All posts by Michele Walfred

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

the-new-comet-a-phenom-now-visible-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 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.

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 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.

Works cited

“”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 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 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 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.

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves, Harper’s Weekly, March 18, 1879, Library of Congress

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 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.

Works cited

 

 

 

 

“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 territories in the early nineteenth century is forced to move 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 from the West 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 plastered 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 brewing from coast to coast.  The notices call attention to an overall 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. The history of Know Nothings’ ignorance repeats. Once, the nativist society had proclaimed “Down with the Irish,” and “Down with the Dutch.” Now, the current Irish have organized, risen in rank and political power, and now eschew the same behavior and techniques of their Know Nothing oppressors from the past. 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 (an Irish immigrant) as a real American is Nast’s ironic reminder of the Irish-born instigator and white-labor organizer 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 Exclusion 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 suggests he carries and travels with 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 a purposeful use of stereotype.

Among the many stereotypes that prevailed about Chinese people, Americans considered Chinese men docile and easily manipulated. Therefore, employers believed the Chinese performed as 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 serious as 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. Nast felt this turn of events was a breach of the hope and integrity once reflected within the values of early progressive Republicans. Nast’s subsequent drawings of African Americans would never again possess the dignity that embodied his original Utopian vision seen in the “Emancipation of Negroes.

Works cited

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, sandlots 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. Relentlessly.

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.

Works cited

“Let the Chinese Embrace Civilization, and They May Stay” 1882

“Let the Chinese Embrace Civilization, and They May Stay” 18 March 1882. Source: UDel-Walfred

Thomas Nast applies irony and a direct hit at hypocrisy to this 1882 commentary drawn on the eve of the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“Uncivilized” and “barbaric” were leading accusations (two of many)  hurled against the Chinese by American citizens and other immigrant groups in America. Always defined and depicted as outsiders, sojourners and as “others,” the Chinese were not accorded the rights of other immigrants.  In many locations, especially in the West, the Chinese were specifically prohibited to integrate or assimilate into what was viewed as normal white American culture.

Nast assumes this voice of normal America and suggests if only the Chinese could be like us, behave like us–if only they could “embrace civilization”–the Euro-American brand of civilization–then maybe they could remain in the United States. Nast throws this tolerated behavior of American civilization right in the face of his critics and illustrates the baseless hypocrisy of their xenophobic anti-Chinese sentiment.

Nast’s use of humor is effective. The center image is a direct hit at the Irish, whose penchant for whiskey was an oft-repeated stereotype. Perhaps, if the Chinese could drink like the Irish, then maybe they could stay.

Or, how about good old fashioned pugilism? For decades, the Irish had earned a reputation for bare-knuckle prizefighting.  White men considered Chinese men docile. As boxers, the Irish had organized violence into a popular entertainment and sport.  Did the public really want to see the Chinese taking up fights?

Cheap, competitive labor kept the Chinese busy and productive. If they raised their rates and joined the labor unions they could join the ranks of civilized men and strike, starve, and loaf about the city streets. Many white working Americans viewed the Chinese as a threat because they worked hard, kept to themselves and aided capitalist interests.

Nast offers an alternative. He invites the reader to consider the reality and dangers of getting what one asks for. Would pro-labor prefer drunk, idle, unproductive Chinese beggars? Will this behavior help the Chinese advance the way the Irish did?  Is this how the Chinese must behave in order to join the ranks of civilized men? Through this collection of visual tales, Nast exposes the irony and the hypocrisy of accusations leveled by white men and the demands they placed upon the Chinese. Are the Irish the standard, the role model for acceptance?

By 1882, Nast grew disgusted with U.S. Senator James G. Blaine Republican from Maine who sided against the Chinese in the debate for Exclusion legislation. The image of a Chinese man as a U.S. Senator, doing nothing but “talk,” “talk,” “talk” is a stab at the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of public service and the current state of political integrity as Nast saw it.

Coolie

Detail from Nast's "The Chinese Question" 1871. Nast frequently put the declarations of people he disagreed with as backgrounds for his cartoons. They almost never represent his sentiment.
Detail from Nast’s “The Chinese Question” 1871. Nast frequently put the declarations of people he disagreed with as backgrounds for his cartoons. They almost never represent his sentiment.

The term “coolie” is commonly associated with Chinese Americans  depicted as an involuntary slave labor force, forced cheap labor, or indentured servitude/contract laborers unwittingly recruited and trapped into slave work conditions, or exploited and victimized by low or zero wage compensation. “Coolies” lacked the freedom to leave the work site.

Indeed, many Chinese men were tricked and set aboard ships for paying jobs that did not exist.  Many turned out to be slave ships, where men were forced to perform grueling labor in the polluted guano pits of coastal Peru to harvest solidified bird droppings prized as fertilizer. Other Asian slave labor journeyed to the tropics to harvest sugar cane.

Coolie labor differs from an individual offering to undercut one’s rate of pay in order to be competitive – a willingness to negotiate terms of labor. But from the very beginning of the Chinese arrival in the U.S.to work in the gold mines, and sustained through the development of intense anti-Chinese hysteria, the concept of “cheap labor” was synonymous with “coolie labor.” The white workingmen labor movement saw no distinction and all Chinese workers were “coolies” and no different than slaves. “Coolies” undercut all the labor competition. Employers would not hire white men as long as they had a source of “coolies” to do the work instead.

John Kuo Wei Tchen, an authority on Chinese-American history, describes the term “coolie,” and “Chinese labor” as being used interchangeably in the minds of American capitalists during the nineteenth century.  The Chinese had arrived in America, specifically on the West Coast, after the 1848 discovery of gold in California, with an aim to strike it rich, and then return to their native China with a significant windfall. These Chinese did not view themselves, nor did Americans view them, as like other immigrants. Instead, they were “sojourners,” individuals who planned to stay in the United States temporarily, just long enough to make enough money to return home and provide economic security for their families back in China. The financial windfall promised from gold mining did not meet expectations and most Chinese remained in America and sought other means to earn money.

Tchen quotes a Protestant missionary in China describes how many viewed the Chinese labor as an export product and opportunity on which to capitalize (169),

The Coolie trade, it will be seen is speculation in human labor. In  other words, it is reducing human labor to the list of marketable commodities –making it an object of purchase and sale, and holding it, subject to the various vicissitudes which attend stocks, provisions, dry goods and other articles of commerce.

The year 1870 “marked the moment at which struggles between capital and labor interpenetrated commercial culture, producing a common visual and written language in which Chinese labor would be represented in national political debate” (Tchen 167).

Post-Civil War industrialization created a need for labor. The Burlingame Treaty, enacted in 1868, sought in part to facilitate expansion of trade between the U.S. and China. The United States with the annexation of Alaska and inclusion of California and other western states needed plentiful labor.  Treaties with Native Americans were abrogated in order to connect the East and West Coasts with the transatlantic railroad. A larger United States needed and encouraged the spread of homesteading, commerce, and European immigration. “At the same time, “cheap”–and seemingly limitless–Chinese labor became a highly desirable commodity for post-slavery capitalist” (Tchen 168-169).

But it was the lure of gold that beckoned those from China’s port cities to leave behind their rice farms and fishing villages and turn their ambitions toward the “Gold Mountain,” of California. “Facing warlords, destitution, and British battleships,” Chinese villagers were enticed by advertisements describing America as a land of plenty (Pfaelzer 4).

In addition to men tricked to work in slave shops, women were kidnapped and forced to serve as prostitutes for the burgeoning gold mining community. Not surprisingly, these women died early from diseases. The state of their health was used to define all Chinese women as immoral, reason enough to restrict their immigration into America. The cruel conditions these women were forced to endure lent credence to some American claims that the Chinese were unsanitary and carriers of disease.

“Free labor” had been swirling around as a concept, an ideal and a goal as anti-slavery ideology began to grow in antebellum America. “Chinese miners arrived in a new state that had just voted to outlaw slavery” (Pfaelzer 25).

Many Americans, fresh with the memory of battling slavery, could point to “coolies” as an anathema to free will. “From the outset, the penny press widely reported the uses and abuses of Chinese and South Asian indentured “coolie” labor” (Tchen 169) and were disturbed by its reality.

The problem was that the perception of “coolie” labor extended to those Chinese who were in fact, not being forced to work at all. Many had entrepreneurial ambitions and created businesses that fit the need of a growing community or boon town.

