Political Cartoons: An Introduction What is an editorial Political cartoon?



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Political Cartoons: An Introduction
What is an editorial Political cartoon?

  • Newspaper editorial cartoons are graphic expressions of their creator’s ideas and opinions. In addition, the editorial cartoon usually, but not always, reflects the publication’s viewpoint.

  • Editorial cartoons are based on current events. That means that they are produced under restricted time conditions in order to meet publication deadlines (often 5 or 6 per week).

  • Editorial cartoons, like written editorials, have an educational purpose. They are intended to make readers think about current political issues.

  • Editorial cartoons must use a visual and verbal vocabulary that is familiar to readers.

  • Editorial cartoons are part of a business, which means that editors and/or managers may have an impact on what is published.

  • Editorial cartoons are published in a mass medium, such as a newspaper, news magazine, or the Web.

  • Editorial cartoons are tied to the technology that produces them, whether it is a printing press or the Internet. For printed cartoons, their size at the time of publication and their placement (on the front page, editorial page, or as the centerfold) affects their impact on readers. The addition of color may also change how readers respond to them.

  • Editorial cartoons differ from comic strips. Editorial cartoons appear on the newspaper’s editorial or front page, not on the comics page. They usually employ a single-panel format and do not feature continuing characters in the way that comic strips do.

  • Editorial cartoons are sometimes referred to as political cartoons, because they often deal with political issues.

What tools does the editorial cartoonist use to communicate ideas and opinions with readers?

  • Caricatures are drawings of public figures in which certain physical features are exaggerated. Caricatures of Richard M. Nixon often show him as needing to shave.

  • Stereotypes are formulaic images used to represent particular groups. A stereotypical cartoon mother might have messy hair, wear an apron, and hold a screaming baby in her arms.

  • Symbols are pictures that represent something else by tradition. A dove is a symbol for peace.

  • Analogies are comparisons that suggest that one thing is similar to something else. The title of a popular song or film might be used by a cartoonist to comment on a current political event.

  • Humor is the power to evoke laughter or to express what is amusing, comical or absurd.

How can an editorial cartoon be evaluated?

  • A good editorial cartoon combines a clear drawing and good writing.

  • A good editorial cartoon expresses a recognizable point-of-view or opinion.

  • In the best instances, the cartoon cannot be read or understood by only looking at the words or only looking at the picture. Both the words and the pictures must be read together in order to understand the cartoonist’s message.

  • Not all editorial cartoons are meant to be funny. Some of the most effective editorial cartoons are not humorous at all. Humor is only one tool available to editorial cartoonists.

      1. Political Cartoon: Reconstruction



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This political cartoon from the period of Reconstruction depicts how Southern society was oppressed by Radical Republican policies. The main congressional action that led to the Southern viewpoint expressed in this cartoon is the military occupation of the former Confedeate states from 1865 to 1877. Thus this cartoon shows that Reconstruction was a burden on the South and was forced on the South by the federal government.




  1. What U.S. President is seated atop the carpet bag?

  2. What do the weapons and soldiers in the cartoon represent?

  3. What is this cartoonist’s view of Reconstruction?





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This cartoon from a Southern Democratic newspaper depicts German born Carl Schurz, a liberal Republican U.S. Senator from the State of Missouri who advocated legal equality for African Americans. Schurz is shown as a carpetbagger trudging down a dusty Southern road as a crowd of people watch his arrival.


  1. Is Schurz shown in a positive or negative light? How can you tell?

  2. Why do you think the cartoonist chose to place the crowd of onlookers at such a great distance from Schurz?



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It says: The Trust Giants Point of View



What a fussy little government
This cartoon was drawn by someone who was obviously very critical of John D. Rockefeller's policies. It was drawn during the height of Rockefeller's power and wealth. The cartoon shows Rockefeller as a giant, completely in control of the Supreme Court, as he is apparently putting bags of money inside the building. The background shows the US Capitol Building with smoke stacks on it, surrounded by a huge field of oil drums. Rockefeller had much government influence, being the richest man in the world at the time. His use of horizontal integration gave him an oil monopoly, which would have given him enough money to make sure his supporters would be elected to powerful offices. The cartoon was obviously designed for people that weren't rich. The poor and middle class Americans who felt the economic strain of Rockefeller's monopoly would get the full effect of the cartoon. The cartoon shows how Rockefeller's business practices are not in the best interest of anyone other than himself. The main idea is that Rockefeller has complete control over the US government. The cartoon would serve to make people who were previously unaware of Rockefeller's practices angry with him, and also affirm the suspicions of those who had questioned him already.


