Nativism

Immigration historian John Highman suggests that American nativism “should be defined as intense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e.,”un-American”) connections. He observed that feelings or intensities of nativism rose and fell as a barometer to overall nationalistic feelings (4). In America, Highman distills this down to three themes that ran through nativist sentiment in the early nineteenth century: Reformation and the hatred of Roman Catholicism, fear of foreign radicals and political revolutionaries, and racial nativism, which led to the belief America belonged to people of the Anglo-Saxon race. The United States was their domain. The Irish were viewed as a different race and this belief continued to permeate long after the initial Protestant-driven nativist sentiment had considerably weakened.

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. (Not drawn by Nast)

As immigration to America increased in the early 1820s and 1830s, nativist organizations sprouted all over the country and especially in locations with higher immigrant populations. Some met in secret. The Know Nothings are the most well-known of these secret societies, their name derived from their desire to remain secret. When asked about the organization, members would claim not to know anything about it. Nast would affix another meaning to their name, that of ignorance. At first, nativist xenophobia targeted all foreign immigrants, but their real concern quickly shifted to Irish Americans who practiced the Roman Catholic faith, particularly in the 1840s when the Irish began arriving in greater numbers due to increased oppression and the potato blight.

Protestant faith and culture shaped early America.  For the New York City Protestant ruling class, Irish Catholics were seen as a threat to the status quo. In the two decades before and after the Civil War, expressions of nativism in the United States focused almost exclusively toward the Irish Catholics.  The Irish were “nonetheless subject to prejudice, discrimination, and bitter hostility by many Americans for their Irish background or Catholic faith or, more often, both” (Meagher 221).

“American writers, cartoonists, and so-called scientific experts hammered away at Irish violence, emotional instability, and contentment in squalor” (Meagher 217). In the eyes of Protestants with ancestral ties to England, the Irish were no better than animals.  The Irish presented a triple threat. Their growing numbers, allegiance to strong, organized religion ruled by a foreign monarch, and political gains within Tweed’s Democratic Party, all posed a serious concern to the Protestant elite.

Protestant nativists fought for their survival and painted the Irish as “others.” They eagerly adopted and repeated the British trope of the Irish as unsophisticated, violent-prone animals, a lower being on the evolutionary scale. The Irish’s faith, and in particular their blind allegiance to a foreign pontiff, unsettled nativists.  Protestants Americans remembered the hard-fought revolutionary history of their young nation. During the peak years of the potato famine migration (1845-1855) nativists portrayed the Irish in invasion terminology. Nativists predicted the American way of life would end.

By 1880, by and large, the Irish successfully pulled themselves out of their “lowlife” status in a number of ways. They gained respect through their service in the Civil War on behalf of the Union, and in New York City, through political positions awarded by William M. “Boss” Tweed in return for their loyalty and vote.  With these gains in respectablility and power, the Irish emerged as a sought-after voting bloc. But politics alone was not enough to counter nativist prejudice. Most significantly, the Irish fought hard to define themselves as white. To do so meant practicing their own brand of nativism. and align with other xenophobes. The Chinese were a convenient target.

In assessing the work of several “whiteness” studies, historian Timothy Meagher asserts that self-identification as “white” went beyond skin color. “It was not clear that the Irish were white” (217). To be white required a sense of belonging to a community and culture (215). Being a part of anti-racial groups, or affiliation in a secret society was solidifying factor.

The Irish, Meagher writes, arrived in America with “lessons” learned from their British oppressors. Their past shaped the way they thought of race and they arrived in a new nation with revenge buried in their subconscious. Meagher quotes whiteness historian Theodore Allen who wrote of the Irish, “no immigrants ever came to the United States better prepared by tradition and experience to empathize” with other oppressed minorities. But to the contrary, the Irish developed an adversarial role with other races (216).

Meagher concludes that the Irish made a conscious decision to leave the classes of the oppressed and strategize that their best means of survival in a new homeland required a redefinition as members of a superior class. To identify oneself as superior  required a new inferior victim.. The Chinese in America fit the bill. Meagher believes Irish antipathy toward the Chinese went beyond labor competition.

Exemplified by individuals like Denis Kearney, groups of Irish Americans repackaged the same accusations nativists had leveled upon them onto the Chinese. The depictions  and accusations all too similar: practice of a strange form of worship (or lack thereof), unwillingness to assimilate to American culture, a desire to keep to themselves, preferences for living in squalor, and members of a invading force, intent to usrup and redefine the American way of life. For Irish Americans, being anti-Asian helped them become more white.

“Celestial” 1881

“Celestial” by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly, 2 February 1881. Source: UDel-Walfred

This small cartoon appeared on the back pages of Harper’s Weekly. Pre-Chinese Exclusion, the image reinforces stereotypes, both of the Chinese, here shown as “John Chinaman” and his nemesis, the white laborer, here a member of the Workingmen’s Party of California. This worker  resembles Nast’s generic representations of Irish white laborers pressing the California public and legislature to legally and socially drive the Chinese out.  The worker stands behind a sign that says “Sand Lots.” Sand Lots provided the stage where anti-Chinese agitator Denis Kearney popularized his anthem, “The Chinese Must Go” and rallied white laborers to organize themselves as the “Workingmen’s Party.”

The white laborer is scruffy and unkempt with an unflattering protruding jaw line.  On his hat a band reads “A Vote.” He looks directly at the Chinese man. The outline of a cloud in the sky resembles smoke emanating from the man, but he is not smoking. Off in the distance, Chinese workers are traveling to and from a laundry.

Between the two men, a sign “The New Chinese Treaty” has fallen on the ground. The original Burlingame Treaty, enacted in 1868 to protect Chinese immigrants in the United States, and which bestowed most favored nation status to China, had since gone through many revisions, each increasing limitations upon the Chinese.

