Tag Archives: Chinese

“The Chinese Question” 1871

“The Chinese Question” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Feb. 2, 1871, Source: Walfred scan

The Chinese Question is full sized cartoon published in Harper’s Weekly, February 18, 1871,

Nast was tolerant of all races, nationalities, and creeds. He was not, however, tolerant of ignorance. He deplored the mob mentality that in his mind, the Irish represented. Their alliance with Tweed and Democratic Party values drove Nast to draw with savage fervor. It wasn’t the Irish per se, but what the Irish did with their political power and alliances that Nast found disturbing. As Patricia Hills points out, “he [Nast] castigates only the ignorant and bigoted who engage in reprehensible deeds” (115).

Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Irish played a major role in Sinophobic hysteria. In her book Driven Out, Jean Pfaelzer quotes a New York Times article on the role of the Irish against the Chinese:

It was well known that the chief objection to the Chinese in California comes from the Irish. It was from this class that the Democratic Party used to draw most of the political capital which it gained by fostering the prejudices against the Negro. Fleeing to this country, as they claimed, to escape British oppression, the Irish immigrant always made haste to join the ranks of the oppressors here.  They voted, almost to a man, with the Democratic Party…now that slavery is abolished, we find them in the front ranks of the haters and persecutors of the Chinese. (52-53)

Accompanying this cartoon was a short, but powerful Harper’s editorial, “The Heathen Chinee” which decried the fear-mongering and blame placed upon the Chinese for labor displacement. In a bid to strengthen his Irish constituency, Tweed sought to restrict the use of Chinese railroad labor through legislative means. While a state senator, Tweed sponsored a bill to prevent the Chinese from being hired on projects.  Although Chinese population in New York was statistically minute,  estimated to be only 200 at the time, Tweed favored invasion vernacular to stoke fear within a male, Caucasian workforce. Harper’s Weekly’s editors  observed,

The working-men of this State know perfectly well that no such danger exists as that which is hinted at in Mr. Tweed’s bill. The Chinese invasion, of which he seems to be so much afraid is altogether mythical, as everybody in his sober senses is well aware; and Mr. Tweed presumes too much on the ignorance or the prejudices of the working-men if he expects to delude them with such a flimsy cheat. The general sentiment of the American people on this question is admirably expressed in Mr. Nast’s cartoon. A majority in this country still adhere to the old Revolutionary doctrine that all men are free and equal before the law, and possess inalienable rights which even Mr. Tweed is bound to respect.

Nast featured an imaginary local brouhaha in his cartoon The Chinese Question.

Nast places an angry, defiant Columbia front and center to confront the Workingmen menace and she serves as a reminder of America’s values. She stands over a crouched and defeated Chinese man. In addition, Nast utilizes what would become a favorite technique — to plaster current controversy on a wall of public protest. On the wall, all the various forms of hate speech spouted against the Chinese could be read and considered.

Chinese are in kind referred to as “coolies” “slaves,” “paupers” and “rat eaters.” Rat eaters, in particular, became a favorite and virulent Chinese stereotype deployed to great effect, especially on the West Coast,  in order to dehumanize the Chinese and affirm their “otherness.”  “Barbarians” and “heathens” are additional descriptive terms prominently displayed. The placards pronounce the Chinese as the “lowest and vilest of human race,” “vicious and immoral” declares another.  Nast’s wall is an effective tool. It collects the hate speech used within the local white labor community.  Each layer of verbal expression collects and builds like pounds in a pressure cooker. Workingmen would stop at no insult to rid themselves of the Chinese menace. The Chinese must go. “Their importation must be stopped.” Nast plastered the prejudice for all to see their ugly truth and consider the lie.

Nast created a clear visual divide on the issue. The hard edge on the right separates Columbia and the Chinese man from the trouble that is arriving from the other side. Columbia’s body stands in the path as a violent mob approaches. The vertical division creates a tension and theatrical suspense against what comes next and who might prevail.

Whipped up by the Tammany frenzy is New York’s version of the Workingmen’s Party. Led by Nast’s quintessential brawny Irish leader, they angrily turn the corner toward Columbia and the Chinese man. Nast dresses his thugs as would-be gentlemen  – his Irish brute wears a waistcoat and top hat. The high fashion does not change his savage character or propensity for violence.

Irish brute Nast’s Irish brute

Well-dressed as he may be, his face betrays his brutality. His features are roughly chiseled, his steely stare focuses on the impending attack. He brandishes a club in one hand and a rock in the other. This Irish ringleader is eager for some good old-fashioned mob violence.  Behind him, four other men are visible, and by their normal faces, not all are Irish. All are white and possess guns or weapons and expressions of anger. Behind them, faceless mob members carry signs in the air. One sign reads, “If our ballot will not stop them coming to our country, the bullet must.”

Nast reprises New York Draft Riot imagery of 1863 to recreate a scene in 1871 and give it additional implications. Nast had provided eye-witness drawings of the New York City draft riots and had not overly implicated the Irish in the violence. By including 1863 draft riot imagery to this event, Nast links Irish involvement with racial violence. In the background lies the evidence of their most notorious mob activity–the lynching and destruction of a “colored” community.  The Orangemen’s Riots followed later that summer on July 11-12, 1871 and Nast would once again deploy the same lynching imagery against the Irish. During the same riot, a colored orphanage burned to the ground. By including a smoldering orphan asylum in the background, Nast indicates this mob and associating the participants to the crime.  A barren tree is seen in the distance. An empty hangman’s noose dangles from a leafless tree. Below makeshift tombstones acknowledge buried rights, blood, and strikes. With the African American issue handled and put in their rightful place, graves, the Irish-led mob turns to provide their answer to the Chinese question. One problem down, one more problem to go.

Nast’s audience understood the significance of Columbia’s inclusion. She appears in Nast cartoons with great effect and is a formidable challenger to thwart Tweed.  Having fought and won many battles, she alone has the wherewithal to protect an emotionally defeated Chinese man. Slumped against a wall, framed by “heathen,” “idolater,” and exclamations of paganism, he is confused and helpless against this onslaught of white terror and oppression. He raises one knee to support a clutched hand and lowered head. His eyes are closed and his expression is one of utter despair. Columbia’s long tresses toss as she turns her head, alerted to the approaching mob. Her tiara is marked “U.S.” Her right hand gently touches the head of the crouched Chinese man.  Columbia’s left hand rises above her waist and over her heart into a fist. Her neckline bears a shield of America’s stars and stripes. Her expression is resolute.  She will not stand for what is about to go down. She addresses the mob, “Hands off, gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.” Columbia is Nast’s voice.

