I am a communications specialist at the University of Delaware. I blog about Thomas Nast and editorial cartoons, art history, journalism, fine arts, photography, agriculture, gardening, and social media.
The perpetrators of the double-murders lurk in a darkened alley, their identity unknown. The victims, identified as M. Coleman and Wilson Patten, “well-known” citizens of Seattle, killed for serving on a Grand Jury which indited several men for participating in an anti-Chinese riot. As the caption states, several Chinese men were killed in labor dispute in nearby coal mines. Similar riots and melees were sprouting all across the Pacific Northwest. Labor issues at coal mines were a frequent backdrop for white versus Chinese intimidation and violence.
The Pacific Reporter, Volume 19, “containing all the decisions of the supreme courts” for western territories states provides additional details.
Subsequently one George H. Miller, described in the transcript as “ignorant and illiterate” was indicted for murder. Miller’s motive, allegedly, was to stop the testimony of Coleman and Patten who would implicate him in some manner. A Chinese conflict is not addressed in the court documents. The evidence against Miller was circumstantial. Miller was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
“The murder was the shooting of one George M. Coleman and a 16-year-old school-boy by the name of Patten” (50).
The Chinese are not pictured in the cartoon, but the image is jarring. The consequences of standing up for or defending justice toward the Chinese is a fatal one. Nast takes some creative license in placing the victims on the street. The men were actually killed on a boat
The bodies of the murdered men lay beneath a wall poster which reads, “The Chinese Must Go! And all whites that enforce the laws of the land.” Another proclamation follows in large letters: “WE DON’T STOP AT COLOR!”
The law of the land is not to be respected. The Chinese allowed to stay under the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, must also go. The example of this double-homicide by anti-Chinese vigilantes makes their intimidating message very clear.
In the preceding pages of the issue, Harper’s editors decry the violence and “massacre and mobbing of innocent Chinese” (p. 195). Harper’s short essay praises Washington Territory’s Governor Squire who spoke out against the violence and called upon the people and citizens of his jurisdiction to “rebuke incendiary agitation, secret intrigue, and sedition.”
“It is a national disgrace that having excluded Chinese immigration by law, the hundred thousand Chinese who are so unlucky as to be caught in the country are outraged by foreign mobs, while the government politely regrets that it can do nothing,” Harper’s editor writes.
Curiously, Harper’s summarizes with mixed messages, “The coming of the Chinese may be a curse. But if it be a curse, it is now prohibited by law, and honest Americans upon the Pacific slope should be the first to defend those who are here against brutal lawlessness” (p,195).
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, “The Life of Reason,” 1905
Donald Trump is not the first presidential candidate to call for the outright exclusion of a group of people, based on ethnicity or religion, from entering the United States as a visitor, or as an immigrant with aspirations for citizenship. That notoriety goes to James G. Blaine, the U.S. Senator from Maine.
In the late nineteenth century, the three-time presidential hopeful sought to make his second attempt in 1880 a shoe-in by pandering to a xenophobic and fearful population of Euro-centric Americans. Blaine sought to abrogate a treaty protecting Chinese immigration. Needing the support of white labor in the west in order to achieve his presidential aspirations, Blaine encouraged their chants of “The Chinese Must Go!” and promised support of their demands.
As an 1880 Republican presidential hopeful James G. Blaine called for the official federal exclusion of Chinese entering the U.S. Fear mongering began soon after the Chinese arrived the United States. America offered hope to immigrants from across the globe, including the Far East. Lured to America with tales of gold nuggets, the Chinese were early arrivals during the Gold Rush. Like the Irish flooding into the East coast, the Chinese sought relief from the famine plaguing their homeland.
And while suspicions percolated about the Irish on the East Coast, by the 1870s, Sinophobia reached fever pitch on the other side of America. Blaine took notice. Readying for another attempt at the presidency, Blaine saw political advantage in aligning alongside a new, burgeoning and fearful electorate. In doing so, Blaine broke with his Republican Party’s tolerant position on accepting the Chinese. Nast found Blaine’s defection unforgivable.
