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 Equal of Persons (?) Gibson and Loomis” 1877

Equal persons 18 November 1877

The Wasp’s first anti-Chinese cartoon, The Equal of Persons Gibson and Loomis, appeared on November 18, 1877, six months after the paper opened for business. It was a “caustic response” to Reverends Gibson and Loomis who offered positive testimony to the “good character” of the Chinese immigrant in April 1876 before the Committee of the Senate of the State of California. The committee was a legislative body that held hearings on the social, moral and political effect of Chinese immigration[1] (West 128: Internet Archive). They were part of a San Francisco press that “lambasted pro-immigration ministers as hypocrites” (Paddison 527).

The month-long hearing’s purpose debated the effects of Chinese immigration and sought to determine if the Chinese “advanced or hindered “Christian civilization.”” Most of the testimony was stacked against the Chinese.  Foregone conclusions were accepted as fact. The Rev. Otis Gibson, along with Presbyterian Augustus W. Loomis and a few other Protestant ministers testified on behalf of the Chinese asserting that the Chinese “would pose no danger.” The reverends staunchly believed that the anti-Chinese agitation in the community was stoked not by race, but by religion and blamed Irish Catholics [2] as the active agents in the unrest (Paddison 524).

The Reverend Otis Gibson, in particular, was well known as  San Francisco’s “most outspoken white defender of the Chinese” (Paddison 522).

Keller’s four-part drawing confronts the witnesses’ pro-Chinese testimony with images of Chinese engaged in unseemly activities.  In the top left panel, Keller includes a Chinese male with an ax who chases after a female –  a scene of violence to counter the assertion that “they are peaceful.”  Top right, three malnourished Chinese men dine in squalid, decrepit living conditions – an exception to the statement “they are clean.” Bottom left, to disavow the claim “they are honest” a  Chinese man flees with two birds he has stolen. A gun-toting white man is in pursuit. In the bottom right panel, The Wasp lampoons the Chinese immigrant’s attempt to assimilate as ridiculous, and attempts to “raise the specter of miscegenation.” The panel shows “white woman with a Chinese husband and Chinese children” (Paddison 528). Keller refers to Reverends Gibson and Loomis in his captions as “charlatanical [sic] divines” (West 129).

There are contradictions in the image, however.  The male chasing the woman is not dressed in the same dirty, tattered clothing seen at top right. The three gaunt men eat from bowls while rodents scamper on the floor, presumably their next meal, but the immigrant thief shown bottom left is stealing chickens. Why pilfer poultry when a free, plentiful supply of rats and mice were available?  This first attempt falls short in consistency compared to the anti-Chinese messages that would be finessed in later Keller images.


[1] The entire testimony can be found at Internet Archive.org
http://www.archive.org/stream/chineseimmigrati00cali/chineseimmigrati00cali_djvu.txt

[2] Joshua Paddison provides a thorough examination of anti-Irish Catholic tensions between Protestant nativism in San Francisco, similar to the tensions among Protestants, Republicans, and Democrats in New York City.  Paddison examines early anti-Irish racism in California and how the Irish exploited the Chinese to counteract that racism –  capitalizing on labor competition as a means to unite and to assert their place as white men alongside the vast majority of Christian Caucasians who wanted the Chinese driven out.

“A Statue for Our Harbor” 1881

Cartoon of Chinese man as a mockery of the statue of liberty
“A Statue for Our Harbor” 11 November 1881 by George Frederick Keller for the San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

San Francisco artist George F. Keller struck again, aided by The Wasp’s increased investment in color lithography, with A Statue For Our Harbor, November 11, 1881. Although the Statue of Liberty and its base had yet to make a physical appearance in New York’s harbor, discussions about the statue and controversies in fundraising and artists’renditions, were broadly covered in East Coast media and beyond. Keller’s image serves as a reminder that he and or The Wasp kept their attention on their eastern counterparts and applied regional topics to switch focus on West Coast concerns. The image is a cry for attention to examine West Coast immigration issues.

The image was preceded by a popular book, The Last Days of the Republic (1880) written by newspaper editor Pierson Dooner who “described immigration as a “vicious conspiracy” against the U.S. by the Chinese, and illustrated his point with Keller’s drawings” (Tchen/Yeats, 231).

No warm welcome from a copper French Lady Liberty here, immigrants to San Francisco’s harbor are welcomed by a menacing Chinese effigy. His clothes in tatters, this slimy figure, with his long queue wafting with the breeze, illuminates the American way for Asian immigrants. A few steamboats rest in the harbor, but a larger number arrive via antiquated Asian sail boats or “junks.”

The implication is clear. Modern European immigration has acquiesced in deference to an infiltration of backward, invading forces from Asia.  A full moon with a Chinese likeness sneeringly supervises the scene. His celestial light bathes the night sky. Six beams of light emanate from the statue’s unseen torch or lamp.They illuminate the harbor with “Filth,” “Immorality,” “Diseases,” and requiring three beams,“Ruin to White Labor.”  In the statue’s other hand is an opium pipe. The Chinese man‘s foot is triumphantly perched upon a human skull, presumably that of a white human, and behind the skull is a rat’s tail. The rodent has picked the skull clean.

The Wasp’s readers knew all too well that the Chinese ate rodents. Western press delighted in repeating the disgusting stereotype. In Keller’s illustration, the Chinese have ascended to the top of the food chain. A position that is complicit with the cannibalism of white humanity.  Rodents thriving along the embankment collect at the base of the star-shaped pedestal, which is also strewn with trash.

While labor issues were one of the six categories that predominated The Wasp’s view of the Chinese, the overarching theme in this image is one of disease and immorality. The Wasp suggests there can be no question that the Chinese are to blame for dark and dismal polluted condition of San Francisco’s harbor.

Light and dark divides the image. As a “celestial” the Chinese figure is awash in light as he extends his arm and face toward the source of his “otherness” the celestial sky.  The clouds part in his presence.  The colors darken as the figure connects with the earth and his roots and foundation into his new San Francisco home.