Columbia defended the downtrodden before. Consider how Nast uses her for “And Not This Man?” on August 5, 1865.

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

Here, as in the Chinese Question, Columbia advocates for civil rights, this time for a wounded African American Civil War veteran. Although seriously wounded, he stands erect. He possesses a quiet dignity. Columbia touches him at the shoulder and invites him to step up for consideration as an American. She is speaking to his legislative detractors who appear on an accompanying page.

In Nast’s Chinese Question, Columbia touches the head of the Chinese man. Although he Is able-bodied, he cannot stand on his two legs, he is unable to face his accusers as a whole man, even with Columbia by his side.

Nast has intentionally weakened the Chinese man in the face of the mob. The question is why.  Is it to evoke empathy for the Chinese man, is it to make the mob look worse than what they were? Could Nast have drawn the Chinese with more dignity? The Irish were afraid of labor competition.  Struggling to get established in America the Irish organized in their new home and resolved that they would not suffer the oppression they experienced in their homeland of Ireland. As Timothy Meagher has noted, the Irish had no history of prejudice or exhibited any racist behavior in Ireland.  They possessed, Meagher suggests, all of the sensitivities necessary to be empathetic to others who were oppressed. But in nineteenth-century Ireland, the Irish had learned that organization and activism produced results, albeit limited.

The new Irish immigrant in America faced hurdles other immigrants, such as the Germans did not. Because of the Great Famine, they arrived in very large numbers and in the most destitute of conditions. As Roman Catholics, they were considered by the Protestant population as members of a strange cult, unwilling to assimilate to American culture. These built-in prejudices, Meagher argues, forced the Irish to assert their “whiteness” and be demonstratively aggressive to other races, in particular, African Americans and Chinese Americans. Meagher cites the work of Moses Rischin who observed that Irish Catholics who aligned against the Chinese in California, and Irish Catholics who aligned with Democratic anti-abolitionists in the South, found greater acceptance into the white Protestant mainstream of their respective communities if they joined others who expressed racial paranoia.

The prevailing view of many historians asserts that the Irish feared any form of labor competition. The banding together of white against black would not work to the Irish’s favor in the Northeast, and Meagher offers several opinions that dispute a view that the Irish were afraid of southern blacks seeking northern jobs. Meagher warns against drawing such simplistic conclusions that point strictly at racial tensions or only that only targeted African Americans.

The Irish were hostile to all competitors including other ethnicities. They fought with Germans and Chinese. Real fear existed that a “powerful Republican Party and rich industrialists, would overpower the Irish” (223).  Meagher notes that the New York Times was exasperated with the Irish, writing in 1880, “the hospitable and generous Irishman has almost no friendship for any race but his own. As laborer and politician, he detests the Italian. Between him and the German-American citizen, there is a great gulf fixed…but the most naturalized thing for the Americanized Irishman is to drive out all other foreigners, whatever may be their religious tenets” (223). Observations such as these, Meagher suggests, establish that tensions went beyond Irish-African-American tension and violence. The Chinese were easy targets.

As victims of the English oppression and prejudice in their homeland, and again in America, as targets of nativist and Protestant fears in America, the Irish directed their paranoia, distrust toward non-Irish and non-Catholics.  Irish Americans battled persistent and ill-informed scientific theory which classified them as a unique and inferior human race.  The Irish were not considered white. For Irish-Americans, defining others as inferior was an early step in self-preservation. As other ethnicities began to fear the Chinese,  many Irish not only latched on to this common concern but took the lead in ridding the nation of the menace. By attacking the Chinese, the Irish could prove their “whiteness” and earn a legitimate place in American society. Once severely oppressed in Ireland, and again in America, many Irish turned the tables by becoming the oppressors. Nast would never let the Irish forget this irony.

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.

“The Coming Man” 1881

The Coming Man 20 May 1881
The Coming Man, 20 May, 1881 by George Frederick Keller, The San Francisco Wasp

This commanding cartoon was published by The San Francisco Wasp approximately one year before the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted on May 6, 1882.

The image appealed to white workingmen’s fears of a Chinese takeover of American society and enterprise. Despite the Chinese only occupying 0.002 percent of the population, visual depictions of the Chinese continued to reinforce imagery of infestation and sinister monopolization of industry.

The Coming Man colorfully illustrates the worst in negative stereotyping and Sinophobia. The Chinese man’s over-sized left hand stretches out to the foreground of the image. It is stamped “MONOPOLY” and his fingernails are represented as animal talons, the nails are curled and grow upward like an overhang of a pagoda.

Detail
Detail

The hand grasps control over trades and services for which the Chinese were most associated – cigar making and sales, laundry, underwear and shirt manufacturing, box factories, clothing, and shoes.

Above his blue mandarin jacket (Chinese tunics were commonly blue, purple or black) is the image of a Chinese nightmare for white Americans. The Chinese man’s face is grotesquely distorted and he greets the viewer head-on with a sinister expression. As if to focus better on those looking upon him, he closes one eye with his index finger to sharpen his stare. His right eye and brow lurch up at an unnatural angle. His ears and nose are large. A devious smile reveals a single tooth, evidence of his bad health. His tongue dangles from the left side of his mouth.

On his shaven head is a skull cap. From the back of his head, the Chinese queue appears to have a life of its own, and whips out from behind the head. The very end of the hair queue looks like the end of a whip.

This Chinese man is not afraid of the white workingman clientele and readers of The Wasp. Behind him and to the left, six factories smolder with industry, possibly a reference to the Chinese Six Companies, an organization which advocated for the Chinese in America. A Chinese pagoda is seen among the buildings. On the right, a few angry, white, Euro-centric workers appear, faintly drawn. They are disappearing. A bearded man wears an apron and a white hat and holds his fist up in the air. Only two factories are viable on this side of the image.

The dominant colors of the cartoon are red, white and blue. This Chinese Man, this “coming man” has taken over the American Dream. He has pushed American workers into the background.

