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5.4: The Political Cartoons of Thomas Nast

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

Thomas Nast is perhaps the most famous political cartoonist in American history. He worked for the New York-based weekly magazine Harper’s Weekly. Nast and Harper’s supported the North in the Civil War, taking a liberal and somewhat elitist Republican position. Both of the cartoons below feature a white female character called ‘Liberty’—a common symbol of the period. What does the symbol remind you of? Note the dates of the cartoons and the similarities and differences between them.

Franchise – Thomas Nast

Source: A political cartoon drawn by Nast in 1865.(Figure below).

FRANCHISE. AND NOT THIS MAN?

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who drew these cartoons? What magazine were his cartoons published in? What do you know about this magazine?
  2. Contextualization: When were the two cartoons drawn? What do you know about this time period?
  3. Sourcing: Think back to the differences between Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans. Before looking at the cartoons, do you predict this cartoonist would be in favor of Radical Reconstruction? Why or why not?
  4. Describe the African American man in this cartoon. Why do you think he’s on crutches?
  5. What is Liberty asking for?
  6. What is the message of this cartoon?

Colored Rule in a Reconstructed (?) State - Nast

Source: A political cartoon drawn by Nast in 1874.(Figure below).

Columbia. (The members call each other thieves, liars, rascals, and cowards.) “You are Aping the lowest Whites. If you disgrace your Race in this way you had better take Back Seats.”

Questions:

  1. Describe the African Americans in this cartoon. Is this a positive or a negative image? Explain.
  2. What is Liberty trying to do?
  3. What is the message of this cartoon? How does it differ from the message of Cartoon #1?

Section Questions:

  1. In what ways are these cartoons similar?
  2. In what ways are these cartoons different?
  3. Why might the cartoons have different messages?
  4. What do these cartoons tell us about the how the North felt about freedmen during Reconstruction?

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CK.SOC.ENG.SE.1.History-U.S.-Basic.5.4
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