Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 11: Thomas Nash cartoon from 1868

Harper's Weekly of 09/05/1868 carried this Thomas Nash cartoon about the Presidential campaign of that year, bashing the violent and demonstrably racist Democratic Party of that day. The caption at the bottom reads:

"We regard the Reconstruction Acts (so called) of Congress as usurpations, and unconstitutional, revolutionary and void." - Democratic Platform.

The HarpWeek site contains a description of the cartoon (n/d; unsigned; link may be behind subscription):

The three standing figures represent what Nast considers to be the three wings of the Democratic party. The cartoonist incorporates into the picture several symbols and stereotypes that he uses frequently.

The figure on the left is a Catholic-Irish-American man. He wears working-class clothing, has an alcohol bottle in his hip pocket, a pipe and a cross in his hat, and holds a club in a striking position. The name on his hat-band-"5 Points"-refers to a neighborhood in New York City, populated at the time by poor Irish immigrants. The man's features are ape-like, a common way the Irish were portrayed in 19th-century illustrations.

In the background Nast adds the burning Colored Orphan Asylum and a lynched figure to remind viewers of the Irish-American and Democratic involvement in the Civil War draft riots in New York City. As New York governor, Seymour had vigorously opposed the draft and notoriously addressed the rioters as "My friends."
In that case, Nash's cartoon combines anti-immigrant prejudice against Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans with a defense of civil rights for blacks. The Republican Party in the 1850s had campaigned against the Democrats accusing them of being the Party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion", lumping the Irish Catholic immigrants in with Southern seditionists, and not entirely without cause. The post-1848 Catholic hierarchy in Rome opposed the abolitionist movement, regarding it as a form of "Red Republicanism".

The middle figure is Nathan Bedford Forrest, who represents the influence of former Confederates in the post-war Democratic party. He wears his Confederate uniform, with a lash-symbolizing slavery-in his back pocket, and stands ready to plunge a knife-signifying the Confederate war effort, "The Lost Cause"-into his black victim. On Forrest's coat is a medal honoring his command at Fort Pillow, the epitome of Confederate atrocities against black soldiers.

In the background, pictorially balancing the inflamed orphanage, Nast includes a burning freedmen's school, representing the violent resistance of many white Southerners to the freedom and advancement of blacks in society. Forrest was one of the organizers of the Ku Klux Klan.
Forrest was also a founder of the original Ku Klux Klan terrorist group.

The figure on the right is August Belmont, a financier who was the national chairman of the Democratic party. His apparel is upper-class, and the "5th Avenue" medallion on his coat refers to the wealthiest neighborhood in New York City where he lived (a numerical and cultural counterweight to "5 Points").

Republicans often charged Democrats with various types of vote fraud, so Nast draws Belmont holding aloft a packet of money designated for buying votes. One could infer that by contrast with the representative figures of Belmont and the Irish-American, that the Republican party is, in Nast's estimation, the party of the honest, hard-working, middle class.
Whatever vote fraud the Democratic Party was committing in 1968 was kid's stuff compared to the chronic voter fraud and voter suppression that would become standard features of segregation after the overthrow of the democratic Reconstruction state government in the 1870s.

The description also includes the guy being trampled upon:

Underneath the three Democratic characters is a black Union veteran, holding an American flag and reaching for a ballot box. Nast felt obliged to emphasize the fact that black men had earned the right to vote through their participation in the Union war effort. In having the Democrats trample the American flag, as well as the black man, the artist implies that they are attacking basic American principles and the entire nation, not merely one minority.
What "the artist implies" was, of course, the plain truth.

Andy Hall uses this cartoon as well to illustrate his post, Radical Reconstruction, Insurgencies, and the Concept of Dau Tranh Dead Confederates 02/01/2012. This deals with how some military analysts look to the anti-democracy resistance of the Southern "Redeemers" to provide lessons for present-day counterinsurgency warfare. I tend to think it's not a very promising approach, especially if the historian is looking for lessons about counterinsurgency warfare of the colonial brand, in which a foreign country is attempting to suppress a rebellion in a country that has a very different nationality, dominant ethnic groups and religion than the occupier. As much as the Confederate states may have put up a pretense that they were creating a distinct nation, they were part of the United States and the inadequate military forces occupying them during Reconstruction were American forces, almost exclusively white and Christian ones that spoke the language, if not exactly with the same accent.

I discussed another article dealing with Reconstruction and the "Redeemer" revolt in a Confederate "Heritage" Month post in 2010. As I said there:

What the South needed after the war was political democracy, protection of basic human rights, and Northern capital. Their failure to provide the first two contributed mightily to their inability to attract the third. The political unrest, including the violent activity of the Ku Klux Klan and other white terror groups that were extensively documented at the time in Congressional hearings, created a climate of uncertainty and fear that was anything but conducive to Northern investment and in-migration. Those were disadvantages that conservative white Southerners chose for themselves, not ones imposed on them by federal failures. For the white power structure in the South, preserving white supremacy even in the absence of slavery was more important than democracy, the Constitution or Northern capital investment.
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sallie parker said...

One of the problems with the Nast cartoon (among hundreds) is that his cliché "Irishman" caricature does not look anything like actual Irishmen of the period. Quite the contrary. Take a look at New York Police Supervisor John A. Kennedy, or assistant Provost Marshall Col. Robert Nugent, or General Thomas Meagher, or Gen. Michael Corcoran, or Gen. Patrick Cleburne or Gen. George Meade...or even Mayor Hugh Grant or Tammany Boss Dick Croker. Nast's demented-looking pixie does however slightly resemble Nast himself, sans the beard.

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