The implicit message of the cartoon is to stoke fear and uncertainty. This man and others like him must be stopped from coming.

The caption reads “Alee samee ‘Melican Man Monopoleeee”

Works cited

“Protecting White Labor” 1879

Protecting White Labor. 22 March 19-879 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine visited California in a bid to swell support for his nomination as the 1880 presidential Republican candidate.

Blaine stands front and center alongside an “intelligent workman” and Blaine is clearly affronted, if not shocked by the man’s reasonable and mild sentiment expressed in the caption which reads, “Intelligent Workman. “You need not plead my cause and my children’s. I am able, and always have been, to take care of myself and mine; and no large military force is necessary to keep the peace, for real working-men are not rioters, strikers, and blowers.”

The worker is a butcher. He stands in front of an alley. On his side of the wall, posters declare that he and his non-violent colleagues feel that their products, wares, foods, and services speak for themselves. The quality of their goods and services stand up and can be matched in comparison. They are not threatened by competition.

Underneath these declarations, a statement from Wong A.R. Chong, express an opinion that merchants who are failing, have only themselves to blame.

Detail of trampled Burlingame Treaty

Blaine appears indignant at the butcher’s overtures. In Blaine’s hands and under his feet are torn remnants of the Burlingame Treaty, federal legislation enacted in 1868 to protect Chinese immigrants in America. As if to prompt Blaine to reconsider, the butcher gently rests one of his hands upon Blane’s hand. Blaine will have none of it. The Senator from Maine will not listen to reason. To advance his political future, Blaine will repeat the ripe political vitriol stirred by the Sand Lot speaker and anti-Chinese agitator Denis Kearney and Workingmen’s Party whom Kearney inspired.

Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party are represented on the right side of the wall to the alley entrance. Angry men emerge from “Hoodlum Alley” and the Sand Lots located within and are visible in the center background.

No Chinese individuals are depicted in the cartoon. The rallied workingmen carry sticks and wear guns. The declarations on their side of the wall voice their platform,

In the interest of peace and good government, the president must sign the anti-Chinese bill as it is the only means that will prevent a terrible calamity and the utter annihilation of the Chinese, which is sure to follow the veto of the bill. But whatever happens the Chinese Must Go! Denis Kearney.

The cover image is a severe indictment against Blaine. Nast does not feel it is necessary to show victimization of the Chinese. Nast places a confident, equal intelligent man directly in Blaine’s path. The hands of this intelligent laborer’s gesture and his request for Blaine’s comprehension of a more common sense approach is met with shock and disdain. Blaine’s body language suggests he is surprised, and in a bit of a huff. He did not expect this reaction from the butcher. The butcher represents reason, while the Workingmen’s Party represents Sinophobic hysteria.

Works cited

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

the-new-comet-a-phenom-now-visible-8-June-1870 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

This 1870 cartoon is not typical of Nast’s images and his images of the Chinese in America in general. It is uncharacteristically dark in tone and density, and it is the only Nast cartoon that pictures the Chinese as anything other than a human being.  China was known as the Celestial Empire. Playing upon the term “celestial” Nast captures the growing curiosity of New Yorkers about Chinese Americans who are arriving in New York City in greater numbers.

The majority of Chinese Americans resided on the West Coast, coming to America in order to escape extreme financial hardship and widespread famine in their native China.  “Thousands of Chinese, mostly Cantonese” responded to the 1848-49 California Gold Rush and were recruited to help build the Transcontinental Railroad and the “economic development of the West” (Choy 19).

Soon after they arrived on the West Coast, the Chinese experienced prejudice and legislative roadblocks which prevented them from assimilation, attaining citizenship and enjoyment of rights commonly extended to other immigrants. Most white labor interests in the U.S. considered the Chinese “sojourners” or temporary workers with no desire to earn citizenship or assimilate into American culture. Since existing laws prevented naturalization, the Chinese were forced and locked into this perception.

In 1873, the United States suffered a severe economic recession and the economic uncertainty permeated at state and local levels. The growing white population in the western states, particularly in California, increasingly viewed the Chinese as unfair economic competitors. Employers appreciated the Chinese. They were industrious, productive employees, often willing to work for less. However these Chinese were not “coolies,” or “slave labor” and would strike for better working conditions and wages when they felt unfair conditions existed. This recession fueled white angst regarding labor issues – the leading factor driving the “The Chinese Must Go” anthem.

Before the Civil War, a very small Chinese population (as low as 38 or as high as 60 depending on sources) resided in New York, in close proximity to “the impoverished, Irish-dominated Fourth Ward to the east of Five Points” (Anbinder 396). These New York Chinese lived quietly among the other immigrants and rendered services such as selling rock candy and cigars.  Due to a lack of Chinese women in America, and Irish women’s lack of suitable Irish partners, Chinese-Irish marriages, though rare, did exist and were tolerated. As experienced sailors, many Chinese males settled in the port city. Some Chinese were escaped “coolie laborers” who had been forcibly or unfairly tricked to work on ships. New York provided an escape to deplorable working conditions that existed along the southern Atlantic (Anbinder 396).

Eighteen hundred and seventy was not the first time that crowds of New Yorkers had encountered the Chinese however.  In the eighteenth century, Americans were curious and respectful concerning the nation and people of China. In the mid-nineteenth century, attitudes about the Chinese declined in the aftermath of the Opium Wars (1839-1842). As early as 1847 New Yorker’s attitudes about the Chinese had “shifted dramatically.” In the summer of 1847, New Yorkers “were treated to a spectacular sight: a 160-foot Chinese vessel called the Keying” (Tchen 63).

Tchen describes the arrival of the Keying into the Battery area of New York Harbor where thousands came to watch, and later pay twenty-five cents to tour the unusual looking trading ship. Newspapers offered daily coverage and an estimated 4,000 people a day came to see or tour the craft. In addition to the goods and surroundings of the Keying on display, New Yorkers were promised a spectacle of the strange religious practices by the Chinese crew – “a once in a lifetime chance of seeing something authentically Chinese.” A variety of creative license and speculative promoting had led New York spectators to expect sacrificing, dancing, rituals, and examples of opium-induced stupor. It was as Tchen describes, a “packaged otherness” (67). The New York Herald observed, “They [the Chinese] are peculiarly attached to old notions, and will not permit the slightest innovation in anything” (qtd. Tchen 68). Later, a labor argument between the Chinese crew and the captain resulted in violence, which the New York press took note of and blamed squarely on opium-induced behavior.

