Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Early Colonial Cartoons

Early Colonial cartoons were political in nature. Benjamin Franklin was many things, but he was also a cartoonist. The first cartoon appeared in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. It was part of his editorial on 'the present disunited state of the British Colonies.' 

The woodcut drawing entitled 'Join or Die' depicts a divided snake cut in eight pieces, representing the many colonial governments. At the time, there was a popular superstition that said a snake, which had been cut in two, would come to life if the pieces were put together before sunset. The drawing immediately caught the public's eye and was reproduced many times, becoming a symbol of colonial freedom during the American Revolutionary War. 

The Federal Superstructure cartoon depicts those states 'having already ratified the new document' as pillars. Below the drawing notes it stated that the New York Assembly would call for a convention to ratify the Constitution. 

Thomas Nast created the Democratic donkey. The donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson's 1828 presidential campaign. His opponents called him a jackass (a donkey), and Jackson decided to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. Later, Thomas used the Democratic donkey in newspaper cartoons, making the symbol famous. 

Nast also created the Republican elephant. In a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey dressed in lion's skin, scaring away all the other animals at the zoo. One of those animals, was labeled "The Republican Vote." From that point forward, the elephant became associated with the Republican Party. 

Thomas Nast denounced Tammany as a ferocious tiger killing democracy

Tammany Hall was a New York political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated in 1789 as the Tammany Society. It was a Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in New York City politics, helping mostly the Irish rise up in American politics in the 1790s to the 1960s. The society is known for its corruption, and while it rose up and down in political influence, it was without a doubt one of the most powerful organizations in early political America. 

William Marcy "Boss" Tweed was an American politician notable for being the "boss" of Tammany Hall. Tweed yielded great influence as a member of a number of boards and commissions, ensuring the loyalty of voters through jobs he could create and dispense on city-related projects. Tweed was eventually convicted for stealing an estimated $25 - $45 million from NYC taxpayers through political corruption, later estimates range as high as $200 million. 

"Who stole the people's money?" by Thomas Nast

Political cartoons, while seemingly harmless, yielded great influence over public opinion. Reportedly, Tweed didn't care what the papers said about him, he just wanted Thomas Nast, the cartoonist from Harper's Weekly to stop drawing "them damned pictures." 

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