The Chinese man attempts diplomacy. He approaches his adversary with deferential respect, his hand to his chest in a slight bow. His head dips to acknowledge the working man. The caption reads,

“The Yellow Dragon. “Of course, I did not hope to suit you, but this is for my friend, Uncle Sam, and it will even enable you to get better accustomed to this land of freedom, which you have adopted and which protects you.”

Many Irish-born, anti-Chinese agitators, like Denis Kearney and the working men who followed him, were naturalized citizens and earned the right to vote in elections.  The vote empowered the Caucasian laborers to lobby effectively against the Chinese. State and federal laws prohibited the Chinese from becoming citizens and voting.

Detail
Detail

In these smaller cartoons, Nast frequently shows Chinese figures carrying laundry tubs, washboards and engaging in laundry services. The Chinese did not come to America with any particular knowledge or skill of laundering, but they adopted the laundry industry as a practical matter when populations in western towns exploded. No one else wanted to do the work and it provided income to the Chinese while rendering a valuable service to the community.  The availability of well-priced,Chinese laundry service freed white women from the tedious household task.  A win-win situation for both white and Chinese families. The figure in the center is going about his business, with a smile upon his face.

Driven out of the mines and infrastructure jobs, Chinese moved into a wide variety of occupations that provided needed services. In addition to laundry, the Chinese were noted as shoe cobblers, cigar makers and tea merchants. Nast’s Chinese launderer may be seen as a stereotype, but by repeating this trope, Nast perpetuates another American perception about the Chinese – their docility.Whether intentional or not, Nast’s background images reinforces the Chinese as peaceful, non-threatening members of society.

Kearney and his his Sand Lot speeches were effective. Despite the Chinese’s limited presence in these service roles, Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party were nevertheless threatened by their existence. They demanded white households to boycott all services rendered by the Chinese.

In his cartoons, Nast alternated the placement of his signature. Here it is on the side of the Chinese diplomat. Plenty of room existed on the left to place the signature. There is evidence to suggest that Nast signed his name next to a person or cause to reaffirm an editorial position.

“At Last the Democratic Tiger has Something to Hang On” 1882

A lion hangs from the queue of a Chinese man
“At Last the Democratic Tiger has Something to Hang On” – 22 April, 1882 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

 

This smaller cartoon is a commentary offered on the eve of the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law on May 6, 1882 by President Chester A. Arthur.

The passage of the act was a victory for the Democratic Party, shown here, not as a donkey, which had become the favored symbol. Instead Nast returns to his past and revives his old nemesis, the Tammany Tiger.

The Tammany Tiger is clenching on the queue of a Chinese man who is desperately holding on for life by wrapping his arms and legs around a tree trunk named “A Veto.” The weight of the tiger is pulling down on the queue, stretching the Chinese man and causing him great discomfort.

The queue is the lifeline for the tiger. The Democrats are reinvigorated by raising “The Chinese Question” and their legislative triumph to drive the Chinese out. By referring to the Democrats as the Tammany Tiger, Nast makes an unmistakable comparison to the corrupt Tweed era. At last, this tiger has found something to hold onto. In a twist of irony, the Chinese, by their very existence, have empowered the Democrats.

Democrats had been on the wrong side of slavery, and the losing side in the Civil War. By exploiting racial fears, Democrats, with a strong Irish constituency, found a receptive audience by stoking Sinophobia in communities where a visible Chinese presence could be targeted.  Repeatedly and effectively, the Democrats offered Chinese “otherness” to swell their ranks and influence of political power. “The Chinese Must Go” soon became a roaring anthem.

Detail
Detail

The Tammany Tiger can hardly believe his luck. After Tweed’s arrest and fall from power, the tiger had been quiet. The tiger has only barely escaped doom. He holds the queue precariously by his teeth. His limbs are all askew, and he has an expression of surprise or puzzlement.

Thomas Nast signed the cartoon on the left side, or side of the Chinese trying to remain in the U.S.

 

 

 

 

“Civilization of Blaine” 1879

The Civilization of Blaine by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, 8 March 1879. Source: UDel-Walfred

On March 8, 1979, Nast placed James G.Blaine front and center Harper’s cover with The Civilization of Blaine.  A distinguished Blaine is seen at ground level receiving the attention of a subordinate, subservient African American. The black man’s posture is weak. Attired in country clothes, he crouches and cowers with a defensive grin on his face. He has the demeanor of a beaten dog approaching his master. He does not look the white politician in the eye. In his right hand, he clutches “A Vote” and offers this almost obediently to Blaine.

And not this man? Columbia argues for Civil Rights for a wounded African American veteran. Harper's Weekly, August 5, 1859. Library of Congress
And not this man? Columbia argues for Civil Rights for a wounded African American veteran. Harper’s Weekly, August 5, 1859. Library of Congress

His right leg is drawn up, nervously rubbing the front of his right foot against the back of his left trouser, as if to polish it in the presence of greatness. Blaine’s left shoe tramples on the “Burlingame Treaty.”

As with most of Nast’s villains, Blaine’s face is not distorted or caricatured. Nast wanted him recognized and consistently depicted Blaine’s facial features realistically in his cartoons.  Like Tweed, Nast rarely deviated from a famous face once it had been established as a character.  His victim’s bodies, on the other hand, felt the weapon of distortion, but the face never!

In the background and elevated by a storefront step, a Chinese merchant emerges from his store.  Nast assigns dignity to this merchant. Nast introduces him as a Chinese diplomat, often referred to as  “John Confucius” or “John Chinaman” (the terms are interchangeable) in Nast’s cartoons.  It is an important distinction to note, that in Nast’s catalog of images, he pulled from his personal supply of default or stock characters who served a specific purpose.