Throughout the Keying’s stay in New York City, western culture scrambled to exploit the “exotic foreignness” and racial differences of the crew (Tchen 70).

Whatever the circumstances of their arrival, regarded either as coolie escapees or as a people driven out of California due to Sinophobic hysteria when the Chinese settled in New York City they began to organize. Their community leaders sought out properties to rent or purchase/ in order to establish an enclave where the Chinese could live and operate businesses and receive mutual support. This concentration of Chinese residences and storefronts, despite being statistically very minute, commanded New Yorkers’ attention. “It seemed to many observers that Asians had overrun the neighborhood” (Anbinder 399). Lower Mott Street in the Sixth Ward became the foundation of what by 1880 was known as China Town (Anbidner 398).

Nast sympathetically depicted the Chinese in six prior renderings. This particular Nast’s drawing may represent his desire to capture the mood that Anbinder references – the local reaction, awareness, and curiosity of a changed presence in the largely white, Euro-centric community.  This atmospheric arrival from another world drove families out of their homes so that they could get a good look at the occurrence  – the Chinese novelty – streaking against the dark, starlit sky.

A smiling Chinese face, with a smug expression, comprises the large comet head. The tail of the comet, a Chinese pigtail or queue, is emblazoned with “Cheap Labor” a message that is met with mixed reaction to the fascinated audience below.

Detail of comet head which Nast drew as a Chinese face

The reaction of witnesses to the celestial arrival is divided. They are in halves, welcoming and wary. Spread out across the scene, large telescopes labeled “capitalist,” “the police,” “the press,” and “working man,” focus their lens upon the”phenomenon” as it enters their world.

Detail of the left side
Detail of the left side

A characteristic technique of Nast’s was to visually split his scenes and feature opposing views – pitting his subjects against one another to visually differentiate contrasting attitudes. This cartoon is no different.

The left side of the illustration represents the pro-capitalist (and progressive) stance toward the Chinese’s arrival. A tall factory frames the scene. They clearly rejoice at the prospect of what the Chinese arrival might contribute to progress and industry. Signs rise from the crowds and declare, “Let Them Come,” “We Want Servants, Cooks and Nurses,” and other positive messages welcoming the addition of Chinese labor.  The people on this side of the harbor bring out their families to witness the event. A child and a man are seen throwing up their hands in exclamation. A woman clutches her hands to her chest in a hopeful posture.

Detail of the right side of the image
Detail of the right side of the image

There is no joy on the right side of the cartoon. Here the reaction of the crowd registers displeasure, fear, and skepticism. Present are members of the Workingmen’s party and other similar labor groups that saw the Chinese as an enemy of the Caucasian laborer. The telescope far right is labeled “Working Man” and unlike the others, does not show the graduated, collapsible structure of the lens. It is a fixed focal length. This telescope resembles a long gun or cannon. It has the closest view or shot of the approaching Chinese menace.  One ghostly looking woman can be seen pleading with a man who wields a large ax. Behind this man, a small child looks away from the scene. At top right, a portly priest with a halo above his head writes pro-trade union messages. His words sermonize that “The Chinese Will Destroy Us.” Signs proclaim that the Chinese “Must Be Resisted.” Buildings advertise slogans that sell resentment and fear, “Down With Cheap Shoes,” and “Down With Capital.”

Tchen observes that Nast is not taking a position with this cartoon. Nast simply documents the two different states of mind in his hometown. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Nast has chosen to objectify the Chinese as a comet – not because he feels the Chinese are other-worldly – but because the New Yorkers already feel this way.

Tchen speculates upon this same possibility, for he does acknowledge the pro-Chinese positions and convictions seen in Nast’s later cartoons.  Yet, Tchen is not completely comfortable that Nast did all he could with his body of work to convey a progressive attitude toward the Chinese and encourage further understanding of the obstacles they faced in America.  In particular, Tchen finds it hard to explain Nast’s reasoning behind the creation of “The Martyrdom of St. Crispin,” drawn a month earlier.

Lenore Metrick-Chen disagrees, pointing out that this particular issue of Harper’s Weekly refers to the Chinese no less than eight times and feels that the magazine advanced a negative feeling about Chinese immigration and general unease of the Chinese (39).

We may never know what existed in Nast’s mind or heart – and indeed he may have felt as curious and as astonished as the general public. This particular drawing is often shown to depict Sinophobia and as an example of turning a minority race into an “other.” Seen alone, without Five Points backstory, modern viewers may not appreciate how the approach of the major change or perceived phenomenon resonated in the community.  Right or wrong, Nast piece records that New Yorkers at the time they took notice, and while the newcomers were viewed as strange and different, attitudes about the Chinese were divided.

As a documentary image, Nast’s Chinese comet head is better understood. It captures the public reaction and sensationalism that existed and should be seen in that light, rather than as a reflection of Nast’s personal beliefs or prejudices. Nast was not 100 percent consistent or admirable with his depictions of the Chinese, but if this example is to be viewed as an editorial, it is an accurate depiction of how New Yorkers felt about the Chinese arriving, and not an offering of Nast’s personal beliefs. As a Radical Republican, Nast would have aligned with capitalists and welcomed the Chinese as a valuable addition to the workforce and overall commerce in general. In The New Comet, Nast accurately captures the pro and con attitudes that together objectified and sensationalized an increased presence of Chinese in New York City.

Works cited

“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 home in the early nineteenth century moves 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 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.  The notices call attention to a 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. In the history of Know Nothings’ ignorance repeats. Once, the nativist society had proclaimed “Down with the Irish,” and “Down with the Dutch.” The Irish are now just like their Know Nothing oppressors. 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, Nast’s reminder of the Irish-born instigator 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 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, thus it was believed, 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 thinking and 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. For Nast, this was a breach of integrity and his early progressive Republican values, a disillusion of hope that permeated within the once hopeful Republican Party.  Nast  subsequent drawings of African Americans would never again possess the dignity that embodied his Utopian vision seen in the “Emancipation of Negroes.