  1. Who is the man pictured in the political cartoon?

  2. List what symbols you see in the political cartoon

  • U.S. ______________ building

  • Factories and factory smoke stacks (pollution)

  • The U.S. Supreme Court Building

  1. Why is he putting bags of money in the Supreme Court Building?

  2. What is the meaning of this Political Cartoon?

  3. How does the artist feel about the person depicted in the political cartoon?




      1. Political Cartoon: Gilded Age and The Industrial Revolution

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John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was one of the biggest and most controversial “big businesses” of the post-Civil War industrial era. Rockefeller entered the oil refining business in 1863 and though highly competitive practices, he began to merge with or drive out of business most of his competitors. Though this process of horizontal combination, by the 1880s the Standard Oil Trust controlled 90% of the oil refining business in the U.S. Because of the size of his enterprise, Rockefeller was able to dictate favorable shipping terms from the railroads, the other major big businesses of his day—a sign of the economic power of Standard Oil. Note how in this cartoon Rockefeller’s crown is labeled with the names of rail lines that he effectively controlled. By keeping transportation prices low, Standard Oil delivered less-expensive oil to market, pricing out much of the competition. Once the competition was gone in particular regions, Rockefeller could resume higher prices. With Standard Oil’s size and wealth, no oil company had any hope of outlasting Standard Oil in such a situation.


  1. Who is the man depicted in this political cartoon?

  2. What is he wearing on his head and what does it indicate about him?

  3. By being able to dictate favorable shipping terms, Standard Oil Company was able to do what?

  4. What did this result in for Standard Oil Company?



      1. Political Cartoon: GILDED AGE and the Industrial Revolution

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The title: “The Standard Oil Octopus
The cartoon “The Standard Oil Octopus”, and other similar ones that were seen with the rise of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust, accurately represents the differing viewpoints of the wealthy “captains of industry” and those of average working class Americans during the Second Industrial Revolution. This new class of wealthy industrialists truly believed in the all-American image of opportunity for the common man and social Darwinism, that is, survival of the fittest. The only reason that they could fully clear their moral conscience for taking advantage of workers and consumers to make profit was by convincing themselves that they had the ultimate right to engage in such practices.
Clearly, Americans who were not lucky enough to part of such an elite class were severely dissatisfied by the industrialists’ use of their corporate power. The octopus’ head is representative of the central trust of the Standard Oil Company, composed of a board of trustees headed by Rockefeller. The tentacles represent the way that the trust controlled every aspect of every branch of the Standard Oil Company, across the entire nation. Cartoons such as these led to the widespread distrust of industrialist methods, as the tentacles surrounding the governmental buildings indicate Rockefeller’s use of bribery to influence Congressmen and other officials to prevent the passing of anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws. Once such cartoonists revealed to Americans this ultimate corruption in the governmental system, the ruthlessness of industrialists such as Rockefeller became painfully clear and they became an enemy of the public, constantly portrayed in a negative light, causing Americans to have mistrust in corporate systems as a whole. Regardless of how Rockefeller justified and rationalized his methods, his reasoning would not be heard by American workers and consumers, who saw only the unjust consequences of his trusts.


  1. List all the symbols that you see in the political cartoon.

  2. What or who does the octopus represent?

  3. How did the wealthy industrial feel about taking advantage of workers and consumers?

  4. How did American’s feel about trust and big business?



      1. Political Cartoon: Gilded Age and Big Business

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The Bosses in the Senate” 1889