Some might argue that “John” perpetuates a stereotype. In almost every instance where John appears, he does so in the same manner as Columbia or Uncle Sam, figures in Nast cartoons who represent either a government or national virtues. They are figures, whom by their expression or stance, often provide admonition or displeasure to the scene of injustice they are witnessing.  Nast could and did draw Chinese in any number of ways, and some of these are not flattering.  “John Chinaman” or “John Confucius” never really changes. His inclusion is purposeful. He is Nast’s relied-upon figure of dignity and outrage toward injustice.

The merchant assumes the elevated position in the drawing.  He is on the right, figuratively and morally. The injustice is on the left. The merchant is not shabbily dressed.  Interestingly, his hair, though long, is not braided into the queue, which factors in most of Nast’s cartoons of the Chinese. It is a subtle change for Nast to utilize. John is wearing a hat, a crown if you will, a piece of clothing that imparts respect, formality, and distinction. This further validates his dual role as a local merchant and as a representative of the Chinese. His people will be affected by adherence to the treaty that Blaine is obligated, as a U.S. Senator, to protect.  John’s arms are slightly outstretched as if encountering a surprise and ready to protest.  At the right of his storefront is a sampling of the wares — the teas, silks, china and carvings that had been for years,  favored art pieces of in Caucasian homes, bought and placed in homes “as signs of American aesthetic acumen and refinement” (Lenore-Chen 2).

Blaine senses the approach of John Confucius and waves him back with an extended left hand.  Blaine’s face is slightly cocked, and his eyes avert to the left as the Chinese merchant approaches from behind. Blaine’s expression is clearly one that intends to discard the Chinese merchant completely, as if to say, “Stay where you are–do not interfere here.” Nast speaks for John Confucius (for his mouth is drawn shut) so the audience can ponder his question placed in the caption, “Am I not a Man and a Brother!”

The cartoon and caption echo an earlier post-Civil War illustration Nast had drawn to advocate on behalf of and provoke emotion for Negro suffrage. Nast’s 1865 illustration “And Not This Man? “shows Columbia resplendent in American symbolism, arguing for the admission of a wounded Negro Union soldier into the American family.

Nast’s experiences and other images he drew on behalf of civil rights had a cumulative and successful effect. “Nast’s sensitivity to the rights of minority Americans would extend to others besides the embattled freedmen” (Keller 107). Nast would never draw African Americans again with the same dignity as this early drawing.  However, by evoking the same sentiment, this time on behalf of the Chinese, Nast might have hoped that his pen would wield influential once more on the national consciousness.

These aspirations were misplaced.  With each election in the 1870’s, the Democratic Party gained inroads and influence, courting the votes and catering to the demands of a growing white, male labor force comprised of first and second- generation immigrants. “The loss of Republican purity was a loss of Republican power” (Keller 281). Politicians and public sentiment were drifting away from Nast. But Nast and Harper’s Weekly would not give up on minorities. “The Chinese and the Indians, in particular, came under his protective wing” (Keller 107).

 

“The Coming Man” 1881

The Coming Man 20 May 1881
The Coming Man, 20 May, 1881 by George Frederick Keller, The San Francisco Wasp
This commanding cartoon was published by The San Francisco Wasp approximately one year before the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted on May 6, 1882.

The image appealed to white workingmen’s fears of Chinese takeover of American society and enterprise. Despite the Chinese only occupying 0.002 percent of the population, visual depictions of the Chinese continued to reinforce imagery of infestation and sinister monopolization of industry.

The Coming Man colorfully illustrates the worst in negative stereotyping and Sinophobia. The Chinese man’s over-sized left hand stretches out to the foreground of the image. It is stamped “MONOPOLY” and his fingernails are represented as animal talons, the nails are curled and grow upward like an overhang of a pagoda.

Detail
Detail
The hand grasps control over trades and services for which the Chinese were most associated – cigar making and sales, laundry, underwear and shirt manufacturing, box factories, clothing and shoes.

Above his blue mandarin jacket (Chinese tunics were commonly blue, purple or black) is the image of a Chinese nightmare for white Americans. The Chinese man’s face is grotesquely distorted and he greets the viewer head on with a sinister expression. As if to focus better on those looking upon him, he closes one eye with his index finger to sharpen his stare. His right eye and brow lurch up at an unnatural angle. His ears and nose are large. A devious smile reveals a single tooth, evidence of his bad health. His tongue dangles from the left side of his mouth.

On his shaven head is a skull cap. From the back of his head, the Chinese queue appears to have a life of its own, and whips out from behind the head. The very end of the hair queue looks like the end of a whip.

This Chinese man is not afraid of the white workingman clientele and readers of The Wasp. Behind him and to the left, six factories smolder with industry, possibly a reference to the Chinese Six Companies, an organization which advocated for the Chinese in America. A Chinese pagoda is seen among the buildings. On the right, a few angry, white, Euro-centric workers appear, faintly drawn. They are disappearing. A bearded man wears an apron and a white hat and holds his fist up in the air. Only two factories are viable on this side of the image.

The dominant colors of the cartoon are red, white and blue. This Chinese Man, this “coming man” has taken over the American Dream. He has pushed American workers into the background.

The implicit message of the cartoon is to stoke fear and uncertainty. This man, and others like him must be stopped from coming.

The caption reads “Alee samee ‘Melican Man Monopoleeee”

 

“Protecting White Labor” 1879

Protecting White Labor. 22 March 19-879 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine visited California in a bid to swell support for his nomination as  the 1880 presidential Republican candidate.