“The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?” 1878

A donkey (Denis Kearney( honks as scenes of Chinese workers surround
“The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?” – 11 May 1878 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them? was drawn by George F. Keller and published on May 11, 1878. The cartoon is The Wasp’s interpretation of the Workingmen’s Party’s rallying cry against Chinese presence in California.  Front and center is a donkey in military garb, an indication of a war- war against the Chinese, and liberal immigration policies. On the epaulets of the donkey’s uniform, the initials “D.K.” represent the faction’s self-styled military leader, Irish-born Denis Kearney and chief crier of “the Chinese Must Go” mantra. Kearney, a charismatic Irish American “began his infamous outdoor “Sandlot” meetings on vacant lots…and understood how to turn rage about unemployment, the price of food, and the huge land grants to the railroads against the Chinese” (Pfaelzer 77).

The cartoon’s title question has a double meaning. Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party were clear on one goal. They wanted the Chinese out of California- out of the West Coast – out of the labor market.  Go back to China, go East – as long as they went. They cared little about who would take care of the Chinese afterward.

The title challenges the readers to look within. Who was taking care of the Chinese in California? Who was keeping them, enabling them, to stay in California? The Wasp pointed the finger at their readers.

Surrounding the braying Kearney, six vignettes show the consequences of white citizens patronizing Chinese business; a cigar shop, shoe cobbler, laundry, horse livery and meat butcher. All professions that the Chinese successfully established and sustained through white patronage. White dollars kept the Chinese in place.  By asking, “But who keeps them?” the cartoon places the blame directly upon white households.  The editorial called for widespread boycotts of Chinese goods and services.

White woman in California were reluctant to give up the freedoms they had enjoyed by subbing out the domestic work to Chinese businesses. “Their freedom to travel east, to visit friends and family, and their time for church and artistic clubs – all the result of inexpensive Chinese servants – was in jeopardy” (Pfaelzer 66).

As the 1873 economic collapse persisted well into 1876,  anti-Chinese zealotry organized into groups, such as the Supreme Order of the Caucasians, who vowed to “annihilate” white people who did not follow their “hit list” of boycotts (Pfaelzer 67).

However, the image is not entirely flattering to Irish-born Kearney and his followers. According to Richard Samuel West, The Wasp abhorred mob violence and the paper adopted the editorial position that while it believed in the true threat of Chinese labor at the expense of white labor, Kearney’s method lacked dignity.  Unlike Nast who drew Kearney’s realistically, The Wasp rarely used Kearney’s face in their magazines and in this particular instance, preferred to use the Democratic donkey in his place. “The animal appealed to illustrators for its jackass connotations” (Dewey 17).

Nevertheless, Kearney’s Sandlot speeches resonated with California Democrats and the working class who comprised Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party. “Just two years later, the new party managed to rewrite local anti-Chinese codes into the second California constitution” (Pfaelzer 78-79). Other anti-Chinese measures would follow in California, and loomed on the federal horizon. Back east, Thomas Nast took notice as he watched the Democratic Party gain influence over the electorate and contribute to the shifting public policy against the Chinese. To Nast’s horror, Republicans came under the influence, as well.

Nast drew numerous cartoons sympathetic to the Chinese’s plight in America. Many of his cartoons react to unfolding events in California. Nast included many references to Kearney in his cartoons, often sarcastically quoting him on wall posters.  See example: Every Dog (No Distinction of Color) Has His Day, February 8, 1879

It should be noted that Keller’s donkey wears a bicorn military hat. A few of Nast’s anti-Chinese cartoon figures contain a military figure wearing a bicorn hat. This may or may not serve as a symbol for Kearney. In the context of Nast’s cartoons, the suggestion seems plausible.

 

“What Shall We Do With Our Boys?” 1882

Satire cartoon of Chinese laborer working abnormally fast
“What Shall We Do With Our Boys” – 3 March 1882 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp
One distinctive feature of The Wasp was its use of color lithography. Korbel’s and Keller’s experience and expertise in color lithographs of cigar box labels and Korbel’s investment in its own printing equipment gave The Wasp instant appeal. An example of effective use of color can be found in What Shall We Do With Our Boys, March 3, 1882.

Clearly fixated on the labor issue the cartoon incorporates two of West’ six themes favored by The Wasp: the Chinese as ruthless competitors and subversive labor monsters.

The frame is divided, two-thirds occupied and dominated by an eleven-handed Chinese worker-monster. “The Chinese were depicted as “many handed” or monstrous creatures depriving white labors of their jobs” (Choy 84). Keller’s uber-octopus like Chinese laborer is seen going to town, a busy industrial whirlwind of labor productivity. He is unstoppable in the trades and crafts most attributed to Chinese workers; shoemaker, tailor, cigar maker and laundryman testifies his industriousness. Collectively, his array of hands holds a saw, mallet, hammer, and brush. Most dangerous of all, he is succeeding. Two hands are busy socking away a substantial bag of money and assures the satchel is carted off in a rickshaw to export “For China.”  “Chinese Trade Monopoly” is secured in place with his foot. The image emphasizes the prevailing anti-Chinese view that the Chinese aren’t like other immigrants. They are instead “sojourners” whose only wish is to make money in America to send back to their families in China.  The cartoon does not reference the fact that the Chinese were legally restricted from becoming naturalized citizens.

In the event the viewer does not fully appreciate the implications of this Chinese monster, the remaining third of the screen, clean shaven, non-threatening white boys collect with nothing to do, loitering outside. These are not angry Irish boys. They are victims of the Chinese menace. These young men are well dressed, with jackets and hats and bear pensive expressions – chins resting on their hands. One young man leans on a lamppost with an American Eagle on top, and another leans against the side of the one-man Chinese factory. Without a future, they are, as the caption points out “our boys.”  A police officer leads one of the loiterers away to one of three structures in the distance.  What path lies in the boy’s future? What fate? Institutions in the distance provide the grim answer, “San Quentin,” “Industrial School,” or “House of Correction.” The message is clear. The Chinese labor problem erodes an opportunity for wholesome, American boys to obtain honest work. They cannot compete with the whirlwind of cheap, Chinese labor. Inside, the Chinese phenomenon could care less. Keller imbues him with a gleeful, sinister expression as he monopolizes and spins profits.

