Tag Archives: Draft Riots

“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

“Something That Will Not Blow Over ” 1871

Thomas Nast drew Something That Will Not Blow Over, a double-paged illustration in Harper’s Weekly, in direct response to the Orangemen’s Riots of July 1871. It features a large central drawing, with various smaller vignettes surrounding the main picture.

Like many of Nast’s larger images, good and evil is divided, shown in the left and right images respectively.

Center image Something That Will Not Blow Over

In the mid to late nineteenth century, for the Protestant ruling class in New York City, percieved “Irish” and “Catholics as synonymous terms.  Irish meant Catholic and Catholic meant Irish.  Italians and eastern European Catholics also arrived in New York, but were not as visually prominent as the Irish. German immigrants, the second largest immigrant group, tended to reside alongside other Germans from the same region.  German Catholics worshiped separately from Irish Catholics, and had their own Catholic churches and communities (Nadel, 29, 37-39).

At first, the  Nast family did not live near the largest German community, Little Germany or kleindeutschland, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but resided further west on Greenwich Street. Bavarian immigrants were scattered across several wards in New York (Nadel 37). Later the Nast family moved to  William Street in the Fourth Ward, closer in proximity to the Sixth Ward that included a large Irish constituency.  Irish American historian Timothy Meagher asserts that the Irish often tangled with Germans, and anyone they saw as competitors (223). Nast’s attacks against Catholics may have grown from this experience, but more likely formed from his observations of the Irish and their political positions. As his biorgrapher Paine suggests, Nast appears to single out the Irish “for the reason that a large percentage of the foreign immigration–an important political factor–professed that creed” (Paine 150). Tweed was the thread that wove many Irish and Catholics together in what Republican Protestants viewed as one neat, corrupt package.

For Nast, the Orangemen’s riots of July 11-12, 1871 confirmed the violent Irish stereotypes that his German culture and neighborhood may well have believed and pre-disposed him to adopt. The 1871 street riots provided Nast with the excuse to not reprise his 1863 draft riot imagery, but strongly reinvent or embellish it.

For several years, Irish Catholics in New York City celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with an annual parade. New York City’s Protestant Irish, calling themselves “Orangemen” — members of the Loyal Order of Orange named in honor of British King William III, Prince of Orange. William III had defeated a Catholic James II for dominion over Ireland, wanted an equivalent celebration. The Protestant Irish insisted their own parade to celebrate their own history. In 1870,  they had gotten their wish, a parade of  Protestant Orangemen-Irish. This first parade resulted in mild disturbances — and future Orangemen parade permits were banned.

Nevertheless the Orangemen petitioned for another public celebration for the summer of 1871. A permit was extended. Irish Catholics were outraged. Tweed succumbed to his constituents’ demands and ordered Mayor A. Oakley Hall to retract the permit for the Orangemen to celebrate.

The vacillation of official approval only proved to stoke Orangemen’s desire to exert their rights.

After Protestant outcry and pressure, Governor Hoffman issued Order 57, allowing the Orangemen to publicly march in the streets of New York City. The July parade would go on, and like its predecessor a year prior, the parade was not a peaceful assembly. Several hundred Irish Catholics heckled the paraders and disrupted the procession, hurling bricks, stones, clubs, and shot at women and children waving to the parade from their homes. The violence escalated to murder.

Referring to the incident as the Tammany Riots, Harper’s reported that two soldiers and one policeman with Irish surnames protected the parade participants and were killed along with 44 civilians. But the New York media could not help but fixate on the apparent hypocrisy that Irish Catholics could have a parade, but Protestants could not. Along with the 46 fatalities, anadditional 26 police and soldiers and 67 civilians were wounded (Harper’s July 29, 1871 p. 564).

Nast relied on his arsenal of elaborate visual commentary and symbols to convey the layers of complexity and political maneuvering that surrounded the incident  Like his Emancipation drawing of African Americans in 1864, Nast used a montage to depict the ancillary events that culminated in the central image. On important occasions or events of conflict, such as this riot, Nast called upon the imagery of Columbia as America’s advocate of fair play, morality, and when appropriate, admonition to wrong doers.

