This is another picture of Uncle Sam, Nast’s symbol of American government feeling beleaguered and confused by laws passed under his name. See also “Hard to Please the “White Trash.“
The Chinese Question had been answered six months earlier by passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. A framed reminder that “The “Cheap” Chinese Must Go” so that the “Bear” Politicians May Live” is only one reminder on the wall that anti-Chinese racism prevailed as law of the land. The bear is the symbol for California. The issue concerning Chinese labor was only one that plagued Uncle Sam.
A very battered and bandaged Uncle Sam attempts to recuperate upon a chaise lounge. His grim expression reflects the ills and issues he has been forced to endure and symbolically represent. Laws, taxes, bills, enactments, proclamations, declarations all serving special interests.
Written on the wall are excerpts by “Dr. Arthur” or President Chester A. Arthur. Arthur became president on September 19, 1881 after James Garfield’s death by assassin and served until March 4, 1885.
“The Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and lunatics. Congress suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, later making the restriction permanent” (White House.gov).
Two months after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Nast included this small cartoon — a commentary on his belief of the Irish Americans’ continued thirst to exert power over the government.
Nast’s stereotyped Irishman, dressed in top hat, shamrock embroidered waistcoat and parade sash, holds a stick in one hand and beckons to James Russell Lowell that he is a possible victim of expulsion or exclusion.
Lowell, a Republican, early abolitionist, political essayist, and highly regarded American poet, is depicted in his role as ambassador to the Court of St. James, serving at the pleasure of President Arthur. According to a report in Harper’s June 10th issue, Lowell influenced the U.S. government to grant American citizenship to Mr. O’Mahoney, an Irishman who served in the American Navy, but afterward conducted business and ran for office in Ireland.
Harper’s reflected on the controversy, “The Irish-Americans complaint of what they call Mr. Lowell’s `flunkeyism’ is as absurd and ignorant as it is vulgar. Mr. Lowell, though personally popular, has always been criticised [Sic]in London society for his marked and often combative Americanism.”
With the anti-Chinese campaign successfuly resovled by the Exclusion Act, Nast’s Irishman turns to attack a new target, the freshly minted American poet living in England. Emboldened by “The Chinese Must Go” champion Denis Kearney’s victory over the Chinese, this Irishman is brazenly confident that Irish power can decree who gets to be an American and who does not.
To remind his readers of Irish involvement in national politics, Nast places a framed picture of an Irishman raising a club above a Chinese man in an effort to drive him out of the United States. The caption reads,
“We have a new gospel of Americanism in this evening of the nineteenth century – a gospel that declares Kearney shall be supreme in California, and shall close the ‘golden gate’ against the Chinaman; and which prescribes that in the East the commissions of our ministers shall be countersigned by an Irish ‘suspect.’ ‘The American must go'” – From The Hour””
Nast warns that no one is safe. The Irish American beast must continually feed its lust for power. Who will be next?
The Chinese Exclusion Act passed on May 6, 1882. Several Republicans, most notably James G. Blaine caved, in Nast’s view, to Democratic demands that the Chinese Must Go. In the process, Nast believed Blaine betrayed the values of Lincoln’s Party and discarded the core philosophy of civil rights and tolerance for all people.
The Democrats asked for a 20-year ban on Chinese immigration to the U.S. The Republican concession,limited the term to 10 years, upon which time the ban on the Chinese would be revisited. This concession did not pacify Nast and others who believed the act was immoral and unjust. President Arthur later extended the ban. Ultimately the ban became permanent.
The hefty Republican elephant adds weight to the free fall of “Freedom for All” tree, uprooting the anchor of “Liberty” that supported Chinese immigrants and had promised to shelter the them. With the added assistance of the elephant, the roots of this once strong tree rips violently from the American foundation.
The Chinese man has lost his grip from the trunk, and only a thinning, tenuous branch connects him to a land that once welcomed him. An America the Chinese helped to cultivate and build. He has reluctantly become part of a terminal trio to undermine American strength. The unearthing of the tree, used a symbol of life, knowledge, and wisdom, is unmistakable.
A lone Chinese man in native garb, his hair formed in a queue long enough to drag on the ground, approaches a castle gate. The medieval-styled gateway is a fortress emblazoned with the words, “The Temple of Liberty.”
