Dehumanization

Dehumanization is a technique which intentionally depicts a human being as anything other than a human. Representation of an individual or groups of similar individuals with animal or bestial characteristics turns a dignified human being or members of a race, into an “other.” Representation as inanimate objects (see Magnetic Blaine) also dehumanizes and converts a person into a material item or gadget, and therefore easily discarded or diminished. When humans are classified and conceptualized as lesser “others,” superior humans feel entitled to rule, dominate, judge and punish “others” without guilt.

Group of Vultures waiting for the storm to blow over - let us prey,"13-September-1871 by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly. Source: Library of Congress
Group of Vultures waiting for the storm to blow over – let us prey,”13-September-1871 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: Library of Congress

For example, Nast depicted Tweed as a vulture, an unattractive and corpulent version of the predator. He reduced Catholic bishops to a swarm of crocodiles in “American Rivers Ganges.”  Taking cues from English artists he admired, Nast and other cartoonists frequently depicted Irish Americans as apes.

George Frederick Keller would depict the Chinese on the West Coast as invading forces of locusts or hordes of pigs. They were also depicted as cephalopods  or octopuses.

Satire cartoon of Chinese laborer working abnormally fast
“What Shall We Do With Our Boys” – 3 March, 1882 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

“Octopuses had long been the icons of the top-down authoritarian power in Europe. In industrializing America,however, a revolutionary nation that imagined itself free of corruption of Europe also became entangled in monopolies controlling previously unimagined wealth and power” (Tchen/Yates 4-5). See “What Shall We Do With Our Boys” to see a Chinese worker drawn as an octopus, monopolizing labor.

Euro-Americans with a belief in their Manifest Destiny celebrated visual depictions and iconography of “epic confrontations” of the brave against “inferior hordes” and can be seen in many French and English paintings of the American West (Tchen/Yeats, 163-164). The archetype of the “lone hero” such as Custer and his last stand, or Crockett at the Alamo, appealed to American patrons of the arts whether it be the high art of oil painting or the low art of cartoons. Battling against the Chinese hordes fit nicely into this new American archetypal way of perceiving “others.”

Dehumanization may assign unpleasant behavioral traits onto a race or ethnic group, e.g., Chinese as rat eaters.  With the arrival of Darwin’s evolutionary theories, many Anglo-centric populations in Europe and America were willing to incorporate the theories as justification to define African Americans or Irish Americans, and later the Chinese,  as sub-strata human beings, or as occupiers of a lower rung on the evolutionary ladder. Dehumanization also occurs through language to define and reduce individuals in simplistic derogatory terms e.g., “gooks,” “mics,” “spics,” “kikes,” “niggers,” “chinks.” Therefore, through word and or image dehumanizing an individual or group of people reinforces the mindset of the oppressor a justification for their prejudice.

Caricature

A fine example of Nast's caricature technique. Too Thin, Harper's Weekly 30 September 1871.
A fine example of Nast’s caricature technique. Too Thin, Harper’s Weekly 30 September 1871.

Caricature is the purposeful distortion or exaggeration of physical characteristics of human beings or animals for the purpose of humor or satire. It can be flattering or as is most often the case, quite the opposite.  It is an important tool in political or editorial art.  In that genre, politicians or entertainers are frequently caricatured for dramatic effect. Human beings are made taller, skinnier, shorter, or more obese than in real life. Once conceived by an editorial cartoonist, a famous person’s caricature will seldom change. Therefore, Patrick Oliphant’s Richard Nixon always had a ski -jump nose, other artists would draw Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama with very large ears.  As Donald Dewey writes in “The Art of Ill Will,”  in America, the first half of the nineteenth century, realistically drawn figures were put in improbable or “incongruous” situations to affect humor. Dewey explains that in Europe, distorted physiognomies began to appear in the 1830s and 1840s with advances in lithography.

Very early in his career, Nast experimented with caricature when he freelanced for Phunny Phellow. a short-lived comic periodical, and for the more popular New York Illustrated News.   Abraham Lincoln, tall, gangly and a rising political figure became the subject or target for Nast to try out his handiwork. Choosing Lincoln may have been a convenient test subject rather than a political target.  Nast disavowed ever making fun of his idol to his biographer asserting “it was done by another hand” (Paine 81). But unsigned images of Lincoln caricatures have surfaced which are attributed to Nast.  His experimentation with caricature was sidelined when he began to work for Harper’s Weekly in 1863 primarily as a Civil War illustrator.

