“A Matter of Taste” 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 from 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.

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