John Eliot, so-called “apostle to the Indians,” had many difficulties when, in the middle of the seventeenth century, he was translating the Bible into the Indian language.
There were so many words for which the Indians had no equivalent.
Hence, when he came to the thirty-sixth chapter of Genesis, he lacked a word for “duke,” which occurs forty-three times in that chapter. He decided upon mukquomp, an Algonquian term sometimes used to mean a chief or great man.
Perhaps other New Englanders picked the word up at that time and used it jokingly of someone who thought himself a great man. We do not know, but we do know that it had already been modified to mugwump and was so used in the early nineteenth century, especially of those who thought themselves rather superior.
So in 1884, when quite a number of Republicans bolted from the party and supported Cleveland for the presidency, rather than Blaine, the New York Evening Post derided them as mugwumps, people who thought themselves too good or too superior to vote for Blaine.
But the men who were thus sneered at turned the tables and adopted the term themselves, saying that they were independent voters and were therefore proud to call themselves mugwumps or “great men.”