to stonewall

 

Thomas Jonathan 'Stonewall' Jackson (1824-63), Confederate general during the American Civil War

Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (1824-63)

 

 

 

MEANING

 

To delay or obstruct a request, process, or person, by refusing to answer questions or by being evasive.

 

 

ORIGIN

 

In Australian political slang, the noun stonewall meant parliamentary obstruction and a body of obstructers. During a debate at the Legislative Assembly of Victoria on 30th November 1875, the parliamentarian Mr. G. Paton Smith said that

He wished to ask the honorable member for Geelong West whether the six members sitting beside him (Mr. Berry) constituted the “stone wall” that had been spoken of? Did they constitute the stone wall which was to oppose all progress—to prevent the finances being dealt with and the business of the country carried on? It was like bully Bottom’s stone wall. It certainly could not be a very high wall nor a very long wall if it only consisted of six; and, as to its thickness, it could not be very much thicker than the heads of the honorable members who composed it. It was a sort of wall like that which Humpty Dumpty sat on, and the honorable member for Geelong West might be compared to that celebrated personage.
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

During the same debate, G. Paton Smith used the noun stonewaller, which implies the existence of the verb to stonewall, meaning to practise obstruction:

The honorable member talked of a “stone wall;” but who were the stone wallers? Was the honorable gentleman who had just been returned for West Bourke a stone waller?

 

The English-born historian George William Rusden (1819-1903) explained the origin of this parliamentarian use of stonewall in History of Australia (1883). About obstruction at the same Legislative Assembly earlier in 1875, he writes:

The debate, which began on the 8th February, continued without intermission throughout the day and night, and until late on the 10th. Abuse of the forms of the House was to destroy its officials, if not some of its members. Abusing the heroic words of Stonewall Jackson, the Opposition applied to themselves the epithet made famous by the gallant Confederate General.

 

Rusden is referring to Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-63), Confederate general during the American Civil War, who had been awarded the epithet Stonewall, meaning one who seeks to confound by dogged resistance according to the 1917 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. In Lee’s Lieutenants, A Study in Command (1942-44 – abridged by Stephen W. Sears in 1998), the American historian Douglas Southall Freeman (1886-1953) wrote, about the death of the Confederate general Barnard Elliott Bee at the first battle of Bull Run in 1861:

Through the circulation of stories of the death of General Bee the South formed its first admiring estimate of General T. J. Jackson. The ‘Charleston Mercury’ described how Bee’s brigade “dwindled to a mere handful [...] He rode up to Gen. Jackson and said ‘General, they are beating us back.’ The reply was, ‘Sir, we’ll give them the bayonet.’ General Bee immediately rallied the remnant of his brigade, and his last words to them were: ‘There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me.’”

 

According to the above-mentioned edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the parliamentarian sense of to stonewall is from cricket slang, in which this verb means to bat extremely defensively. But the cricket term represents more probably a separate metaphor. Paying homage to the English cricketer Henry Jupp (1841-89), The Australian Town and Country Journal of 1st June 1889 had:

Through his rock-like steadiness as a bat, especially in defence, Jupp earned for himself the epithet “Young Stonewall;” Mortlock* having already achieved the distinction which belonged to “Old Stonewall.”

* William Mortlock (1832-84) was an English cricketer.

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