In the late nineteenth century, the Chinese in America as a whole, were viewed as a critical threat to the health, welfare, and security of the United States. Derided for their non-Christian (heathen) ways, the Chinese represented a multi-level threat. Popular rhetoric, steeped in propaganda, flourished.
To white workers, citizens and immigrants alike, a life and death line needed to be drawn! Was there any doubt that the rat-eating Chinese would, and had already, spread life-threatening disease and pestilence among innocent Americans? Despite their modest immigration numbers, statistically low compared to other immigrants, the Chinese were nevertheless depicted in commentary and illustrations as invading hordes of less-than-human creatures who would forever alter and undermine a wholesome American national identity and culture.
The pro-business and progressive Republican Party during this era encouraged the Chinese to come to the U.S. Manufacturing and industry, particularly railroad executives, valued the Chinese work ethic and used their eagerness to work as strike breakers. Despite their strangeness, the Chinese were earnest workers and helped tip many businesses balance sheets to the black. This financial reality bolstered the Republican-led, East Coast ruling elite’s tolerant position toward the Chinese. At the very least, having the Chinese in the U.S. made good business sense.
The Democratic Party thought differently. Echoing the fears of its burgeoning white and Irish labor base, Democrats sought to restrict the Chinese from arriving and wanted the ones already in the U.S. to go. Starting on the West Coast with local laws, talk of national laws excluding the Chinese in the U.S. steady gained acceptance during the 1870s. By 1879, the early drafts of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act had been entered into legislation and although vetoed, marked the beginning of the end for Chinese immigration. The writing was on the wall.
Blaine saw where the future votes were. He needed the western vote to win his White House bid. Blaine called for an end to the Burlingame Treaty, a treaty his Republican party had crafted. Blaine renewed the process to officially ban Chinese immigrants – legislation that made life miserable for the Chinese already in the country legally.
Nast obliterated Blaine for his betrayal of Republican values. With a force reminiscent of his treatment toward Tweed, the German-American artist produced a series of devastating cartoons lampooning Blaine and his hypocrisy. A sampling:
Fully aware of Nast’s role in Tweed’s downfall, Blaine appealed to the artist andHarper’s Weekly General Editor, George W. Curtis, to cease producing the cartoons. Nast’s pen would not be silenced. His cartoons are considered to have played a significant role in Blaine’s unsuccessful presidential bids in 1876, 1880 and 1884. Blaine’s last attempt went as far as earning the Republican nomination.
Blaine’s 1884 campaign, two years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, propelled both Nast and Curtis to shift their allegiance, a small, but vocal group of progressive-leaning Republicans known as “Mugwumps.” By endorsing the Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland on the pages of the venerated, Republican Harper’s, the move was was startling to the Republican establishment and Party of Lincoln. Although it is widely believed that Nast’s excoriation of Blaine cost the politician the presidency, Nast’s move to the Democratic side, albeit on moral grounds, significantly contributed to the cartoonist’s loss of favor with the Republican base and marked the start of his downward trajectory at Harper’s Weekly. Nast could not remain faithful to his party.
As we all know, Blaine did not become president. Blaine lost his battles, but the war against the Chinese was won. Enacted in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act became the first federal legislation to ban outright, a population of people, based solely on ethnicity. Those Chinese already in the United States were prevented from many of the rights extended to other immigrants. They could not vote, were targeted with special taxes, and property rights and ownership were severely restricted. The Chinese in America could not return to their homeland for visits, as their re-entry would be barred, nor could they call for family to join them in the U.S. For the 61 years that the Exclusion Act sat on the books, it effectively and permanently separated Chinese men from their families at home. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, primarily as a response to the Chinese – American alliance during World War II.
I use “Google Alerts” to keep abreast of Internet conversations, events and posts about Thomas Nast. This week I came across this masters thesis written by Laura Woolthuis, Utrecht University, Netherland
Getting Nasty: Thomas Nast and the simianization of the Irish in late nineteenth-century America.
I was honored to be included in the citations. Woolthuis’ thesis is well-written, well-researched and provides a thorough history of the Irish-simian stereotype. Woolthuis provides excellent resources on Irish physiognomy and background on Irish “whiteness” studies.
But the blanket assessment that Nast always drew the Irish as beasts or thugs, or that he felt a singular hatred in his heart for Irish or Catholics has foundational problems. Nast was a man of images, not of letters – correspondence that might shed valuable light on inner feelings do not exist on the subject. His personal thoughts toward the Irish are simply not known.
Nast’s perceived attitude toward Irish and Catholics comes solely from his images published in Harper’s Weekly. These images reflect political controversies and positions and are editorial reactions to specific events in the public arena. In fact, at the height of Nast’s popularity (peaking with his anti-Tweed, anti-Catholic content), at a time when being Catholic was not popular, Harper’s nevertheless places Nast’s personal Catholic roots front and center in a biographical feature of their “special artist.”
Decades later, his contemporary biographer, Alfred Bigelow Paine, quite possibly sensing Nast’s vulnerable legacy as a Catholic-hater, goes to great length to correct the perception that Nast held an instinctive, deep-seated hatred toward Catholics or Catholicism.
Simply put, Nast called out hypocritical behavior, violence, and corruption wherever he saw it, and he saw it within groups of people who had loud voices who steadily voiced an ambition for political power and recognition. A growing demographic in New York City, Irish Catholics were often players in these controversies. In mid-nineteenth century New York City, real-life examples of political activism flourished. Participants, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion came to public attention through the harsh caricatures of cartoonists, of which Nast was the most famous during this era.
Coming from a German-Catholic background, his issue was not the religion nor its participants, but rather, the American leadership of the Roman Catholic Church’s and its foray into local politics and public funding, the Irish-Catholic alliance with Tweed, and the rank and file Hibernian alignment with the Democratic Party’s anti-abolitionist platform. Nast drew favorable images of Catholic clerics, most notably Father Dollinger, who held progressive Catholic views. Later, the Irish’s visible and organized attacks toward the Chinese in America renewed and reinvigorated further scrutiny by Nast on Irish behavior.
In 1869, Nast included the Irish at Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner, the one Irishman’s facial features shown as slightly simian, so viewers and readers could not mistake his message that the Irish, as well as other ethnic stereotypes included in the drawing, deserved a seat at the uniquely American celebration. The Irish wife is devoid of stereotype and is most pleasantly drawn.
Later, in “Something That Will Not Blow Over,” Irish policeman (their admirable service reported by Harper’s) receive laurels from Columbia for their valor in serving the public during the religious, tension-filled Orangeman riots. These Irish public servants look like any other American with a western-European ancestry.
As he evolved from illustrator to political caricaturist, Nast zeroed in on trouble and troublemakers. This embodied his raison d’être. In addition to what he perceived as controversial behavior surrounding Tweed, Nast implicated the Irish (and to a lesser extent his fellow Germans – see The Chinese Question) for their oppression and cruelty toward the Chinese. It is an inconvenient and unpleasant truth, that a notable portion of the Irish-Americans in New York at the time, held and defended white supremacist beliefs that today would be viewed as morally reprehensible. Had Tweed not strategically stroked the strings of the Irish harp, and had the Irish not danced to Tweed’s tune, it is doubtful that Nast would have found motivation to draw the images of the Irish for which he is vilified today.
It is easy to pick out a Nast negative. What would a positive Irish-Catholic look like in a Nast drawing? They are there. They blend into the background. In the nature of the Nast beast, it is much harder to prove a positive.
I found this Slide Share on the Internet, likely made for a high school classroom. It has some interesting images (photographs and illustrations) by Nast (not sourced from this website) and other artists. Difficult to source who produced this slideshare.
In this Comedy Central parody, Thomas Nast, played by actor Noah Wyle faces off against William M. (Boss) Tweed in this humorous take narrated by an “inebriated” Jen Kirkman. Drunk History’s comedy appeal is the twists and turns of historical facts as filtered and delivered through the haze of alcohol.
