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.

“Blaine’s Teas(e)” – 20 March, 1880

Blaine steam from his tea resembles a chinese man
“Blaine’s Teas(e)” 20 March 1880, by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

Republican presidential hopeful James G. Blaine was all too aware that Nast’s sphere of influence on the electorate was wide.  Nast relished exposing Blaine’s hypocrisy and anti-immigration stance. East Coast, New England tolerance toward accepting newcomers had been a point of Republican pride. Blaine was the first Republican official to defect to the Democratic way of thinking. Nast’s fixation on Blaine was unrelenting, and nearly equaled his Tweed/Tammany days.  The attention worried Blaine, who “attempted to explain and to justify his position, but the artist could see in the Chinese immigrant only a man and a brother, trying to make a living in a quiet and peaceful manner in a country that was big enough for all” (Paine, 413).

Nast’s Blaine’s Teas(e) shows the dilemma the politician faced. The Evening News Blaine reads, chronicles the West Coast’s growing calls for “The Chinese Must Go.” A savvy politician, Blaine needed votes in the West. All the while working to undermine the legitimacy of Chinese Americans, Nast lets Americans see that Blaine enjoyed the teas and porcelains resulting from U.S. trade with China. Nast calls out hypocrisy and incongruity of admiring Chinese “things” but hating the source of the objects.

The clammy Chinese figure rising before Blaine’s conjures the haunting, ethereal quality of ghosts who confront Dickens’ Scrooge. Whether Dickens’s spirits were an inspiration is unknown. Blaine is visited, in this instance, by a hot steamy specter who rises up from Blaine’s teacup to scold and confront the politician. This apparition will not allow Blaine to enjoy his tea in peace and privacy. Blaine’s hair appears to rise in alarm,  but Blaine looks more annoyed that fearful. His right hand has gripped the paper suddenly, indicating he is unnerved, yet he continues to clutch at his truth as he comes to terms with what is before him. Otherworldly, and celestial, the Chinese tea ghost peers directly into Blaine’s eyes with and bears a stiff upper lip.

The cartoon asks a question, which in a century and a half later, Lenore Metrick-Chen made the focus of her book Collecting Objects/Excluding People. “What happens when the exotic refuses to remain our fantasy, our abstraction and instead intrudes into our space?”(1)

Nast’s ghost intrudes, haunts and teases Blaine with the reality of the politician’s actions and xenophobic policies. Nast challenges the worthiness of  Blaine’s Republican ideals – his obligation as a member of Lincoln’s Party to tolerate newcomers to the United States.

Nast confronts a reality that Metrick-Chen continues to wrestle with and unpack in her book. Throughout America’s earliest history, spanning across Nast’s era and well into the twentieth century, American and Western culture held a fascination with exotic Eastern objects and artifacts. Blaine wants to enjoy his Chinese tea from Chinese porcelain. He embodies exactly the kind of person who collects objects but excludes people. Nast reminds his audience, and Blaine, that the Chinese people created these cherished goods and services. Blaine deserves to be haunted by his hypocrisy.

Chinese head coming out of a lamp
Money vs. Muscle, or, Chinese Emigration, To the Workmen and Trade Unions of America, New York: The “Season” Press, 1870. Courtesy of New York Public Library

Nast’s idea for this cartoon, however, may not be original. A “spectral disembodied head emerges from a magic lamp” in John S. Cook’s 1870 illustration of Money vs.Muscle, or Chinese Emigration. To the Workmen and Trade unions of America, published by the Season Press. It is not known if Nast had access to the book. The images are strikingly similar.

Metrick-Chen writes that soon after the United States was formally recognized as a country under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. eagerly entered into trade with China. “The predominant American view of the Chinese had been laudatory” (19).

