Election Panic! Political Cartoons from American History

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As we are in the midst of what appears to be the most divisive—and, frankly, frightening—presidential election in recent times, perhaps we can find solace in the fact that throughout our history, many of the same issues that appear so current actually have their roots decades prior. Indeed, the issues of immigration, corruption, mudslinging, terrorism, race relations and trustworthiness have been a mainstay of American politics almost since the beginning. Here are a few graphic examples:



As this illustration by J.S. Pughe from the August 1899 edition of Puck demonstrates, the issue of undesirable immigrants (The Hyphenated American) reaches way back. As the shift changed in the mid-1880s of immigrants to the United States from northern and western Europe to those from southern and eastern Europe, largely Italian and Jewish, many Americans believed those would never be “true” Americans and they should not have the privilege to vote in general elections.



In 1871 the main Democratic political machine in New York City, The Tweed Ring of Tammany Hall, employed extortion, kickbacks, and other illicit acts to steal millions from the city and county coffers. Illustrator Thomas Nast, perhaps best known for creating our contemporary images of Uncle Sam and Santa Claus, portrayed the gang of four comprised of William “Boss” Tweed, Peter Sweeny, Richard Connolly, and Oakey Hall as vultures preying on America in the July 1871 issue of Harper’s Weekly.



With our own contemporary golden haired calf, who’s followers apparently care little for the truth or decency of what he has to say, it’s important to recall that this has been a bastion of American presidential politics. When Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant ran for president in 1868 his Democratic opponents branded him a demigod who had little supporting his political reputation, other than his civil war service and relationship to fellow Republican Abraham Lincoln. Artist Joseph Keppler captured the mood for Puck.



At the end of the 19th century, many U.S. businesses grew into monopolies. This illustration from Puck by artist Frederick Burr Opper, captures the mood of many Americans of the time. It portrays rail tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt decrying, “The public be damned!”, simultaneously stomping on an American eagle. The government did little to stave off the greed and influence of such monopolies to the detriment of smaller businesses and workers.


Along the same line, also from Puck, this illustration by Horace Taylor portrays John D. Rockefeller exerting undue influence over the U.S. Supreme Court, if not complete control.



While the Anarchist movement began as a legitimate political philosophy advocating small local governance, and was closely aligned with organized labor’s union movement, its image quickly tarnished. Soon the bomb carrying anarchist became the meme of its time, with Uncle Sam being called upon to wipe out this threat.



As one of the leaders of the American anarchist movement, Emma Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth in 1906. This cover portrays how, during the presidential election of 1912, those in favor of unions, women’s emancipation, and other progressive concerns were considered unpatriotic and un-American and their free speech should be not be tolerated. That election was significant in that a third party, The Progressive Party, was formed after Republican candidate Teddy Roosevelt lost his party’s nomination following incumbent President William Howard Taft renomination by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson won the general election the following November.


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