“Bravo, Bravo” – Thomas Nast Cover – 29 July, 1871

Columbia grabs hold of a violent Irishman by the throat
Bravo, Bravo was the cover image for the 29 July 1871 story of the Orangemen’s Riots.. Source:UDel-Walfred

 

Bravo Bravo, Harper’s Weekly cover image for its issue on the Orangemen’s Riots.  The issue devoted considerable space to coverage surrounding the riots.  New York Governor Hoffman reversed an order that denied Protestant Irish a permit to parade and celebrate a holiday. In doing so, Hoffman displayed uncharacteristic strength by countering Tweed’s lobbying efforts to prevent a Protestant parade  — an event that would distress his Irish-Catholic constituents. Permit allowed — denied— and allowed again percolated emotions and created an environment and venue upon which the Irish felt compelled to express their outrage with threats of violence.

If Nast held a prejudice against the Irish, the threat of violence and the riot that resulted on this occasion,  only served to affirm for him the Irish’s natural inclination for savagery. For Nast, the incident cemented his belief that an unhealthy alliance existed between Irish Catholics and Tweed. Nast’s conviction that Tweed’s overextended influence in governance, as evidenced by Tweed’s initial objection to the Protestant parade, inflamed trouble.

When the original Protestant petition to parade had been filed, the Irish Catholics  vowed violence. The governor capitulated and reversed the permit.  Harper’s Weekly, Nast, the Republicans and Protestants charged hypocrisy. If the Irish could have their St. Patrick’s Day Parade, then New York’s Protestant Irish, known as Orangemen, should be allowed to celebrate with a parade celebrating their history.  Never mind the history was loaded with Irish Catholic oppression.

Nast and his publishers at Harper’s Weekly believed everyone had a right to an cultural celebration. Hoffman eventually bowed to the  logic, a defeat for the city boss and Irish Democrats. Siding against Tweed’s interest was one of the first cracks to appear in Tweed’s political omnipresence in the city. The threat of riot, mayhem and possible death did not deter Protestant Americans from their will to exercise their right to assemble.  They did not capitulate under Catholic pressure.  The results were predictable and as promised, violence ensued. Inside the issue, Nast provides an expansive interpretation of the Orangemen’s riots with the double-page cartoon, “Something That Will Not Blow Over.”

But on the cover, a  strong Columbia, dressed in pure white, is on the scene of the riots. She directly intercepts a large, burly, hirsute, bestial Irish rioter.  Caught off balance by her single-handed, effortless a grip to his throat, he lets go of one long club but continues to hold a dagger in the other, though it is pointed down and not aimed in her direction. He grimaces under her tight clutch, exposing missing teeth. Columbia’s thumb on his jugular looks very much like a horses hoof. Of equal height, the two adversaries share the same space, but Columbia’s bare feet grounds her, confidently, to her native soil. His clothes are patched and tattered. A loose suspender dangles, giving the Irishman a tail that reaffirms his bestiality. (The Chinese queue was often suggestive of a tail).

The Irishman’s large boots have tips that turn up an elfin style. One might suggest Nast intentionally positioned his legs and feet in a dance pose, and if so, this Irishman’s jig is up. Nast’s Columbia has caught and neutralized the villain. She does not exert a great deal of physical energy. Instead, Columbia’s steely stare conveys a calm strength. In her right hand she holds the whip of “Law” written on the lash.  Her headgear is not typical. Normally, Nast drew Columbia with a tiara, but he would alter her headgear to fit particular situations. This castle-like structure is a first.  Lines in the stone wall appear to form a “T” — a statement of her intent to rule over Tammany Hall and its corrupt leadership under William M. “Boss” Tweed.

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Thomas Nast's cartoons of Chinese Americans

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