Country music legend Charlie Daniels once said, “We can get rid of red tape.” He was talking about excessive bureaucracy, rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic, because it hinders or prevents action or decision-making and this is mostly seen in big business or government. Red tape was used to bind official government documents and it resulted in making things more complex and time consuming thus causing delays or inaction. Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, in the early 16th century used red tape to bind his most important administrative dossiers. Red tape acquired its modern meaning after the American Civil War.
Recruits were induced to sign up for the Civil war with assurances that they would earn bonuses and pensions and eventually more than two million veterans received a pension. By the 1890s (when the Civil War commemoration movement was at its height) most veterans were in their 50s and 60s, feeling the effects of both their physical war wounds and the nation’s economic collapse, and desperate for some kind of help from anyone who could supply it. By the end of the Civil War 186,017 black men had served in the Union Army, roughly three-quarters of whom were former slaves. Black soldiers encountered difficulty trying to receive their benefits and they were often required to jump through a lot of hoops to get anything. They were repeatedly asked to come back on another day and wait in line again, a seemingly endless and totally unnecessary process to review their paperwork until the documents that were bound in red tape which held the key to their benefits were finally opened.
Written for Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday.