Lincoln and the Republicans


 “Billy Seward, the Celebrated Black Republican Minstrel, Retiring from the Stage”
  Cartoonist:  Unknown
  Source:  Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun
  Date:   July 15, 1860, p. 1

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
At the Republican National Convention in mid-May, delegates selected Abraham Lincoln, a former one-term congressman from Illinois, as the party’s presidential nominee. He defeated the frontrunner, Senator William Henry Seward of New York, who is pictured here as “the Celebrated Black Republican Minstrel, Retiring from the Stage.”

In Antebellum America, minstrel shows were very popular, especially at Democratic Party events. White performers blackened their faces with burnt cork or greasepaint, dressed as plantation slaves, and parodied the songs and dances of black slaves. Democrats also denigrated their political rivals with the racist nickname “Black Republicans,” which implied that the Republican Party supported full racial equality. In fact, most Republicans only opposed the expansion of slavery into the Western territories and did not want complete racial equality.

From the cartoonist’s Democratic point of view, Seward had been acting like a black man (minstrel) and advocating racial equality (Black Republican) because of his outspoken opposition to the expansion of slavery. Seward had been one of the leading founders of the Republican Party in the mid-1850s and was known for his argument that the expansion of slavery was contrary to both the U.S. Constitution and “higher law” (i.e., universal moral law). He also contended that the Southern economic system based on slavery and the Northern economic system based on free labor were in “irrepressible conflict.” Therefore, it was imperative to halt the expansion of slavery into the West so that free labor would eventually triumph.

In the cartoon’s text, “Weed” on the wall poster refers to Thurlow Weed, the New York political boss who supported Seward’s career; “Greeley” indicates Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune who was instrumental in Lincoln’s nomination; and “bones” denotes an instrument resembling castanets, which was played at minstrel shows, and the namesake of a stock minstrel character, Mr. Bones.













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