“The great majority of Chinese arriving in the United States were not contract laborers” (Tchen 170).  By repeatedly classifying all Chinese labor as “coolie labor” and successfully blurring that distinction, the white labor movement, particularly the Workingmen’s Party led by Denis Kearney succeeded in presenting a moral argument to their rallying cry that, “The Chinese Must Go.”

Stereotype

Webster’s Dictionary offers a very succinct definition of “stereotype.” It reads: 1. to make a stereotype from a.) to repeat without a variation b.) to develop a mental stereotype about.

Loaded with meaning and consequence, “negative” is frequently paired as a prefix. Stereotypes are rarely considered positive.

Webster’s has gotten it right, particularly as stereotypical representations flourish in visual culture – in works of art – and in particular in cartoon caricatures.

To stereotype an individual is to strip them of their unique qualities, rendering them as one-dimensional figures with a singular behavior, dress, or unifying physical trait. Stereotypes strip away diversity. It denies a unique individual personality.  A stereotype creates the suggestion that the subject or person only dresses, eats, talks or behaves in one limited way. To perpetuate a stereotype is to repeat that suggestion verbally, mentally, and visually. Through repetition, the stereotype gains a strange form of legitimacy that is difficult to unravel and reverse.

Editorial art historian Donald Dewey feels that American caricature’s “sorry history” need not have been inevitable. However “the pandering of artists to the opinion of readers was certainly a very large lure” (25-26). Dewey takes little credit away from Nast’s talents, but argues that a great portion of his art succeeded because it responded to people’s own “preconceptions about the last word in viciousness and degeneracy.” Repetition of images “tickled readers’ assumptions” (27).

Dewey calls visual symbols “an economic language in a frontier society where literacy wasn’t always available currency” (11).  A weekly deadline didn’t provide artists with the luxury of time to deliver nuanced images.  Like many cartoonists, Nast had a sketchbook of references, a repertoire of stock images that he could utilize and quickly drop into place as an ingredient to a scene. Nast’s home studio in Morristown, New Jersey was filled with objects; vases, weapons, classical works of art and likenesses which served as prop models. In the flurry of the Tweed years, Nast contributed as many as seven images over two issues. Meeting deadlines with a respectable level of detail required artists to take short cuts by repeating visual symbols.

John Kuo Wei Tchen believes that when it came to China, the American  representation of Chinese people and wares changed drastically from 1776 to 1882. During the early part of this era using “Chinese things, ideas and people in the United States, in various imagined and real forms, has been instrumental in forming this nation’s cultural identity” (xv).

Tchen explains by the end of this period, as the U.S. approached the turn of the century, the rank and file American saw the Chinese as interfering with America’s “Manifest Destiny.” Chinese American men posed a direct threat to Caucasian laborers. Competition for labor to build America’s railroad infrastructure shifted to white labor. To facilitate this change in attitude, it was important to point out the differences and the dangers of Chinese people living and working in America.

Through the mechanical reproduction of art, the Chinese and other minorities became products or salable representations of a racialized other.  As Tchen observed, the Chinese soon became exploited in all aspects of media,

Each time real Chinese were mimicked, simulated, and reproduced … abruptly altered, reduced and/or simplified. Visual images abstracted from real people were also disengaged from the real complexities of their lives, from the layered, creolized cultural practices of Chinese New Yorkers. The resulting abstractions – narrow racialized types-were easily recognizable and therefore highly salable…Such images, however, had a powerful effect on the real, everyday options of real, everyday Chinese, the representations became the real thing.  (125).

Tchen’s definition of stereotype and its effects is an excellent one. Complexities become simplified. Easy representations become the truth.

And particularly with the second half of the nineteenth century cartoons on Chinese immigrants depict Chinese as males wearing their native dress and the long queue hairstyle. Many American cartoonists elongated Chinese heads and exaggerated the slants of their eyes. The most negative Chinese stereotypes include the addition of rats as companions and a staple of the Chinese diet. Smoking opium and living in squalor are common stereotypes. Since labor issues surrounded the presence of the Chinese, they are often shown working as launderers, cigar makers, shoe cobblers, tea merchants, miners or railroad workers.  Chinese American men are rarely shown with Chinese wives, which was indeed rare. Chinese men and never shown to wear western clothes – a confirmation of their refusal to assimilate. In cartoons, particularly on the West Coast, it was common to show the Chinese  as members of invading hordes, vectors of malaise and disease.

Stereotypes exist in all forms of communication – on stage, television, film, music, in casual conversations and through the use of expression in high and low art.

“Ides of March” 1880

Denis Kearny wears a sign while 4 Chinese men heckle in the background
“Ides of March” 20 March 1880 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Image Source : UDel-Walfred

This 1880 cover is a curious cartoon for Nast on many levels. As a cover it is accompanied by a long, unsigned essay (likely Harper’s Managing Editor George W. Curtis) that both tears down and defends the Chinese. It is not known if the cartoon took the lead on addressing the issue or if the reverse is true.

Denis Kearney is shown at the center – his physical attributes drawn accurately and not caricatured in any manner. Clearly Nast wishes the subject of piece to be recognized. Kearney’s expression is serious, resolute and attractive. He is the leading man in this Shakespearean production.

Sign detail

Nast casts Kearney in the title role of the upcoming theatrical production of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Nast was exposed to many Shakespearean plays as a child. He often accompanied his father, Joseph,  a musician for the Philharmonic Society. This exposure gave Nast many references and models for his caricatures (Adler 24).

Kearney dons a sandwich board and walks outside to advertise for an actor to play the role of Brutus, Caesar’s assassin.

Kearney, an Irishman born in Cork in 1847, became a central figure in California politics, and in San Francisco especially, where he rallied public opinion against the Chinese. Kearney,  “in 1877, on the open sand lot fronting the new City Hall in San Francisco, started a general war-cry, “The Chinese Must Go!”” (Paine 412).

Kearney, a charismatic speaker, organized the Workingmen’s Party, a labor movement that accumulated significant political power in California. Kearney’s efforts influenced the passage of anti-Chinese legislation in California, ultimately leading to the passage of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.  He also took his message across country, but his lectures “seemed to convince many national politicians that Chinese exclusion had broad and fierce support among American workers” (Meagher 272-273).

Nast saw Kearney’s behavior as theatrics. To the right, Nast identifies the area as “The Sand – Lot Theatre” The placard announces Kearney as Caesar, but has a question mark by the character Brutus. Who will stop Kearney/Brutus.  In front of that billboard stand two Chinese men. Both are smiling. The one on the right raises his hands, as if applying for consideration. The other, wearing a hat, holds his hands to his chest and bows slightly, as if to indicate he would be honored to assume the role of the character Brutus, who with some coaxing from other conspirators, kills his erstwhile friend and Roman emperor/dictator Julius Caesar. Nast is trying to silence Kearney and suggests a figurative way to oust the white labor dictator.  The two Chinese men, and another in the shadows, indicate multiple interest in the role of assassin. The two Chinese men at right wear identical, gleeful smiles. They are eager for the chance to play Brutus to Kearney’s Caesar.

Left of Kearney, two highly distorted Chinese men appear to heckle the Irish labor agitator. The one at far right points at Kearney’s back.

Behind the two men on the left are notices condemning Chinatown as a Board of Health issue – the signs trumpet the political alliances Kearney was forging in San Francisco.

Close up of distorted Chinese faces. Photo from WPC. Public Domain

Four Chinese men behind Kearney are severely caricatured. “Their heads and faces are quite grotesque, with huge smiles and slanted eyes and eyebrows” (Tchen 209).  The man at left center, closest to Kearney is extremely unnatural looking, almost hyena-like.  Kearney was an effective villian against the Chinese community, yet none of these men seem to fear Kearney at all, which is odd. His anti-Chinese rhetoric catapulted restrictions levied at Chinese American freedom. The four Chinese men mock Kearney at their own peril. Their laughter is sinister and arrogant. In considering thi specific cartoon, historian John Kuo Wei Tchen  raises an important question. Nast knew how to draw Chinese men with dignity – see Civilization of Blaine – so why draw these men in this manner?

Harper’s included a related article’s repeating from reported stereotyped descriptions of Chinese in California The language perpetuates tropes about the Chinese as peculiar, inferior and strange. Yet the unattributed author condemns Kearney’s tactics and extends an invitation of citizenship to the Chinese.