With the conclusion of The Opium War (1839- 1842), American superiority (Manifest Destiny) grew. Reports from Protestant missionaries stationed in China relayed to the American people their unsuccessful attempts to convert the Chinese to Christianity. These reports making their way home factored in supplanting favorable views toward China into negative opinions (Metrick-Chen 21-23). Defining Chinese as non-Christian heathens was an important element in disqualifying them as competitive laborers and applicants as citizens and visitors to the U.S.

 

“Hard to Please the “White Trash”” 1878

A vexed Uncle Sam stands alone as minorities stand behind him
“Hard to Please the “White Trash”” – 6 April, 1878 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

When Thomas Nast used Columbia in his cartoons, she represented American values in the purest sense. Nast is often credited with inventing Uncle Sam, but he only popularized the figure and used the tall thin man with a top hat and stripped pants as a symbol for the American government. As this picture above depicts, Uncle Sam can get confused. He finds himself at the mercy of opposing political parties and is often trapped, not by what might be right, but what legislation has passed as the law of the land.

The cover of this issue also shows Uncle Sam with his leg in a snare. In the following issue, he is seen in a full-paged cartoon, seemingly confused as he reflects upon his nation that all is not well in his American house.

After the Fifteenth Amendment granted African Americans the right to vote, Southern Democrats continued measures to disenfranchise the African American vote.

Uncle Sam is confused. He is supposed to hate the “nigger” because he has earned the right to vote, and at the same time, he is supposed to hate the “Yellow Dog” because he has not yet earned the right to vote. Uncle Sam does not know how to react. He has lost track of the direction his government. The Chinese face a difficult dilemma. Legally prevented from earning citizenship, they cannot enjoy the same rights extended to other immigrants. The Chinese may not testify against whites, or intermarry. Since Chinese females are refused entry to the U.S. because they are all considered prostitutes, Chinese men in America have little hope for a normal family life. Prohibited by law to join to American culture, they are penalized for not assimilating. The Chinese find themselves in a no-win situation. The legislative body spoke and Uncle Sam is forced to represent these mandates. California’s state symbol is the bear. The bear trap on Uncle Sam’s leg is painful and there is no easy way out of the attitudes and values he is forced to represent. Uncle Sam is being directed by “White Trash” of free lawmaking men, and there is no pleasing them.

A Chinese launderer is seen to the right. His head is slightly turned as if to acknowledge Uncle Sam’s grumbling. But he goes about his washing tasks, knowing Uncle Sam can do nothing about the current state of affairs.

On the right, an African American figure relaxes against the wall. Nast drew a similar figure in 1879, Every Dog “(No Distinction of Color)” Has His Day.“ He is unaware or unconcerned with Uncle Sam’s conflict.

 

“The American River Ganges” 1871

The concern of Roman Catholic interference in public education is brilliantly rendered in what many scholars regard as Nast’s most famous, and well-executed anti-Catholic image. The image was published twice in Harper’s Weekly. The first, on September 30, 1871, implicated Tweed, and reprised on May 8, 1975, with Tweed removed.

The American River Ganges, Harper's Weekly, September, 1871 by Thomas Nast. Original image of Nast's most famous anti-Catholic image, Tweed was safely out of the picture,literally and figuratively when the image was republished on 8 May, 1875 along with other minor modifications. Library of Congress
The American River Ganges, Harper’s Weekly, September 1871 by Thomas Nast. The original image of Nast’s most famous anti-Catholic image, Tweed was safely out of the picture, , literally and figuratively when the image was republished on 8 May 1875 along with other minor modifications. Library of Congress

The image is a tour de force of imagination and caricature technique. Nast dehumanized the Catholic bishops by turning them into reptiles. They emerge from the water toward New York’s shore. Two clergies in the foreground have stereotype Irish faces. Slithering out of the water on all fours, their ornate, jewel-encrusted bishops’ mitres (there are three types, one plain and two that are more elaborate), specifically the pretiosa, worn on Sundays or feast days, are drawn as salivating crocodile jaws ready to devour, or feast if you will, on school children. A Protestant minister or teacher, with his Bible, tucked in his waistcoat, and his saucer hat tossed to the ground, stands defiant, guarding several fearful children who are shivering, praying and cowering as certain death approaches. In the middle of the scene, several bishops have come ashore, ready to clamp down on defenseless, and dispensable non-Catholic students.

