The Irish Question


 “Is This ‘The True American Policy’?”
  Cartoonist:  Thomas Nast
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   July 26, 1884, p. 473

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

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
The Irish-Catholic vote was an important part of the Democratic coalition, especially in the urban North. Irish-Catholics were repelled from the Republican party by that faction of it which backed the prohibition of alcohol, state-mandated Sunday closing of businesses, and denial of public funds to parochial schools.

By the mid-1880s, though, the divisiveness of the education issue had dissipated somewhat. Republican presidential nominee James Blaine believed that he could make inroads into the Irish voting bloc by criticizing British policies toward Ireland, by appealing to workingmen through the issue of tariff protection, and by capitalizing on Democratic presidential nominee Grover Cleveland's alienation of Tammany Hall (long associated with the New York Irish). Given the expected (and actual) closeness of the election, New York was crucial to each nominee. The Blaine camp spread rumors that Cleveland was an anti-Catholic bigot, and emphasized the fact that Blaine's mother was an Irish-Catholic.

In this cover-cartoon for Harper's Weekly, artist Thomas Nast depicts Blaine begging for the Irish-Catholic vote. Nast was known for drawing exaggerated, stereotypical images of Irish-Catholics, with ape-like facial features, servant's attire, whiskey bottle, and shillelagh, and for linking them with violence, corruption, and blind loyalty to the Vatican. The man in this cartoon is one of the caricaturist's milder versions of the stereotype. The placement of the figures indicates the power that the Irishman has over the candidate: the former sits (signifying authority), but is informally posed (connoting his disrespect), while the latter is on his knees with open arms in a posture of supplication. The sign on the back wall sarcastically derides the New York Tribune's comparison of Blaine to Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The cartoon also expresses the Mugwump (pro-Cleveland Republican) fear of the former secretary of state's bellicose foreign policy: "I'll screech like an AMERICAN WAR-EAGLE …"













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