Nativism and the Irish Vote


 “Exultant Tammanyite”
  Cartoonist:  Michael Angelo Woolf
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   October 30, 1880, p. 695

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
Over the decades of the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, Harper's Weekly consistently condemned the discrimination and violence manifested in the United States against black Americans, American Indians, and Chinese-Americans. At the same time, the newspaper advocated the basic civil rights of those groups, and their incorporation into American political, social, and economic life. Catholic Irish-Americans (see "Nativism" in Issues), however, were treated very differently by the editors, reporters, and artists of Harper's Weekly. There were two basic reasons for this distinction: religion and politics.

The publishers and staff of the journal were, for the most part, Protestant or secular Liberals (in a 19th-century understanding of the word). The Harpers, for example, were Methodists, and long-time editor George William Curtis was a Unitarian. They believed that the Roman Catholic Church was an antiquated, authoritarian institution ("Medieval" would be a common term of derision) that stood against the "Modernism" of a free, progressive society and democratic political institutions. Irish-Catholics were often suspected of being loyal primarily to the Vatican, rather than to the United States, and of being unassimilable by nature or stubborn will. Protestant Irish, on the other hand, were praised, on the few occasions when they were considered by the paper.

Furthermore, Irish-Catholics were overwhelmingly aligned with the Democratic party. They were more actively involved in politics than many other ethnic groups at the time, and constituted a key voting bloc for the Democratic party at all levels: urban, state, and national. Beginning with the 1864 presidential election and ending with the 1884 presidential election, Harper's Weekly was a staunchly pro-Republican newspaper. Granted, it was more independent than a mere party-organ would be, thanks in large part to Curtis's editorials, but it still could be counted on to promote Republican positions and candidates and to attack Democratic policies and candidates. To the Harper's Weekly publishers and staff, the Democratic party was the party of slavery, secession, civil war, vote fraud, political corruption, and violence. The Irish were often considered to be pugnacious by nature or nurture, and were believed to play a major role in the violence and corruption of the Democratic party, especially through urban political machines, such as New York City's Tammany Hall.

This cartoon by Michael Angelo Woolf encapsulates much of those sentiments. The artist plays with the name of the Democratic party's vice-presidential nominee, William English, by substituting it with "Irish." The picture establishes the stereotypical Irishman (poor and accented) as the foundation of the national Democratic party ticket and associates him with Tammany Hall.













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