Works cited

“A Matter of Taste” 15 March 1879

“A Matter of Taste” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast [Public domain], Source: UDel-Walfred
By 1879, Irish-born Denis Kearney, with two years of practice to refine his technique, successfully whipped up a furor among a majority of white, male laborers in California against the Chinese. His rallying cry, “The Chinese Must Go!” began and ended every fiery speech delivered wherever Kearney saw crowd potential. In political halls, sandlots or public squares, Kearney took advantage of economic displacement and racial prejudice to rally crowds into a loyal, spirited following. His charismatic style, delivered with his thick Irish brogue deftly turned public opinion against the Chinese.

Politicians paid attention, particularly those with presidential ambitions. They were willing to sup at the anti-Chinese stew.

With an energy matched only by his anti-Tweed campaign, Thomas Nast went after Republican presidential hopeful James G. Blaine, then serving as U.S. Senator from Maine, for siding with Kearney and his cause. Nast targeted Blaine repeatedly. Relentlessly.

Detail of the sandlot stew
Detail of the sandlot stew

In this full-page cartoon, a Chinese merchant or diplomat has stopped at the entry of “Kearney’s Senatorial Restaurant.” There, Blaine, along with other politicians dines at a “Table Reserved for Presidential Candidates” and eats from “A Mess of Sand-Lot Pottage.” Blaine scoops up a heaping spoonful of Kearney’s sandy stew, the sight of which sickens the merchant as he grabs his hands to his stomach in disgust. A sign hovers over the inner wall, “Hoodlum Stew.”

Detail
Detail

Above and to the left of the Chinese merchant, Nast has listed the names of politicians who voted “yeah” and “nay” and those who abstained. Nast wishes to fully expose those responsible for the injustices done to the Chinese.

In the same issue, George W. Curtis condemned the Chinese Bill in the strongest terms

It is long since the country has been stirred with so genuine an indignation as that produced by the passage of the Chinese Bill. It was so wanton a breach of the faith of treaties, so gross a wrong, committed with such haste, and without a pretense of the necessity of haste, that the popular condemnation was immediate and universal.

Curtis went on to admonish the breaking of a treaty (Burlingame Treaty) that had been entered in good faith. He applauded the President Hayes’ veto of the bill and decried those who sought to abrogate the longstanding legislation.

Detail. Nast creates a sinister looking victim
Detail. Nast creates a sinister looking victim

Interestingly,  Nast’s representative of the Chinese people, depicted in this cartoon, is not attractive. He does not possess the round, kindly face seen in Civilization of Blaine and other cartoons. This figure looks tired, aged and drawn, and as intended, sickly. One could argue a sinister quality. He is not as sympathetic or approachable as other Nast “John Chinaman” characters, and perhaps less likely to elicit an empathetic response from Nast’s audience as a result.

Works cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Plain Language from Truthful James”

Plain Language from Truthful James by Bret Harte (1870)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Assumption.edu

“The Martydom of St. Crispin” 16 July 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works cited

“Distribution of the Sectarian Fund” 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

 

“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.

“Hard to Please the “White Trash”” 1878

A vexed Uncle Sam stands alone as minorities stand behind him
“Hard to Please the “White Trash”” – 6 April 1878 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

When Thomas Nast used Columbia in his cartoons, she represented American values in the purest sense and was placed in cartoons to remind readers of American values and morality. Uncle Sam played a different role for the cartoonist. Nast is often credited with inventing Uncle Sam, but he only popularized the figure and Nast often included the tall thin man with a top hat and striped pants as a symbol for the American government and a reflection of the government’s current state of affairs.  As this picture above depicts, Uncle Sam can get confused. He finds himself at the mercy of opposing political parties and is often trapped, not by what might be right, but what legislation has passed as the law of the land.

The cover of this issue also shows Uncle Sam with his leg in a snare. In the following issue, he is seen in a full-page cartoon, seemingly confused as he reflects upon his nation. All is not well in his American house.

After the Fifteenth Amendment granted African Americans the right to vote, Southern Democrats continued measures to disenfranchise the African American vote.

Uncle Sam is confused. He is supposed to hate the “nigger” because he has earned the right to vote, and at the same time, he is supposed to hate the “Yellow Dog” because he has not yet earned the right to vote. Uncle Sam does not know how to react. He has lost track of the direction of his government.

The Chinese face a difficult dilemma. Legally prevented from earning citizenship, they cannot enjoy the same rights extended to other immigrants. The Chinese may not testify against whites or marry outside their own race. Since Chinese females are refused entry to the U.S. because they are considered and labeled prostitutes, Chinese men in America had little hope and few prospects to live a normal family life. Prohibited by law to join to American culture, they are additionally penalized for not assimilating to it. The Chinese find themselves in a no-win situation.

The U.S. legislative body spoke and Uncle Sam is forced to wear the mantle of these mandates. California’s state symbol is the bear. The bear trap on Uncle Sam’s leg is a painful harbinger of what is to come to the entire nation. An easy way out does not exist and he is forced to represent these xenophobic and intolerant values. Uncle Sam gets his marching orders from the “White Trash” — free lawmaking men, and there is no pleasing them.

A Chinese launderer is seen to the right. His head is slightly turned as if to acknowledge Uncle Sam’s grumbling. But he goes about his washing tasks, knowing Uncle Sam can do nothing about the current state of affairs.

On the right, an African American figure relaxes against the wall. Nast drew a similar figure in 1879, Every Dog “(No Distinction of Color)” Has His Day.“ He is unaware or unconcerned with Uncle Sam’s conflict.

 

“Difficult Problems Solving Themselves” 1879

Modern sensibilities and commentary have at times criticized Nast’s “John Chinaman” or “John Confucius” representation as an example of Chinese stereotype.  Certainly, Nast could have varied facial expressions and dress. Many Chinese in America had assimilated, particularly in New York City and other East Coast port cities. In repeating his imagery, one might argue that Nast helped to perpetuate and anchor the stereotype which stressed their exotic dress and long hair.  For Nast, it was likely a combination of artful economy and providing a recognizable figure for general public identification.

