Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures by Albert Bigelow Paine. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York and London in 1904. 583 pages and over 425 illustrations. Available via Google Books.
This is part five of a series of posts about Paine's biography of the caricaturist Thomas Nast and research I did spurred on by reading the book. - DonkeyHotey
The 1868 campaign began for Nast and Harper's after the Republican Convention in Chicago. In June, Harper's re-ran the “Columbia Decorating Grant” (alt) cartoon Nast created in 1864. The Democratic Convention was held in July at Tammany Hall in New York City. Now the race between Republican Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horatio Seymour was on. The biographer noted that one of the active participants in the Democratic Convention was General Forrest. This was Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku-Klux-Klan.
Seymour is soon caricatured as “Seymour the Satyr, as Lady Macbeth, regarding with awesome terror the stain left by the Draft Riots.” This was in “Time, midnight.-Scene, New York City Hall”, where Nast drew Seymour with trademark goat ears. Paine describes the portrayal as that of a demon Satyr and somewhat satanic. Other cartoons of the campaign referenced in the book are: "Seymour the demon-satyr tempting Columbia", "Seymour the satyr leading the Ku-klux Klan", "Seymour wallowing in a sea of troubles", "Patience on a Monument", and "Matched(?)", After the election Grant said, “Two things elected me, the sword of Sheridan and the pencil of Thomas Nast.”
Nast now changes his method of drawing on wood block for engraving from fluid brush to pencil. This allowed for more precision in the drawings and contributed to the development of his signature style. Now, at age 29, he has 13 years experience as a cartoonist, a compelling style suited to the latest technology, and the best possible platform to present his work from, Harper's Weekly. All he needs are villains to vanquish and fortunately, in New York in 1869, villains are in ample supply. He thus emerges in popular culture as the crusading political caricaturist we remember today.
In October, Nast drafts a cartoon about city government foretelling the epic struggle to come including the text: “Thou shalt steal as much as thou canst,” signed “The Ring.”
Boss Tweed and “The Ring” of corrupt politicians at Tammany Hall became the perfect target for Mr. Nast's newly sharpened pencil. His efforts exposing this corrupt machine are well documented and familiar to almost anyone reading this post. Tweed got his start up the ladder at the the Americus or Big Six Fire Company. Nast lived “less than a dozen blocks away” from Big Six when he was a child. The company used a tiger's head with “fierce distended jaws” as the logo on their fire engine. The young Nast was impressed with this image taken from a familiar lithograph. This image foreshadowed the Tammany Tiger.
As the war with Tammany begins to heat up in 1870, Paine writes:
“In June a herald of Tammany is shown as having ascended to the peak of a high mountain, from which he waves a banner of corruption to the world. The locks of this handsome figure resemble horns. The cape on his shoulders is blown back to suggest diabolical wings. It is a striking picture.”
The cartoons during this battle in New York highlighted in the biography were:
The fall of Tammany
The Ring of Boss Tweed at Tammany Hall was ultimately brought down by Sheriff James O'Brien. O'Brien, cooperating with Samuel J. Tilden, a New York Democratic Party operative, went to the New York Times and met with George Jones. O'Brien tricked the New York City Controller, Richard B. "Slippery Dick" Connolly, into appointing William Copeland to work in the office. Copeland was an O'Brien mole. O'Brien also installed Matthew O'Rourke, in the county “bookkeeper office.” Copeland and O'Rourke now had access to the Ring's books and made copies. O'Brien eventually took the documents to the Times and, after much consideration, proceeded to use them to destroy The Ring. The New York Herald later put the losses to the City at not less than $200,000. All reporters and publishers were threatened and offered bribes to stop initial publication of the proof of The Rings malfeasance. Nast claims he received threats and was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to take a sabbatical to Europe to give the Ring a rest from his cartoons.
Praise for Nast's involvement in taking down The Ring came in from all over the country.
When The Ring saga was covered in England, they compared Nast's work to their native caricature artists including William Hogarth, Gustave Doré, George Cruikshank and John Leech. I list these as an example of the caricaturist's British contemporaries even though Paine asserts there is no comparison.
The biographer singles a few cartoons for special acknowledgment.
“This remarkable characterization of "Boss Tweed' is probably the best known of Nast's caricatures.”
“It is believed that this page, and the certainty of others of its kind to follow, did more to terrify the Ring than any previous attack.”
“Let's stop them damned pictures,” proposed Tweed when he saw it. “I don't care so much what the papers write about me - my constituents can't read; but, damn it, they can see pictures!”
“Nast summed up the Ring's attempt to retain power through concessions to the Church in the " American River Ganges " which stands today as the most terrible arraignment of sectarianism in the public schools, as well as one of the most powerful pictures that Thomas Nast ever drew.”
Praise from the New York Times
“The Times itself generously acknowledged that the pictures of Nast, which even the illiterate could read at a glance, had been the most powerful of all engines directed against the stronghold of shame.”
“It is a matter of small moment. Neither then nor later was 'The Tammany Tiger Loose' studied for its technique or for the lack of it. It was accepted without a question as " the most impressive political picture ever produced in this country”
“An illustrated pamphlet poem, “The House That Tweed Built,” distributed by the American News Company, contained this stanza, which we may add as a final touch:”
"This is Boss Tweed
Nast's man with the Brains.
The Tammany Atlas who all sustains,
(A Tammany Sampson, perhaps, for his pains)
Who rules the city where Oakey reigns,
The master of Woodward and Ingersoll,
And all the gang of the city roll,
And formerly lord of 'Slippery Dick'
Who Controlled the plastering laid on so thick,
By the controller's plasterer, Garvey by name,
The Garvey whose fame is the little Game
Of laying on plaster and knowing the trick
Of charging as if he himself were a brick
Of the well-plastered house that TWEED built."
Cartooning The Ring into submission was not Nast's only occupation in 1871. He also produced the first Nast Almanac and continued to contribute to Phunny Phellow and Harper's Bazaar. He also illustrated to political pamphlets: The Fight At Dame Europa's School and Miss Columbia's Public School, Or, Will It Blow Over?
Much later in the story of Thomas Nast there occurs a very strange event. Boss Tweed had escaped to Spain. A Spanish officer recognized Tweed from a Nast cartoon titled, “Tweed-le-Dee and Tiden-Dum”. The office mistook the cartoon for a wanted poster because it had the word “Reward” in the text and notified American authorities of Tweed's whereabouts. He thought that Tweed was an escaped convict who had kidnapped the two boys depicted in the cartoon. The story about the capture was published in the October 7, 1876 edition of Harper's Weekly. In a similar incident former Mayor of New York, Abraham Oakey Hall, had taken leave to England under the alias Mr. Sutliffe. Hall was also recognized by someone familiar with Nast's work. Hall was a character in The Ring cartoons where he was labeled by the caricaturist as “Elegant Oakey.” He was eventually tried three times for his involvement with the scandal. The third trial ended in his acquittal.
There were other milestones that occurred during The Ring affair. Andrew Johnson was impeached and went to trial in the U.S. Senate in March of 1868. In the book, Paine reprinted a Senate Gallery Pass for the impeachment trial that Thomas Nast had in his possession. On January 15, 1870, Nast first used the Democratic Donkey in his work. In the cartoon, the donkey, symbolizing the Democratic or Copperhead Press, is kicking a dead lion which represented Edwin M. Stanton, who had recently died. Apparently the conservatives were taking potshots at the man postmortem.
The next post explores Nast's work during the Grant administrations.
NEXT - Thomas Nast 6