The Chinese worker’s face is grotesquely distorted. His eyes are deeply slanted, his crooked smile missing several teeth, digs crevices that form a malevolent expression.  His queue rises in mid-air, curled like a whip, propelled by the frenzy of his windmill-like hands.

“Devastation” – 2 October, 1880

cartoon showing Chinese as pigs devouring a farm
“Devastation” 2 October 1880 by George Frederick Keller, The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

George Frederick Keller used the invasion theme once again with the Burlingame Treaty as the subject. West called Keller’s Devastation, October 2, 1880  “the best drawn of the many cartoons that Keller created decrying Chinese immigration…The tattered ineffectual scarecrow is Denis Kearney, the leader of the Workingmen’s Party”(148).

Detail of Keller's Chinese pigs in Devastation
Detail of Keller’s Chinese pigs in Devastation

Instead of insects used in Uncle Sam’s Farm is in Danger, here the Chinese immigrants are dehumanized and represented as pigs bursting through an Asian gateway, named “Burlingame Treaty.” The brown, hairy, porcines with Chinese faces make a bee-line toward Uncle Sam’s cornfield, and devour everything in sight.  In addition to their tails,  a queue grows from the back of each of the pig’s head. Cornstalks, represent the job-rich industries of “watch making,” “laundries,” “shirt factories,”” broom factories,” and “cabinet makers,” to name a few, that fall victim to the crunching, ravenous appetite of the pestilent pigs.

Kearney’s scarecrow is left in tatters. He swings around a pole emblazoned with “The Chinese Must Go!!!!!!!”  Uncle Sam, exasperated,  watches from his lawn on the other side of his fence.  Columbia peers out a window of their modest American home. Both she and Uncle Sam are minimized, weak and ineffectual. The Chinese have caused utter devastation.

Employing agricultural symbolism to suggest that the Chinese would destroy California agriculture is deeply ironic. California agriculture owed a great deal to Asian Americans.

Ronald Takaki explains that the Chinese were at the very center of California’s success as an agricultural producer.  “Their work boosted the value of the land from twenty-eight dollars an acre in 1875 to one hundred dollars an acre two years later” (89).

As livestock animals, pigs or hogs were considered the lowest form of animal because of their greedy, rooting nature (McNeur 641). In the early nineteenth century, particularly in New York City, hogs were believed to be the carriers of disease and pestilence.

“Swine were closely tied to the filth and unpleasant smells that characterized the streets and public places of the city. Hogs and garbage, after all, went hand in hand” (McNeur 643). It is not unreasonable that these attitudes traveled westward.  Comparing the Chinese to swine helped to define them as “others” and cement a perception that the Chinese were unsanitary and disease ridden – a pervasive stereotype attributed to the Chinese.

Bibliography of quoted sources.

“Uncle Sam’s Farm in Danger” 9 March, 1878

Chinese drawn as locusts invading a farm
“Uncle Sam’s Farm in Danger” The San Francisco Wasp by George F. Keller. 9 March 1878

George F.Keller’s 1878 piece, Uncle Sam’s Farm in Danger adopted and mastered classic invasion imagery and animal symbolism to devastating effect.

Swarms of Chinese locusts descend on an American farm, Uncle Sam’s farm, no less. The insects, perched for destruction, have sinister Asian faces. The editorial accompanying this double-page pictorial in the Wasp’s March 9, 1878, issue states in part,

Our artist has represented the possible immigration as a swarm of grasshoppers driven along by the inexorable hand of Famine…Uncle Sam, armed with the House Committee Resolutions, assisted by his hired man, the California Press, is striving to stay the torrent of yellow grasshoppers. It seems almost impossible for them to succeed; and it is certain that they will be overcome by the invader unless assistance of a more substantial kind be rendered” (Wasp 498).

The image is disturbing. Precisely what The Wasp had hoped to achieve. With this image, Keller perfected the technique of invasion/infestation imagery.

As the caption and supporting article made clear, The Wasp stoked the fear that widespread famine in China would drive millions of additional Chinese to emigrate to America. Something was needed to stop this danger! The Wasp knew exactly what fear-mongering buttons to push.

An uphill battle faces Uncle Sam as he fights off this swarm. Meanwhile, the dark, ghoulish specter of Chinese famine ushers in and emboldens new invaders to feast on an American bounty while the getting is good.

The caption reads “Seventy Millions {sic} of people are starving in the northern provinces of China. All who can do so are making preparations to come to the United States. Look out for the grasshoppers, Uncle Sam.”

Evoking this particular insect symbolism was a clever choice to grab attention and arouse the emotions of Californians whose livelihood depended on the continued success of the agricultural sector.  The grasshopper was acutely feared in California’s agricultural community. In 1828 a grasshopper plague caused near famine, and in the great plague of 1874-1878, the crop-munching insect was responsible for the wide-spread destruction in the Midwest, causing western governors to organize days of prayer to keep the tide from coming westward (Schlebecker).

“California was the locus of Chinese advances in agriculture” (Takaki 89). The Chinese were the anthesis of greedy locusts.The irony of course, is that California’s agriculture success was cultivated and directly benefited from the transformative innovations contributed by the Chinese. “Their work boosted the value of the land from twenty-eight dollars an acre in 1875 to one hundred dollars an acre two years later” (Takaki 89). Keller also used agricultural imagery in his cartoon Devastation.