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

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves shows the balance of Nast’s work and his intention to portray the Chinese in a fair, if not superior light. Here, John Chinaman is leaning against a directional signpost pointing eastward. He is literate. He is reading, in English, the San Francisco Hoodlum’s headline cries to “Go East Young MAN.” He is juxtaposed against another victim of racial discrimination, “A. Freedman” an African American forced or bull-dozed to move westward. Alongside the African American is a mother covered in a shawl and holding a young infant. Alongside of her, is a young boy. The woman and two children appear to be white. The older child appears to wear a tunic instead of a western-style shirt and pants. On his head is a white kufi, a traditional Islamic head covering for males.

The signpost divides the scene and the two travel paths dominate the cartoon. Unlike a regular signpost buried in the ground, this post emerges from roots. The division is firmly planted in the American soil. The signpost occupies the middle ground and blocks compromise. The post is is deeply rooted, like a tree.

In splitting the image the signpost depicts a nation with strong and divided social and political ideologies. The Chinese man’s queue runs parallel to the embedded signpost, and is nearly as long, suggesting a cultural devotion to the queue, but Nast acknowledges the hairstyle’s divisive role in separating Chinese from American. Both African American and Chinese travel toward a region of promise, but the stark reality is that each is merely switching locations with the other. While buildings in the background offer a “welcome” it is unlikely that any region purging one non-white race will likely accept another.

This image could be indicative of a pattern where Nast places his signature in a cartoon and what that placement might suggest. Instead of signing in ample blanks spaces to the left or to the right, Nast signs his work vertically up the signpost. It is the most neutral location and likely purposeful, since it is atypical of Nast’s usual signature placement. See ““The Nigger Must Go” and “The Chinese Must Go”

“The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly”” 1870

“The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly” – 6 August, 1870 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

A month after drawing the Martyrdom of St. Crispin, Nast returned with another unflattering cartoon about the Chinese entering the shoe making profession. Here Nast takes advantage of several puns.

A demonic Chinese laborer is at his cobbler’s bench, he has replaced St. Cripin as the cobbler. Western-styled shoes in various stages of progress surround him, but the Chinese man does not wear the product he makes. The Chinese artisan wears his native mandarin jacket and loose pants. Nast will always draw the Chinese in native dress, including Chinese footwear, often with thick grass or straw soles and topped in cloth or hide.

The cobbler is clearly annoyed by the soul or “sole” of the displaced St. Crispin, the Catholic patron saint of shoe cobblers and leather workers. The insect, named St. Crispin, is not happy. He is distressed to see a Chinese take the place of his usual patron,  a Christian or Catholic white shoe cobbler. A halo hovers over its head, formed as the heel of a shoe. Its large wingspan is troublesome. Two of its six legs are clenched in fists, ready to attack the foreign cobbler.

The Chinese man cowers at the insect’s arrival. Because his large hat or douli hangs on the wall out of reach, he grabs the closest weapon he has, the end of his long queue to swat or “shoo” the shoe fly away. The shorter hairs on the top of his queue bristle. It is hard to determine if the cobbler is angry or afraid His posture would indicate defeat, but his expression, particularly the raised eyebrow and sideways glance, indicate a determination to get rid of the pest. A partially opened umbrella stands at the opposite end of the bench.

He clearly wants to be left alone to sell his “Cheap Shoes” to the public. In case the message is not clear, “Cheap Shoes” appears twice in the cartoon. Because Chinese workers were considered cheap and often slave or  “coolie” labor, they were able to undercut the prices of their competitors.  The Chinese were in fact brought in as strikebreakers against the interests of the Knights of St. Crispin labor union. See Martyrdom of St. Crispin. In Massachusetts, threats of violence and rock throwing were thwarted by heavy police protection. Nast’s signature, which varied in its placement and size in his cartoons, was prominently shown on a large rock at the foot of the cobbler’s bench. Nast typically had many options to insert his signature. By placing it upon the rock, does it mean he is willing to throw the first stone?

Harper’s Weekly sided with pro-capitalist positions and therefore consistent as a pro-Chinese publication. Like a the majority of post-Civil War, eastern Republican dailies and weeklies, Harper’s viewed the overall benefit of trade and utilizing a Chinese workforce to benefit progressive American venture capitalists. In their view, the Chinese benefit to business interests outweighed any concerns that Democratic labor might have (Tchen 181).

That summer in the streets of New York City, Mayor Oakley A. Hall, a Tweed associate and inside member of the Tammany Ring, spoke before a rally. Oakley joined many pro-labor speakers who convened a rally to fire up “The Chinese Question” among the workingmen constituency in the city. “Hall opposed the “importation of tawny slaves” by the “wicked combination of capitalists” and “man-stealers” (Tchen 179).

The outcry from these rallies often blurred the distinction between willing competitive labor, cheap labor and coolie labor. Democrat charged the Republican leadership with hypocrisy  –  a group who fought against slavery, but were too willing to use slave labor in the Chinese.

Other New York papers, particularly the New York Herald, with largest daily readership in the nation, went back and forth on its opinion of the crisis. Its editor, James Gordon Bennett held his finger to the political wind and initially “waffled on the Chinese laborers, but ultimately landed for tolerance on the Chinese question” (Tchen 181).

Disagreements and concerns between labor and capital interests never reached the sustained conflicts that were soon to be stoked in California Sand Lots later in the decade.  Capitalists on the West Coast did not have an alliance of local media to alleviate concerns and or suggest positive images on behalf of the Chinese.

But Nast was anything but positive with “The Latest Edition of Shoo Fly.” Nast could be counted on, almost with a knee-jerk reaction, to strongly counter any position or issue that Tammany, its cohorts or white Irish, pro-labor constituents would support. In fact, Nast’s next cartoon on the topic The Chinese Question, issued a strong indictment against Tammany support of white labor positions. The six months that elapsed between the two cartoons shows a significant evolution in Nast’s thinking. This may be a direct result Nast’s developing investigation of Tweed and a distaste for anything that was condoned by the Tammany touch.  Nast’s subsequent Chinese cartoons offer a stronger defense of the beleaguered Chinese Americans, though he would occasionally regress into employing crueler stereotypes, Nast kept his pen focused on the hypocrisy of white immigrants, most of whom Nast defined as Irish, who viewed themselves as the definitive Americans charged with protecting the country from a Chinese threat.¹

But in this cartoon, Nast had yet to find conviction with his position. He decided to portray cheap shoes and cheap labor through the eyes of the Chinese’s detractors. If Nast meant to poke fun at white labor, it was a cheap joke, made at the expense of the Chinese.  In 1870, as the shoemakers controversy trampled up and down the East Coast, Nast appears to have been swept up in their sentiment and found a use to exercise satire. This example is not representative of his evolved sensibilities that Tweed’s alliance with white labor interests helped only helped to focus.