Prefacing their descriptions in such terms as “a great many writers have said,” and “newspapers writers have sometimes told their readers,” the article puts forth titillating information about the peculiar and unfortunate Chinese. The reader is left to determine whether or not the author believes what he is sharing. The article describes the colors in which the Chinese like to decorate, their small and dank environs and the strange manner in which they prepare their food. The author describes a people who prefer to keep to themselves.

A sizable section of the article speculates about the Chinese queue the most fascinating singular characteristic of the Chinese to Americans.  What happens when the queue is kept? What happens to the Chinese if the queue is cut off?  How does the queue affect assimilation, conversion to Christianity, American culture or dress? In almost every cartoon of the Chinese in America, favorable or not, artists like Nast and Keller and focusedon the distinctive hairstyle, often giving the long pony tail a life of its own. In 1880, thirty years after the Chinese arrive in America, the queue remained an object of great curiosity, even to a degree of obsession as a central characteristic of the Chinese.

And in Nast’s cartoon, the two men, far left and right, have very long queues that have grown far past the length of their tunics.  Hidden from the upper torso and emerging from below their tunics, the queues look more like animal tails than pigtails.

Even by 1880, Harper’s still felt the need to describe the Chinese to its readers and speculate upon second-hand, remote observations regarding Chinese lifestyle, habits and traits. Tyler Anbinder writes that by the 1870s, the Chinese population in New York, though statistically very small (in the hundreds) had nevertheless grown conspicuous in Five Points. Outside of that neighborhood, however, it was unlikely any New Yorker or Harper’s reader would have direct contact with or knowledge about Chinese people.

In this issue, Harper’s Weekly editor also shared “valuable” reports written by the Reverend Gibson, a famous defender of the Chinese in California (see G.F. Keller’s cartoon). Harper’s agreed with Gibson and concludes that the Chinese labor controversy is one stoked by Irish laborers who fear honest competition. “The presence and labor of the Chinese have opened up industries which have stimulated the demand for such white laborers and professional men,” Harper’s cautioned its readers to consider the source biased on reports that the Chinese live in filth and therefore present a public health risk.  Eventually tying into Nast’s cover, the editor refers to Mr. Kearney, and writes,

From the beginning persons of this ilk have found ready and willing to fan the sparks of ignorant bigotry and prejudice into the flames of animosity and hatred toward these people. The result has been acts of violence, bloodshed, and murder on the one hand, and on the other certain special class legislation equally iniquitous, the object achieved being simply the repression and injury of the Chinese. And this while intelligent men and calm thinkers have been doing their best to bear testimony to the generally quiet and industrious character of the poor Chinaman, and the indisputable capacity he possesses for becoming a good citizen.

By surrounding an important newsworthy person as Denis Kearney, with a clutch of laughing, fearlessly mocking Chinese men, Nast may have intended to reduce the importance of his antagonist. He sees these Chinese as Brutus’s co-conspirators. Nast does not ridicule Kearney directly, he has the Chinese men do it.  But even they do not have the courage to confront Kearney directly, they cackle behind Kearney’s back. How well the cartoon serves to demonize Kearney is questionable.  Nast has sacrificed Chinese integrity in an effort to berate Kearney. While the artist and Harper’s editorial board adopted a moral stance to extend to the Chinese the rights any immigrant might enjoy, they eagerly dip their pens in the inkwell of gimmickry and stereotype, making it difficult to cultivate empathy  toward the Chinese. This cartoon, combined with the article offers confused signals for their readers to interpret.

“Blaine Language” 1879

“Blaine Language” by Thomas Nast, 15, March 1879

The labor question was uppermost in the publics’ mind during the latter 1870’s. It was a political question. Nast chided Republican Senator from Maine, James G. Blaine, for his willingness to forgo promises made to the Chinese with the Burlingame Treaty, in order to secure a Chinese Exclusion measure (Paine 412)

Blaine was a three-time presidential hopeful. With corrupt scandals of the Grant administration surfacing and swirling in political circles, and with no signs of public sentiment shifting in favor of the Chinese, Blaine courted Democratic voters and advocated for a revision of the 1868 Burlingame Treaty. The treaty was the product of negotiations between the Chinese Six Companies, “the most important association representing the Chinese community and the federal government” (Takaki, 113).

The more groundbreaking articles of the treaty included measures that promised the Chinese the right to free immigration and travel within the United States, and allowed for the protection of Chinese citizens in the United States in accordance with the most-favored-nation principle” (U.S. State Dept.). The treaty was “a major victory for the Chinese” (Takaki 114).

Republican politicians who wavered and bowed to the growing anti-Chinese mob pressure alarmed the artist. “Nast never had the slightest sympathy with any sort of organization or movement that did not mean the complete and absolute right of property ownership, as well as the permission to labor, accorded to every human being of whatsoever color or race. His first real antagonism to James G. Blaine began with the latter’s advocacy of Chinese Exclusion” (Paine 386).

Nast viewed the attempts to abrogate the treaty, and Blaine’s role in that shift, as deplorable and an unforgivable breach in Republican values.   As Nast’s biographer points out, Nast frequently lampooned Blaine in order to expose his hypocrisy, a reality that made Blaine “heartsick” given his national ambitions. Nast was for Blaine, a painfully persistent pest.

Blaine was all too aware that Nast’s sphere of influence on the electorate was wide.  Nast relished exposing Blaine’s hypocrisy. Nast’s fixation on Blaine was unrelenting, nearly equaling his Tweed/Tammany days.  The adverse attention worried Blaine, who “attempted to explain and to justify his position, but the artist could see in the Chinese immigrant only a man and a brother, trying to make a living in a quiet and peaceful manner in a country that was big enough for all” (Paine, 413).

The cartoon also capitalized on the popularity of a popular 1870 poem,  Bret Harte’s “Plain Language from Truthful James,” with Nast exploiting James Blaine as Harte’s fearful and deeply suspicious character.

Blaine is seen center at the top of an equal rights podium, welcoming an Irishman on right, and giving him space on the platform by kicking off a Chinese worker. The irony that both ethnic groups arrived in the U.S. to flee famine, was not lost on Nast. All of the accusations leveled at the Irish by Protestants, e.g. cult religion, large numbers (hordes) of poor and diseased people of a different race (the Irish were thought to be of a different race) who would ruin and dilute American culture, and an unwillingness to assimilate, became the exact charges the Irish leveled against the Chinese.

“A Diplomatic (Chinese) Design Presented to the U.S.” 1881

Double click image to enlarge. Click the plus sign to enlarge further!

“A Diplomatic (Chinese) Design Presented to the U.S. – 12 February 1881 by Thomas Nast, for Harper’s Weekly. Source: Scan at UDel by Walfred. Public domain

This highly detailed full-page wood engraving appeared in Harper’s Weekly without an accompanying article.

In the cartoon a Chinese dragon curls around a Chinoiserie vase—it drops a document “New Treaty”  from its claws into the neck of the vase.  The vase is highly ornate – its style familiar to fashionable American households that collected Chinese art and porcelains (Chinoiserie) to display as a statement of cultural sophistication.

The vase is also cracked.  The fracture is serious, running from under the dragon’s tail to the base of the porcelain, where it bifurcates into another fracture.  At first glance, the dragon, who Nast has drawn with a devilish grin, appears to be possessive of the vase, but it might be trying to hold the vase together with its body and tail—and the offering of a negotiated concession—as an incentive to stay together. Under the dragon’s left claw reads “diplomacy.” The dragon is dark, menacing, and both protective and defensive of its territory and history in dealing with western culture.

The treaty Nast refers to is the 1880 Angell Treaty – a modification to the Burlingame Treaty negotiated by Rutherford B. Hayes. Bending to the will of anti-Chinese hysteria in California, China agreed to American limitations on Chinese immigration on the promise that the United States will not try to trade opium in Chinese ports.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, China enjoyed an advantaged position between itself and England. England wanted the advantage neutralized or eliminated and began to forcibly import opium into China. In Collecting Objects/ Excluding People, Lenore Metrick-Chen sums up the consequences of the opium trade and its relevance to the U.S.

When the Qing government protested this illegal activity, Britain used its military to force the trade’s continuation. The Opium Wars resulted in huge financial, military, cultural and humanitarian losses for China. Poverty forced many people, mainly young men, to risk the truly wretched conditions of the ocean journey to America. (6)

Harper’s Weekly commented on the treaty in response to an apparent snide editorial originating out of England. Harper’s justified the terms of the new treaty, which ironically continued to award China “most favored nation” status, and reflected on the possible prohibition of Chinese immigrants as being good if it kept the U.S. from forcing opium on the Chinese as the British had done. Harper’s went on record earlier and speculated that “The friendly acquiescence in the restriction of immigration should at once satisfy the California apprehension” (Harper’s Weekly Jan. 29, 1881) which of course the treaty did not.