For an example of Nast using invasion imagery, see his “The American River Ganges

“The Balky Team” – 16 February, 1879

Satire cartoon of chinese bound in a wagon drawn by horses
“The Balky Team” 16 February 1879 by George Frederick Keller

Like Nast,The Burlingame Treaty factored as an ingredient in Keller’s work. In The Balky Team on February 16, 1879, the treaty is represented as a small boulder, an obstacle to be overcome with the concerted efforts of the united horsepower trio named Common Sense, California Press, and the Workingmen’s Party.  But there is trouble in the mix—some powers of influence–the horses representing the Chinese Missionaries, a “balky” Eastern Press and Capital, resist the plodding ahead to export sinister looking Chinese, bundled as cargo, back to China. Uncle Sam warns the wagon master, a wasp (the magazine’s mascot), to get his team in order. Only a unified purpose can achieve progress beyond “puritanical notions” of East Coast sentiments.

The Wasp editor reveled in the reviews from California papers that called this an “excellent cartoon” that depicted The Wasp’s efforts to haul the entire Chinese population out of the country. “It is a source of no small gratification” the editors wrote. “The Wasp is creating a sensation in newspaper circles” (The Wasp, Feb. 16, 1878).

Keller employed effective techniques such as animal symbolism to manipulate public sentiment.  Keller may have  borrowed a lesson or two from Nast. Nast was featured and lampooned a few times in The Wasp. When asked if Nast influenced Keller, Richard Samuel West responded,

“I’m sure you are right that Keller was looking at Nast’s work (and Puck), but I very much doubt Nast saw anything but a random cartoon from The Wasp.  It was not available on New York newsstands.  There is one Keller cartoon from the spring of 1880 in which he drew Nast and Puck (with their hair in queues) going through San Francisco’s garbage.  That’s the only cartoon that comes to mind where Keller and The Wasp explicitly commented on their New York rivals. (West email)

“The Youngest (America) Introduces the Oldest (China)” 1868

“The Youngest Introducing the Oldest” 18 July, 1868 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred

In his contemporary biography of Thomas Nast, Albert Bigelow Paine describes Anson Burlingame, seen seated right behind Columbia, as “one of America’s noblest diplomats” who served the U.S. as Minister to China. In the late 1860s, Burlingame, at the behest of Prince Kung of China, undertook a role as special ambassador charged with the mission to introduce China to other nations of the world.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the United States had its eye on technological and manufacturing advancements and territorial expansion.  New York, as a major port city, would soon become an economic and cultural center.

As historian John Kuo Wei Tchen explains, the Chinese were forced by the Opium Wars to accept certain international markets, and “sought to gain reciprocal rights for the Chinese in the United States” (168). The result was a diplomatic envoy led by a New England lawyer, Anson Burlingame, who ultimately negotiated the treaty named in his honor, The Burlingame Treaty in 1868.

In Nast’s highly detailed wood engraving, Ambassador Anson Burlingame, assumes a modest role, content to allow Columbia to offer the international introductions. A photograph of the meeting served as a resource for Nast’s first depiction of the Chinese diplomat. The diplomat would become prototype for Nast’s symbol of China, as Columbia was for America. “John Chinaman” or “John Confucius”  subsequently appears in many future cartoons. In this depiction, he shares the stage and equal ground with Columbia.

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

Columbia extends an affectionate gesture, and touches the Chinese man on the shoulder. It is reminiscent of her poignant request of the American people during Reconstruction to consider the African American Civil War veteran into the American community – an image Nast drew three years earlier.

As a whole, world leaders approach the Chinese guest with respect. But Victoria and Albert, representing Great Britain, stand in the back of the group, on the right and in the shadows. They appear apprehensive. A fearful looking pontiff represents the Vatican. He is shocked by the heathen’s presentation to civilized society. The Pope hides behind a giant column.

As the voice of America, Columbia steps up to remind the assemblage that China is an ancient and civilized nation worthy and entitled to full respect. Columbia is the bridge across fear, and the agent of cultural exchange as she declares, “Brothers and Sisters, I am happy to present to you the oldest member of the Family, who desires our better acquaintance.”

The “Family” includes other European leaders. In addition to England and the Vatican, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and a representative from the Ottoman Empire, suggested by the Fez, all step up to approach the Chinese diplomat. They extend all due diplomatic courtesies. The Chinese man wears a hat of the Manchu court, a skull cap with a wide, upturned brim and a mandarin-styled tunic with a large crest or seal. In his left hand he carries a partially opened fan. His right hand grips Columbia’s right hand.  A star-like halo glimmers atop Columbia’s tiara. She is the enlightened one in the room.

Out of respect, almost everyone has removed their head coverings, with the exception of the Catholic pontiff, Queen Victoria and the Ottomon representative at rear, left – all of whom have yet to emerge from the back of the group for a closer look. An Irishman can be seen far right, his top hat placed upon his chest. His smile is pleasant. Everyone else basks in the novelty and significance of the event, albeit with mixed looks of curiosity and anticipation.

A brief editorial ran with the illustration. The editor acknowledged the perception of China as a backward country, yet felt that China deserved of all the rights extended to other nations,

It is, as our picture in this issue shows, the youngest nation introducing the oldest to the friendship of Christendom. It is, indeed, strange to hear a Yankee speaking for China, and claiming for her that kind of regard and respect which the world has not been accustomed to feel for the old empire.

Despite all that we hear and know of its ancient and elaborate civilization, there is still the feeling that it is the most grotesque of barbarous nations, and that there is wholly wanting that plane of common interest and knowledge and sympathy upon which the nations of Christendom are accustomed to meet. The popular image of China is an enormous country surrounded by a high wall, probably with broken bottles strewn along the top, where the people wear their hair in a long tail, squeeze the feet of the women into deformity, cultivate tea, and eat rats and dogs. The world at large has much the same feeling toward China that the genuine cockney John Bull of eighty years ago had toward France. It was a country in which the people spoke a vile lingo that nobody could understand, wore wooden shoes, and ate frogs.