¹For more explanation on Irish-Chinese conflicts click here.

The influence of Harper’s Weekly

In his A History of American Magazines Frank Luther Mott, credits Harper’s Weekly as the most important magazine on the East Coast in the nineteenth century. The management of the Harper brothers, the writing and editorials of George W. Curtis and the drawings of Thomas Nast “combined to make Harper’s Weekly popular and powerful” (40).

Harper’s Weekly, The Journal of Civilization” with a Thomas Nast cover,                    8 February, 1879

Exactly how powerful is difficult to quantify, at least in terms of circulation numbers. Mott makes a point to establish that publishers of this era did not maintain circulation statistics and were offended by inquiries into same.  The information was deliberately mysterious. “There was something sacrosanct about circulation figures.” But by 1874, Mott had determined that Harper’s monthly and weekly publications had subscription lists of more than 100,000 each (6).

This of course does not account for newsstand purchases, and pass-along readership shared with a neighbor or friend.[1] According to an Ohio State University website that maintains a measure of Harper’s scholarship, the weekly had a circulation of 120,000 in 1861. Perhaps owing to the circulation mystery to which Mott alludes, Wikipedia quotes circulation figure of 200,000. HarpWeek, the official website for the magazine states, “Its circulation exceeded 100,000, peaking at 300,000 on occasion, while readership probably exceeded half a million people.” Whatever the figures were, by the standards of its time, Harper’s Weekly stood as a successful publishing venture. Nast’s artwork, particularly his political caricatures, is widely acknowledged[2] to be the major ingredient of the magazine’s growing prosperity.

Images mattered.  The illustrated weekly format provided an alternative conveyance for messages that resonated with the public, sometimes more effectively than the word. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1870, the first year such data was recorded, illiteracy rates for whites was 20 percent and for blacks, nearly 80 percent.

With a weekly deadline, illustrated magazines grew in popularity complementing hard daily news with images. Photos were reproduced by copper plate etchings and illustrations were drawn to scale, often in reverse to be transferred from paper, or drawn directly on, a large cross-section of boxwood. The areas not receiving ink– the white areas– meticulously carved out by a staff of engravers, leaving only the black lines in relief to press against the page. (A mind-boggling feat given the prolific crosshatching in Nast’s work). In New York City, the most notable weeklies were Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, the New York Illustrated News, and the most respected and prominent, Harper’s Weekly. Nast had worked for them all–and in that order– but happily achieved his goal to work full time at Harper’s in 1862 (Paine 28).

Established press organizations in the northeast largely promoted Protestant-based, pro-Republican ideals, and during the Civil War, adopted a pro-Union stance in their editorial positions. The two leading daily papers, The New York Tribune and the New York Times, were Radical Republican and mainstream Republican.” The publishers and staff of Harper’s Weekly, including cartoonist Thomas Nast, were mainly Protestant or secular liberals”  (Kennedy, HarpWeek).The more progressive Tribune led as an early advocate for abolition and “attacked Lincoln daily, demanding emancipation” as a cause for Lincoln to adopt (Paine 79). Other media followed suit.

Harper’s was “strongly Methodistic in trend” (Mott 86) and part of a publishing center that “loathed the political culture and style of the Democrats and resented their control of the metropolis,” (Fischer 8). Northeastern Methodists joined other Protestants in a strong alliance of moral authority and civic duty that sought freedom of slavery. “No single issue had greater power than slavery to shape Methodist political responses,” (Carwardine 597) and Northeastern Methodists, like most Protestants in that region, were Lincoln supporters.  In 1861, a year before he began as a staff artist at Harper’s, Nast married Sarah Edwards, the daughter of English-born parents. Nast figuratively and literally, as historian Robert Fischer suggests, “married into old-line Yankee culture and embraced it with the fervor of the prodigal son come home” (29).  His background, the culture of his employers (cartoon historian Donald Dewey writes that the Harper family had an established anti-Catholic bias) and marriage into an Anglican family all coalesced to shape Nast’s Republican views, steeped in the conviction of perceived Protestant superiority.

Journalistic historian Thomas C. Leonard offers the term “visual thinking” to describe the effect Nast’s woodcuts had on Harper’s readership. The public had learned to rely on Nast’s cartoons as a legitimate form of truth telling.  “Harper’s Weekly drew power from common knowledge of illustrations as well as the public’s hunger to see more of them” (102). Leonard cites the Nast’s series of anti-Tweed images as the most effective use of visual thinking.  Nast’s images resonated and were eagerly awaited by Harper’s readers. Many Nast scholars maintain that his “dammed pictures”[3] led to Tweed’s downfall and to his eventual arrest in Spain by someone who saw the fugitive’s likeness in the magazine. The illustrations added to the overall dialogue.  “Harper’s verbal descriptions often missed the visual clues and the radical elements of [that] Nast’s images” were able to capture (Hills 111).

Nast’s power and popularity gave him free artistic reign at Harper’s. He drew what he wanted. “Nast drew only what he was moved to draw for Harper’s Weekly, having no editorial or ownership responsibilities. Nast refused to draw anything he didn’t believe in” (Dewey 10). Nast enjoyed artistic autonomy under Fletcher Harper, but this artistic freedom dissipated after political editor George W. Curtis assumed the managing editor role after Fletcher’s death in 1877.

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[1] Citing various modern sources, the consensus is that printed magazines are “passed along” on average four times. This figure may be conservative for the late 19th century.

[2] There are numerous references to Nast as a major contributor to Harper’s success. Paine, his biographer, quotes Colonel Watterson as saying, “In quitting Harper’s Weekly, Nast lost his forum: in losing him, Harper’s Weekly lost its political importance” (528).

[3] Tweed is reputed to have said, “I don’t care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!” This quote appears in almost every account of Nast’s work. It may be true, it may be apocryphal.

Why Thomas Nast?

Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was an amazingly talented and controversial artist during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Illustrator, painter, engraver, he is best known for his scathing caricatures and political cartoons that appeared in Harper’s Weekly’s Journal of Civilization, and which called out corruption and hypocrisy in American and especially New York City politics.They often referred to Nast as “Our Special Artist.”