Blaine stands front and center alongside an “intelligent workman” and Blaine is clearly affronted, if not shocked by the man’s reasonable and mild sentiment expressed in the caption which reads, “Intelligent Workman. “You need not plead my cause and my children’s. I am able, and always have been, to take care of myself and mine; and no large military force is necessary to keep the peace, for real working-men are not rioters, strikers, and blowers.”

The worker is a butcher. He stands in front of an alley. On his side of the wall, posters declare that he and his non-violent colleagues feel that their products, wares, foods and services speak for themselves. The quality of their goods and services stand up and can be matched in comparison. They are not threatened by competition.

Underneath these declarations, a statement from Wong A.R. Chong, express an opinion that merchants who are failing, have only themselves to blame.

Detail of trampled Burlingame Treaty

Blaine appears indignant at the butcher’s overtures. In Blaine’s hands and under his feet are torn remenents of the Burlingame Treaty, federal legislation enacted in 1868 to protect Chinese immigrants in America. As if to prompt Blaine to reconsider, the butcher gently rests one of his hands upon Blane’s hand. Blaine will have none of it. The Senator from Maine will not listen to reason. To advance his political future, Blaine will repeat the ripe political vitriol stirred by the Sand Lot speaker and anti-Chinese agitator Denis Kearney and Workingmen’s Party whom Kearney inspired.

Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party are represented on the right side of the wall to the alley entrance. Angry men  emerge from “Hoodlum Alley” and the Sand Lots located within and are visible in the center background.

No Chinese individuals are depicted in the cartoon. The rallied workingmen carry sticks and wear guns. The declarations on their side of the wall voice their platform,

In the interest of peace and good government, the president must sign the anti-Chinese bill as it is the only means that will prevent a terrible calamity and the utter annihilation of the Chinese, which is sure to follow the veto of the bill. But whatever happens the Chinese Must Go! Denis Kearney.

The cover image is a severe indictment against Blaine. Nast does not feel it is necessary to show victimization of the Chinese. Nast places a confident, equal intelligent man directly in Blaine’s path. The hands of this intelligent laborer’s gesture and his request for Blaine’s comprehension of a more common sense approach is met with shock and disdain. Blaine’s body language suggests he is surprised, and in a bit of a huff. He did not expect this reaction from the butcher. The butcher represents reason, while the Workingmen’s Party represents Sinophobic hysteria.

“The New Comet – A Phenomenon Now Visible in All Parts of the US” 1870

the-new-comet-a-phenom-now-visiable-8-June-1870 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

This 1870 cartoon is not typical of Nast’s images and his images of the Chinese in America in general. It is uncharacteristically dark in tone and density, and it is the only Nast cartoon that pictures the Chinese as anything other than a human being.  China was known as the Celestial Empire. Playing up on the term “celestial” Nast captures the growing curiosity of New Yorkers about Chinese Americans who are arriving in New York City in greater numbers.

The majority of Chinese Americans resided on the West Coast, coming to America in order to escape extreme financial hardship and widespread famine in their native China.  “Thousands of Chinese, mostly Cantonese” responded to the 1848-49 California Gold Rush and were recruited to help build the Transcontinental Railroad and the “economic development of the West” (Choy 19).

Soon after they arrived on the West Coast, the Chinese experienced prejudice and legislative roadblocks which prevented them from assimilation, attaining citizenship and enjoyment of rights commonly extended to other immigrants. Most white labor interests in the U.S. considered the Chinese “sojourners” or temporary workers with no desire to earn citizenship or assimilate to American culture. Since existing laws prevented naturalization, the Chinese were forced and locked into this perception.

In 1873, the United States suffered a severe economic recession and the economic uncertainty permeated at state and local levels. The growing white population in the western states, particularly in California, increasingly viewed the Chinese as unfair economic competitors. Employers appreciated the Chinese. They were industrious, productive employees, often willing to work for less. However these Chinese were not “coolies,” or “slave labor” and would strike for better working conditions and wages when they felt unfair conditions existed. The recession fueled white angst regarding labor issues – the leading factor driving the “The Chinese Must Go” anthem.

Before the Civil War, a very small Chinese population (as low as 38 or as high as 60 depending on sources) resided in New York, in close proximity to “the impoverished, Irish-dominated Fourth Ward to the east of Five Points” (Anbinder 396). These New York Chinese lived quietly among the other immigrants and rendered services such as selling rock candy and cigars.  Due to a lack of Chinese women in America, and Irish women’s lack of suitable Irish partners, Chinese-Irish marriages, though rare, did exist and were tolerated. As experienced sailors, many Chinese males settled in the port city. Some Chinese were escaped “coolie laborers” who had been forcibly or unfairly tricked to work on ships. New York provided an escape to deplorable working conditions that existed along the southern Atlantic (Anbinder 396).

Eighteen hundred and seventy was not the first time that crowds of New Yorkers had encountered the Chinese however.  In the eighteenth century, Americans were curious and respectful concerning the nation and people of China. In the mid-nineteenth century, attitudes about the Chinese declined in the aftermath of the Opium Wars (1839-1842). As early as 1847 New Yorker’s attitudes about the Chinese had “shifted dramatically.” In the summer of 1847, New Yorkers “were treated to a spectacular sight: a 160 foot Chinese vessel called the Keying” (Tchen 63).

Tchen describes the arrival of the Keying into the Battery area of New York Harbor where thousands came to watch, and later pay twenty-five cents to tour the unusual looking trading ship. Newspapers offered daily coverage and an estimated 4,000 people a day came to see or tour the craft. In addition to the goods and surroundings of the Keying on display, New Yorkers were promised a spectacle of the strange religious practices by the Chinese crew – “a once in a lifetime chance of seeing something authentically Chinese.” A variety of creative license and speculative promoting had led New York spectators to expect sacrificing, dancing, rituals, and examples of opium-induced stupor. It was as Tchen describes, a “packaged otherness” (67). The New York Herald observed, “They [the Chinese] are peculiarly attached to old notions, and will not permit the slightest innovation in anything” (qtd. Tchen 68). Later, a labor argument between the Chinese crew and the captain resulted in violence, which the New York press took note of and blamed squarely on opium-induced behavior.

