Whether funny or infuriating, the world has often underestimated the power of political cartoons. They have made presidents and destroyed crooked politicians. They have fostered social movements, fomented revolutions, and brought down whole kingdoms. Here in America, they have been a time-honored tradition for more than two centuries.
Here are 18 masters of political cartooning, from 1800 to the present.
1. Thomas Jefferson Toppling Government, Early 1800s
This cartoon titled "Mad Tom in a Rage" depicting Thomas Jefferson — encouraged by the devil — attempting to pull down the pillar of federal government is described by historians as "typical of the Federalist attacks on Jefferson" at a time when he and Alexander Hamilton headed opposing political camps in New York.
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2. King Andrew Jackson I, 1832
President Andrew Jackson despised the Second Bank of the United States, created after the War of 1812 to help stabilize the national money supply and overall banking and commercial environment. Jackson thought it elitist, anti-republican, and unconstitutional. Jackson’s veto of the bill passed by Congress in 1832 to renew the charter of the bank provided one of the most bitter political issues of that period. Above we see a cartoon depicting Jackson as King Andrew I.
3. Seven Southern Succession States, 1861
This political cartoon consists of seven circles, each representing one of the seven cotton-growing states that seceded from the Union in 1861: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas. Intertwined among them is a serpent representing the serpent of treason that, according to the Union, was "hatched" from the egg (the shape of the background for the circles) of secession.
4. Civil War Dead, 1864
A political cartoon titled "Columbia Demands Her Children" from 1864 is a representation of the nation asking President Abraham Lincoln for an accounting of the war dead.
5. Thomas Nast’s Anti-Tammany Cartoons, 1871
Ironically, the “Father of the American Cartoon” was German-born caricaturist and editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). Nast secured his greatest fame in history with a series of cartoons that destroyed the career of Tammany Hall leader Boss Tweed, the commissioner of public works for New York City, who with his associates defrauded the city by inflating expenses of contractors tied to the crime ring. Arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud, Tweed fled to Cuba and Spain in 1875 but was captured when an official there recognized the fugitive by using one of Nast’s cartoons.
The cartoon at the top titled "Who Stole the People’s Money" was published in Harper’s Weekly on Aug. 13, 1871. The lower one, “The Tammany Tiger Loose,” appeared in Harper’s on Nov. 13, 1871. Nast gave us today’s well-known visual representations of the iconic Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Republican Party elephant, the Democratic Party donkey, and Columbia (America as a woman in flowing gown and tiara, carrying a sword).
6. Ulysses S. Grant, 1877
President Ulysses S. Grant is depicted as a drunkard trying to reach a lamppost in a political cartoon circa 1877 when it was intimated he would not be against a third term in the White House.
7. Political Marked Man, 1884
Maine Republican politician James Gillespie Blaine (1830-1893) served as a United States Representative, Speaker of the House of Representatives, a U.S. Senator from Maine, and twice as Secretary of State. Blaine was suspected of corruption regarding the awarding of railroad charters, allegations that disrupted his 1884 presidential campaign, which he lost to Grover Cleveland. This early campaign cartoon from Punch Magazine depicts Blaine as the tattooed man in the circus, trying in vain to rub from his skin the record of a life of misdeeds.
8. McKinley vs. Bryan, 1900
Cartoonist Grant Hamilton made fun of the presidential race between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan in this cartoon from September 1900.
9. Teddy Roosevelt as Warmonger, 1916
Former President Theodore Roosevelt is pictured standing atop "Sagamore Hill," his home near Oyster Bay, N.Y., trying to take off on his "Big Stick." The illustration, captioned “White House or Bust,” was created during the election of 1916.
10. FDR and the Supreme Court, 1937
The upper cartoon, dating from Feb. 6, 1937, satirizes President Franklin Roosevelt’s “court packing plan.” The Supreme Court had struck down several New Deal reforms, and so Roosevelt proposed the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would allow Roosevelt to appoint an additional member to the Supreme Court for every sitting justice over the age of 70; this would have resulted in a total of six new justices at the time the bill was introduced.
The lower image is a cartoon headed "Well, it'll be up to the rest of the tenants to keep him quiet," by S.J. Ray that ran in the Kansas City Star on Aug. 1, 1937. One of nine nominees to the Supreme Court by Franklin Roosevelt, Hugo Black was a staunch supporter of the New Deal, but his nomination was controversial because of his one-time involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. He also had ideological foes on the court.
11. Dr. Seuss Goes to War, 1940s
The three World War II cartoons above were by the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991), drawn for the progressive New York daily PM newspaper in the early 1940s. In the top cartoon, Seuss lampoons the America First Committee, an 800,000-member pressure group that opposed American entry into World War II. (It disbanded after the attack on Pearl Harbor.)
In the middle cartoon, Seuss takes aim at Britain’s Prime Minister Chamberlain and all those in Britain and France who appeased Hitler by allowing his initial “acquisition” of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
In the lower photo, Seuss pokes fun at Hitler attempting to “play” (rule) all of his conquests.
12. Herblock, Critic of Both Right and Left
Herbert Lawrence Block, known simply as Herblock (1909-2001), was an American editorial cartoonist and author celebrated for his visual take on national domestic and foreign policy. In a nearly nine-decade career, Herblock won four Pulitzer Prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other awards.
The title of the upper cartoon, "Light! More Light!", is taken from Goethe’s last words. It was drawn between 1933 and 1939 with ink, crayon, and opaque white over a blue pencil underdrawing on layered paper.
In the middle is a reproduction of the original drawing "You mean I'm supposed to stand on that?", which mocks the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The bottom cartoon, published June 16, 1949, in the Washington Post, shows a room piled high with boxes of text books addressed to the House committee and is captioned: "Okay- now to find somebody that can read."The cartoon comments on the possible threat to education freedom by the House Un-American Activities Committee in calling for school text books to be scrutinized.
13. Dewey in the Driver’s Seat, 1948
In the above cartoon by Associated Press artist Milt Morris, presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey is depicted as being in the driver's seat on June 25, 1948, having received his party’s nomination. (Dewey would lose the election to Harry Truman, however.)
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14. Cold War Tensions, 1961
The above cartoon, also by Morris, illustrates Cold War conflicts and anxieties from July 27, 1961.
15. Supreme Court’s Helping Hands, 1969
In this July 13, 1969, drawing by AP artist Ed Hodgins, a white hand reaches to grasp a black hand as a depiction of the Supreme Court's edict to make integration immediate.
16. George Bush ‘Rockets’ Al Gore, 1999
Steve Kelley, cartoonist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, says he hadn't fully developed his signature caricature of Bush when he drew this 1999 cartoon. The cartoon got the point across nonetheless.
17. The Over Thinker, Barack Obama, 2010
A visitor walks past a cartoon called "The Over Thinker," depicting U.S. President Barack Obama, during an exhibition called "Russia and the U.S.: Political Cartoons of Past and Present" at the State Museum Of Political History Of Russia in St. Petersburg on Sept. 28, 2010. The exhibition, which displayed more than 100 caricatures, illustrated important political and social events and prominent personalities of both countries.
18. Japan Protests Snow White, 2011
Shown above is a cartoon published in the International Herald Tribune on April 21, 2011. Japan's Consulate General in New York on that day lodged a protest with New York Times Co., owner of the newspaper, for publishing the cartoon in which Snow White, carrying a newspaper with the headline ''Japan nuclear radiation,'' asks an old woman offering an apple if she comes from Japan.
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