Two soldiers stand at the edge of the drawbridge. Each is wearing a Bicorn hat – two sentries wearing Pickelhaubes, a Prussian styled battle helmet stand at attention near a metal gate that is raised. One soldier meets the Chinese man as he approaches the drawbridge – he reads a large document, on which the opposite side reads “Passport U.S.” The Chinese man approaches in a defensive posture and carries a modest satchel of belongings. He does not present any paperwork to the border guard.
The Bicorn hat also appears in two of George F. Keller’s drawings of Denis Kearney, The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?“ and “Devastation.“Kearney, an anti- Chinese, pro-white labor activist, styled himself as a “Lieutenant General” of his “The Chinese Must Go” effort. It is possible that Nast picked up on the symbolism and used it here as a reluctant nod to Kearney as the ringleader and his successful effort with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Clearly, the building represents a structure for entry into the United States. It is located near a harbor into which ships freely enter. An American flag waves from its position on the side of the building.
Although the cartoon is less sophisticated than most of Nast’s pieces, he has made some interesting choices to include here and the irony he presents is powerful. Although we are told this is the United States of America, the imagery–the castle’s architecture and the military uniforms all shout a reference to imperial Europe.
The cartoon’s caption, “E Pluribus Unum (Except for the Chinese)” is a deliberate and obvious stab upon those Americans who supported the Chinese Exclusion Act. Nast chides them for forgetting their own immigrant history. Nast reminds his audience that America was designed to be different. America stood as a temple of freedom against European imperial oppression –a safe haven for different cultures, ancestry and belief systems. America’s great strength is rooted in her diversity–E Pluribus Unum —out of one we are many. Except of course, for the Chinese. They aren’t part of the American plan.
The scene is missing Columbia however. Nast’s favorite symbol and defender of the true meaning of America’s values. Where is she to help escort the Chinese applicant through the immigration process? With the Chinese Exclusion Act ready to be implemented, perhaps Columbia, like Nast, who brought her to life on so many occasions, has lost his passion to entreat her to fight any further for this cause.
Thomas Nast once again borrowed from Bret Harte’s popular 1870 poem “Plain Language from Truthful James ” and the “heathen chinee” character Ah Sin as the focus of this cartoon against Denis Kearney, the leader of the anti-Chinese movement making waves in California.
A gaunt Uncle Sam is seen crawling out of the tapered mouthpiece of a large bull horn with the “UNITED STATES” engraved along its long scrimshaw. The largest part of the opening faces West, where framed by majestic mountains a vaguely drawn figure dances around a campfire.
The horn has additional engraving. “This is the land of Liberty, and the home of the KEARNEY’s.” In between a flourish is another declaration “Kearney’s Equal Rights.” Lengthwise, the tail of the horn is engraved “Declaration of Independence by Kearney.” As Uncle Sam crawls out of the smaller end, he offers up the “Anti-Chinese Bill” to Ah Sin, a Chinese merchant waiting under an umbrella at the edge of Chinatown. Behind Ah Sin, Chinese architecture is visible. His community is under transition. Beyond, the village stores, owned by non-Chinese, are display signs, “American Produce Market Closed” and “No Foreign Devils Wanted.”
Ah Sin appears startled by Uncle Sam’s weakened appearance. Ah Sins’s hands are on his knees, ready to rise. His queue vaults in the air by the surprise. Uncle Sam is unable to stop the fast-moving current of anti-Chinese legislation, and in fact, has become a reluctant courier — a mere delivery boy for Kearney’s orders.
Nast’s message is clear. Denis Kearney has a big mouth. He needs a big horn. Kearney, an Irish immigrant, is the self-proclaimed soldier and leader of the Workingmen’s Party, an organization of white labor fixated on driving Chinese labor competition -— and all Chinese immigrants — out of California.
By 1879, Kearney had been at his anti-Chinese campaign for a solid two years, effectively growing his agitated labor base. His voice still thick with an Irish brogue, Kearney’s charismatic Sand Lot speeches provoked white workers to violence toward the Chinese — and Kearney’s successful lobbying efforts led to the passage of numerous local anti-Chinese laws. National political candidates, most notably presidential aspirant James G. Blaine were eager to please a growing western labor constituency in the West. Kearney and his followers were sought out and courted for their votes.
In this cartoon, Nast attributes Kearney’s loudmouth proclamations as self-serving attempts to remake and rebrand the U.S. Constitution as his own personal instrument to redefine the meaning of civil rights. Nast’s cartoon highlights the hypocrisy of one immigrant ordering another immigrant to leave the country.