Throughout the Keying’s stay in New York City, western culture scrambled to exploit the “exotic foreignness” and racial differences of the crew (Tchen 70).

Whatever the circumstances of their arrival, regarded either as coolie escapees or as a people driven out of California due to Sinophobic hysteria, when the Chinese settled in New York City they began to organize. Their community leaders sought out properties to rent or purchase/ in order to establish an enclave where the Chinese could live and operate businesses and receive mutual support. This concentration of Chinese residences and storefronts, despite being statistically very minute, commanded New Yorkers’ attention. “It seemed to many observers that Asians had overrun the neighborhood” (Anbinder 399). Lower Mott Street in the Sixth Ward became the foundation of what by 1880 was known as China Town (Anbidner 398).

Nast sympathetically depicted the Chinese in six prior renderings. This particular Nast’s drawing may represent his desire to capture the mood that Anbinder references – the local reaction, awareness, and curiosity of a changed presence in the largely white, Euro-centric community.  This atmospheric arrival from another world drove families out of their homes so that they could get a god look at the occurrence  – the Chinese novelty – streaking against the dark, starlit sky.

A smiling Chinese face, with a smug expression, comprises the large comet head. The tail of the comet, a Chinese pigtail or queue, is emblazoned with “Cheap Labor” a message that is met with mixed reaction to the fascinated audience below.

Detail of comet head which Nast drew as a Chinese face

The reaction of witnesses to the celestial arrival is divided. They are in halves, welcoming and wary. Spread out across the scene, large telescopes labeled “capitalist,” “the police,” “the press,” and “working man,” focus their lens upon the”phenomenon” as it enters their world.

Detail of the left side
Detail of the left side

A characteristic technique of Nast’s was to visually split his scenes and feature opposing views – pitting his subjects against one another to visually differentiate contrasting attitudes. This cartoon is no different.

The left side of the illustration represents the pro-capitalist (and progressive) stance toward the Chinese’s arrival. A tall factory frames the scene. They clearly rejoice at the prospect of what the Chinese arrival might contribute to progress and industry. Signs rise from the crowds and declare, “Let Them Come,” “We Want Servants, Cooks and Nurses,” and other positive messages welcoming the addition of Chinese labor.  The people on this side of the harbor bring out their families to witness the event. A child and a man are seen throwing up their hands in exclamation. A woman clutches her hands to her chest in a hopeful posture.

Detail of the right side of the image
Detail of the right side of the image

There is no joy on the right side of the cartoon. Here the reaction of the crowd registers displeasure, fear, and skepticism. Present are members of the Workingmen’s party and other similar labor groups that saw the Chinese as an enemy of the Caucasian laborer. The telescope far right is labeled “Working Man” and unlike the others, does not show the graduated, collapsible structure of the lens. It is a fixed focal length. This telescope resembles a long gun or cannon. It has the closest view or shot of the approaching Chinese menace.  One ghostly looking woman can be seen pleading with a man who wields a large ax. Behind this man, a small child looks away from the scene. At top right, a portly priest with a halo above his head writes pro-trade union messages. His words sermonize that “The Chinese Will Destroy Us.” Signs proclaim that the Chinese “Must Be Resisted.” Buildings advertise slogans that sell resentment and fear, “Down With Cheap Shoes,” and “Down With Capital.”

Tchen observes that Nast is not taking a position with this cartoon. Nast simply documents the two differing states of mind in his hometown. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Nast has chosen to objectify the Chinese as a comet – not because he feels the Chinese are other-worldly – but because the New Yorkers already feel this way.

Tchen speculates upon this same possibility, for he does acknowledge the pro-Chinese positions and convictions seen in Nast’s later cartoons.  Yet, Tchen is not completely comfortable that Nast did all he could with his body of work to convey a progressive attitude toward the Chinese and encourage further understanding of the obstacles they faced in America.  In particular, Tchen finds it hard to explain Nast’s reasoning behind the creation of “The Martyrdom of St. Crispin,” drawn a month earlier.

Lenore Metrick-Chen disagrees, pointing out that this particular issue of Harper’s Weekly refer to the Chinese no less than eight times and feels that the magazine advanced a negative feeling about Chinese immigration and general unease of the Chinese (39).

We may never know what existed in Nast’s mind or heart – and indeed he may have felt as curious and as astonished as the general public. This particular drawing is often shown to depict Sinophobia and as an example of turning a minority race into an “other.” Seen alone, without Five Points back story, modern viewers may not appreciate how the approach of the major change or perceived phenomenon resonated in the community.  Right or wrong, Nast piece records that New Yorkers at the time they took notice, and while the newcomers were viewed as strange and different, attitudes about the Chinese were divided.

As a documentary image, Nast’s Chinese comet head is better understood. It captures the public reaction and sensationalism that existed and should be seen in that light, rather than as a reflection of Nast’s personal beliefs or prejudices. Nast was not 100 percent consistent or admirable with his depictions of the Chinese, but if this example is to be viewed as an editorial, it is an accurate depiction of how New Yorkers felt about the Chinese arriving, and not an offering of Nast’s personal beliefs. As a Radical Republican, Nast would have aligned with capitalists and welcomed the Chinese as a valuable addition to the workforce and overall commerce in general. In The New Comet, Nast accurately captures the pro and con attitudes that together objectified and sensationalized an increased presence of Chinese in New York City.