Drawn by Joseph Keppler - a prominent Populist cartoonist for Puck, this 1889 political cartoon attracts attention to the gross power of industrial lobbies over the Senate. Emphasized in "The Bosses of the Senate", industrialists were learning to win their monetary games through the submissive hands of government, specifically the Senate. During this era, much of industry's monetary success sprung from coalitions formed by competing corporations. In order to diminish the hindrance of a free market's price fluctuations (as competition favored decreasing prices), many industries formed internal alliances amongst their corporations to coordinate prices and resource allocations. From this, the monopolists benefited, but the wider public was left behind. Senators, shown here as small but happy, were inclined to play puppets for the fat money sacks of business-backed trusts both because big business provided the overwhelming majority of government tax revenue and industry financed many senator's political assurances. Drawn before the first anti-monopoly law - the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, this cartoon was influenced by Keppler's contemporary perception that congress was subject to the will money sacks of trusts more than it was to the voice of the people. Capital had become the new capitol.
Ensconced by the epitaph "This Senate is of the Monopolist, by the Monopolist, and for the Monopolist", the Senate announces its purpose is to uphold the Monopolist (as opposed to the People). This inscription contradicts the Constitution, and was meant to reveal that the government was moving away from its foundational purpose. Also predominating this image, the huge size of corporate lobbies is contrasted to the small stature of the senators. This disparity, between the pithiness of the legislators and the towering gaze of the industrialists, emphasizes how it was industrialist power that truly occupied the Senate's seats of power. Labeled "Steel Beam Trust", "Copper Trust", "Standard Oil Trust" and other resource "trusts", the imposing figures of corporate trusts reference lobbying trusts created to congressionally clear the way for economic success for corporations such as Carnegie's US Steel, JP Morgan's Railroads, and Rockefeller's Standard Oil. The diminutive door in the second story gallery's far corner is labeled "Public Entrance", whereas the grand aperture to the lower right is titled "Entrance for Monopolists". Trusts' accessibility to the Senate floor is broad and open, while the public's voice is locked out of consideration entirely. The public voice had been expelled by the weight of preeminent monopolies and their financial persuasion.


  1. Why do you think the businessmen are drawn so large?

  2. What are some of the trust that the “fat cats” represent in the political cartoon?

  3. What legislative body is seated in this political cartoon?

  4. Why would the Monopolists Trust have a larger open door to the Senate floor and the American public have a second floor door?




      1. Political Cartoon: Business and Government Corruption



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In the 1880’s, Jacob Sharp expanded his New York City streetcar business by bribing New York city alderman and other government officials.




    1. What symbols represent the corruption of city government?

    2. According to the cartonnist, what is the effect of the street railroad monopoly on the taxpayer?

    3. How does the political cartoon illustrate the problems with many city governments during the Gilded Age period?



  1. Political Cartoon: Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Act

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The cartoon pictures above displays the racist cruelty expressed in the Chinese Exclusion act. The ‘allow list’ seems hyperbolic but when though about is true. Communists, Socialists, etc… were all allowed to enter into the USA but the Chinese were forbidden because they were stereotyped to only stay for a few years then leave with the American money they made. The cartoon also emphasizes the American virtues of freedom and liberty on the gate and America as a melting pot. The act was very controversial because it was actually based on racial discriminatory stereotypes which went against much of which America was about. The Chinese worked on the railroads for long periods of time and many were dubbed as all unskilled laborers who were stealing jobs from other Americans then moving out of the country. This stereotype was the basis for the Chinese Exclusion Act. Some, with great difficulty were able to gain access and immigrate to the USA with permission from the government, but this was near impossible to do. The cartoon displays how the Chinese were unfairly locked out of American because of their race and were unable to obtain citizenship.





    1. What group was denied entry? Why?

    2. What group or groups were welcome? Why?

    3. What country is located on the other side of the “Golden Gate of Liberty”?

How do you know this?