A Chinese boy on his hands and knees attempts to flee and Native American and African American children press up against the cliff with nowhere to escape. Nast shared a Republican, utopian vision that public schools should be open to all children, regardless of race, creed or ethnicity, and drew many images of an idealized public school system that included a diverse student body learning in harmony. With the Catholic initiative to create their own schools with the support of public funds expressed underway with support from Tweed, Nast feared separate sectarian schools for all ethnic and racial groups. “Nast believed that bringing children together into the public sphere, under democratic control, muted their religious and racial differences and molded a unified, multiethnic [sic]American society” (Justice 174). Tweed and the Roman Catholic Church interfered with that vision.

Detail from above, Tweed and his Ring cohorts lower a Protestant child to be ravaged by Catholic clergy
Detail from above, Tweed and his Ring cohorts lower a Protestant child to be ravaged by Catholic clergy

Perched atop the cliff, Tweed, and members of his political machine lower Protestant children to the feeding grounds below. Columbia, Nast’s ever- faithful symbol of American compassion and justice, is bound and led away to a hangman’s gallows

Tammany Hall Church
Tammany Hall with Irish Flags assumes Catholic Church architecture

At the center top of the image, a U.S. Public School is seen crumbling and an inverted American flag, a sign of distress, flies prominently. On the other side of the river, stands a Vatican shaped “Tammany Hall” (This was changed in 1875 to read “Political Roman Catholic Church.”) Flags of the Papal Coat of Arms, and the Irish harp, fly atop the side domes. Attached to the right of the RC Church is the “Political Roman Catholic School.”

In Harper’s Weekly, the image was accompanied by an essay written by Eugene Lawrence, a nativist and frequent contributor to the periodical. Lawrence blamed the Catholics for the end of the public school system and the Catholic aim “to destroy our free schools, and perhaps our free institutions has been for many years the constant aim of the extreme section of the Romish Church.” The essay continues its attack on Jesuits and the daring aggressive spirit of the ultramontane Irish Catholics who govern New York. The author also touts brave European governments who have dared to challenge Roman Catholic influence of their schools and other institutions.

The institutions that managed New York Public Schools claimed their schools provided non-sectarian education. Catholics disagreed, noting Protestant-based libraries, textbooks and “the daily reading of the Protestant version of the Bible” in classrooms as an unsatisfactory environment for learning (Heuston 54).

“The establishment of a new state school systems in the United states seemed to substantiate Catholic fears that the attitudes of European secularists were taking root in America” (Heuston 169). Prior to the Civil War, Catholics wanted to participate in the public school system without endangering their faith. Catholics were encouraged to pursue the issue after New York Whig Governor William Seward suggested in 1840 that state aid might be given to Catholic schools (53). Henceforth, New York’s Catholic Church, led by Archbishop John Hughes, began strategies to thwart the new school system by working through their political contacts, but these attempts were unsuccessful. A preoccupation with the Civil War and its aftermath diverted attention from the issue of public education and the topic would not surface again until the close of the 1860s.

Catholics once again picked on the issue and “Republican Party and Catholic Church leaders in the late 1860s and early 1870s joined a bitter battle of words over the future of public education” (Justice 171).

Justice suggests the American Public School became a metaphor for the northern lifestyle; “the public school evoked the small-town Protestant backbone of the Republican Party” (180). In 1869, Tweed as head of Tammany Hall and acting State Senator, “snuck a provision in the annual tax levy bill for the city through the state legislature” that provided 20 percent of the city’s excise tax be earmarked to Catholic schools (Justice 182). Tweed’s crafty maneuver set Republicans to outrage in motion and solidified scrutiny by the Republican-based press, such as The New York Times and by Harper’s. Nast’s crusade against Catholic interference in the public school system coincided with his attacks on Tweed’s other political malfeasances. His attacks on Tweed tripled Harper’s Weekly circulation (Hess 100).