“”The Nigger Must Go” and “The Chinese Must Go”” 1879

For this 1879 cover, Nast used his signature technique of division and created an image with two clear sides, regions or points of view. The title reflects the state of two unwanted American ethnicities residing in America. Often Nast employed visual division for contrast, but here, the African American in the South and the Chinese man in the West share a similar dilemma – pawns in a volatile debate regarding their right to vote, access to work, and be accepted into the larger American society.

The placement of Nast’s signature is also interesting. With ample room to place his traditional Th.Nast to the left or right, as was his practice, he centers his sign off and allows it to be divided, the only time in a cartoon that it is halved..In this image he is equally sympathetic to the African American and the Chinese American.

Nast’s cartoon reacts to two noteworthy election-related acts of violence which took place on both coasts. In each case mob violence shaped the outcome of the election.

With their backs facing each other, an African American on the left and a Chinese man on the right find their home region hostile. The men grimly walk away into a direction other than their point of origin.

Signage on the wall (a favorite technique of Nast’s) indicates that mob rule influenced election results in Yazoo, Mississippi and San Francisco, California respectively.  The cartoon and accompanying Harper’s editorial voiced displeasure at the election results manipulated by violent methods.

With the ratification Fifteenth Amendment of 1870, the United States conferred voting rights to African Americans. Yet among the majority of many Southern Democrats, the legitimacy or permanence of black suffrage was not widely supported in southern Democratic circles. Leadership in the Democratic Party believed in white supremacy and sought to control labor, particularly in the cotton producing states of the Deep South (Foner 421).

“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 also looked to punish African American labor and reduce dependance on black labor’s earning power and manipulated their access to jobs by encouraging Chinese and other immigrant labor to apply for jobs normally filled by blacks. 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).

Violence in Mississippi

Captain H.M. Dixon, referred to by Nast on the wall notices, was a reformist Democrat who ran for office as Sheriff of Yazoo City, Mississippi. His opponent was Democratic favorite James Barksdale.  Harper’s commented,

“An armed and drunken mob compelled Dixon to withdraw.
Some time afterward, upon going into Yazoo City, he was met by James Barksdale, the Democratic candidate for Chancery Clerk, who hailed him, and stepped into the street armed with a double-barrelled shot-gun. Dixon drew a pistol, but Barksdale fired and killed him.”

Harper’s lamented on their prediction that election thuggery and violence would become the norm in the South, usurping federal law.

Nast’s wall posters brand Dixon a hero, “the bravest of the brave” against the bull-dozing, albeit successful efforts of mob rule,

A dejected African American laborer carries his meager belongings in a knapsack as he stands in front of a scene of violence. His attire is clean, complete, modest, but dignified. There are no patches or holes in the clothing. By his appearance, he has been able to work and afford certain refinements.  He finishes off his shirt with an informal kerchief tie. Now displaced from his job, he pulls the brim of his hat over his eyes to assure a quiet escape from location where he is no longer wanted. Beyond the wall, a pair of feet from an unknown victim can be seen. In his frame, Nast places the African American in an adversarial position to the Chinese man. But this Chinese man does not appear to seek southern employment. His destination is unknown.

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves. 29 March 1879. Harper's Weekly. Used by Permission
Difficult Problems Solving Themselves. 29 March 1879. Harper’s Weekly. Used by Permission

Unlike Difficult Problems Solving Themselves, seen left, the figures with their back against the other have a specific direction and goal before them.

Like the African American, the Chinese man is drawn in profile, in front of the melodrama of Irish-born Denis Kearney’s Sand Lot speeches and Workingmen’s proclamations that “The Chinese Must Go.”  Nast’s Chinese man bears a somber expression, his one hand clutches a open fan, the other hand dangles like a claw in mid-air.  Nast’s chides Kalloch’s religious background by couching the anti-Chinese rhetoric as a prayer, mocking the legitimacy of Kalloch’s divine appeal, “We Thank Thee, Oh Lord, That the Chinese Must Go.”

Violence in San Francisco

Ongoing anti-Chinese hysteria fueled the debate to exclude or greatly restrict a Chinese labor presence in California. The Rev. Isaacs S. Kalloch, a Baptist preacher and candidate for Mayor of San Francisco was an outspoken Democrat and ally of Denis Kearney,  Sand Lot instigator who coined and championed the phrase “The Chinese Must Go” throughout the country, but most effectively in California.  With this alliance secured, Kalloch confidently counted on Kearney’s followers to win him the election.

Prior to the Civil War, Republicans had dominated local California politics. A charismatic and motivational speaker, Kearney and his Workingmen’s multitude hammered away at public opinion and ultimately tipped the balance away from Republicans. Once Democrats controlled the legislature, anti-Chinese legislation proliferated and factored into a revision of the California state constitution in 1878.

Charles M. De Young, co-founder and managing editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and ardent capitalist, appreciated the value of Chinese labor and advocated against the revised California Constitution. De Young sided with Kalloch’s opponent. De Young had originally aligned with Kearney, but despised the Irishman’s penchant for violent tactics and soon broke off the friendship. De Young considered the Workingmen’s Party platform as anti-business, De Young and a small group of capitalists and monopolists, whom Kearney called “The Honorable Bilks” grew more vocal against Kearney’s platform to drive the Chinese out of California. De Young wanted the Chinese to remain.. It was good business.

De Young discovered that Kalloch had only recently shifted his position against the Chinese.  Despite his recent conversion to Kearney, Kalloch was a charismatic and effective candidate.  “Kalloch’s growing legion of followers hung on his every word” (West 23).