Collectively, Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were the most directly affected and restricted by prejudice through the enactment of local, and later national laws, designed to drive out the Chinese. The hotbed of anti-Chinese legislation rested in the San Francisco area, where year after year, new laws sought to penalize and prevent the Chinese to assimilate.
As Jean Pfaelzer and others have noted, the Chinese fought back against the targeted prejudice, most often through legal means and resources supported through the Chinese Six Companies. As an example of their tenacity to challenge this onslaught, the case of Yick Wo is worth noting. Wo fought against an early, racist anti-laundry law enacted in San Francisco in 1880.
Interesting article about Rebecca Fried who debunked an academic debunker claiming that the Irish were not discriminated against upon arrival in America. The eighth-grader has Kirby Miller on her side, a preeminent Irish historian, one who I have heavily cited in my research.
This spring in the exhibit “Thomas Nast: Unknown Works and American Icons” Macculloch Hall Historical Museum showcases an important collection of rarely exhibited, virtually unknown works by the man whose art defined many of America’s most popular icons: Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Democratic Donkey and the Republican Elephant. Previously unpublished oil paintings and watercolors, rarely seen pencil sketches, pen and ink drawings, and original architectural elements from the artist’s home are among the objects presented in the exhibition.
Maccollough Hall Historical Museum announces May exhibit of Nast’s unknown works and features Nast’s art in other mediums. Later in the month, the current owners of Nast’s home will talk about what it is like to live in the famous and historic property.
On the eve of the Chinese Exclusion Act’s passage, Nast drew this smaller cartoon, clearly illustrating the hypocrisy and irony of one immigrant, an Irishman, commenting that another immigrant, the Chinese, must go.
The dapper clothes of the Irishman do not erase the crudeness of his face. Not simply “brutish” Nast draws the speaker as a fully formed ape. Nast reminds readers that this man is an “adopted citizen” and while his station as an immigrant has advanced to that of a business owner, he has risen to a place where he is more than willing to pay the price to get rid of the Chinese.
The Irishman is more than pleased to pass off the Chinese problem to the British. Because of this unreasonable, hypocritical prejudice, Nast points out, that the UK’s John Bull and not Uncle Sam will benefit from the economical benefit derived from Chinese labor.
The Irishman’s pose is unique and suggests delight — a playful confidence. His knees are bent and pursed together, set to leap or dance. His right arm is extended and holds a baton. The left hand lands on the shoulder of Uncle Sam, implies he possesses the power of familiarity.
Nast draws Uncle Sam as a lanky and stern American Eagle. His gaze is steely and down turned. This Uncle Sam is not fatherly. He displays no joy. With his hands folded behind his back, a position they would be in if his hands were tied. He is deep in thought, but it is unclear how he feels about the Irishman or this turn of event. America’s wealth, shown as bags of gold are leaving the country along with the Chinese. That England is now the sanctuary for the oppressed must rankle.
This small, simple cartoon has a powerful message. Irish and German foreigners were allowed to enter the United States as immigrants – climbed the ladder “Emigration” and subsequently rose in status in America, the land of opportunity. In the cartoon, the last of the European immigrants scales the wall, his back end visible as he kicks away the ladder of opportunity for others. The European immigrants who ascended the wall now declare that Chinese access to America is closed. The man at the top, his arms extended, proclaims nativist sentiment. Another, on the left, with a jutting jaw and top hat, clearly a representation of Nast’s Irish, is triumphant. He is clearly enjoying the Chinese calamity below.
To the right, a flag waves — its message declares the new American territory belongs to the Know Nothings, a secret yet a popular group of Americans who vehemently protested newcomers. Interestingly, 30 years earlier, the original nativist Know Nothings protested the arrival of Irish Catholics. The Know Nothing flag reads “1870 Pres. Patrick” and “Vice Pres. Hans.” This inscription signifies great advances for Irish and German assimilation into mainstream American culture as Nast perceived it to be. No doubt, Nast is reeling here from the social and political advances the Irish gained through the patronage and support by William M. “Boss” Tweed. Tweed rewarded the Irish and other immigrants with patronage jobs in exchange for their loyalty at the voting booth.