Nast’s principal opposition to the Catholic Church rested on what he feared was its aim to subvert the nation’s public school system by diverting public funds to sectarian schools (St. Hill, 70). Benjamin Justice’s research on Nast’s feelings about Catholic interference in the public school system provides valuable insights. Justice feels that American antagonism toward Catholics resulted from its rapid rise due to immigration and the American Catholic Church’s adoption of conservative ultramontane Romanish leadership, which “increasingly insisted on separate, publicly-funded schools, made it incompatible with republican government and unfit to offer mass education at public expense” (175).

Justice surmises Nast’s vicious blasts at the public school issue were a part of a broader attack on the relationship between Tammany Hall and the Catholic Church and were pointed objections to “Catholic political ascendency over the state” rather than an attack on Catholic culture or Catholics as individuals (183).

The image is often used as evidence by Catholics to prove Nast hated Catholics. He did not. After all, it was the faith of his family. Nast produced many similar images, but all of his Catholic cartoons hover over two issues – The New York Catholic Church’s demand for public funds to create their own sectarian schools (which they got thanks to their alliance with Tweed) and the conservative Catholic (ultramontane) concept or doctrine of papal infallibility, wholly adopted by the New York Catholics.

Blind allegiance to an infallible monarch figure perplexed Protestants Republicans. They viewed American Catholics allegiance to the religious figurehead across the ocean as un-American. As Heuston and others have made clear, the Irish-Americans’ devotion to a pope was clear evidence that American Catholics had no desire to assimilate into American culture and behave as independently-thinking individuals.

Most Protestants misunderstood papal infallibility to mean that the pope could not sin. [See Catholic definition] Nast, whose family and religious culture in Germany had aligned with reformed Catholicism, could not fathom that any Roman pontiff could see to be beyond human error. Nast believed what other Republicans and Protestants believed of papal infallibility – that the pope could do no wrong, not make mistakes, and whose word or orders must be carried out by the Irish-Catholic flock. For Nast and most Republicans, it was a doctrine and philosophy with the potential for extreme abuse.

Nast’s campaign against Catholic interference in public schools equaled if not rivaled his obsession with Tweed. Nast saw Tweed and the American Catholic Church in New York as symbiotic and co-dependent. This particularly rankled Nast.

“Which Color is to be Tabooed Next?” 1882

Irish and German man sitting at a table
“Which Color Is To Be Tabooed Next?” 25 March, 1882. Library of Congress

Fritz, a German and Pat, an Irishman, discuss what race should be tabooed next. The Germans and Irish were often adversarial rivals for jobs, but by the late 1870s and 1880s were more unified as white men as the “Chinese Question” hovered over their economic future. Increasingly Euro-centric whites affiliated with groups like the Workingmen’s Party, whose goal to drive out all labor competition, particularly from the Chinese  Chinese were often viewed incorrectly, as “coolies” workers who were brought to the United States under duress, or tricked into contract labor.

The caption, “Fritz (to Pat). “If the Yankee Congress can keep the yellow man out, what is to hinder them from calling us green and keeping us out too?””

As these men ponder their victory, they also dwell upon the repercussions of their victory over the Chinese and the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which had in place, a 20-year option to renew.

Nast’s square jawed Irishman in top hat and vest had more to worry about than the German. The Irish had long been considered by other white people as not fully white – a separate race of people who sat on the evolutionary scale above the African American, but below Caucasians. By 1882, the Irish American had made great political gains, but this cartoon infers a certain irony, that people hadn’t completely forgotten earlier perceptions. Seventeen years later, Harper’s Weekly published this scientific-based cartoon.