As an Irish Protestant-Catholic conflict. racial prejudice were did not contribute to the Orangemen’s riots. Religious, not racial tensions were involved in the argument or the violence that ensued. Nevertheless, Nast resurrected the images of the 1863 draft riot lynching and violence as the central ingredient in which to examine a completely different incident. Nast’s 1871 revision hardly resembled his original eyewitness account of 1863, where he is ambiguous about Irish involvement on Clarkson Street, a scene of racial lynching in 1863.  By linking the Orangemen’s riots to the draft riots, Nast loses the ambiguity of Irish and Catholic involvement in the public violence. In the eight years that elapsed, Nast’s views against Irish Catholics changed and intensified. Something That Will Not Blow Over is a strong condemnation of the Irish and the Catholic religious hierarchy whom Nast viewed as meddlesome instigators. What had changed in the transpiring eight years that led Nast to strongly implicate Irish Catholics? Politics. William M. Tweed entered Nast’s arena and dominated three years of his artistic and professional life, beginning in 1869.

Something That Will Not Blow Over exposed what Nast perceived as a destructive trinity of Tweed-Irish-Catholic partnership. Nast laid the blame squarely upon all three. The cartoon ran at the climax of his three-year tirade against Tweed.

In the center image, an African American hangs lifeless under a lamppost marked with the date of the draft riots. The Colored Orphanage that was destroyed during the 1863 riots once again smolders in the background.  A mob bearing raised weapons shout in outrage. To the lower right of the murdered African American, a Roman Catholic cleric faces his flock. His hat designates he is Monsignor or a Bishop. He does not give a blessing to the soul hanging by a rope nor to the dead and injured piling up on the ground. He is not heading off the crowd. This priest is not a figure of comfort. He clutches his crucifix close to his body and his posture, with his head down-turned, face unseen, and his shoulders raised in a hunch, suggest a devious and cowardly role in the midst of the melee.  The mob is his congregation, his faithful, and he does nothing to stop their attack.

Detail. Walking away from the rioters
Detail. Walking away from the rioters

To the right, a diverse group of people walk away from the mob scene. Uncle Sam, a symbol of the federal government, is front and center, but he is withdrawn, either putting away his sword or is second guessing his impulse to draw it forward. The wiser course may be not to engage or incite the mob, but defuse them by walking away. Only the Chinese man, on the right, flees from a sense of fear. The rest of this crowd turns away from the mob, and looks back at the instigators as they do. Their faces and body language show dejection rather than fear. They are not making a hasty retreat. The feathers of a Native American Indian, Kaiser helmets, Italian fedoras, a saucer cap and queue of the Chinese man are all part of Nast’s Republican “come one  come all” symbolism used in other cartoons that advocate a utopian vision where different races and cultures can live together in harmony.  Nast included heads of state, such as a morose Queen Victoria, to help to express his view that the whole world might be ashamed by the Irish-American state of affairs in New York City. A violent outburst like this would never have been allowed to happen in her country. No wonder Victoria looks so dejected.

In the back of the crowd to the right, two banners are visible, one reads “Liberal Catholic Dollinger and Hyacinth.”  It is important to note that Nast placed a Catholic element on the positive side of his drawing. Ignatius von Döllinger, a progressive Catholic scholar and priest from Nast’s native Bavaria, vehemently and publicly opposed the dogma of papal infallibility. He was excommunicated by the Pope, which raised him to the rank of exalted hero at Harper’s (June 17, 1871) and in several Nast images (July 17, 1871). A courageous, independent thinker was a Catholic to be admired! Only a month before the Orangemen riots, Harper’s had saluted Dollinger’s moral courage and position as moderate Catholic, “Dr. Dollinger declared that the dogma of papal infallibility contradicted both Bible and tradition, and would create interminable conflicts between state and church” (Harper’s June 17, 1871).