An aftermath of the Opium Wars was the damage it did to American opinions on all things Chinese. Chinese works of art, once prized by cultured Americans, began to lose their luster in American homes, and American began to favor Japanese objects. “For a short time in the 1870s, Americans began to look enthusiastically at both Chinese and Japanese things, but as the decade drew on approval voiced for Chinese things diminished” (Metrick-Chen 37).

In Nast’s image the caption reads that the artist sketched the vase from a private viewing in Washington D.C. Upon the neck of the vase, Nast has drawn the U.S. Capitol, and, the U.S. Flag upside down, a symbol of distress. A single shamrock replaces the flag’s stars, an indicator that Nast continued to feel the Irish had too much power and influence in American governance. An eagle bearing “85” on its shield (the significance of that number cannot be determined) hovers over the Capitol dome. A string that appears to be kite ties, crosses the throat of the vase. Under the neck of the dragon, Nast includes two Chinese men who dangle from nooses created from their queues, They hang under a sign that reads “Rum Hole.” A fire smolders with “Washington Herbs.”  The herbs indicate a ritual or ceremony accompanied the hangings.

In the center, representing England, is a portly John Bull. Bull has fallen off his steed. The horse escapes to the left. Bull wears a “St. George’s” medallion. Big Ben can be seen in the background. The face of the famous clock is Chinese. John Bull bears the scars of other diplomatic mishaps. His right leg is in a cast, adorned with shamrocks and a harp, both symbols Nast used to represent Ireland.

At the vase’s base, a semi-circle frame labeled “Opium Business” is affected by the fracture. Two Chinese men are stoned by the product they are forced to sell. To the right a ship carrying “opium”  arrives ashore.

Nast also addressed the new treaty in the Feb.5th issue with his cartoon “Celestial.

He included a similar vase in the 1882 cartoon “The Veto.

 

Thomas Nast and the New Jersey Hall of Fame

Opinion:

In October 2011, Thomas Nast, (1840-1902) appeared among a list of distinguished individuals nominated again for induction into The New Jersey Hall of Fame. The nomination, Nast’s third in four years, would not result in his induction. Despite Nast’s legacy as the “Father of the American Caricature” (Harper’s Weekly, Dec. 20, 1902), the accolades and fame earned for his series of approximately 50 cartoons exposing the corrupt New York City Tammany Hall boss William Meager Tweed would not be enough. Rather, it would be another Nast legacy, his anti-Irish and anti-Catholic cartoons drawn primarily in the late-1860s to mid-1870s, which determined Nast’s failure to be included in the Hall of Fame roster.

Caricature can be a cruel expression of contempt. Cartoon historians Stephen Hess and Milton Kaplan refer to caricature as the Ungentlemanly Art; Donald Dewey, the Art of Ill Will.  As an editorial caricaturist, Nast relied on techniques to exaggerate physical features, employ personal ridicule, symbolism, and stereotype to expose what he saw as “a struggle between good and evil” (Dewey 7). Nast viewed Irish Americans and the Catholic Church in the post-Civil War era as direct threats to the Republican values of inclusion, unity, toleration, and fairness. He saw the rise of Tweed’s Democratic Tammany Hall Ring, the Irish immigrants, and American Roman Catholics as inexorably linked, one group enabling the others’ prominence.

An apelike Irishman and greedy Catholic cleric raid the golden goose of public money, one of many anti-Irish, anti-Catholic images created by Nast, and which will keep him out of New Jersey’s Hall of Fame. “Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, Nov. 18, 1871, Harper’s Weekly

Nearly a century and a half after they were drawn, Nast’s Irish and Catholic depictions continue to deeply offend. Reprising an English tradition of depicting the Irish as beasts, most typically as apes, Nast’s Irish was a brutish, violent- loving, jaw-jutting aggressor.

Nast, who was born and baptized in the Catholic faith, and received early Catholic education, frequently drew sinister-looking Catholic clergy, usually elaborately robed and surrounded by riches. Recently, these images have resurfaced as a retort to Nast’s 2011 Hall of Fame nomination. The cartoons appear in numerous blogs and editorials – examples offered to prove that Thomas Nast was a racist and a bigot. These images should not be viewed in isolation, without historical context to explain their purpose.

Detail of a New York Irishman preparing to exploit a Chinese immigrant in New York - From
Detail of a New York Irishman preparing to exploit a Chinese immigrant in New York – From “Thr Chinese Question,” 18, February 1871

Thomas Nast had a well-established history of supporting fairness and equity, but he would quickly attack those he had previously championed when he perceived hypocrisy, corruption or stupidity within the ranks of previous favorites.  Nast’s most famous targets: Tweed and the Irish-Americans Catholics who affiliated with and benefited from the political boss, had questionable alliances and political stances. As emerging actors in New York City Democratic politics, Irish-American Catholics under Tweed’s protection provided a critical backdrop in which a six-year-old Catholic immigrant from Germany came of age, and formed a political identity. Nast witnessed extraordinary characters and cultures, indeed he was part of New York City’s immigrant identity. As Nast matured in this cultural and political soup, he found a passionate solidarity within the progressive politics of the new Republican Party. In particular, after the Civil War, Nast identified his enemies as Democrats and their positions on key social and political issues fueled the ire in his ink.

Nast critics deserve a hearing, however. For example, in his 1863 Emancipation drawing, Nast took great effort to present an optimistic vision of African Americans contrasted against a reminder of African American slavery and oppression. It was important for Nast to present the two together. But when it came to the Irish-American experience, Nast did not explore or comment on the Irish’s long history of oppression in Europe. Nast appears not to have considered any background material which could have furthered his understanding of their collective behavior in America. His work is not sympathetic to the Irish’s dire living conditions in New York City. Nast may have shared a common attitude held by most Germans Americans that they superior to the Irish.

If Nast felt superior, he was not alone.  Dale Knobel explains that the rank and file Americans, prior to the war at least, believed that environment was a direct result of a defect in character – in this case, the native Irish character, and character developed from one’s environment. The prevailing view among Protestant Americans held that the Irish had made poor life decisions (marrying early, too many children, following a pope and superstitious religion) and therefore deserved their troubled lot in life (82).  Irish-American historian Timothy Meagher writes that Ireland’s troubled history is often overlooked when explaining subsequent Irish American behavior.  The Irish didn’t act like Germans because “they were from Ireland and had learned “lessons” there that shaped their reaction” to other races religions and cultures (224).

Detail
Detail

Had Nast fully studied and appreciated the Irish’s history of oppression and the extraordinary circumstances that caused them to emigrate to America, would he have excused the intertwined relationship of Irish Catholics with Tweed? Probably not. As sympathetic as he was to African Americans, Nast later resorted to racial caricatures and lampooned African Americans when they (in Nast’s opinion) too easily gave away new civil rights gains in the early days of the Restoration. Nast felt they hurridly compromised with southern Democratic politicians — a ruling class Nast felt to to be insincere and corrupt.

Blacks, who Nast once drew with dignity and respect, later became guffawing simpletons who didn’t know better —  incapable of navigating through the complex and murky waters of southern politics. As tender as Nast could be in an image like Emancipation, he could be unmerciful in his treatment of minorities in images like The Ignorant Vote.  These depictions couldn’t be any more inconsistent.

Albert Bigelow Paine, (1861-1937) was Nast’s only contemporary biographer and penned a reverential 600-page tome published two years after Nast’s death.  Paine interviewed Nast toward the end of his life, and he does not challenge the recollections of his subject and the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic drawings are weakly examined.

In an effort to explain away the anti-Catholic reputation that had obviously lingered and threatened to tarnish Nast’s legacy, Paine wrote, “He was inspired by no antagonism to any church–indeed he was always attracted by Catholic forms and ceremonies” (150).

Extraordinary and divisive national events shaped Nast’s persona and outlook.  In his adopted country, Nast embraced and championed a Republican political view — a position reinforced by his employers at Harper’s Weekly and the at-large intelligentsia of the day. His attitudes about the Irish were not at all unusual. This was the era when “Irish Need Not Apply” signs proliferated across storefronts and businesses. Knobel’s convincing research makes this very clear. In this atmosphere of an evolving America, Nast transitioned from an illustrator to a caricaturist; the latter’s prime purpose was to expose, within his immediate environment, malfeasance, corruption, lapses in morality, etc. To be successful and effective as a visual commentator and observer, his caricature needed to shock and startle. Caricature provokes and elicits conversation and debate.