Harper's Weekly, 1899. Artist Unknown, Misusing Darwin's science theories as a basis, the idea of the Irish as less than fully white persisted. This 1899 cartoon showing the notion still persisting 17 years after the cartoon Nast published in 1882.
Harper’s Weekly, 1899. Artist Unknown, Misusing Darwin’s science theories as a basis, the idea of the Irish as less than fully white persisted. This cartoon showing the notion that the Irish were physically and scientifically different still persisted 17 years after Nast published his cartoon in 1882.

Fritz the German (smoking a Meerschaum styled pipe and holding a mug of German beer) has a good inkling of who might be next in the pecking order. He directs his question and emphasizes it with a slight touch to the Irishman’s arm. We can see the Irishman is considering the implications.

A common Nast technique placed proclamations on walls behind his subjects, in this case language direct from the Exclusion Act, on the wall behind the two men as they reflect their future in America. A looming possibility hovers over their casual moment and invades their enjoyment of a legislative victory against the Chinese in America.

“The First Blow at the Chinese Question” 1877

Cartoon showing white worker punching a Chinese man
“The First Blow at the Chinese Question” – 5 December 1877 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

Readers of the San Francisco satire magazine The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp did not receive a balanced view of the Chinese in their cartoons or accompanying articles. The readership of the magazine lived with and believed in the terror of white unemployment caused by cheap Chinese labor. They expected and received a press that was sympathetic to their concerns.

“No variety of anti-European sentiment has ever approached the violent extremes to which anti-Chinese agitation went in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Despite laws and treaties promising federal protection, “lynchings, boycotts and mass expulsions still harassed the Chinese after the federal government yielded to the clamor for their exclusion in 1882” (Higham 25).

Steadily, the Democratic Party, fueled by an infusion of “southern exports” and white “Workingmen’s Party” members merged into a powerful force to treat the Chinese and other minorities in the West with “similar brutality in legislation, in land policy, and in labor practices” (Pfaelzer 58-60).

It was easier to justify the violence, the driving out, the boycotts and mistreatment of the Chinese when they could be turned into something less than human. The labor issue, one of the six categories Richard S. West showcases in his book, was the focus of The Wasp’s first anti-Chinese, pro-white labor cover, The First Blow at the Chinese Question.  West prefaces the image by acknowledging that 15,000 men out of work in San Francisco alone, added to the white labor agitation. The Chinese immigrant was made to be the scapegoat (West 156).

A sturdy-looking white man wearing a trade apron, and two other laborers behind him have entered Chinatown. They encounter a Chinse man on the sidewalk. In one hand, the lead worker carries a sign, “Working Men’s Procession.”  With his right arm, the lead workingman lands a punch directly into the face of the Chinese immigrant. The blow knocks his victim off balance. The Chinese man’s long queue spirals outward from the impact.  His oversized tunic extends past his arms, covering his hands. The Chinese man does not curl his fists in to strike back. Keller has neutralized this victim.

Another Chinese immigrant stands behind a storefront door or window and reacts in horror. He is distorted and ethereal. His whole body is aquiver, as if he is being vaporized, like a genie returning to a lamp. His fluid contours suggest he is fading away. This second Chinese figure is startled and his queue reacts in the same manner as the man under attack. He holds a gun by his side, but he makes no attempt to raise the weapon in defense. He is unable to protect his territory, his placement inside the rectangular border limits his power.  The frame suggests he is reduced to one dimension, a poster or piece of wall art.

As Lenore Metrick-Chen suggests, it was fashionable for Americans to collect  Chinese art, but acceptable to exclude the Chinese people.  The Wasp suggests that the Chinese belong on walls, but not in the streets.

Unlike Nast’s portrayals of the Workingmen’s Party, Keller’s representation of Causacian labor are generic and do not possess brutish features. Their behavior says otherwise.