This introduction of the Chinese to the world’s civilized nations served as a respectful way to introduce China to Harper’s Weekly’s readers. The magazine attempted to counter some misconceptions and feelings of “otherness” which swirled around American perceptions of Chinese people. Nast and Harper’s Weekly made an effort to show America that China while different, possessed a history and tradition that afforded China with recognition as “most favored nation” status expressed in the Burlingame Treaty of 1868.

Symbolism

Symbolism and stereotypes are closely related but also completely different. Nast used symbols extensively in his artistic commentary.  Donald Dewey referred to symbols as an artists’ shorthand.

He writes, “symbols were an economic language in a frontier society where literacy wasn’t always available currency. Whether borrowed from nature, religion or mythology, they went a long way toward simplifying polemics through an appeal to a higher order “(Dewey 11). No one used symbols more effectively than Thomas Nast.

Indeed, prolific use of symbols can be viewed as a method of stereotyping an individual, group, or race by way of reduction their essence to a single image or metaphor. In Nast’s era, creating a symbol to represent a larger whole or entity, formed from a necessity of time.  Hand drawn images needed to be meticulously carved, yet rendered quickly for delivery to the printing press. Nast often contributed several drawings to a single weekly issue. He needed to have stock images that he could quickly reproduce and incorporate into his scenes.

Nast consistently repeated symbols for practical purposes. This can be interpreted as a means to create and promote a stereotype. The use of symbols often reduces or dehumanizes individuals. In modern political cartoons, Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonsebury, chose to depict U.S. President George W. Bush as a talking hat, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a strongman’s fist. Once adopted, political artists like Trudeau rarely deviate from these symbolic devices once they are established.

Nast followed the lead of British cartoonists, especially John Tenniel, artist for Punch magazine, who used female goddesses to personify of governments or countries. Britannia, Columbia, Hibernia were frequent substitutes for England, America and Ireland, respectively. They almost always appear as positive, regal actors, sometimes sympathetically as victims. While Nast did not invent Uncle Sam, he employed the fictional figure as his favorite, and occasionally psychologically tortured symbol of the American government (whereas Columbia and her sisters Liberty and Justice) almost always stoically represented American values.

Nast created “John Chinaman,” or “John Confucius” as his symbol for the Chinese nation or Chinese government. When they appear in Nast cartoons, they should be assessed in the same light as Columbia, or Uncle Sam. Calling someone a “Chinaman” today is a negative term, but it was not used negatively in Nast’s cartoons. His “John Chinaman,” alone or as part of a diplomatic delegation, are drawn in their native dress and usually with a cap. Nast did not exaggerate the features of “John Chinaman” and he typically imbues him with wisdom and dignity.  Oftentimes, Nast includes “John” or his Chinese representatives with references to their ancient culture. Nast often includes them as a foil against western representations of civilizations. Although historian John Kuo Wei Tchen has concerns with some of Nast’s depictions, he concedes Nast’s efforts to defend the Chinese and calls the “John Confucius” character “unambiguously noble” (203).

Though animal symbolism could be used to dehumanize a subject, Nast frequently used animals in striking manner.

The Tammany Tiger Loose
Tammany Tiger Loose November 11, 1871, Harper’s Weekly. One of the rare images of Columbia as a victim, being torn to shreds by the corrupt Tammany Tiger, as Boss Tweed and his Ring look on. Source: The Ohio State University

Nast’s Tammany tiger represented a corrupt political machine, was nevertheless a magnificent symbol to capture the hunger and ruthlessness of William M. Tweed. In his early days as chief of the Sixth Ward Fire Department, Tweed selected the tiger as the department’s symbol. Nast capitalized upon the symbol and the tiger came to life. As a symbol for Tammany Hall, Nast launched Tweed’s tiger to eviscerate the Democratic boss.  In Nast’s Tweed series, the Tammany tiger embodies bottomless hunger and greed and an at-all-costs-protection of Tweed’s interests through violent enforcement. In 1871, Nast released The Tammany Tiger Loose.  It is an effective and emotional use of symbols.  In Colonial times, Benjamin Franklin, credited as America’s first political cartoonist, frequently used the snake to represent a strong and defiant United States.

“The Chinese Puzzled” – 15 May, 1886

"The Chinese Puzzled" 15 May1886, by Thomas Nast. Source Walfred
“The Chinese Puzzled” 15 May1886, by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel/Walfred scan

This small cartoon is reminiscent of Nast’s “Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (In Wyoming)”published nine months earlier on September 19, 1885. It is Nast’s last cartoon with a Chinese subject.

The back pages of Harper’s typically contained advertisements along with one or two smaller, square-sized areas reserved for cartoons. Blocked out for cartoon insertion, the advertising section was a convenient place to introduce late-breaking news with more detailed reporting following in the next issue. Such was the case with The Chinese Puzzled. This drawing comments the on Chicago’s Haymarket affair, a riot that followed a planned, peaceful labor demonstration to advocate an eight-hour day.  Plans went terribly wrong and the gathering turned violent.

The incident in Chicago did not involve the Chinese. But Nast uses the opportunity of rioting white laborers to contrast the differences between white and Chinese labor and again focus on the irony of Chinese exclusion laws.

Two Chinese men stand on a street corner and discuss the violence by white workers who carry signs “Burn the Town,” “Kill the Police,” and “Socialism.” By 1886, Chinese exclusion was in its fourth year. The interests of labor had triumphed. White labor enjoyed four years of victory against Chinese immigrants, an early reason and trigger for labor-related breakouts and protests. Still, white labor found something to riot about. The Chinese observers are puzzled. Why are these men allowed to stay while peaceful Chinese workers were forced to go? The caption reads, “It is because we don’t do deeds like that, that ‘we must go’ and they must stay?”

Nast prominently includes a fire hydrant on the left side street corner. It is a symbol of municipal progress and rescue. It is not being used to put out the fire or quash the anger of the mob.