As Dewey points out, a key component to a memorable caricature is the passion flowing through the artist’s pen. For Nast, the disappointment in President Andrew Johnson’s failed leadership during Reconstruction fueled both passion and pen.  As Nast matured at Harper’s Weekly, “he drew only what he was moved to draw.”  Nast historian Morton Keller may have said it best, “The distortions of great caricature, the transferences wrought by animal symbolism, the use of satiric humor, are among the most potent devices by which one man can strike at another” (3-4). Caricature helped to focus blame. “Nast believed that caricature offered the public a valuable tool,” on where to focus attention and who was to blame (Halloran 102).

Nast was a painter, illustrator, cartoonist as well as a  caricaturist. The latter required the artist to use satire to unveil a misdeed, a hypocrisy, corruption or any type of undesirable behavior as Nast or his editors saw fit to interpret. Therefore, how did Nast depict those who did not anger him?  Can we spot the Irish police offer who behaved heroically during public unrest? How would one determine a positive depiction of the Irish in a Nast cartoon? When people behaved well, Nast did not have subjects to satire.  How does one prove a positive in a Nast cartoon?

“Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!” – 1 May, 1880

Blaine, with a Chinese queue, bangs on a drum
Boom! Boom!! Boom!!! 1 May, 1880, by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain
Regarding the upcoming presidential election of 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes declined to run for an additional term, thus leaving the Republican nomination up for grabs.

In 1876 Maine Republican James G. Blaine launched his first bid for the U.S. Presidency. Although he promoted himself as a favorite, and indeed he was a popular and strong candidate, his campaign was derailed by scandal. From the beginning neither Harper’s editor George W. Curtis or Thomas Nast were fans of Blaine.

In Boom! Boom! Boom!!! Nast pokes fun of Blaine and his attempts to reinvigorate excitement for his candidacy and Blaine’s belief that his nomination was assured. The term “boom” was widely used in politics at the time. Today the term “buzz” would be analogous. The Republican field was crowded and competitive with former president U.S. Grant tepidly allowing his name to be placed in nomination along with Blaine and John Garfield of Ohio.

In 1876 bid Blaine had been deeply humiliated by Nast’s Chinese cartoons (Paine 420). In an effort to court votes, Blaine included anti-Chinese rhetoric in his speeches. Nast saw Blaine’s pandering as a betrayal of Republican values of inclusion. Nast repeated his attacks on Blaine in 1880.

In January 1880, Blaine wrote to the artist directly, in reaction to depicting Blaine as a plumed Indian, and asked Nast to reconsider victimizing him in his cartoons. There is no record of a Nast reply, other than a continuation of the cartoons.

Blaine over campaigned in California and Nast ridiculed him continually. Blaine bangs his own drum and Blaine is shown in Chinese clothing and wearing a long queue.

 Nast put little stock in popular trends or booms. A graveyard of self-aggrandizing “boomers” is seen laid to rest in the background.

Nast would repeat attacks on Blaine in 1884 when the politician tried for a third try for the presidency. Despite Blaine’s earning the party nomination, the third attempt would not prove to be the charm.

For Nast, Blaine’s third attempt marked the end of an era. Blaine embodied, better than any other politician of his generation, the transformation of the Republican Party and of American politics – from the social and ideological commitments of the Civil War era to the blander organization style of the Gilded Age (Keller 324). Disillusioned by his own Republican Party, Nast’s own passion for politics also waned after Blaine’s final attempt for the presidency.

 

 

“A Paradox” – 22 May, 1880

“A Paradox” 22 May, 1880 by Thomas Nast for Herper’s Weekly.. Source: UDel-Walfred, Public Domain

This Chinese man is being pulled in two directions by two opposing political parties. Typical of most Nast drawings, the bad is on the left, the good on the right. The party figures also represent their regional power base -—the West for Democrats and the East for Republicans. We do not know from what location the Chinese man is standing or how he arrived at this particular tug-of-war predicament. Rare for Nast, there is no detail as to location, no props to suggest a political issue or visual guides to suggest how one might think about the Chinese man’s unfortunate situation. He is is simply being pulled apart.

