Battlefield Analogy


 "Both Sides of the Question"
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   October 24, 1868, p. 681

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Military and, more specifically, battlefield analogies were common in 19th-century political cartooning. Thomas Nast's use of the genre in this elaborate two-page cartoon allows him to highlight the martial leadership of General Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican presidential nominee, during the Civil War. It furthermore provides the cartoonist with another opportunity to associate Grant and the Republican party with loyalty to the Union-they are dressed in the dark blue of the Union troops-and Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour and his supporters with rebellion-they are outfitted in the gray worn by Confederate troops.

On the center-left, Grant stands resolute, staring steely-eyed at Seymour (who draws back in fear) and seemingly breathing fire with his cigar. A confident Schuyler Colfax, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, looks over Grant's shoulder. Nast places himself in the lower-left of the cartoon, sitting on the grass and sharpening his pencil. Other major figures on the Republican/Union side include Generals Philip Sheridan (waving his cap), John Logan (behind Sheridan's left shoulder), William T. Sherman (to Sheridan's right), and Ambrose Burnside (with the mutton-chop sideburns). Horace Greeley, maverick reformer and editor, reads an issue of his New York Tribune.

On the right-center, bumptious Frank Blair, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, thrusts his sword forward from behind Seymour's shoulder. Confederate admiral Raphael Semmes stabs his knife defiantly into the air as he looks at a glaring General Robert E. Lee. In front of them, former Confederate president Jefferson Davis squats on the ground, dazed and dejected. New York gubernatorial candidate John Hoffman wields a club in one hand and a gun in the other. In the foxhole (lower-right), President Andrew Johnson peeks at the other side, while General George McClellan, the 1864 Democratic presidential nominee, peers at his political opponents through binoculars. McClellan's endorsement of Seymour had been belated and decidedly lukewarm, and he rejected several planks in the 1868 Democratic platform.

The cartoon in the upper-left reveals that the reality behind Blair's deceptive charge of "military despotism" against Grant is an attempt by the general to protect black and white Republicans in the South from the brutality of the Ku Klux Klan. Although the sign above the arch reads "Freedmen's Bur[eau]," that temporary federal agency had ceased to exist in July 1868.

The center cartoon envisions Democratic financial policies hurting the working class (center and left), while benefiting the upper class (right), gathered outside the posh Manhattan Club. A sign atop the door of that exclusive club carries the name of the Democratic national party chair, August Belmont.

The cartoon in the upper-right is a grim admonition that a vote for the Democratic ticket will be the political equivalent of the suffering and death experienced by Union prisoners of war at the infamous Confederate camp at Andersonville.













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