September 27: Thomas Nast
On this date in 1840 Thomas Nast, the Father of the American Cartoon, was born. Nast was the most influential political cartoonist of the nineteenth century. His work impacted every presidential election from 1864 until 1884.
“As a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast wielded more influence than any other artist of the 19th century. He not only enthralled a vast audience with boldness and wit, but swayed it time and again to his personal position on the strength of his visual imagination. Both Lincoln and Grant acknowledged his effectiveness in their behalf, and as a crusading civil reformer he helped destroy the corrupt Tweed Ring that swindled New York City of millions of dollars. Indeed, his impact on American public life was formidable enough to profoundly affect the outcome of every presidential election during the period 1864 to 1884.” —Albert Boime
The ClipArt ETC website includes over 250 Thomas Nast cartoons related to many political and social topics of the second half of the nineteenth century. We’ve included sample cartoons below grouped by some of the topics Nast was best known for.
Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall
Boss Tweed had gained control of the New York City government by 1870. Tweed and his associated defrauded the city of millions of dollars. Nast began his cartoon campaign against Tweed in earnest in 1871 and by November of that year, Tweed and other members of his corrupt ring were removed from office. Two years later, Tweed was convicted and sentenced to jail.
Nast depicts Shandley and Tweed rehearsing A Mid Summer Night’s Dream where Shandley is Puck. Shandley (as Puck): “Allow me to immortalize you, Boss!” Tweed (realizing his part): “I most emphatically and decidedly object to it. I am not deficient in common-sense.” Illustration from the ClipArt ETC website.
The primary concern of the Grant administration was Reconstruction. Grant was also the first president to successfully push civil service legislation through Congress. Previously, government positions were handed out to party faithful as part of a spoils system. Grant attempted to create a civil service based on merit, not political favoritism.
Presidential Election of 1876: Hayes vs Tilden
The 1876 presidential was one of the most disputed elections in American History. After a compromise in which Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, Republican Rutherford Hayes was awarded 20 contested electoral votes squeaking past Democrat Samuel Tilden 185-184. The troop withdrawal effectively ended Resconstruction and ceded power in the South to Democratic Redeemers.
Nast is remembered for creating or popularizing political cartoon characters well-known even today. He created the elephant as the symbol of the GOP and established the modern visualization of Santa Clause. He also modified and popularized cartoon characters for Uncle Sam, Columbia, and the Democrat party.