In using caricature, Nast purposely fired a weapon clearly meant to exaggerate, upset, and call attention to a specific issue or crime. Exaggeration was precisely his point.  Nast argued for diversity and illustrated these differences with recognizable symbols his readers would immediately grasp — an artist’s version of shorthand.

How would Nast have drawn a positive image of an Irishman? Perhaps he did, and these white, Euro-centric faces simply blend in. How would we recognize a positive Nast Irishman if he did not use stereotype? Wouldn’t the Irish look like any other Anglo-American?  When something was wrong, went wrong,, Nast drew out his pen and pencil and fired off an attack.  The Irish and Catholic alliance with Tweed and the growth of their political prominence and activism (including adopting a pro-slavery political position) provided the fodder — the examples for Nast to run with his preconceptions.

In his book the Irish stereotype, Paddy and the Republic, Dale Knobel quotes Harold Lasswell, a content analyst who helped compile period material for the book,

It is impossible to get inside the mind and observe attitude as one might observe conduct. We obtain insight into the world of the other person when we are fully aware of what has come to his attention (qtd. Knobel xv).

Bravo Bravo close upWhen one browses the Internet and grabs one of Nast’s drawings do we know the full story? Nast drew more than 2,200 cartoons for Harper’s Weekly (Kennedy) alone. A vast majority of his images focused on the people, groups, and religion of my Irish ancestors. In these pieces, I see a slice of history as it was, not how I wish it would have been!  His images are historic and possess intrinsic value. Nast came of age during events, controversies, drama, and a cascade of cultures. In order to assess the layers of meaning, and do it with justice, involves an extraordinary commitment of time and affection for history. To fairly evaluate these documents (and Nast’s images) involves having an open mind and a curious nature willing to explore the many backstories and cultures that shaped individual attitudes and behavior during Nast’s career. Every detail — the meaning behind every symbol, the tradition and origin of each stereotype, and the significance of the words, placards, and captions that accompany his caricatures all play a vital role in understanding these cartoons.

Caricature and editorial cartoons go beyond mere illustration. Simple illustration captures the obvious action along with the ingredients that everyone recognizes.  Caricature captures an unseen truth —  a truth exposed, an opinion perhaps, that many would prefer to brush under the carpet. Caricature peels back the layers of illusion and exposes a starker reality.

Had it not been for particular political alliances, which in Nast’s view involved stolen elections, misappropriated public funds, and an enormity of ego and arrogance, there would have been few reasons for Nast to have attacked Irish Catholics.  Every line Nast drew, he executed toward achieving or arguing for a Republican political view.  One may not agree with Nast’s political thinking, but those who are informed about his life and times find it difficult to question the well of integrity from with which he drew his creative inspiration and the evidence of corruption that swirled all around him compelled him to take action. See Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.

Nast took to task the people he saw as villains, and as a result, in the eyes of many, became one himself.  Nast did not glamorize the villains and threats of his day. He obliterated them through the exposure of black lines on white paper. As wrong as these perceptions and images might feel today, the truth is, most people felt that way toward the Irish.  Because of his ability to visualize the way ordinary Americans felt, Thomas Nast now bears the brunt and identification of owning this attitude lock, stock, and barrel.

Pacific Chivalry, Harper's Weekly, 7 August, 1869
Pacific Chivalry, Harper’s Weekly, 7 August 1869

Today, Americans with an Irish heritage often react with anger at Nast’s nomination, and may not fully understand nor be willing to accept the knowledge that a sizable portion of our ancestors, horribly oppressed in Ireland, became oppressors in America.  Ignorance is bliss.  In the Irish-American struggle to fit into mainstream America, other immigrant groups were mistreated, most notably the Chinese, by the Irish and other white groups. In climbing the rung and elevating one’s status from a low life meant another group had to occupy the lower tier. Horrible things were done to the Chinese in caricature and more importantly, in everyday life. In a large part of organized Irish activism, the Chinese faced a battery of restrictive legislation and were officially excluded from immigrating to America with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Historical figures like Nast should not be kept out of museums or halls of fame any more than Mark Twain’s use of the N-word should be erased from modern editions of  Huckleberry Finn. Our history is full of unique people who did not all get along. The beginning of the immigration era of American history is complicated, extraordinary and often cruel. Nast deserves to be in New Jersey’s Hall of Fame because he earned a place in history through his exposure of political corruption and for documenting the Civil War, national elections, minority struggles and visually capturing and recording northeastern Republican attitudes of a still young nation seeking to reconcile after the Civil War.  His art shaped ideas. Not all of us are going to like what he did, and that is fair, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

Today, Thomas Nast’s controversial images are an important educational tool for explaining how and why images matter, how stereotypes are developed, used or misused. Caricature is not illustration and it is not meant to be viewed as such. It is sarcasm, it is an over-the-top exaggeration. Its very nature is controversial and Nast executed that art form as few others could, and for that reason alone, regardless of content, he deserves a spot in New Jersey’s Hall of Fame.

Works cited

Liberalism/Radical Republicanism

In his essay on American keywords, Nikhil Pal Singh identified the literal use of “liberal” to “free men” and use of the colloquial of the term as one of the “foundational intellectual discourses of political modernity.”

In the twenty first century, one identified as “liberal” is often pitted against its counterpart “conservative” with each position slinging the other term as an insult.  For conservatives, Singh suggests that describing one as a “liberal” infers that person has a “reckless disregard for traditional values and moral virtue.”

Singh points out that many versions of term exist and interpretations are highly uneven. For certain, the word’s roots come to mean a certain proponent of liberation or freedom.

In Nast’s time and politics, “liberal” was closely related to “radical” and used in his own political faction, “Radical Republicanism.” Singh asks a question that Nast and his progressive Republicans may have continually wrestled with; “How to combine an expansive, even utopian, defense of individual freedom with a stable and cohesive structure of social organization.”

Nast may have agreed with John Locke, who Singh reminds us, envisioned liberalism as a state where individuals enjoy a “natural liberty” and enter into a “social contract” in order to establish a government where life, liberty, and property can be secured (Singh).

Nast historian Morton Keller describes Nast’s Radical Republicanism as more than simply a party affiliation. “It rested on a set of social values that induced him to comment on a wide range of American public issues” (105).

Abolition and civil rights for African Americans, particularly the right to vote, Keller says, represented the “touchstone” of Radical Republicanism. Even after the war, when Negrohobia “prevailed” Radical Republicans believed in a nation of equality.  But the rights of African Americans were a priority.

“Nast’s sensitivity to the rights of minority Americans extended to others besides embattled freedmen,” (Keller 107).  His vision of America included all minorities – in public schools – at the voting booth and allegorically, at the Thanksgiving table.  “The Chinese and the Indians in particular came under his protective wing” (107).

After the Civil War, the preeminent Radial Republican leaders in the nation were Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner (Foner 229). With ideals originating in New England constituencies, the movement was strong in both small towns and family farms – where free labor was self-evident (Foner 228).

Radical ideology embraced the utopian vision of a nation whose “citizens enjoyed equality of civil and political rights, secured by a powerful and beneficent national state” (Foner 230).

After the Civil War, those leaders affiliated with Radical Republicanism “hoped to reshape Southern society in the image of he small-scale competitive capitalism of the North” (Foner 235),

Examples of Nast’s Radical Republicanism and utopian beliefs are best expressed in his work of the 1860s: “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” “Emancipation of Negroes” and many of Nast’s commentary on the New York Public School System.

After Lincoln’s death, Radical Republicans placed considerable hope in Andrew Johnson and the promise of northern-led reform. Johnson did not live up to these expectations. Increasingly, Johnson unveiled “an emerging image of the white South’s champion (Foner 190). Radical Republicans felt disillusioned with the Johnson administration and with the president as an individual leader. This reality bitterly disappointed Radical Republicans and especially Nast, who took his angst out in the form of satire and caricature. With Johnson as his subject, Nast embarked on a new phase of his artistic career – personal political cartoon satire.

Nast’ most recent biographer (2012) Fiona Deans Halloran attributes Nast’s German origins and the German community in New York as key in shaping the young artist’s liberal philosophy. Germans in New York  especially focused on local political corruption and the national struggle over slavery” (29).  As German Forty-Eighters, the community in New York City keenly followed the social movements in Europe. “The fundamental principle of Liberalism was the idea that human history was a story of progress” (29).