However, commentary in the following May 22 issue condemns the rioters in Chicago as “mad destructives and assassins.” Harper’s also acknowledged that labor was often left in a position of general disadvantage and referred to another notable labor dispute — striking coal miners in the West — as an example of the failure of production entities and management to fairly negotiate and come to a reasonable and intelligent negotiation regarding the use of a large labor force.

By invoking the memory of recent massacre at Rock Springs, WyomingHarper’s fingers the real blame of that incident on the capitalistic interests of the railroad and coal mining companies who ignored labor issues in favor of profits. By bringing in Chinese workers as strike breakers, mining and railroad management was implicit in triggering the violence that ensued.  On one hand, white labor had successfully pressured ,through strikes, for laws that excluded and restricted Chinese immigration. On the other hand, the Chinese who had remained and relocated were often used as strikebreakers.

During this period of an expanding nation, labor demonstrations and strikes, the Knights of Labor served as an iconic organization of American labor. In the 1880s, the KOL 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 organized the  Chicago Haymarket demonstration. Although the violence which ensued was never planned and did not involve the Chinese, in a spirit of irony, Nast used Chinese figures to lampoon the organizers and remind his readers of the hypocrisy practised by a group with large Irish Catholic membership.

“Selections From Blaine Cartoons” 1884

26 July 1884 Selections from Blaine Cartoons

After unsuccessful attempts at winning the presidential nomination in 1876 and 1880, James G.Blaine won the Republican nomination for the 1884 presidential elections. The issue of Chinese Exclusion now decided and enacted into law, Harper’s decided to reprise some of Nast’s anti-Blaine cartoons.

Both Thomas Nast and Harper’s editor George W. Curtis could not endorse, nor support Blaine or their beloved Republican party. Nast and Curtis endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland and became “Mugwumps” former Republicans who went over to the Democratic side for reasons of principle. Cleveland won the election.

For details on some of the cartoons featured here see:

 

 

“Dr. Arthur’s Prescriptions” 1882

A battered and bandaged Uncle Sam is lying on a couch surrounded by his ills
“Dr. Arthur’s Prescriptions” 16 December 1882. by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly..Source: UDel-Walfred

This is another picture of Uncle Sam, Nast’s symbol of American government feeling beleaguered and confused by laws passed under his name. See also “Hard to Please the “White Trash.

The Chinese Question had been answered six months earlier by passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. A framed reminder that “The “Cheap” Chinese Must Go” so that the “Bear” Politicians May Live” is only one reminder on the wall that anti-Chinese racism prevailed as law of the land. The bear is the symbol for California. The issue concerning Chinese labor was only one that plagued Uncle Sam.

A very battered and bandaged Uncle Sam attempts to recuperate upon a chaise lounge. His grim expression reflects the ills and issues he has been forced to endure and symbolically represent. Laws, taxes, bills, enactments, proclamations, declarations all serving special interests.

Written on the wall are excerpts by “Dr. Arthur” or  President Chester A. Arthur. Arthur became president on September 19, 1881 after James Garfield’s death by assassin and served until March 4, 1885.

“The Arthur Administration enacted the first general Federal immigration law. Arthur approved a measure in 1882 excluding paupers, criminals, and lunatics. Congress suspended Chinese immigration for ten years, later making the restriction permanent” (White House.gov).

 

“Now “The American Must Go”” 1882

“Now “The American Must Go”” – 1 July, 1882 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

Two months after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Nast included this small cartoon — a commentary on his belief of the Irish Americans’ continued thirst to exert power over the government.

Nast’s stereotyped Irishman, dressed in top hat, shamrock embroidered waistcoat and parade sash,  holds a stick in one hand and beckons to James Russell Lowell that he is a possible victim of expulsion or exclusion.

Lowell, a Republican, early abolitionist, political essayist, and highly regarded American poet, is depicted in his role as ambassador to the Court of St. James, serving at the pleasure of President Arthur.  According to a report in Harper’s June 10th issue, Lowell influenced the U.S. government to grant American citizenship to Mr. O’Mahoney, an Irishman who served in the American Navy, but afterward conducted business and ran for office in Ireland.

Harper’s reflected on the controversy, “The Irish-Americans complaint of what they call Mr. Lowell’s `flunkeyism’ is as absurd and ignorant as it is vulgar. Mr. Lowell, though personally popular, has always been criticised [Sic]in London society for his marked and often combative Americanism.”

With the anti-Chinese campaign successfuly resovled by the Exclusion Act, Nast’s Irishman turns to attack a new target, the freshly minted American poet  living in England. Emboldened by “The Chinese Must Go” champion Denis Kearney’s victory over the Chinese, this Irishman is brazenly confident that Irish power can decree who gets to be an American and who does not.

To remind his readers of Irish involvement in national politics, Nast places a framed picture of an Irishman raising a club above a Chinese man in an effort to drive him out of the United States. The caption reads,

“We have a new gospel of Americanism in this evening of the nineteenth century – a gospel that declares Kearney shall be supreme in California, and shall close the ‘golden gate’ against the Chinaman; and which prescribes that in the East the commissions of our ministers shall be countersigned by an Irish ‘suspect.’ ‘The American must go'” – From The Hour””

Nast warns that no one is safe. The Irish American beast must continually feed its lust for power. Who will be next?

“(Dis)”Honors are Easy”” 1882

"(Dis) Honors are Easy, 20 May, 1982, Library of Congress
“(Dis) Honors are Easy, 20 May, 1982, Library of Congress

This cartoon immediately follows and is closely related to “At Last, the Democratic Tiger has Something to Hang On

The Chinese Exclusion Act passed on May 6, 1882. Several Republicans, most notably James G. Blaine caved, in Nast’s view, to Democratic demands that the Chinese Must Go. In the process, Nast believed Blaine betrayed the values of Lincoln’s Party and discarded the core philosophy of civil rights and tolerance for all people.

