, applauding his recent marriage:
I am glad you are married, and congratulate you most cordially upon it. You are now in the way of becoming a useful citizen; and you have escaped the unnatural state of celibacy for life; the fate of many who never intended it; but how, having too long postponed the change of their condition, find, at length, that it is too late to think of it; and their lives in a situation that greatly lessens a man's value.5
General opinion held that men who remained in the bachelor stage were going against nature and were basically unpatriotic for not fulfilling their procreative duties.6
Discussion on what to do about the expanding bachelor class reached its peak during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Single men were looked on with wariness, yet they were an important contingent of Revolutionary service members. If a married man was enlisted and killed in war, then the government would be responsible for his dependents. The unmarried carried no such liability, and they had good cause of their own to enroll in military service. Propertyless men in the stage between dependent youth and marital attachment were denied suffrage and the opportunity to hold office. In other words, they were not deemed to be complete citizens. Privileges earned through armed service and other obligations provided an opportunity for bachelors to gain equal rights.7 [NEXT PAGE]
Michael Krueger's Endless Colony series of drawings (2009–2010) encapsulates the experience of the unmarried male living through the American Revolution. In Tidepool (2009) (figure at left), Krueger's cavalryman has apparently drifted from his troop. We meet him advancing toward a pool of water that will cast back the outward show of his stage of life—being neither master nor dependent, neither father nor son. Krueger depicts a bachelor torn between the expectations of a patriarchal society and his unclear independence within it. Endless Colony concludes with Born to Lose (2010) (figure at right), which steers us toward a resignation. Revolutionary-era bachelors suffered relentless scrutiny, and, even after faithful service, were required to make financial reparation for their way of living.8Born to Lose is a declaration of masculine independence nonetheless. Look at the rock wall: Krueger's cavalrymen have carved their own subversive narrative in terms we can understand: names of heavy metal and punk rock bands—Iron Maiden, Black Plague, and W.O.R.M.—appear alongside caricatures of naked women.
Figure at left: Tidepool, from the Endless Colony series, 2009–10, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Figure at right: Born to Lose from the Endless Colony series, 2009–10, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 18.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
4. John Gilbert McCurdy, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 161.
5. Benjamin Franklin, The Complete Works in Philosophy, Politics, and Morals, of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin (London: J. Johnson & Co., 1806), 476–77.
6. John Gilbert McCurdy, Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 116.
7. Ibid., 8.
8. Ibid., 10.