Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Nast
    Book Description:

    Thomas Nast (1840-1902), the founding father of American political cartooning, is perhaps best known for his cartoons portraying political parties as the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant. Nast's legacy also includes a trove of other political cartoons, his successful attack on the machine politics of Tammany Hall in 1871, and his wildly popular illustrations of Santa Claus forHarper's Weeklymagazine. Throughout his career, his drawings provided a pointed critique that forced readers to confront the contradictions around them.In this thoroughgoing and lively biography, Fiona Deans Halloran focuses not just on Nast's political cartoons forHarper'sbut also on his place within the complexities of Gilded Age politics and highlights the many contradictions in his own life: he was an immigrant who attacked immigrant communities, a supporter of civil rights who portrayed black men as foolish children in need of guidance, and an enemy of corruption and hypocrisy who idolized Ulysses S. Grant. He was a man with powerful friends, including Mark Twain, and powerful enemies, including William M. "Boss" Tweed. Halloran interprets Nast's work, explores his motivations and ideals, and illuminates Nast's lasting legacy on American political culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0023-9
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE From Five Points to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News
    (pp. 1-18)

    Thomas Nast enjoyed the knowing wink. To his biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, he told a version of his early life. Another version, more complete but less charming, lay within the reach of any knowing reader. Between the two lay not only Nast’s experiences, insofar as they can be reconstructed, but also his lingering discomfort with the world that produced him. By the time Nast, born September 27, 1840, won his first job, he knew more of New York’s streets than he cared to admit. But the streets forged him. In his work as an artist and a political analyst, Nast’s...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Early Work and Training
    (pp. 19-38)

    Employment atLeslie’soffered Nast income and a position within the thriving center of New York illustrated journalism. But Nast was still very young. His work for Leslie served only a part of his artistic ambition. In search of more training, better technique, and wider experience, Nast roamed the city.

    On its streets and in its museums, studios, and neighborhoods, Nast received both an artistic and a political education. Scholars of political culture have long recognized the role that education plays in forging political values. But the idea of an education must necessarily be a fluid one. For Nast, as...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Travel to Europe and Sallie
    (pp. 39-58)

    As Nast absorbed politics in his neighborhood, at work, and abroad, he also, between 1859 and 1861, embraced adulthood. Travel in Europe provided Nast a window into the workings of the land he left as a child. He observed sport in Britain, war in Italy, and the uncertain charms of the Bavarian beer house. By the time Nast returned to New York, his training was complete. He joinedHarper’s Weeklyas an adult, an artist, and a world traveler. In the same years, Nast cemented the personal relationship that would undergird his artistic and professional success. Wooing and marrying Sarah...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Compromise with the South
    (pp. 59-90)

    On September 3, 1864, Thomas Nast’s cartoon “Compromise with the South” appeared inHarper’s Weekly. The cartoon was a hammer blow for Lincoln and against peace. In it, a Union soldier, head bowed, reluctantly shakes hands with the Confederacy over the grave of Union men who fell for a worthless cause.¹ A vote for the Democrats, Nast implies, is a vote that invalidates all our sacrifices. The weeping Columbia, collapsed at the foot of the grave, only reinforces the impending tragedy. The drawing was so popular thatHarper’sprinted a second run, and the Republican Party asked for the printing...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Falling in Love with Grant
    (pp. 91-118)

    Despite the success of his employment atHarper’s, Nast continued to experiment with other art forms and other avenues for self- expression. Illustrating books offered one lucrative option. As with his work atHarper’s, Nast’s drawings for books ranged from simply illustrative to sentimental to overtly political. He continued to paint as well, exhibiting his work in a variety of venues and exploring both traditional illustration and caricature. By the end of the 1860s, though, political themes had begun to dominate Nast’s work. The impeachment of President Andrew Johnson proved an irresistible subject. Even more exciting, and capable of keeping...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Tweed
    (pp. 119-144)

    In the late summer of 1871, Thomas Nast received a visitor to his Harlem home. The man was a representative of the Broadway Bank, and after an introductory period of small talk, he asked Nast whether it was true that he would be traveling to Europe soon to study art. Nast said that he was too busy to leave just then. “I have reason to believe,” the man replied, “you could get a hundred thousand dollars for your trip.”¹ Nast understood that this was a bribe, and that his visitor represented the Democratic machine, based at Tammany Hall. The machine’s...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Campaign of 1872
    (pp. 145-176)

    The fall of Boss Tweed firmly established Nast’s reputation. But the Tweed campaign represented only the beginning of a period of intense work and growing fame. Between 1871 and 1873 Nast demonstrated the power of his pencil beyond any doubt. In fact, while the cartoons of the fall of 1871 remain his most famous, Nast’s work in 1872 was more plentiful, more pointed, and much more focused on national politics. He became, in 1872, the most famous political cartoonist in America.