On the right, the Republican Party, and particularly the Radical Republicans to whom Nast aligned and identified, wanted the Chinese to remain in the United States and argued for their admittance for American citizenship.  Radical Republicans stood first and foremost from a position of morality and believed that the Chinese were no different than any other immigrant group. Mainstream Republicans and those Republicans whose constituency represented business, industry and capitalism, wanted the Chinese to remain. Good workers were good for business. Capitalists admired the hard working, non-striking Chinese and fiscally benefited from their industriousness and productivity. Ideal employees, the Chinese kept to themselves and completed their work. Chinese went where work was offered and perhaps unknowingly, served as pawns to break strikes, drive down labor costs and inflame white workingmen’s charges of coolie or slave labor. break strikes and drive down labor costs.

Democrats in the South also wanted the Chinese to teach newly freed African Americans a lesson.

“Democrats developed ingenious methods of limiting black voting power” and included the poll tax, property qualifications, literacy tests, and anyone convicted of petty larceny (and many such arrests resulted) restricted African Americans from exercising their newly gained voting privileges (Foner 422).

Plantation owners in the Deep South also looked to punish African American labor and reduce dependance on black labor’s earning power by encouraging immigrant labor that included the Chinese. One Alabama newspaper appealed to Irish and German immigrants to earn $10 a month on the farms. “Even more attractive were indentured laborers from China, whose “natural” docility would bolster plantation discipline and whose arrival, by flooding the labor market, would reduce the wages of blacks” (Foner 419).

“Give us five million of Chinese laborers in the valley of the Mississippi,” wrote a planter’s wife, “and we can furnish the world with cotton and teach the negro his proper place, (qtd. Foner 419-420).

Democrats along the West Coast however, wanted the Chinese driven out all together. As Euro-American populations increasingly traveled west, any Chinese earning money was seen as competition — as the enemy. This view took on an even greater urgency during the economic crash of the late 1870s.

The Chinese man central in this cartoon is confused and startled. His queue stands up straight like an exclamation point in reaction to the tug of war over his person, his talent, and his future. He is both a prize of labor and a future victim. Representing the average Chinese worker, he has nowhere to call home, no political party with whom he could place absolute trust.

The Chinese were prohibited from becoming citizens in the United States and could not vote. This prohibition did not extend to any other immigrant group.

By 1880, some Republicans like James G. Blaine aligned less with pro-business and bent under the populist pressure to rid the country of the purported Chinese threat.

“The Veto” – 15 April, 1882

President Chester A Arthur examines a Chinese vase with a magnifying lap
“The Veto” 15 April 1882 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel–Walfred. Public Domain

 

This illustration was accompanied by a Harper’s editorial who wrote of President Chester Arthur,

“In a temperate and excellent message the President has vetoed the Chinese bill. He states in detail the existing treaty relations between the countries, and the express understanding between the Commissioners upon both sides in the late negotiations. It was stipulated that the free immigration of Chinese should not be prohibited, and that any regulation of their coming should be reasonable. But an exclusion of twenty years is a practical prohibition, and therefore unreasonable. The President adopts this view, and regarding the twenty years clause as a breach of the national faith, he returns the bill.

He objects, also, incidentally, to the passport and registration provisions, as subjecting the resident Chinese to needless annoyance, which is equally forbidden by good faith. The President adds further that the bill is repugnant to good policy. It would be detrimental to the general interest to destroy amicable relations with Asia until it is plainly evident that Asiatic competition threatens our labor and safety. To ascertain how far this is probable, a shorter exclusion is desirable. But the President accepts the bill as evidence that Congress is of opinion that the Chinese immigration does injuriously affect our interests and endangers good order, and the tone of the message implies that a “reasonable” exclusion bill would not be vetoed.

The possible party effect of his veto the President has properly not allowed to sway his decision. If the veto should give California and the Pacific coast to the Democrats, it would be evident that they could be retained for the Republicans only by a wanton defiance of the American principle that honest immigrants to this country shall not be excluded until self-defense demands exclusion, and that in any case the national good faith shall be preserved. If fidelity to these principles should cost the Republican party [sic] some advantages, that fidelity will ultimately, as usual, commend the party to the renewed confidence of the country.” Harper’s Weekly, 15 April, 1882.