“Plain Language from Truthful James”

Plain Language from Truthful James by Bret Harte (1870)

Which I wish to remark–
And my language is plain–
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar:
Which the same I would rise to explain.

Ah Sin was his name;
And I shall not deny
In regard to the same
What that name might imply;
But his smile it was pensive and childlike,
As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye.

It was August the third,
And quite sort was the skies,
Which it might be inferred
That Ah Sin was likewise;
Yet he played it that day upon William
And me in a way I despise.

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand:
It was euchre. The same
He did not understand,
But he smiled, as he sat by the table,
With the smile that was childlike and bland.

Yet the cards they were stocked
In a way that I grieve,
And my feelings were shocked
At the state of Nye’s sleeve,
Which was stuffed full of aces and
bowers,
And the same with intent to deceive.

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made,
Were quite frightful to see,–
Till at last he put down a right bower,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.

Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, “Can this be?
We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor,”–
And he went for that heathen Chinee.

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed,
Like the leaves on the strand,
With the cards flint
Ah Sin had been hiding
In the game “he did not understand.”

In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four jacks,—
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts.
And we found on his nails, which were taper,–
What is frequent in tapers,–that’s wax.

Which is why I remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark,
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,–
Which the same I am free to maintain.

Source: Assumption.edu

“The Martydom of St. Crispin” 16 July 1870

Two Chinese men raise swords behind an white shoemaker, as if to attack
Martyrdom of St. Crispin by Thomas Nast. Harper’s Weekly 16 July 1870. Source: UDel/Walfred

This cartoon, published on July 16, 1870, is one of the more curious of Nast’s Chinese pieces. The cartoon addresses the issue of using Chinese labor as an efficient, lower cost alternative, thus blurring the definition of contract, or forced slave labor known as “coolie” labor. For a nation still coming to terms with the issue of slavery and slave labor, “coolie” labor was viewed as suspect, and a threat to replace free white labor for the betterment of capitalist or business interests. For another perspective click here.

Two Chinese workers stand behind a shoe cobbler. They carry sabers marked “Cheap Labor” on the blades. The cobbler is St. Crispin, the patron saint of leather workers. The cobbler’s hair is styled in a tonsure and a halo hovers over his head. Whether intentional or not, the cobbler bears a strong resemblance to Nast’s hero, Abraham Lincoln. He concentrates on his work and appears to be unaware of his Chinese visitors lurking behind with their swords raised. A violent attack is imminent.

The Chinese man at the far left has an abnormally elongated face and slanted eyes that upturn at an unnatural angle. He clenches two weapons, but he has yet to lunge toward St. Crispin.

At center and directly behind the cobbler is another Chinese man. His facial features are more normal and do not appear exaggerated. His look is intent on what he is about to do.  With a two-handed grip, he hurls his “Cheap Labor” blade high over his head, ready to strike the first blow upon cobbler oblivious to the danger.

Nast identifies this as a “New Issue – The Chinese – American Question” and that question is how to reconcile the Chinese into the labor force.

The next issue of Harper’s Weekly reported on an uprising that may have been breaking at the time Nast executed his drawing. In that issue, Harper’s Weekly  reported on Mr. Sampson, owner of a New England shoe factory. Experiencing financial difficulties, Sampson sought wage concessions from his factory’s labor force. They agreed to consider his request provided Sampson open his books to make sure the owner had done all he could and operated his business above board. Sampson refused this request and instead arranged to recruit Chinese workers from San Francisco. The article makes an explicit distinction that Sampson recruited Chinese workers already in the U.S., unlike that of an individual by the distinctive name of Mr. Koopmanschoop, a labor broker, and capitalist who dealt directly with China for his labor force. The article infers that the methods to import Chinese labor from China were nothing more than disguised slavery. Coolie labor became a subject of everyday discussion and concern, but Harper’s argues, Mr. Sampson was well within his rights to seek out cheaper labor to save his business.

The Harper’s Weekly article takes a favorable view of the Chinese workers. “Since their arrival…their deportment has been excellent, and the prejudice at first existing against them is said to be gradually giving away” (Harper’s Weekly, 23 July 1870). The article included two large illustrations, not drawn by Nast, showing where the factory was situated, and an interior scene of Chinese men working inside the factory without incident. The scene was clean, peaceful and unremarkable.

Presumably, as news of Chinese workers entering American factories in New England reached New Yorkers, Nast quickly created this small cartoon, placed near the back of the issue in the advertisement section. Cartoons of this size, roughly 5 inches by 5 inches, were typically nestled near the advertisements. This section of the magazine may have been blocked out, ready to receive a quick image for breaking news. This would explain why there is no article in the paper about Chinese shoemakers that week, but appeared in the next issue.

The pro-capitalist position of Harper’s Weekly does not describe the Chinese as strike breakers, but according to John Kuo Wei Tchen, this maneuver in Massachusetts and a similar one in New Jersey was a deliberate attempt to break a strike of the shoe labor union known as the Knights of St. Crispin. “The Crispins were one of the largest trade unions in the country, claiming some forty thousand members in Massachusetts alone.”  Using Chinese labor in such a manner made national news, and reinforced the perception of the Chinese as cheap, possibly indentured or forced labor. Willingly or not, by undercutting the price of white labor, and working to the satisfaction of employers, the manipulation of Chinese labor played a crucial role in how their racial identities were formed within a Euro-centric America (Tchen 175-176).

As a Radical Republican, Nast believed in the capitalist point of view that saw a benefit by adding Chinese labor to any given industry. Yet, Nast drew an unflattering portrait of Chinese labor with this cartoon. As John Kuo Wei Tchen notes, “Chinese cheap labor” had become a “war cry” and that was reflected in cartoons and in contemporary poetry, such as Bret Harte’s “Plain Language from Truthful James.” The poem depicts a Chinese character, Ah Sin, as a cunning heathen.  Nast would revive Ah Sin nine years later, but this 1870 cartoon reflects the idea infused in the poem that allowing the Chinese to have “unfettered entry” into America was dangerous (Tchen 196). Nast would also play on the poem’s title with his pro-Chinese cartoon “Blaine Language” one of many cartoons which criticized U.S. Senator James G. Blaine for his anti-Chinese positions.

Whether Nast believed in the danger or merely reflected what was discussed on the street—as a topic for conversation— is unknown.  The cartoon is inconsistent with the majority of his Chinese cartoons. The figures, however, closely resemble the Chinese men who taunt Denis Kearney in Nast’s 1880 cartoon, Ides of March.

Historian John Kuo Wei Tchen speculates that Nast likely did not have any real knowledge or exposure to the Chinese in New York, and adds that his cartoons “indicate familiarity with the representational conventions of Chinese in literature and on stage, but not much other knowledge” (211).  Tchen’s assessment makes sense. The question remains,  does that excuse Nast from drawing images like this – or was characterizations like this one purposeful because Nast was simply incorporating the popular view?

Related to this cartoon: See “The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly“” and “The Chinese Question.”

Works cited

“Pacific Chivalry” 1869

This is Nast’s first cartoon of a Chinese immigrant or sojourner in the West Coast. The cartoon establishes Nast’s sympathies toward the Chinese.

Pacific Chivalry, Harper's Weekly, 7 August, 1869
Pacific Chivalry, Harper’s Weekly, 7 August 1869

Pacific Chivalry sets the western locale and places a central focus on the unique hairstyle or “queue” of Chinese men. During the Manchurian takeover of the Ming Dynasty, it was decreed that Chinese men shave their heads with the exception of a part of the back of the head where a long ponytail, often braided, would remain. In times of battle, the “queue” helped to distinguish Manchu warriors from the enemy. Chinese men faced execution if they did not grow a queue (Spence 38).

In the United States, the queue was a subject of fascination that added to the mystique and perceived feminization of Chinese men who were often “depicted as lacking virility.” In the male-dominated world of western gold mining “Chinese men became targets of white men’s fears of homosexuality or the objects of their desire” (Pfaelzer 13).

Unknown terror awaits this Chinese figure as he attempts to flee from a white aggressor. Wearing a hat that bears the name California, the white laborer bears his teeth in a determined grimace.  In his right hand, he raises a whip – a variation of a cat-o-nine whip, believed to have originated to punish African slaves during the U.S. slave trade.  He has lifted his left leg to counterbalance his swing and prepares to strike his Chinese victim.  His left hand grips the Chinese queue and prevents the Chinese from escape. The force of pulling on the hair elongates the Chinese man’s head.