Five Chinese are seen at the base of a large wall which boldly states, “The “Chinese Wall” around the United States of America.” Demonstrating their knowledge of China, the European immigrants are taunting the Chinese by comparing their wall to the Great Wall of China, built in ancient times to protect their nation from invasion.
Three of the Chinese are wearing doulis, the conical shaped hats, also known as rice or “coolie” hats. All five Chinese are men wearing their native garb and hold onto goods they hoped to bring along as they ascend the ladder.
The cartoon’s caption, “Throwing Down the Ladder by Which They Rose” is Nast’s harsh commentary on the hypocrisy of these new Americans and their willingness to oppress others who are in the same circumstances in which they found themselves 30 years earlier. The once oppressed have now become the oppressors.
A direct contrast of how the American East and West coast differed toward the Chinese, and other immigrant groups, is shown in two illustrations of an American holiday, both titled Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner. These two cartoons demonstrate how a.) influential Harper’s Weekly was as a publication across the entire nation and b.) how differently these regions approached the issue of immigration and communicated their opinions to their audience. (Double-click images to enlarge viewing).
In 1863, Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. However, the Civil War interrupted national observance of the holiday as southern resentment lingered, preventing old Lincoln adversaries from fully accepting the proclamation. Nast’s Thanksgiving illustration was published one year before it became a national holiday in widespread practice.
Nast’s large woodcut encapsulates the artist’s Radical Republican vision of America after the Civil War. “Nast, Harper’s Weekly and the Republicans they represented did not or could not acknowledge the value of different cognitive, verbal, and social styles, or the sociology behind those differences. They assumed that a universal standard of civility was both natural and necessary” (Hills 118). Nast forms this ideal into an all-inclusive American feast. In the lower corners the sentiments, “Come One Come All,” and “Free and Equal” set the inclusive tone.
At the head of the table is Uncle Sam. He carves a large turkey while an array of nationalities and immigrants politely wait to be served. Universal suffrage and self-governance are featured as the decorative centerpiece. On the back wall, Nast includes his heroes Lincoln and Grant, who flank a center portrait of George Washington, framed by Liberty and Justice. At the table, opposite the host, is Columbia, Nast’s favorite personification of America’s values and promise. Columbia’s kindly face is turned toward her Chinese male guest and his wife and child. It is a very unusual scene since most Chinese in America were men whose families remained in China.
Rounding out the holiday banquet are representatives of an array of races and religions waiting patiently to begin the feast. The work is more an illustration than an editorial cartoon, the genre from which Nast would later earn international fame with his caricatures of William M. Tweed. Only the Irishman exhibits any hint of mild caricature that could be seen as derogatory. Nast would become highly critical of Irish Americans, but he includes an Irish couple as deserving guests. Nast includes the stereotype to make clear to his audience of Protestant Americans, that Irish Americans had right to be at the table. Nast does not draw the Irishman’s wife in “Bridget” caricature and she is attractive. Babies speckle the drawing. This is a family portrait.
The guests represent many races and ethnicities and they dine at the table as equals. Nast does not insert them as mere tokens. He imbues them with respect and dignity. They are people capable of relationships and human emotion. The guests at this American banquet are all different, yet bounded by their common humanity.
Covered dishes everywhere wait to be unveiled. At America’s table, there is enough for all to be served. Behind Uncle Sam is a large painting titled “Welcome” which depicts Castle Garden, the processing center for all immigrants in New York City at the time.
This image represents Nast’s true political, utopian philosophy —his belief in a united America and the potential for the nation’s promise.
In 1877, eight years after Nast’s work, George Frederick Keller produced an identically titled cartoon, undoubtedly a direct spoof of Nast’s holiday illustration. This tattered example (the only apparent extant copy) is seen below:
The two artists differed in the power and autonomy their editors extended. By 1869, Nast had become a local celebrity and enjoyed little editorial oversight. Unencumbered by owner/general editor Fletcher Harper (much to the chagrin of Harper’s news editor George Curtis who wanted more artistic control) Nast created his images with free artistic rein.