In Nast’s view, heroes like Dollinger were a rarity. Conservative, ultramontane Catholics set policy in the Vatican. On the left side, the American flag is upside down, a clear signal that the nation is at peril. The overarching statement, “Has no caste, no sect, any rights that respect the infallible ultramontane Roman Irish Catholic is bound to respect” reinforced the widely held Protestant notion that the Irish did not have minds of their owns, nor did they respect any tenets except those preached by the Catholic Church. Directly opposite, a Catholic flag, adorned with the Irish harp, a very Irish looking Tammany Tiger, Nast’s animal symbol for the political power of Tweed’s machine, and the papal standard, fly high over the land. Here, Nast suggests that the menace will become transcontinental – what starts on the East Coast will soon blow westward. Beware California, the Irish Catholics are coming! Public schools are seen crumbling on the Irish side, Nast’s snide reminder of the municipal funds which poured into Catholic schools at the behest of Tweed and at the expense of public interest. To the right, the Protestants must contend with the spires and steeples of Catholic cathedrals, churches, and schools supported by tax dollars.

Other smaller scenes show the series of events that led up to the Orangemen’s riot.  The top right image’s theme is honor or lack thereof. King William III, Prince of Orange, with two police escorts, shows his written permission to parade to St. Patrick, the patron saint of Irish Catholics. It is not offered meekly, slipped across the floor as Tweed has done with his documentation (see lower left and right images). King William’s authorization is placed on a pedestal. William is trying to reason as one leader to another. He offers a compromise – a quid pro quo – promising that the Protestants will abandon their parade if the Catholics will do the same. He asks for fairness as if to say, we will give up our rights, but will you? Despite any animosity, he is approaching his adversary as an equal. Nast does not extend any artistic courtesy toward St.Patrick. Nast laid an array of stereotypes upon St. Patrick.  Nast creates an obstinate figure who will not listen to reason. Despite his higher position he delivers his “Nivir” in heavy Irish brogue. Although he wears the robe of Catholic hierarchy, he looks like an ape. His attitude is anything but saintly. Hands on hips, exposing his vestments and crucifix, he turns away from William, according him no respect.

Detail from lower right. A uniformed Irish thug raises a sword to the kneeling Tweed ring

Below, Tweed grovels on the ground. He and his cowardly cohorts take orders from their beastly Irish masters. The Irish are not afraid to fight for their cause. The Irishman’s saber is central to the image. He stares down his subordinates. Finally, the lower center image shows a dejected, perplexed, and once powerful Tammany Ring; Boss Tweed, Sweeney, Connolly and Hall, are on the ground trying to figure out what went wrong. Tweed can’t win. He and his cohorts are losing ground. Over them hovers a rhetorical question, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Harper’s represented two perspectives in the form of prose. The author(s) are unknown, but they were likely written by the editorial staff.

And Pat’s Complaint:

At the top left of the image, Columbia places laurels on the heads of New York CIty policemen, presumably some of whom are Irish, for their valor and adherence to law during the riots.
At the top left of the image, Columbia places laurels on the heads of New York City policemen, presumably some of whom are Irish, for their valor and adherence to law during the riots.

Columbia appears as Nast’s voice. Columbia freely rewards valor, shames cowardice, and highlights hypocrisy.  She does not suffer fools, particularly Tammany fools, lightly.  Put into service by Nast, she will do his bidding, rising to a noble call to defend  her country without hesitation.  While these vignettes are important,Nast’s deployment of Columbia on the issue’s cover image, Bravo Bravo, deserves special attention.

Complimenting Harper’s reports of Irish policemen serving valiently during the riots, Columbia places laurels upon the heads of the police who aimed to keep the peace between the warring factions. Are these public servants Irish? They could be.

If so, the image defies the allegation by some scholars that Nast always drew the Irish as beasts and thugs. It is easy to pick out the Irish that Nast criticizes. He uses stereotype and caricature to call out their crimes.  How does Nast show an Irishman in a favorable light? Policemen in uniform would not be wearing the waistcoat or a top hat. In the line of civic duty, It could be argued that whenNast drew Irish policeman, he drew them to look like any other American from a European ancestry. It is easy to prove a negative. Far more difficult to spot the everyday ethnicity, including Irish, whom Nast felt behaved admirably.