The structural transformation of American society wrought by the Civil War dramatically outpaced the changes in Americans' racial attitudes. In many ways, the promise of emancipation would not be legally realized until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. To the current day, of course, the tensions of racial coexistence continue to perplex and frustrate the culture. In this light, it is important to understand the ways in which popular media contributed to the nation's social and political climate.

Clearly, Civil War-era political cartoons formed just one sphere of popular discourse in which representations of race were a central concern. The role of nineteenth century visual satire in perpetuating images of African-Americans should be seen in the context of a multitude of other media: abolitionist tracts, proslavery novels, newspaper editorials, political speeches, minstrel shows, et cetera.

However important the satire of the Civil War actually was, political prints had not reached their zenith. Cartoons actually enjoyed their greatest currency in the Gilded Age, when succesful magazines like Harper's Weekly and Puck featured the impressive talent of their artists over that of their writers. Many of these cartoonists were employed as correspondents during the Civil War; their own intellectual and artistic development paralleled that of the medium which they helped popularize. Nevertheless, the success and influence of visual satire during the Civil War shows the period to be a significant landmark in the history of American political art.

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