This worried De Young. He considered both Kearney and Kalloch  threats. With the power of the press behind him, De Young had learned that Kalloch left behind a “checkered past” in the East, and delighted in exposing the news. De Young published salacious rumors about Kalloch’s background. Kalloch retaliated. The scorching rhetoric went back and forth and continued for weeks. When Kalloch stated that De Young’s mother ran a brothel, De Young unraveled and shot Kalloch. “The attempt at ending Kalloch’s life instead gave added energy to his candidacy” and Kalloch survived and won the election (West 24).

De Young went into hiding for a short while and with his influence, avoided prosecution for  attempted murder. Undaunted, he continued to assault Kalloch in the columns of the Chronicle. Kalloch’s son, incensed by the murder attempt and continued vitriol toward his father entered the offices of the Chronicle, found and killed Charles De Young. Kalloch’s son was not prosecuted for murder.

The front cover with the placcards containing hateful vitriol, was Nast and Harper’s reminder to the public that America was a very different place outside New  York City.

 

 

 

 

 

“Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day” 1879

“Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has Its Day” by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly

Nast drew numerous cartoons sympathetic to the Chinese in reaction to unfolding events in California. In Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day, February 8, 1879 Nast drew attention to a disturbing shift in anti-Chinese sentiment, but he does so at the expense of the Negro (Keller 107).

Nast features a male Native American (Red Gentleman) and Chinese (Yellow Gentleman) standing as they consider a wall of seven placards espousing various sources of nativist sentiment. The Native American, driven out of his East Coast home in the early nineteenth century moves westward and encounters a Chinese man somewhere in the middle of the United States. Each is being forced to live in new areas as a result of racial prejudice.  At the stop, he warns the Chinese man that it is now his turn to be uprooted to the East. The caption reads: “Red Gentlemen to Yellow Gentleman. Pale face, ‘fraid you crowd him out, as he did me.”

Behind the two men is a classic Nast device of using public declarations – proclamations of prejudice and hate speech pasted on a wall for public viewing. At the top of the wall a simple illustration shows a feathered man with a tomahawk fleeing westward, barely ahead of a U.S. railroad engine at his heels.

Conversely, in the sketch directly below, a Chinese man flees with such urgency that his queue is propelled airborne at a 45 degree angle. He beats a drum of “cheap labor” as he tries to catch up to an Atlantic-bound steam engine. Six other wall posters pronounce prevailing and growing political sentiment.  The notices call attention to a fear of foreigners and Irish illiteracy. Nast wants his readers to see the variety of vitriol that exists. He sarcastically turns the meaning of the secretive nativist society, ‘Know Nothingism’ as braggarts of ignorance. Those who were once oppressed (Irish) are now the oppressors. Nast tucks his signature right below the bottom right sign. In the history of Know Nothings’ ignorance repeats. Once, the nativist society had proclaimed “Down with the Irish,” and “Down with the Dutch.” The Irish are now just like their Know Nothing oppressors. Only the victims have changed. German demands for a “bier” government round out the cluster of declarations. Most are proudly signed by their purveyors:  “‘Down on the Nigger,”  “K.K.K.”  and “’The Chinese Must Go. Kearney (A real American).” Denis Kearney, Nast’s reminder of the Irish-born instigator who shouted the loudest and most effectively that “The Chinese Must Go.”

The largest and most prominent poster in the cartoon addresses the “Chinese Problem” and its solution–highlights of a proposed law prohibiting Chinese immigration to the United States. This would become the Chinese Exlusion Act, passed in May, 1882.

The two gentlemen read the writing on the wall. The feathered Native American “Red Gentleman” scratches his chin. He’s seen this all before–he has lived it. Driven from his native East Coast lands he has walked the Trail of Tears. A blanket drapes his upper body covering a hump that suggest he carries most of his belongings and is a nomad in his native country. In his hand, he holds a peace pipe which he is ready to extend to the “Yellow Gentleman.” The Chinese man is styled as a diplomat,  the same “John Confucius” character seen in the Civilization of Blaine. His eyes are fixed on the pending legislation that is advertised front and center. His face shows concern and his arms are folded in defiance, enveloping his long queue close to the front of his chest. He is embracing his culture and identity. Hanging low in his left hand is a western-styled pipe (not an opium vessel). Both men are wearing their cultural dress–a dignified, if not purposeful use of stereotype.

Among the many stereotypes that prevailed about Chinese people, Americans considered Chinese men docile and easily manipulated, thus it was believed, ideal workers for capitalist interests. In this cartoon, Nast creates a different character, a man who does not readily accept his limited options. The Chinese man is thinking and he reflects and weighs his future plans.

Curiously, off to the left and in the background an African American relaxes against a wall on which is scrawled “My day is coming.” The black man is minimized and not part of the larger debate commanding the discussion at hand.  An early champion of abolition and the African American Vote, by 1879 Nast no longer considered the African American an equal partner in the minority rights debate. After winning a hard-fought battle for abolition and civil rights, which included suffrage, Nast is angry by failed Reconstruction policies of the Republican Party. Nast believed the African Americans as a group, too easily compromised their gains to southern politicians who did not have their best interest at heart. Nast therefore draws the African American kicking back, one leg resting over a knee; head tipped down, with a carefree grin on his face, content to allow the politicians to oppress other minorities. For Nast, this was a breech in integrity and his early progressive Republican values, a disillusion of hope that permeated within the once hopeful Republican Party.  Nast  subsequent drawings of African Americans would never again possess the dignity that embodied his Utopian vision seen in the “Emancipation of Negroes.

Queue

The queue (pronounced cue) was a distinctive hairstyle of the Jürchen-Manchurian or Manchu tribes who occupied the northeast region of what is now modern China.  In the early part of the seventeenth century Manchu general Nurhaci demanded that all males who surrendered to his victorious army  “must imitate Jürchen practice and shave the fronts of their foreheads and braid their hair into a long pigtail or “queue,”” (Spence 29).