9. Political Cartoon: Gild Age Immigration

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Where the Blame Lies



The political cartoon “Where the Blame Lies” by Grant E .Hamilton is an illustration of the view of immigrants that many American citizens in the late 19th century held. It was originally published in Judge on April 4th 1891 in New York. The author, Grant E. Hamilton was one of the most well-known cartoon artists of the time period. “Where the Blame Lies” shows Uncle Sam looking down disapprovingly upon recently arriving Immigrants to America. Uncle Sam represents the whole of America as a personification of American values. The cartoon maker obviously believes that the values of America would not be upheld by many of these immigrants that he portrays in his cartoon. He attempts to provide what he believes is a view of immigrants that is shared by the average man.
In the late 19th century, the number of immigrants to America reached new heights. These new immigrants were different from previous immigrants. The previous immigrants had been from the more traditionally democratic states of Western Europe while the numerous new immigrants were mainly from Eastern Europe. They came from Eastern European countries, ones who generally had a history of being either a dictatorship or a socialist regime. Their political views were at many times contrary to many of the American people and this scared the Americans because they believed it could be possible that the sheer number of immigrants could eventually overwhelm them. This is the reason that in the cartoon one of the men is labeled German Socialist and another is labeled Russian anarchist. Not only does the cartoon illustrate the fear felt by the common man toward political ends, but also toward his fear for his job. Many of the immigrants were severally poor and therefore willing to work for much lower wages. This threatened the job security of many of these Americans and eventually became part of the leading charge for advocates of immigration reform. This cartoon advocates for immigration reform because it paints a picture of the immigrants that would be left out in a reformation as criminals or paupers or people with extremely different political beliefs. Hamilton’s charge against immigration is mainly intended for the common man, and seeks to make him think that immigrants are different from him in both political and moral forms and also that they are dangerous to him because they undermine his job security. It is a very important cartoon because it provides a glimpse into the ideology behind the beginning of immigration reform. The name “Where the Blame Lies” implies that the blame of many issues lies directly upon the back of the many newly arrived immigrants to the American continent.
Which political issue does this cartoon illustrate?

    1. the effects of unchecked immigration

    2. the health effects of the factory system

    3. the effects of low American wages

    4. the effects of prohibiting alcohol on society




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Welcome To All


In the first cartoon, we see Uncle Sam extending his arms to welcome a group of immigrants. While the origins of these immigrants is not specific, we can see that they are escaping "demons" such as war (here, students might also list famine, poverty, and political/religious oppression). Uncle Sam is standing onboard the "U.S. Ark of Refuge." To the left is a sign that reads, "free education, free land, free speech, free ballot, free lunch," a commentary on all that the United States has to offer. Above the immigrants reads another sign: "no oppressive taxes, no expensive kings, no compulsory military service, no knouts or dungeons." For those wondering, a knout is a type of whip with multiple tips. Finally, students might also point out that the immigrants appear rather well-kept.

The cartoon Welcome to All! expresses new immigrants' positive outlook on starting a new life in America, and it depicts the country as a land of freedom and opportunity. In the image, Uncle Sam, a representative of America, welcomes people from various nations with open arms. He and the U.S. Ark of Refuge mirror Noah and the ark. Uncle Sam is shown leading the immigrants away from the darkness of their home countries and into the "U.S. Ark of Refuge." The author of the cartoon, Austrian-born Joseph Keppler, was an immigrant himself. Upon arriving to the United States, he founded Puck, America's first successful humor magazine, which became wildly popular with a large audience. Keppler became highly influential. His personal success allowed him to view the American Dream in a positive way, which is indicated in the cartoon. Welcome to All! was published in Puck in 1880, around the time when the country witnessed a tremendous wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. There were several reasons for immigrants wanting to come to America, including persecution and widespread poverty in their mother country. Although most immigrants faced grim reality and a hard new life, this cartoon focuses on conveying the initial optimistic beliefs of new immigrants wanting to begin a new life in the U.S.




  1. What are the five (5) benefits that immigrants might receive in America?

  2. What is Uncle Sam doing atop the plank?

  3. What attitude about immigration does this cartoon present?

      1. Political Cartoon: Gilded Age Immigration

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Looking Backward” January 11, 1893

In the mid-1880s the number of immigrants to the United States from northern and Western Europe declined sharply. At the same time, the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe greatly increased. The changing pattern of immigration concerned many Americans who believed the newcomers represented, in the language of the time, inferior “races” of Europeans. The new immigrants were overwhelmingly non-Protestant Christians—either Roman Catholic or Orthodox—or Jewish and thus not Christian at all, which disturbed many Protestant Americans. This cartoon makes an ironic commentary on the children of immigrants rejecting the arrival of new immigrants.


  1. What groups of people are represented in this political cartoon?

  2. What point was the artist trying to make?

  3. What are the men doing on the dock?

  4. Why are they doing this?

  5. What do the shadows represent?

  6. What attitude about immigration does the cartoon now present?

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