Shapes of skulls were thought to be indicative of intelligence and placement in an evolutionary hierarchy by stretching out the skull of a Chinese man, the perpetrator, and perhaps the artist offers the Chinese different than the standard perception for human normality. Though he is not drawn as overtly Irish, the working man fits the look that Nast establishes for white labor – gruff, bearded, burly and dominating. The look was repeated in The Chinese Question, 18 February 1871. and other cartoons. It should be noted that the Knights of Labor, an organization formed for white labor interests in western states and territories, and often the instigating agent for violence against the Chinese, did have a large Irish Catholic membership. (See Here’s a Pretty Mess).

The Chinese man is startled by his capture. His fearful expression further distorted by the pulling from the back of his scalp.  His sun hat, the douli, has fallen to the ground and his hands are open in a defensive posture, though the threat has come from behind.

To the right, along the railroad tracks rests a small building on the edge of what resembles a small mining camp. The words on the building pronounces, “Courts of Justice Closed to Chinese. Extra Taxes to Yellow Jack.”

Nast, of course, is mocking California’s definition of justice and the battery of local laws passed by the new state to scare, threaten and restrict Chinese and opportunities in the gold mines, in society and in business.

Nast draws a contrast from Pacific form of “chivalry” compared to from the respectful way Columbia introduces the Chinese to American society.

What fate awaits this Chinese man is up to the reader to decide. Will he be beaten, robbed, driven out of the mining camp, out of town, or sexually abused is not known. With this image, Nast clearly asserts something terrible will occur. “Nast condemned this treatment as an affront to the values of an open society” (Keller 108).

Works cited

Art Terminology

Wood Cut.  A form of relief engraving, where the parts of the image that are white or uncolored are carved away from the wood. An image is drawn directly onto a section of wood or on paper that is then transferred to a section of wood  and carving is done parallel to the grain. If one thinks of a tree – it is cut lengthwise to form long planks. This would be the type of lumber used for a wood cut. Because of the direction of the grain, wood cuts did not hold up to modern printing presses and wood cuts could not be combined with metal or movable type in modern printing. Harper’s Weekly did not use wood cuts.

Wood Engraving: A relief printing process, like wood cuts. however wood engravings were carved from the cross-cut section of a hard wood tree  trunk(boxwood was preferred). By carving on the end of the grain, the engraver enjoyed much more flexibility with tools and could exact very fine lines.  By being perpendicular to the grain, cutting the wood in this manner, allowed the block to be inserted into the metal and movable types of the era. The compatibility of engraving and type made wood engraving the established printing process for nearly half a century. This was the image reproduction process used by Harper’s Weekly and the method by which Thomas Nast learned his trade. See a video demonstration of wood engraving here.

Lithography was the process of applying wax or grease onto a stone (less often a metal plate) and carving an image out of the surface application, and creating an image. A description below from the Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. :

The process is based on the principle that grease and water do not mix. To create a lithograph, the stone or plate is washed with water –which is repelled by the crayon– and then with ink –which is absorbed by the crayon. The image is printed onto the paper from the stone or plate, which can be re-inked many times without wear. A chromolithograph is a colored lithograph, with at least three colors, in which each color is printed from a separate stone and where the image is composed from those colors. A tinted lithograph is a lithograph whose image is printed from one stone and which has wash color for tinting applied from one or two other stones. Lithography is a planographic process and so no platemark is created when a lithograph is printed.

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 but didn’t come into general use until the 1820s. After that time lithography quickly replaced intaglio processes for most illustrative and commercial applications, for the design was easier to apply to the stone or plate, it was much easier to rework or correct a design, and many more images could be produced without loss of quality than in any of the intaglio processes.

Lithographs and Chromolithographs were used to print the cartoons and colored cartoons for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, and its artist George F. Keller.  Their experience with this form of printmaking originated from making cigar box labels.

For an excellent series on the history of printmaking, which includes details and examples of all these processes, I highly recommend viewing Richard Benson’s excellent videos for the MOMA. The videos are available in abbreviated segments (highlights), following the progressive history of printmaking, or you may view the eight-hour comprehensive look (which is broken up into segments for more defined viewing).  The technique of Thomas Nast is explained at the 17-minute mark.

“”Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (in Wyoming)” 1885

Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (in Wyoming) – 19 September, 1885 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly.Thomas Nast Source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of Thomas Nast’s last cartoons featuring the Chinese was published in the fall of 1885 as a reaction to the Rocks Springs Massacre of Chinese miners, “one of the most violent racial episodes in the history of the West” (Pfaelzer 209).

Harper’s Weekly addressed the massacre in two separate issues, each with an illustration and unsigned editorial commentary (likely by George W. Curtis). While Nast contributed full-sized images on other topics, his sole cartoon on the massacre was a quarter-page-sized image near the back of the issue.

The cartoon lacks the passion and sophistication one would expect from Nast in reaction to the largest racial attack in U.S. history. Perhaps the cartoon was hastily drawn as events became known. The image may have replaced another cartoon slated for the spot – the advertising section always blocked out the area for one or two small cartoons.

Nast’s image may provoke different reactions from those who view it. One common reaction is that the cartoon adopts a pro-Chinese stance, but depicts a sarcastic Chinese tone or voice – one which emphasizes Chinese civility over Western “enlightenment.”

Two Chinese diplomats stand upon higher ground and overlook a scene of mayhem below. They witness the Rock Creek massacre in progress.  An assortment of white laborers are pummeling Chinese laborers whom Nast identifies with long hair queue.

The primary Chinese figures are styled in the same manner as the “John Confucius/John Chinaman” diplomat, however, one holds a fan in front of his face. One diplomat stands in profile and faces the massacre directly, the other crouches behind his colleague and appears to whisper in his ear. The fan emphasizes the secret nature of their conversation.

The detail of the cartoon is centered on the Chinese men, and not on the violence below, which is more crudely drawn. Of all Nast’s images of the Chinese, this depiction, particularly of the Chinese man in profile, are strongly feminized. With some minor costume details, these men could be women. This is an unusual tact for Nast to adopt.

It is the caption, and not the image, which drives the satire and ironic definition of civility.  White America repeatedly favored the term “barbarian” in describing the Chinese.  The caption reads, “Chinese Satirical Diplomat.”There’s no doubt of the United States being at the head of enlightened nations!””

At first glance, the contrast is quite clear. Who are these white people calling the Chinese heathens, barbarians and a race unfit for American citizenship? Look at how Americans behave! This is quite a spectacle of enlightened behavior. On this score, the cartoon is successful.

With a deeper look, the viewer may realize that these Chinese diplomats do nothing but observe the melee. They watch as their countrymen are murdered and driven out. The Chinese are denied the right to earn an honest living – a living they were recruited for by American business and invited to participate in.

One might interpret the Chinese men are gleeful for this opportunity to make a cultural comparison between East and West.  Does Nast suggest the massacre serves a higher purpose – an occasion upon which the diplomats can prove their superiority? If so, they make their point at the expense of their countrymen. Still, Nast portrays the two men as inactive. Shock is absent. They feel no outrage by what they witness. Neither is Nast.

Nast chose the cartoon to be sardonic and sarcastic – and on one level, he succeeds in showing his viewers who the real barbarians are.  But Nast could have made his point and at the same time, infuse his Chinese observers with a sense of sorrow or anger. Why did Nast not weigh in on the moral argument, as he had done many times before, by simply adding Columbia to the scene?  By standing alongside her Chinese guests, shedding tears, Columbia  her fist raised in defiance, the maternal icon of American morality might elicit sympathy from the viewers.

Nast followers knew what Columbia meant in his cartoons.  Nast chose not to take her to Wyoming.  He did not employ her as a moral agent. Columbia’s values and message are absent in this composition. Nast also refused to demonize or detail reports of a predominately Irish-labor mob as the perpetrators of the massacre. While his drawing depicts white upon Chinese violence, Nast chose not to exploit the Irish nature of the mob. Nast’s infamous Irish ape is not present as instigators at this scene.

In reality, response to the massacre by the Chinese government was immediate and persistent as they complained to Secretary of State Thomas Bayard, and argued for prosecution of the murderers and reparations (Pfaelzer 211-214).