By the mid-seventeenth century, the Manchus ushered in the Qing Dynasty and dominated the major cities of China. The Ming Dynasty disintegrated. To successfully rule China, the Manchus adopted many Chinese practices, but the hairstyle was not one of them.  The new Manchu rulers insisted that the Chinese adopt the Manchu style of dress and hairstyle.  By 1645 the mandate read that “every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution.” The queue hairstyle remained a key to identification of soldiers in battle.

Therefore in their native homeland, the queue was both a military necessity and a symbol of submission to Qing rule.

Few Chinese women were permitted entry into the United States. For Americans, Chinese men were the only representation of Chinese people and the queue added to the perception that the Chinese men were unnatural. Most Americans could not help but notice the queue.

Male populations dominated the gold mines of California, Chinese men, along with white miners, “did their own domestic work – they cooked, sewed and washed their own clothes.” Along with their long pajama-like tunics and long hair, “Chinese men were depicted as lacking virility. In this mostly male world, Chinese men became targets of white men’s fears of homosexuality or the objects of their desire” (Pfaelzer 13).

A few Chinese men, particularly the early Chinese in New York, behaved as mandarins, adopting western dress and “intermarrying with neighboring Irish women” and contributed to a “creolized community” (Meagher).  Most western Chinese retained the Manchu identification. In visual art Chinese “otherness” focused on their flowing native clothing, eye shape, diet and overall American perception of facial features as exotic. Of particular fascination was the queue – a key and central marker in visual art representations of the Chinese. In New York City, the traditional hairstyle had become a problem, “their queues were constantly the target of pranks by white boys and men,” (Tchen 83).

By 1856, the New York Times estimated 150 Chinese in New York City. Tchen notes, “the more assimilated these men appeared–equipped with a Western name and some knowledge of standard English–the more access to the dominat cultuure they could gain,” (Tchen 85). Combined with thier “adoption of Anglo-American names–like the marriages to Irishwomen and the establishment of families–signaled that many of these Chinese intended to stay,” (Tchen 86).

But Nast’s Chinese always wore the queue hairstyle. They are often frayed at the base of the neck and almost always braided. Nast used queues in a number of ways: as a weapon for the Chinese, a weapon against the Chinese, as a tool, as a barometer of emotion, as a lifeline, as a hangman’s noose, as a tail, and on Americans as a symbol of irony.

As John Kuo Wei Tchen has noted, Nast likely did not possess first hand personal experience with Chinese people in New York. If he had, he likely would have encountered a Mandarin Chinese who assimilated to western culture, learned the English language, invested in real estate, adopted western style and behaviors including inter-racial marriage (often with Irish women). Nast’s reliance on the queue affirms Tchen’s suggestion that Nast’s knowledge of the Chinese people was “representational” rather than experiential.

 

“A Matter of Taste” 15 March 1879

“A Matter of Taste” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast [Public domain], Source: UDel-Walfred
By 1879, Irish-born Denis Kearney, with two years of practice to refine his technique, successfully whipped up a furor among a majority of white, male laborers in California against the Chinese. His rallying cry, “The Chinese Must Go!” began and ended every fiery speech delivered wherever Kearney saw crowd potential. In political halls, Sand Lots or public squares, Kearney took advantage of economic displacement and racial prejudice to rally crowds into a loyal, spirited following. His charismatic style, delivered with his thick Irish brogue deftly turned public opinion against the Chinese.

Politicians paid attention, particularly those with presidential ambitions. They were willing to sup at the anti-Chinese stew.

With an energy matched only by his anti-Tweed campaign, Thomas Nast went after Republican presidential hopeful James G. Blaine, then serving as U.S. Senator from Maine, for siding with Kearney and his cause. Nast targeted Blaine repeatedly.

Detail of the sandlot stew
Detail of the sandlot stew

In this full-page cartoon, a Chinese merchant or diplomat has stopped at the entry of “Kearney’s Senatorial Restaurant.” There, Blaine, along with other politicians dines at a “Table Reserved for Presidential Candidates” and eats from “A Mess of Sand Lot Pottage.” Blaine scoops up a heaping spoonful of Kearney’s sandy stew, the sight of which sickens the merchant as he grabs his hands to his stomach in disgust. A sign hovers over the inner wall, “Hoodlum Stew.”

Detail
Detail

Above and to the left of the Chinese merchant, Nast has listed the names of politicians who voted “yeah” and “nay” and those who abstained. Nast wishes to fully expose those responsible for the injustices done to the Chinese.

In the same issue, George W. Curtis condemned the Chinese Bill in the strongest terms

It is long since the country has been stirred with so genuine an indignation as that produced by the passage of the Chinese Bill. It was so wanton a breach of the faith of treaties, so gross a wrong, committed with such haste, and without a pretense of the necessity of haste, that the popular condemnation was immediate and universal.

Curtis went on to admonish the breaking of a treaty (Burlingame Treaty) that had been entered in good faith. He applauded the President Hayes’ veto of the bill and decried those who sought to abrogate the longstanding legislation.

Detail. Nast creates a sinister looking victim
Detail. Nast creates a sinister looking victim

Interestingly,  Nast’s representative of the Chinese people, depicted in this cartoon, is not attractive. He does not possess the round, kindly face seen in Civilization of Blaine and other cartoons. This figure looks tired, aged and drawn, and as intended, sickly. One could argue a sinister quality. He is not as sympathetic or approachable as other Nast “John Chinaman” characters, and perhaps less likely to elicit an empathetic response from Nast’s audience as a result.