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 seven 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
After much cajoling by a promoter, Thomas Nast hit the lecture circuit. The New York Public Library has a great photo of the artist posing before an easel, as he did on tour. He spoke about events and people while he drew cartoons about them on a board. The tour was well organized and well attended. Nast earned 40 thousand dollars. This was a large sum and relieved concerns he had about paying his mortgage.
The South continued to be embroiled in turmoil during Grant's second term. The Reconstruction policies that produced Republican governments by enforcing the right African Americans to vote were opposed by the many White groups. The Klu Klux Klan had been driven underground in Grant's first term and resurfaced under other names including the Red Shirts and the White League. Thomas Nast produced this iconic representation of a member of the Louisiana White League shaking hands with a member of the Klu Klux Klan over the heads of an African American family. The work, titled “The Union as it was, The Lost Cause. Worse Than Slavery”, was published in Harper's Weekly on October 24, 1874. This cartoon is not mentioned specifically in the book.
America was at war with the first Americans across the West. Grant was attempting to reduce the hostilities between Native Americans and white settlers. The building of the railroads, the discovery of gold, and general expansion into Indian Lands were among the factors that kept tensions high. Grant created the Board of Indian Commissioners and took other actions to try and prevent extermination of Native Peoples. Still, the Army was used to put down Indian resistance and force them to leave their lands. Nast was always supportive of the Army and Navy and particularly the needs of the troops. This cartoon is an example of his work supporting the Army, “The Mere Shadow Has Still Some Backbone”. It was further captioned “'Our Standing Army' stands in spite of political false economy.”
While supporting the troops, Nast also supported full citizenship for American Indians and Chinese immigrants. Paine describes Thomas Nast as a person who supported civil rights as in this example:
The anti-Chinese prejudice feeling began to manifest itself again during the early part of 1878. Uncle Sam, still wearing the trap, as well as an expression of general disgust at his own decline, is made to say, “I hate the n*gger because he is a citizen, and I hate the yellow dog because he will not become one.”
Nast never had the slightest sympathy with any sort of organization or movement that did not mean the complete and absolute right of property ownership, as well as the permission to labor, accorded to every human being of whatsoever color or race. His first real antagonism to James G. Blaine began with the latter's advocacy of Chinese Exclusion. - page 386
It is clear that Nast believed in equality even though many of his images used gross stereotypes of Indians, Chinese and Irish people. His work must be viewed through a nineteenth century lens. Below are two examples where the message is obviously supporting equality, but the images give another impression. This topic will be the subject of a more detailed post in the future.
The Panic of 1873 erupted in the United States with the failure of the Jay Cooke & Company in September. The Panic was part of a world-wide financial failure involving many factors. Wall Street interests urged Grant to bailout the banks. Grant refused. He chose to buy back Government bonds and supported other measures that put money back into the economy. This relieved the Wall Street crisis, but did little to avoid a devastating five year depression.
The nation debated financial choices between increasing the money supply or not. Harper's and Nast were on the side of tight money. Grant vetoed the “Legal Tender Act” aka the "Inflation Bill.” This was substituted with the Resumption Act “ which restored the nation to the gold standard through the redemption of previously unbacked United States Notes.”
Another common theme for Nast was preventing inflation and opposing inflationary policies. He famously employed an “Inflation Baby” or “Rag-Doll” as symbols in cartoons on this subject.
Nast does his only anti-Grant cartoon, “Don't let us have any more of this nonsense. It is a good trait to stand by one's friends, but---” This cartoon was in response to Grant reappointing Alexander R. Shepherd as Governor of the District of Columbia. He was rejected by the Senate because of alleged corruption in public works projects. This cartoon invited speculation that Nast was weakening in his support for President Grant.
Corruption was rampant in the Federal Government under Grant. The list of scandals is impressive. Many of these criminal conspiracies were uncovered by the Grant administration including the Whiskey Ring. Another scandal, The Salary Grab, was a rider to a general appropriations bill that gave salary increases to the President and Congress and retroactive bonuses for Representatives. This did not go over well in tough economic times. These scandals are not covered in any detail in the Nast biography. This cartoon titled “The Crowning Insult to Him Who Occupies The Presidential Chair”, best illustrates Nast's support for Grant.
Opponents of President Grant were concerned that he would seek a third term as President. This concern was labeled Caesarphobia or Caesarism. Nast portrayed these concerns as silly and outrageous as in these cartoons, “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and “Third Term Panic”. “Third Term Panic” also has the honor of being the first use of the Republican Elephant as the symbol for the Republican Party.
Hayes v. Tilden - Shades of Bush v. Gore
The contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden was highly contested. Both parties claimed victory the day after the election. The chairman of the Republican National Committee declared that Hayes had received eighty-five electoral votes, and was elected. The Democrats were suspicious of the count of “colored” Republican voters. Both parties declared victory. The parties agreed to send people to the disputed southern states to oversee the recount. Grant also strengthened troops in those states to keep the peace and insure a fair count. The tally again gave the victory to Hayes. The Tilden forces and the political actors in the South did not accept the math. Grant was compelled to deploy extra troops around the capitol to quell the impulse to rebellion. The Congress passed legislation appointing a commission to investigate the facts and determine the outcome. The commission included five Congressman, five Senators and five Federal Judges, among them an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Democrats proposed the commission and Democratic majorities passed it, yet when the final determination was in favor of Hayes the Democrats still cried foul. This 8-7 decision came on March 2, 1877.
The election outcome was finally resolved in a backroom deal, the consequences of which we are still dealing with today. This article, posted by Gilbert King on Smithsonian.com, explains the events, “Hayes vs. Tilden: The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever”.
The compromise enabled Democrats to establish a “Solid South.” With the federal government leaving the region, states were free to establish Jim Crow laws, which legally disenfranchised black citizens. Frederick Douglass observed that the freedmen were quickly turned over to the “rage of our infuriated former masters.” As a result, the 1876 presidential election provided the foundation for America’s political landscape, as well as race relations, for the next 100 years.
Assorted Events of 1877
Joseph Keppler and Adolph Schwarzmann launched the English version of the satirical magazine Puck in March of 1877. Keppler was another former artist from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Nast's main rival. Puck gave Keppler a big platform and the advantage of the prominent use of color. On May 29 ,1877 Fletcher Harper died. Harper was Nast's long time advocate at Harper's Weekly. This was a loss that had repercussions for the cartoonist's career. Thomas Nast produced his first cartoon featuring a Lolcat, “The Millennium. The Tiger and the Lamb Lie Together.”
The next post in this series includes Thomas Nast's final years.
NEXT - Thomas Nast 8