Thomas Nast pretty much owned public opinion in the 19th-century. Widely regarded as the "Father of the American Cartoon," the Bavarian-born caricaturist cut his teeth at Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News. In 1862, Harper's Weekly gave him a shot at the big time. Initially hired to illustrate Civil War battle scenes, the ardent abolitionist made a name for himself with his powerful allegorical cartoons. After the war, Abraham Lincoln summed up his contribution: "Thomas Nast was our best recruiting officer." We've compiled 7 Civil War cartoons that made people extremely angry. 

1. "The Emancipation of Negroes” (1863)

This 1863 homage to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation presents readers with a look into the future. Featuring freed African Americans in a happy family setting, the main image reaffirms Nast's Republican vision of a nation founded on equality and tolerance. The surrounding vignettes serve as a powerful reminder of the grief and pain of African slavery in America. 


2. "Christmas Eve" (1862)

Published in the 1862 Christmas issue of Harper’s Weekly, this illustration depicts a soldier and his wife, separated but thinking of and praying for one another. Cheery images of Saint Nick are interspersed with somber scenes of soldiers marching through frozen graves "that refer to the Union's recent failure to take Fredericksburg, Virginia, and many subsequent deaths from exposure." 


3. "The Colored Volunteer" (1863)

Published In 1863, this Nast lithograph depicts a preschool-age "colored volunteer" practicing his marching skills with a broom. This coincided with the increased use of black troops in the war effort. 


4. "Compromise With the South" (1864)

This 1864 Nast creation shows Confederate and Yankee shaking hands over a tombstone. The inscription reads: "In Memory of the Union-Heroes who fell in a use-less war. Columbia is kneeling at the grave." What's the message? If we capitulate to the South now, all of our soldiers will have died in vain. 


5. "The Union Christmas Dinner" (1864)

Nast's 1864 illustration shows Abraham Lincoln welcoming Confederate soldiers to Christmas dinner. By December 1864, a confederate defeat seemed a foregone conclusion. Nast got into the spirit of the season. His holiday illustration advocated "mercy for the vanquished and sectional reconciliation for the nation." Translation: If the Confederacy will lay down its arms the Union will welcome them back into the fold. (Wishful thinking on his part but you can't blame the guy for trying.)


6. "Pardon and Franchise" (1865)

Published in 1865, this Nast cartoon contrasts "Confederate politicians and generals applying for pardons, which may give them the right to vote and hold office, with a black Union soldier who has lost his leg and does not have the right to vote." Long story short, we've won the war but we're a long way off from a fair and just society. 

 

7. "Colored Rule in a Reconstructed (?) State" (1874)

This Nast cartoon stands out from the restand not in a good way. Published nine years after the end of the Civil War, the illustration doesn't paint African-American politicians in a very flattering light

"This is an image of the South Carolina legislature and a critique of a sort of the informal – and some had argued–corrupt politics that were going on in that government at that period of time, an exaggeration...In this picture, you have Liberty chastising African-American politicians and saying, you know, you should be behaving properly, the way freed people behave."

The caption reads: "You are Aping the lowest Whites. If you disgrace your Race in this way you had better take Back Seats."


All images courtesy of HarpWeek