Photograph of Nast by Napoleon Sarony, taken in Union Square, New York City. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Nast remains controversial today. His most recent nomination for induction into New Jersey’s Hall of Fame (Nast lived the majority of his time in Morristown) was doomed after a flurry of outrage and has been tabled for another year. With our politically correct fixations, he may never get in.

I first learned about Nast when I began exploring my family’s genealogy on sites like Ancestry.com. My lineage is 75 percent potato famine Irish, 25 percent Bavarian German. Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, if asked, my family identified ourselves as Irish-Catholic, but it was never a zealous, over-the-top kind of thing. I grew up thinking we were just “American” like everyone else. A sense of ancestral family history was never conveyed in our home. I was unaware of the experiences of my immigrant ancestors.

After seeing the 2002 film Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese, and watching an interview about the making of the film on Charlie Rose, I learned about a book titled Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante (1992) and I decided to get a copy. It was a fascinating account of the American immigrant experience during the Gilded Age of New York City. It was through this reading that I first learned about Thomas Nast. I was surprised to discover that the Irish were looked upon as low life and wrote about it in an early blog.

For my first graduate course, American Art and Culture in Context, each student was assigned to select an artist to represent each century of American history and determine the cultural context in which it was created and why it was significant. I decided to narrow my focus to a particular genre, political/editorial cartoons, and selected Benjamin Franklin as an artist for the eighteenth, Thomas Nast for the nineteenth, and Patrick Oliphant for the twentieth century. Cartooning has always held a fascination for me. As a teenager, I was an amateur pen and ink artist. I fancied myself as a cartoonist and envisioned my career landing in newsprint. I had every intention of selecting art as my major in college and formally honing my skills and artistic voice – but when I found out that all the art classes began at 8 a.m. in the morning, I decided to switch my major to English. True story. Such is the wisdom of a 17-year old that puts sleeping in late at the top of her priorities!

Nevertheless, for me, an appreciation for art, and a particular enthusiasm for the oeuvre of Thomas Nast endures. It coincides well with my curiosity about nineteenth century American history, family heritage, politics in general, and how art influences culture and vice versa.

Drunken Irish sitting on top of a gunpowder barrel
The Usual Way of Doing Things, by Thomas Nast, 1871. Source: The Ohio State University

Thomas Nast is misunderstood. Given my heritage, I claim every right to put Nast on a $hit list, but I have chosen not to do so. I am not pleased to see my ancestors depicted as apes. I want to know where this comes from and why the stereotype, which originated in Great Britain, migrated to the United States and continued to thrive here for generations. I want to understand what made him draw images like this. Nast did not invent this stereotype, but he certainly perpetuated it. The image at right, The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things has made many appearances on the Web as an example of his vile Irish defamation. It is not a flattering portrait. The image is usually cropped to remove the story below, nor is it considered in the context of events that caused Nast to create the image. To fully understand the image, we need to understand the back story (which I will elaborate on in a future post).

One of the benefits of being trained as a journalist (aided by my position as a middle child) is to make oneself aware of all points of view, and present facts in context. It’s easy to stand on a soap box or slip behind a screen and keyboard and rant and rave about policies and positions – an advocate who is right and who is wrong. It would have been very easy to emotionally react to these images and be offended by what at first glance appears as cruel, salacious and mean spirited drawings spewed from Nast’s pen, brush, and pencil. Those were “my people” he maligned. Few would blame me for jumping on the “outrage” bandwagon.

I did not react with anger or outrage. Instead, I’ve chosen to ask “why?” Was Thomas Nast a racist? A hater? And if so, how does that happen to someone? Bigotry doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It is learned. How did his time, place and circumstance shape his views? Why does he appear to turn against the faith he was born into and raised for a time? Perhaps my minority Bavarian DNA has something to do with an internal need to find balance and explanation. I wanted to get as many sides of the Thomas Nast story as I could. As these pages and blog posts unfold, I will share the images in historical context, supported by academic research and established differences of opinion, including my own. Fair assessments based on facts. Those afternoon courses in good old fashioned journalism did not go to waste! You are welcome to draw your own conclusions, and by all means, share them.

Therefore, it is the purpose of this site to define who Thomas Nast was, what his politics were, his general philosophies and determine what exactly was his beef with the Irish and the Catholics? How did he treat other minority or immigrant groups? Scholars and students of Thomas Nast will generally agree he was a product of his time, he adopted and practiced a new form of Republicanism that was hard won by Abraham Lincoln, which advocated toleration for all races and creeds. When Nast called out the Irish or the Catholics, he did so to protest specific behaviors or practices that he felt were an abuse of power or ran hypocritical of American democratic ideals.

William Meager Tweed photographed in 1870. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Nast’s world, Irish and Catholics are inexorably intertwined with William Meager Tweed, the Tammany Hall Sachem or “Boss” that ran a corrupt “Ring” in New York City. Tweed was a Scots-Irish Presbyterian, and as a younger man was no admirer of Irish Catholics. All of that changed when Tweed quickly figured out the political value of this massive immigrant population. He cultivated the allegiance of the Irish and the Roman Catholic Church for expedient political reasons. In the view of many at the time, especially for the Republican, Protestant ruling elite, Tweed’s arrangement was a malodorous quid pro quo – votes for favors. That the Irish allowed themselves to be so manipulated by Tweed and how a particular church grew and benefited directly as a result of Tweed’s support with public funds is at the heart of Nast’s ink and ire.

Thomas Nast did not have a fundamental problem with the Irish or with Catholics. His family faith was Catholic! Nast was consistent in calling out corruption and hypocrisy wherever he saw it emerge. Had it not been for their political alliances, which in Nast’s view involved stolen elections and misappropriated public funds, there would be little reasons for Nast to attack the Irish Catholics. His pen would turn on anyone, or any group, who he felt had turned on his or her principles or moral code. I will examine Nast’s use of symbols and stereotypes and seek to explain, rather than excuse their employment in his work and commentary. Everything Nast drew, was executed with deep conviction. One may not agree with Nast’s conclusions, but those who are informed of his life and times find it difficult to question the well of integrity and consistency from with which Thomas Nast drew his creative inspiration.