The Democrats asked for a 20-year ban on Chinese immigration to the U.S. The Republican concession,limited the term to 10 years, upon which time the ban on the Chinese would be revisited. This concession did not pacify Nast and others who believed the act was immoral and unjust. President Arthur later extended the ban. Ultimately the ban became permanent.

The hefty Republican elephant adds weight to the free fall of “Freedom for All” tree, uprooting the anchor of “Liberty” that supported Chinese immigrants and had promised to shelter the them.  With the added assistance of the elephant, the roots of this once strong tree rips violently from the American foundation.

The Chinese man has lost his grip from the trunk, and only  a thinning, tenuous branch connects him to a land that once welcomed him. An America the Chinese helped to cultivate and build. He has reluctantly become part of a terminal trio to undermine American strength. The unearthing of the tree, used a symbol of life, knowledge, and wisdom, is unmistakable.

 

 

 

 

“E Pluribus Unum (Except the Chinese)” 1882

E-Pluribus Unum (except-the Chinese).1april, 1882 by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly
E-Pluribus Unum (except the Chinese).1 April 1882 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly

A month before President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law, Thomas Nast produced this small cartoon which appeared on the back pages of Harper’s Weekly. In style and tone, it is familiar to an earlier (twelve years prior) work, Throwing Down the Ladder by Which They Rose.”

A lone Chinese man in native garb, his hair formed in a queue long enough to drag on the ground, approaches a castle gate.  The medieval-styled gateway is a fortress emblazoned with the words, “The Temple of Liberty.”

Two soldiers stand at the edge of the drawbridge. Each is wearing a Bicorn hat – two sentries wearing Pickelhaubes, a Prussian styled battle helmet stand at attention near a metal gate that is raised.  One soldier meets the Chinese man as he approaches the drawbridge – he reads a large document, on which the opposite side reads “Passport U.S.” The Chinese man approaches in a defensive posture and carries a modest satchel of belongings. He does not present any paperwork to the border guard.

The Bicorn hat also appears in two of George F. Keller’s drawings of Denis Kearney, The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?“ and  “Devastation.“Kearney, an anti- Chinese, pro-white labor activist, styled himself as a “Lieutenant General” of his “The Chinese Must Go” effort. It is possible that Nast picked up on the symbolism and used it here as a reluctant nod to Kearney as the ringleader and his successful effort with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Clearly, the building represents a structure for entry into the United States. It is located near a harbor into which ships freely enter. An American flag waves from its position on the side of the building.

Although the cartoon is less sophisticated than most of Nast’s pieces, he has made some interesting choices to include here and the irony he presents is powerful.  Although we are told this is the United States of America, the imagery–the castle’s architecture and the military uniforms all shout a reference to imperial Europe.

The cartoon’s caption, “E Pluribus Unum (Except for the Chinese)” is a deliberate and obvious stab upon those Americans who supported the Chinese Exclusion Act. Nast chides them for forgetting their own immigrant history.  Nast reminds his audience that America was designed to be different. America stood as a temple of freedom against European imperial oppression –a safe haven for different cultures, ancestry and belief systems.  America’s great strength is rooted in her diversity–E Pluribus Unum —out of one we are many. Except of course, for the Chinese. They aren’t part of the American plan.

The scene is missing Columbia however. Nast’s favorite symbol and defender of the true meaning of America’s values. Where is she to help escort the Chinese applicant through the immigration process? With the Chinese Exclusion Act ready to be implemented, perhaps Columbia, like Nast, who brought her to life on so many occasions, has lost his passion to entreat her to fight any further for this cause.

“Ah Sin Was His Name” 1879

“Ah Sin Was His Name” – 8 March, 1879 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred
Thomas Nast once again borrowed from Bret Harte’s popular 1870 poem “Plain Language from Truthful James ” and the “heathen chinee” character Ah Sin as the focus of this cartoon against Denis Kearney, the leader of the anti-Chinese movement making waves in California.

A gaunt Uncle Sam is seen crawling out of the tapered mouthpiece of a large bull horn with the “UNITED STATES” engraved along its long scrimshaw.  The largest part of the opening faces West, where framed by majestic mountains a vaguely drawn figure dances around a campfire.

The horn has additional engraving. “This is the land of Liberty, and the home of the KEARNEY’s.” In between a flourish is another declaration “Kearney’s Equal Rights.” Lengthwise, the tail of the horn is engraved “Declaration of Independence by Kearney.” As Uncle Sam crawls out of the smaller end, he offers up the “Anti-Chinese Bill” to Ah Sin, a Chinese merchant waiting under an umbrella at the edge of Chinatown. Behind Ah Sin,  Chinese architecture is visible. His community is under transition. Beyond, the village stores, owned by non-Chinese, are display signs, “American Produce Market Closed” and “No Foreign Devils Wanted.”

Ah Sin appears startled by Uncle Sam’s weakened appearance. Ah Sins’s hands are on his knees, ready to rise. His queue vaults in the air by the surprise. Uncle Sam is unable to stop the fast-moving current of anti-Chinese legislation, and in fact, has become a reluctant courier — a mere delivery boy for Kearney’s orders.

Nast’s message is clear. Denis Kearney has a big mouth. He needs a big horn. Kearney, an Irish immigrant, is the self-proclaimed soldier and leader of the Workingmen’s Party, an organization of white labor fixated on driving Chinese labor competition -— and all Chinese immigrants — out of California.

By 1879, Kearney had been at his anti-Chinese campaign for a solid two years, effectively growing his agitated labor base. His voice still thick with an Irish brogue, Kearney’s charismatic Sand Lot speeches provoked white workers to violence toward the Chinese —  and Kearney’s successful lobbying efforts led to the passage of numerous local anti-Chinese laws.  National political candidates, most notably presidential aspirant James G. Blaine were eager to please a growing western labor constituency in the West.  Kearney and his followers were sought out and courted for their votes.