Harper’s Weekly’s brief editorial commented on the outrage, expressed in part:

The massacre of the Chinese laborers in Wyoming is one of the crimes which disgrace a people, because it is due to the jealousy and hatred of a race. In excluding the Chinese from the country by law we have especially stigmatized them, and common decency and humanity should lead us to protect those of them who unfortunately happen to be among us, and whom the law shows that we wish were somewhere else.

Perhaps Nast’s state of mind had grown tired of an issue on which he and the progressive Republican base had repeatedly experienced defeat. As Morton Keller has surmised, Nast’s passions were linked to the utopian principles of the Radical Republicanism he championed. “When that spirit faded, so did the force and fire of Nast’s art” (Keller  viii).

In the next issue Harper’s Weekly published a full-page engraving based on a photograph taken at the scene of the massacre. Nast had no part in the illustration.

“The Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs Wyoming” 26 September, 1885. Engraving from photo. Wikipedia Commons

Nast contributed a full-paged cartoon in the same issue, but it did not address the massacre. Commentary on the massacre was left to others.   Nast’s career at Harper’s Weekly was coming to a close.

Historical background on the Rock Creek Massacre

In 1862, the United States Congress authorized an act to construct railroad and telegraph lines connecting East and West. The Central Pacific Rail Road (CPRR) was in charge of construction from Sacramento, California to the East.  In order to fulfill the enormous labor demands and meet financial incentives offered by the federal government, Chinese labor was recruited. The principals of the CPPR were known as the “Big Four” Leland Stanford, president; C.P. Huntington, vice president; Mark Hopkins, treasurer and Charles Crocker, engineer (Storti 10).

Despite early reluctance from his partners, Crocker recruited thousands of Chinese as railroad laborers, and due to their experience as miners, hired them as coal miners to support the fuel needed for the rail effort. “Crocker brought them in by the trainload” and by 1868, the Chinese “made up 80 percent of the Central Pacific’s work force.” Crocker happily called them “the best road builders in the world.” They were known derisively as “Crocker’s pets” (Storti 12).

Rock Springs was located along Bitter Creek tributary and in an area rich with coal.  The path of the Union Pacific Railroad was slated to go right through the coal-rich area.  Coal was “a discovery of almost incalculable value to the company” (Storti 34). On the surface, the land, which the Indians had negotiated away seemed inarable and desolate – the poorest tract of land in Wyoming. What lay underneath the soil made it valuable. Rudimentary mining towns quickly sprang up in the area and by 1871 Rock Springs had become central headquarters to the Wyoming Coal and Mining Company (Storti 54).

The year 1873 began a sustained era of severe economic depression which affected the railroad, and other supporting industries including coal mining towns like Rock Creek.

A Wall Street investor, Jay Gould, “had his hands in virtually every major business undertaking of the day” and this included the coal mines at Rock Springs. Gould ordered a series of wage cuts for coal miners in the region. Various labor organizations and miner’s associations threatened and carried out sporadic strikes across many mining camps in the country that supported the transatlantic railroad effort.  As these strike continued to percolate on and off, Chinese miners were used as strike breakers or “scabs.”

In 1875, 150 Chinese workers reported for duty as strikebreakers, under the protection of U.S. troops (Storti 71).

Coal mining was “astonishingly dangerous work.” Storti’s book on the Rock Creek massacre provides valuable insight into the details and dangers of the coal miner’s (or colliers as they were known) exhaustive toils.  Storti describes it as a “tightly knit brotherhood” of men who risked their lives – rarely saw daylight or breathed in clean air.  They were protective of each other and of their wages. They knew the risks they undertook and expected to be paid well for that sacrifice.

Nevertheless, Storti explains, labor management wanted profits to increase and did not think twice about humiliating their labor force.  When Chinese miners arrived, they “were routinely given the most productive rooms and were always allowed first choice of rooms when a new entry was opened” (Storti 83). The Chinese were not above flaunting their privileged position, deepening further resentment and competition.

As in other locations where the Chinese gathered to work, a supporting society was quickly established. A Chinatown near Rock Springs flourished.

With the help of Chinese labor, the Rock Springs mining camp tripled its coal production from 104,000 tons in 1875 to 302,000 tons in 1884.

In the fall of 1884 threats of strikes across the region were instigated by invigorated union interests and new pro-labor affiliations, such as the Knights of Labor.  Rock Springs avoided these threats and colliers from Rock Springs did not partake in Knights of Labor meetings. But by the summer of 1885, Chinese -White labor tensions reached a breaking point regarding the continued preferential treatment of Chinese workers, with the Chinese gaining the most concessions.

When disputes arose, the Chinese stood their ground and offered no concessions. The confrontations, which took place deep inside the mines, came to blows. Word of the fights made their way to the surface as white laborers began to collect in the streets, “shouting anti-Chinese slogans” (Storti 108-113).

In the 1880s, the Knights of Labor stood as the most powerful labor union in the nation (Storti 103). The Knights of Labor were strong proponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act and their membership was predominately Catholic (Catholic University of America).  The Knights of Labor organized 1886 events that led to the Chicago Haymarket demonstration and massacre, though violence was never planned and did not directly involve Chinese laborers.

The white miners had asked the Chinese to join them in a strike. Unwilling to strike, violence erupted. “A force of about 150 Irish-born miners marched to Chinatown armed with shotguns” (Pfaelzer 210).

The mob first fired into the air, demanding that the Chinese leave. As they began to do so, Chinese were shot at directly. Several homes and businesses in Chinatown were burned to the ground. An estimated 400 to 500 Chinese were forcibly driven out, many escaped to the outskirts of town without food, water or shelter where “about 50 died of exposure and starvation as they tried to reach the Green River and escape from the mine” (Pfaelzer 211). The final death toll was put at fifty-one, the highest ever for a race riot in American history” (Storti 142).

“Distribution of the Sectarian Fund” 1870

Distribution of Sectarian Funds, 26 February, 1869. Harper's Weekly.  Source: HistSociety.blogspot.com
Distribution of Sectarian Funds, 26 February, 1869. Harper’s Weekly. Source: HistSociety.blogspot.com

Nast drew this full-page cartoon at the height of his attacks on Tweed. Nast took exception to the Democratic politician’s granting of public funds to the New York Roman Catholic Church for the establishment of sectarian schools.

Nast strongly believed in the newly formed public school system and saw the institution as a utopian organ of education – a place where all religions, creeds, cultures, ethnicities and races could attend.

While not a Chinese cartoon per se, at the top and bottom panels, a Chinese child experiences differing educational possibilities and potential treatment that depend on whether or not public or sectarian schools are allowed to prevail. With the establishment of special treatment for Catholic schools, Nast predicts a domino effect that will result in mayhem and violence among New York City schoolchildren.

Still hopeful for an implementation of Radical Republicanism in the era of Reconstruction, in the top panel Nast includes a happy, Chinese boy, joining a multi-cultured group of children at play in front of the “Common School.”  Racial stereotypes are applied to all the children in an effort to emphasize the diversity of the student body. The school and its playgrounds are “Free to All,” and “All Hands Round.” With his queue happily tossed in the wind, the young Chinese lad is but one of many that is enjoying play, each child drawn in an obvious way to represent his or her culture.  It is the children’s version of Nast’s Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.  In both cartoons, the theme and message are the same.  The “Union in Strength.”

While this website does not focus on Nast and the public school issue (See Benjamin Justice’s fine article Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s.) It would be negligent not to mention Lady Justice, a relative or incarnation of Columbia, who Nast draws for the first and only time as an Irish woman. Lady Justice may be blindfolded, but she has been bought off by the Irish Catholics, tipping the scales toward the source of the money – and in Nast’s opinion, the corruption. The Protestant side is shown defeated as “Death to Us” hovers over a dejected public school system. Their buildings crumble. Roman Catholics however are elated and exclaim “Fun For Us.” They enjoy the fruits of their influence on the education system and the fine institutions built with taxpayer money. The division of public funds is lopsided.

In the third panel, Nast presents the repercussions of a special school for each ethnicity or race, the consequences that began with Irish-Catholic special interests.  Each building in the background brands its own school identity. Everyone places claim on their differences and these differences result in competition and bitterness. The play area is a battleground. Children do not hold hands. Chinese queues do not spin in merriment. The queue, once again has become a tool for oppression – a handle upon which to grip, restrain and torment.

In this scene, Nast shows another victim of oppression becoming the aggressor. An African American child has gripped the queue in his hands and prevents the Chinese child from heading toward his school.