It is generally accepted among Nast and Harper’s scholars that Nast’s images reflected his personal beliefs rather than a directive from his editors or publishers. Richard West has suggested that The San Francisco Wasp artist G.F. Keller only drew what he was assigned. The fact is, little is known about the artist’s political feelings and there is no indication that Keller had the editorial impunity that Nast enjoyed.
Keller’s image includes several international cultures present at the holiday table. Each male guest at the table is feasting upon his national dish, indicating a refusal to assimilate. There are no wives and children joining them.
Front and center, a tweedy Englishman with long sideburns and hand-held spectacles is aghast as he watches a Chinese man dine on a rat.
Columbia, wearing the outfit of a cook, sassily stands at the threshold of the kitchen and dining room. As a foil to Nast’s Columbine embodying American values, Keller faintly draws his maternal symbol. No one is dining on the same food. Hats of many countries dangle from hooks on the wall. A very racialized African American butler preens as he serves Uncle Sam the holiday meal —the turkey. Interestingly, it is not cooked, indicating a lack of civilization and raw hunger. Uncle Sam represents the California view of the ruling Republican government, which clearly prefers the company of barbarians. Keller’s Uncle Sam leans back, utensils at the ready, eager to dig into his bird. The holiday meal and celebratory experiences are not shared at this table.
A throng of nationalities and ethnicities assembles at the dining room’s entry. A man, possibly a Spaniard matador, stretches out his arms to tentatively hold back invading dinner guests which include Eskimos, more Chinese and men wearing unusual headwear representing other cultures. The matador triumphantly ￼raises his montera in the air! The crowd behind him will soon break through. This Thanksgiving Dinner will soon be enveloped in chaos.
Unlike the Nast drawing, where everyone waits until Uncle Sam carves the turkey, here the guests dig into their own individual feasts. No one is waiting for the host to start. They have no manners. They possess no decorum. The message is clear: it is a mistake to include these outsiders at America’s table.
Harper’s enjoyed a national circulation. The San Francisco Wasp catered to the proclivities and prejudices of its local readership. Wasp historian Richard West writes that there is little evidence that The Wasp was distributed east of the Rockies, though a few issues must have been transported by long distance readers. Nast’s comings and goings were documented in California newspapers. As Nast’s popularity and celebrity grew, other artists, including those employed at The Wasp, enjoyed poking fun of Nast in caricature. Eight years after Nast drew his utopian drawing of an all inclusive America, The Wasp responded with its own version.
 The prevailing Irish stereotype in New York was of lower-class, monkey-faced simpleton. Nast likely employed the slightly simian look in this work because his audience would not have been able to distinguish the Irish from the English without the stereotype. This was one of Nast’s kinder renditions of the Irish. His animosity toward the Irish would be developed or artistically realized when New York politics saw a larger Irish role.
2. For a very fine account and amazing examples of The Wasp illustrations, I recommend Richard West’s book The San Francisco Wasp An Illustrated History. It is a must have for anyone interested in political art or nineteenth century cartooning and illustrations. West remains the definitive historian on The Wasp and he is often cited in many scholarly works on editorial cartooning, including Nast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 clenches 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 pointed to Chinese “otherness” to swell their ranks and influence of political power. “The Chinese Must Go” made famous by Irish-born Denis Kearney in California, soon became a roaring anthem across the nation.
The Tammany Tiger can hardly believe his predicament. 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.
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.
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).
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 a 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.
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”
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.
Blaine appears indignant at the butcher’s overtures. In Blaine’s hands and under his feet are torn remnants 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.
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 upon 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 into 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. This 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 good 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.
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.
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.
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 different 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 refers 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 backstory, 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.
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 in 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 dependence 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 the 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 firedand 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 a 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.
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 an 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 as 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 placards containing hateful vitriol was Nast and Harper’s reminder to the public that America was a very different place outside New York City.