In this cartoon, Nast attributes Kearney’s loudmouth proclamations as self-serving attempts to remake and rebrand the U.S. Constitution as his own personal instrument to redefine the meaning of civil rights. Nast’s cartoon highlights the hypocrisy of one immigrant ordering another immigrant to leave the country.

Dehumanization

Dehumanization is a technique which intentionally depicts a human being as anything other than a human. Representation of an individual or groups of similar individuals with animal or bestial characteristics turns a dignified human being or members of a race, into an “other.” Representation as inanimate objects (see Magnetic Blaine) also dehumanizes and converts a person into a material item or gadget, and therefore easily discarded or diminished. When humans are classified and conceptualized as lesser “others,” superior humans feel entitled to rule, dominate, judge and punish “others” without guilt.

Group of Vultures waiting for the storm to blow over - let us prey,"13-September-1871 by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly. Source: Library of Congress
Group of Vultures waiting for the storm to blow over – let us prey,”13-September-1871 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: Library of Congress

For example, Nast depicted Tweed as a vulture, an unattractive and corpulent version of the predator. He reduced Catholic bishops to a swarm of crocodiles in “American Rivers Ganges.”  Taking cues from English artists he admired, Nast and other cartoonists frequently depicted Irish Americans as apes.

George Frederick Keller would depict the Chinese on the West Coast as invading forces of locusts or hordes of pigs. They were also depicted as cephalopods  or octopuses.

Satire cartoon of Chinese laborer working abnormally fast
“What Shall We Do With Our Boys” – 3 March, 1882 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

“Octopuses had long been the icons of the top-down authoritarian power in Europe. In industrializing America,however, a revolutionary nation that imagined itself free of corruption of Europe also became entangled in monopolies controlling previously unimagined wealth and power” (Tchen/Yates 4-5). See “What Shall We Do With Our Boys” to see a Chinese worker drawn as an octopus, monopolizing labor.

Euro-Americans with a belief in their Manifest Destiny celebrated visual depictions and iconography of “epic confrontations” of the brave against “inferior hordes” and can be seen in many French and English paintings of the American West (Tchen/Yeats, 163-164). The archetype of the “lone hero” such as Custer and his last stand, or Crockett at the Alamo, appealed to American patrons of the arts whether it be the high art of oil painting or the low art of cartoons. Battling against the Chinese hordes fit nicely into this new American archetypal way of perceiving “others.”

Dehumanization may assign unpleasant behavioral traits onto a race or ethnic group, e.g., Chinese as rat eaters.  With the arrival of Darwin’s evolutionary theories, many Anglo-centric populations in Europe and America were willing to incorporate the theories as justification to define African Americans or Irish Americans, and later the Chinese,  as sub-strata human beings, or as occupiers of a lower rung on the evolutionary ladder. Dehumanization also occurs through language to define and reduce individuals in simplistic derogatory terms e.g., “gooks,” “mics,” “spics,” “kikes,” “niggers,” “chinks.” Therefore, through word and or image dehumanizing an individual or group of people reinforces the mindset of the oppressor a justification for their prejudice.

Caricature

A fine example of Nast's caricature technique. Too Thin, Harper's Weekly 30 September 1871.
A fine example of Nast’s caricature technique. Too Thin, Harper’s Weekly 30 September 1871.

Caricature is the purposeful distortion or exaggeration of physical characteristics of human beings or animals for the purpose of humor or satire. It can be flattering or as is most often the case, quite the opposite.  It is an important tool in political or editorial art.  In that genre, politicians or entertainers are frequently caricatured for dramatic effect. Human beings are made taller, skinnier, shorter, or more obese than in real life. Once conceived by an editorial cartoonist, a famous person’s caricature will seldom change. Therefore, Patrick Oliphant’s Richard Nixon always had a ski -jump nose, other artists would draw Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama with very large ears.  As Donald Dewey writes in “The Art of Ill Will,”  in America, the first half of the nineteenth century, realistically drawn figures were put in improbable or “incongruous” situations to affect humor. Dewey explains that in Europe, distorted physiognomies began to appear in the 1830s and 1840s with advances in lithography.

Very early in his career, Nast experimented with caricature when he freelanced for Phunny Phellow. a short-lived comic periodical, and for the more popular New York Illustrated News.   Abraham Lincoln, tall, gangly and a rising political figure became the subject or target for Nast to try out his handiwork. Choosing Lincoln may have been a convenient test subject rather than a political target.  Nast disavowed ever making fun of his idol to his biographer asserting “it was done by another hand” (Paine 81). But unsigned images of Lincoln caricatures have surfaced which are attributed to Nast.  His experimentation with caricature was sidelined when he began to work for Harper’s Weekly in 1863 primarily as a Civil War illustrator.

As Dewey points out, a key component to a memorable caricature is the passion flowing through the artist’s pen. For Nast, the disappointment in President Andrew Johnson’s failed leadership during Reconstruction fueled both passion and pen.  As Nast matured at Harper’s Weekly, “he drew only what he was moved to draw.”  Nast historian Morton Keller may have said it best, “The distortions of great caricature, the transferences wrought by animal symbolism, the use of satiric humor, are among the most potent devices by which one man can strike at another” (3-4). Caricature helped to focus blame. “Nast believed that caricature offered the public a valuable tool,” on where to focus attention and who was to blame (Halloran 102).

Nast was a painter, illustrator, cartoonist as well as a  caricaturist. The latter required the artist to use satire to unveil a misdeed, a hypocrisy, corruption or any type of undesirable behavior as Nast or his editors saw fit to interpret. Therefore, how did Nast depict those who did not anger him?  Can we spot the Irish police offer who behaved heroically during public unrest? How would one determine a positive depiction of the Irish in a Nast cartoon? When people behaved well, Nast did not have subjects to satire.  How does one prove a positive in a Nast cartoon?