    Nast’s success in 1871 had a variety of consequences, not all of them anticipated. To the power of his...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Redpath and Wealth
    (pp. 177-196)

    By early 1873 Nast’s position among Republicans could not have been higher. Their adoration “became something near idolatry,” Paine says. But for Nast, the previous few months had been both exhilarating and trying. As his star rose, Nast experienced all the pressures of success. Invitations arrived for social and political events, and professional opportunities abounded. James Parton, despite mourning his wife, took time to write Nast a congratulatory note. “Apply at once for the Paris consulship,” he urged Nast, “andplease don’tget it!”¹ Samuel Clemens, an old friend, wrote that the “pictures were simply marvelous.”² Nast reveled in his...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Access and Authority
    (pp. 197-220)

    If the Morristown house cemented Nast’s status as a mature cartoonist—secure in his annual contract, lauded by his political party, and happy in his family life—it also served as a dividing line of sorts. From 1873 forward, Nast enjoyed a position of access and authority from which he could comment on practically any topic he liked. So in the years following Grant’s reelection, Nast addressed a variety of topics. Unsurprisingly, given the financial crisis of 1873, fiscal policy and the economic status of the nation caught his eye. Anti-Catholic, sometimes antipapal, cartoons appeared often. Nast’s Christmas drawings, popularized...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Conflict with Curtis
    (pp. 221-244)

    By 1876, Thomas Nast had every reason to rest on his laurels. His personal income was substantial, his fame was widespread, and his position atHarper’s Weeklyseemed unassailable. No one could have predicted that by the end of 1877 Nast’s ongoing conflict with editor George William Curtis would become a public clash, destroying Nast’s relationship with the magazine and with the Harper family. Nast continued to work forHarper’sfor another ten years, but the teamwork that characterized the paper in the 1860s and early 1870s was absent, and the ill feeling meant that Nast no longer communicated easily...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN The End of an Era
    (pp. 245-264)

    Between 1877 and 1884 Nast’s presence at Franklin Square was intermittent and punctuated by illness and clashes over rejected cartoons. He continued to work, submitting cartoons on a variety of issues.¹ But during these years, Nast’s fame and talent began to decline. Pain that had developed in his drawing hand in 1873 during his chalk talk tours persisted.² His connection to the public and to the staff atHarper’s Weeklysuffered, too. By the early 1880s, Nast’s career had begun its decline in earnest. The presidential election of 1884 only increased the speed.

    Nast’s absence fromHarper’s Weeklyin mid-1877...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE Nast’s Weekly and Guayaquil
    (pp. 265-282)

    In the aftermath of the election of 1884, Nast was exhausted. He took some pleasure in a visit from his friend Mark Twain, who was in Morristown for a stop in his lecture tour with George Washington Cable. The lecturers dined with the Nast family, enjoying fresh oysters. Twain enjoyed them so much, in fact, that Nast offered him seconds. “Don’t care if I do,” replied the humorist. Thirds? “Come to think of it, I believe I will.” Eventually, five servings were consumed. “Look here, Nast,” Twain remonstrated, “I didn’t know you had an oyster ranch in your cellar.” He...

  16. CONCLUSION Legacy
    (pp. 283-292)

    Nast’s death left his family bereft. For Sallie, the void was not only emotional but also financial. With the loss of much of Nast’s fortune in the Grant and Ward debacle and the remainder sunk into the Colorado silver mine andThomas Nast’s Weekly, Sallie had nothing left but her home and Nast’s collection of drawings, letters, and mementos.¹ Nast’s position in Guayaquil had not even lasted a year, and the income it would have provided had been the sole reason for Nast’s willingness to travel so far. After more than forty years, Sallie was back to a financial position...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 293-340)
    (pp. 341-356)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 357-366)