The Role of Caricature in Political Persuasion, 1862-1912
November 20 to December 30, 2009
The President Benjamin Harrison Home exhibited over one hundred original sketches and published political cartoons from 1862 through 1912 will examine the evolution of the art form and the lives of popular artists who produced and popularized such symbols as Uncle Sam, Miss Columbia, and even the donkey and the elephant, the icons by which the two major parties are known today.
The exhibit focused upon a fifty-year span during which the political cartoon maintained a unique role in political persuasion. It represents a time when technological advancement in the print media resulted in a vastly expanded readership, and a period devoid of conflicting and competing forms of media communication that mark the electronic age.
With the onset of the Civil War, the lives of hundreds of thousands of families felt the pain of seeing sons, husbands, and fathers march to the battlefields. A ravenous hunger developed for war news. Black and white weekly newspapers such as Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly filled their pages with etchings of camps, battle scenes, officers and political leaders. The images of Grant and Lee, of Lincoln and McClellan, came to be instantly recognizable by the readership at home.
The opinion of the publishers was from time-to-time injected in the form of caricature, and in the post Civil War years, the political cartoon came of age. Led by Thomas Nast and his unrelenting attack in Harper's Weekly upon the corrupt Democratic “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall, and by Nast’s efforts to reelect President Ulysses S. Grant, cartooning quickly proved to be a powerful tool in shaping public opinion.
Nast, at Harper's, and Matthew Morgan, at Leslie's, were soon joined by Joseph Keppler, Bernard Gillam and a host of others, drawing in a lighter, more satirical vein for newspapers and in an explosion of color for Puck and Judge, magazines that came of age with the development of chromolithography.