Harper’s confidence in Arthur was misplaced. The president signed a revision of the act in May, with a 10-year ban on Chinese immigration. He would soon extend the ban permanently.

The vase that President Arthur is set to examine with a magnifying glass resembles an earlier cracked vase featured prominently in Nast’s 1881 cartoon, “A Diplomatic (Chinese) Design Presented to the U.S.” The same dragon clings to the top of the vase, but it is less commanding than its appearance in 1881.

The vase is labeled “1880 Treaty” and it sits upon a pedestal with a sign that reads “Handle With Care.” The 1880 treaty, though it restricted Chinese immigration, did not interrupt trade between China and the United States. A Chinese diplomat and American are seen exchanging “Trade” and “Commerce” while a befuddled Irishman stares blankly into space.

A Chinese passport into the U.S. is trampled upon under Arthur’s foot. It reads “Passport for Land of the Free.”

 

 

 

“Eastward the Star of Empire Returns” 1880

“Eastward the Star of Empire Returns” – 27 March, 1880 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred, public domain

This cartoon depicts relics of the once-influential Republican and pro-capitalist interests being driven out of the West alongside Chinese laborers, whose much needed services were  boycotted in California.

Beginning in 1877, Denis Kearney an Irish-American immigrant, built steady and passionate support for his anthem, “The Chinese Must Go” a statement that began and concluded every charismatic speech Kearney typically delivered on the empty Sand Lots of California where large crowds could gather. A mixture of Sinophobia and severe economic depression provided a ripe environment for Kearney to stoke fear and rally white labor to reclaim all labor opportunities for themselves.  While the industrial North and the large plantations of the rural South welcomed and recruited the hardworking Chinese, West Coast voices demanded that the “Chinese Must Go.”

Kearney made steady progress toward his cause and politicians paid attention. His influence was felt in elections and through a battery of local, state and federal legislation, ultimately leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

“Church and State – No Union Upon Any Terms” 1871

“Church and State – No Union Upon Any Terms” 25 February, 1871 by Thomas Nast. Source: Library of Congress

Nast and his publisher Harper’s Weekly strongly believed in the separation of church and state. No other issue rankled Nast more than the public school issue and no other issue called to define where the line to separate church and state should be drawn. William M. “Boss” Tweed supported Irish Catholic demands for public funds to establish their own sectarian schools. If allowed to stand unchecked and unchallenged, Nast feared the repercussions of all groups and religions dragging their special interests before the state for favors and custom dispensations.

In this marvelously detailed drawing, the scene Nast so feared is put into reality. Each figurehead of a religious state is pulling from behind a pull toy representing their church (or non-church). They approach Columbia at the foot of the state building.  Elevated to emphasize her wisdom and revered status, Columbia will entertain none of their appeals, she shoos them away with her hands. Above her head enlightenment and wisdom glows.

On the right, most of what is in tow are miniature churches or religious buildings that resemble playhouses.

Detail
Detail

A German and Chinese delegation approach together on the left. They are the only two who have brought people, not buildings with them as examples of need. A  German smokes a pipe while he waits for  his audience with Columbia. He totes a beer-drinking, august regent who sits upon a barrel and raises his foamy mug in the air. Next to him is a Chinese diplomat who has brought along a “Heathen Chinee” kneeling on a padded four-wheeled cart. His posture is erect, and he is naked from the waist up. His long queue falls past his back and behind the cart. The face of the kneeling figure is highly stylized. By mentioning the Chinese as heathen, Nast acknowledges the rights of believers and non-believers to equally petition the government, even if the answer is “no.”

All religions, non-religions (heathens) and factions are on the same level of their appeal – each represents a desire to advocate for their cause and constituency. Columbia rejects their pilgrimage. Columbia rests on her principles, and will not grant or refuse favors on an individual basis. All are accorded the same consideration. All religions are separate from the state.

To the right, Nast draws an array of cupolas, domes spires and steeples and the plain A-frame roof of Mormonism gathered to receive official favor. A Native American stands among the congested crowd of churches, waiting to be anointed with the approval of the state in the same way New York City had blessed the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church at center right, displays the most elaborate replica of a house of worship.

At the center, a Union soldier, and what appears to be a man wearing a Tam o’ Shanter cap, bars the entry to the state steps with crossed rifles.

Nast signed his name at the foot of the Chinese diplomat.