Category Archives: Thomas Nast

Celebrating Thanksgiving: two coasts – two interpretations!

A direct contrast of how the American East and West coast differed toward the Chinese, and other immigrant groups, is shown in two illustrations of an American holiday, both titled Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.  These two cartoons demonstrate how a.) influential Harper’s Weekly was as a publication across the entire nation and b.) how differently these regions approached the issue of immigration and communicated their opinions to their audience. (Double-click images to enlarge viewing).

Harper’s enjoyed a national circulation. The San Francisco Wasp catered to the proclivities and prejudices of its local readership. Wasp historian Richard West writes that there is little evidence that The Wasp was distributed east of the Rockies, though a few issues must have been transported by long distance readers. Nast’s comings and goings were documented in California newspapers. As Nast’s popularity and celebrity grew, other artists, including those employed at The Wasp, enjoyed poking fun of Nast in caricature. Eight years after Nast drew his utopian drawing of an all inclusive America, The Wasp responded with its own version.

In 1863, Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. However, the Civil War interrupted national observance of the holiday as southern resentment lingered, preventing old Lincoln adversaries from fully accepting the proclamation. Nast’s Thanksgiving illustration was published one year before it became a national holiday in widespread practice.

Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner, 20 November, 1869, by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Source: Library of Congress
Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner, 20 November 1869, by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, Source: Library of Congress

Nast’s large woodcut encapsulates the artist’s Radical Republican vision of America after the Civil War. “Nast, Harper’s Weekly and the Republicans they represented did not or could not acknowledge the value of different cognitive, verbal, and social styles, or the sociology behind those differences. They assumed that a universal standard of civility was both natural and necessary” (Hills 118). Nast forms this ideal into an all-inclusive American feast. In the lower corners the sentiments, “Come One Come All,” and “Free and Equal” set the inclusive tone.

At the head of the table is Uncle Sam. He carves a large turkey while an array of nationalities and immigrants politely wait to be served. Universal suffrage and self-governance are featured as the decorative centerpiece. On the back wall, Nast includes his heroes Lincoln and Grant, who flank a center portrait of George Washington, framed by Liberty and Justice. At the table, opposite the host, is Columbia, Nast’s favorite personification of America’s values and promise. Columbia’s kindly face is turned toward her Chinese male guest and his wife and child. It is a very unusual scene since most Chinese in America were men whose families remained in China.

imageRounding out the holiday banquet are representatives of an array of races and religions waiting patiently to begin the feast. The work is more an illustration than an editorial cartoon, the genre from which Nast would later earn international fame with his caricatures of William A. Tweed. Only the Irishman exhibits any hint of mild caricature that could be seen as derogatory. Nast would become highly critical of Irish Americans, but he includes an Irish couple as deserving guests. Nast includes the stereotype to make clear to his audience of Protestant Americans, that Irish Americans had right to be at the table. Nast does not draw the Irishman’s wife in “Bridget” caricature and she is attractive.[1] Babies speckle the drawing. This is a family portrait.

The guests represent many races and ethnicities and they dine at the table as equals. Nast does not insert them as mere tokens. He imbues them with respect and dignity. They are people capable of relationships and human emotion. The guests at this American banquet are all different, yet bounded by their common humanity.

Covered dishes everywhere wait to be unveiled. At America’s table, there is enough for all to be served. Behind Uncle Sam is a large painting titled “Welcome” which depicts Castle Garden, the processing center for all immigrants in New York City at the time.

This image represents Nast’s true political, utopian philosophy —his belief in a united America and the potential for the nation’s promise.

In 1877,  eight years after Nast’s work, George Frederick Keller produced an identically titled cartoon, undoubtedly a direct spoof of Nast’s holiday illustration. This tattered example (the only apparent extant copy) is seen below:

Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving, by G. F. Keller, San Francisco Wasp. Library of Congress, Collection: The Chinese in California 1877

The two artists differed in the power and autonomy their editors extended. By 1869, Nast had become a local celebrity had little editorial oversight. Unencumbered by owner/general editor Fletcher Harper (much to the chagrin of Harper’s news editor George Curtis who wanted more artistic control) Nast enjoyed free artistic rein. It is generally accepted among Nast and Harper’s scholars that Nast’s images reflected his personal beliefs rather than a directive from his editors or publishers. Richard West has suggested that The San Francisco Wasp artist G.F. Keller only drew what he was assigned. The fact is, little is known about the artist’s political feelings and there is no indication that Keller had the editorial impunity that Nast enjoyed.

Keller’s image includes several international cultures present at the holiday table. Each male guest at the table is feasting upon his national dish, indicating a refusal to assimilate. There are no wives and children joining them.

Keller's Chinese man dines on a rat
Keller’s Chinese man dines on a rat

Front and center, an Englishman with long sideburns and hand-held spectacles is aghast as he watches a Chinese man begins to dine on a rat.

Columbia, wearing the outfit of a cook, sassily stands at the threshold of the kitchen and dining room. Her character is the most faintly drawn. No one is dining on the same food. Hats of many countries dangle from hooks on the wall. A very racialized African American butler preens as he serves Uncle Sam the holiday meal —the turkey. Interestingly, it is not cooked, indicating a lack of civilization and raw hunger. Uncle Sam represents the ruling Republican government and prefers the company of barbarians. Keller’s Uncle Sam leans back, utensils at the ready, eager to dig into his bird. The holiday meals and experiences are not shared at this table. Unlike the Nast drawing, where everyone waits until Uncle Sam carves the turkey, here the guests dig into their own individual feasts. No one is waiting for the host to start. They have no manners. They possess no decorum. The message is clear: it is a mistake to include these outsiders at America’s table.

[1] The prevailing Irish stereotype in New York was of lower-class, monkey-faced simpleton. Nast likely employed the slightly simian look in this work because his audience would not have been able to distinguish the Irish from the English without the stereotype. This was one of Nast’s kinder renditions of the Irish. His animosity toward the Irish would be developed or artistically realized when New York politics saw a larger Irish role.

2. For a very fine account and amazing examples of The Wasp illustrations, I recommend Richard West’s book The San Francisco Wasp An Illustrated History. It is a must have for anyone interested in political art or nineteenth century cartooning and illustrations. West remains the definitive historian on The Wasp and he is often cited in many scholarly works on editorial cartooning, including Nast.

Works cited

“Celestial” 1881

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail
Detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Detail
Detail

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

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

 

 

 

 

“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

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.

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

“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.

“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.

“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

“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.

 

 

 

 

“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.