The Civil War in America sparked much interest in other countries, especially in England. England’s economy was closely tied to the cotton-producing economy of the South. The South also shared a common heritage of aristocracy that was not present in the North. These factors led many English people to support the Southern cause, despite their disavowal of slavery thirty years earlier. International interest in the Civil War sparked during this period, as evidenced by the swarm of political cartoons that emerged in foreign publications. One cartoon entitled “One Good Turn Deserves Another” addresses the role of black soldiers in the war. The cartoon shows “Old Abe” handing a rifle and supplies to a freed slave named Sambo, who looks confused as to why he should be given arms. During the course of the war, over 180,000 black soldiers fought for the Union.
One of the most dramatic and controversial events of the Civil War was Lincoln’s release of the Emancipation Proclamation at the start of 1863. Following this landmark event, Southern cartoons became dramatically more venomous toward the North and especially toward Lincoln. Volck’s cartoon entitled “Writing the Emancipation Proclamation,” depicts Lincoln sitting in a devilish chamber while authoring the document. A demonic inkwell rests on the table, which also features ornate demonic figures. Lincoln is sitting in an aggravated position, as if he is being led on by some supernatural force. A picture of the slave riot in San Domingo hangs on the wall, signifying Volck’s predictions for the results of the Emancipation Proclamation in America. This theme of linking Lincoln with satanic imagery was very popular in the South.
“Masks and Faces,” published in Southern Illustrated News, continues the theme of linking Lincoln with demonic imagery. The caption reads “King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.” The cartoon equates Lincoln with the Devil, holding a human mask in his left hand. In his right hand is a chain symbolizing his attempts to dominate the Southern states. In the background is a partially completed Washington monument “representing the Southern belief that the forefathers had fought for rights that included slavery (Smith 76). Resting atop the Washington monument is a noose that signifies the South’s hatred for Lincoln. On the ground is a scrolled up copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with the date “Jan 1. 1863” scribbled upon it. “Masks and Faces” works to capture the South’s hatred of Lincoln and their deepest belief that their fight is a just one.
Cartoons from abroad also shifted in tone following the release of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sir John Tenniel is often remembered for his scathing depictions of Lincoln. His cartoon entitled “The Federal Phoenix” was his most vicious attack on Lincoln’s efforts in releasing the Emancipation Proclamation. In the cartoon, Lincoln is depicted as a phoenix, the legendary bird that bursts into flame at death and is reborn from its own ashes. On the chest of the bird is a shield with the stars and stripes upon it. The most startling aspect of the image is in the contents of the fire—wooden stakes labeled “Commerce,” “United States Constitution,” “Free Press,” “Credit,” “Habeas Corpus,” and “State Rights” are fueling the fire. The symbolism in this cartoon suggests that in order for Lincoln breathe life into the United States once again, it will be at the cost of all the things held most sacred. This biting cartoon encapsulates the anxiety among the English upper classes with Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War.
The war years presented America with a diverse set of topics to satirize and parody. Depictions of Lincoln during these years were scathing in the North, South, and abroad, but they became even more vitriolic after his release of the Emancipation Proclamation. This development in tone, as well as the increase in quantity and quality of the cartoons during these years, assured their success and longevity in the decades to come.
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