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Political Cartoons in U.S. History

Beginning in 1754, when Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, political cartoonists have long used their skills to praise, attack, caricature, lampoon, and otherwise express their opinions on the most urgent political issues of the day. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, political cartoons appear in a wide range of online publications and can still stir up controversy. This Library of Congress primary source set of cartoons and other items are grouped around several major events in U.S. history. This set also includes a Teacher's Guide with historical context and teaching suggestions.

http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/political-cartoons/

Child Labor in Maryland Canneries

Lewis Hine reports on child labor in Maryland canneries. Hine worked in conjunction with the National Child Labor Committee to end the practice. He documented the dire working conditions of children across the country and produced numerous reports on the issue as well as a wealth of photographs.

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Child Labor: An Awful Blot

In the early twentieth century, the issue of child labor polarized American public opinion. The 1914 cartoon by Lewis Hine clearly depicts child labor as a blot on the nation. Those against child labor argued that the work was unsafe and dangerous for young children and that it impaired both their education and physical development.

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The Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776: the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America. The first issue of the Declaration of Independence [was] printed with the names [except that of Thomas McKean of Delaware] of the signers.

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Join or Die

Benjamin Franklin's warning to the British colonies in America "join or die" exhorting them to unite against the French and the Natives, shows a segmented snake, "S.C., N.C., V., M., R., N.J., N.Y., [and] N.E."

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King Andrew the First

A caricature of Andrew Jackson as a despotic monarch, probably issued during the Fall of 1833 in response to the President's September order to remove federal deposits from the Bank of the United States.

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No Lack of Big Game: The President Seems to Have Scared Up Quite a Bunch of Octopi

The 1912 presidential candidates Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt battled over the question of which candidate was the true “trustbuster.” This newspaper clipping of a cartoon shows Theodore Roosevelt, dressed as a Rough Rider, aiming a rifle at two octopi scurrying away; one labeled "Beef Trust" and the other labeled "Standard Oil Trust"; a bird labeled "Hard Coal Trust" flies away.

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The Downfall of Mother Bank

This image is a pro-Jackson satire applauding the President's September 1833 order for the removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States. The combined opposition to this move from Bank president Nicholas Biddle, Senate Whigs led by Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, and the pro-Bank press are ridiculed.

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The Massachusetts Spy

Benjamin Franklin was a main proponent of the “Albany Plan of Union,” which proposed combining the colonies into a single political entity. Colonial delegates approved the plan unanimously after some debate and revision, but each of the seven colonies rejected the plan. This leaflet provides some insight into the desire for a union of colonies as well as the urgency of defending them against France.

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Well, What Are You Going to Do About It?

This cartoon depicts Woodrow Wilson with a nefarious-looking German diplomat, holding a note that says “Lusitania Conversation at a Deadlock,” a portrait of a Lusitania victim in the background. Wilson urged the German government to stop attacking unarmed ships, but many believed that Wilson needed to take a bolder course of action.

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The Bostonian's Paying the Excise-Man

This print shows five men forcing a tarred and feathered customs officer to drink from a teapot and a bucket and a liberty cap on the ground at his feet. They stand beneath the "Liberty Tree" from which a rope with a noose hangs; in the background, shadowy figures on a ship dump tea overboard.

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Anti-Confederacy Cartoon Showing Southerner's Reaction to Lincoln's Determination

This image portrays the reaction of a “Southern Gentleman” to Lincoln's request for troops and funds for military action in 1861.

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The New York Tribune: The Sinking of the Lusitania


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American State Papers: Naval Affairs


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The San Francisco Call: Steel Trust Back of Theodore Roosevelt


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Political Cartoons in U.S. History: Teacher's Guide

Beginning in 1754, when Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, political cartoonists have long used their skills to praise, attack, caricature, lampoon, and otherwise express their opinions on the most urgent political issues of the day. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, political cartoons appear in a wide range of online publications and can still stir up controversy. This Library of Congress primary source set of cartoons and other items are grouped around several major events in U.S. history. This set also includes a Teacher's Guide with historical context and teaching suggestions.

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Journal of the Senate

With the nation on the brink of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln made a dramatic request to Congress for troops and funds for military action on July 4, 1861. The Senate Journal recounts Lincoln’s address to Congress.

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President Jackson's Veto of the Bank Bill

The Second Bank of the United States was established in 1816 and was criticized as a monopoly. The Bank’s president pushed for an early renewal of the Bank charter in 1832, an election year. President Andrew Jackson swiftly vetoed the re-charter and transferred millions of dollars of Federal funds from the Bank.

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A Message from His Excellency

Governor Dobbs wrote this letter to the North Carolina General Assembly in regards to the pending "French-Indian War." Governor Dobbs proposes a plan to unite with the British for future mutual defense.

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Another Bloody Nose for John Bull

The artist gloats over naval losses suffered by England early in the War of 1812, in particular the defeat of the warship "Boxer" by the American frigate "Enterprise" in September 1813. King George III stands at left, his nose bleeding and eye blackened, saying, "Stop...Brother Jonathan, or I shall fall with the loss of blood...I thought to have been too heavy for you...But I must acknowledge your superior skill...Two blows to my one!...And so well directed too! Mercy, mercy on me, how does this happen!!!" On the right, his opponent James Madison says, "Ha-Ah Johnny! you thought yourself a "Boxer" did you!...I'll let you know we are an "Enterprising Nation and ready to meet you with equal force any day." In the background, on the ocean, two ships are engaged in battle.

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Wilson's Suggestion for a Political Cartoon

This cartoon depicts Roosevelt wielding a baton labeled “legalized monopoly” while conducting a chorus representing the different trusts singing "Control Us Again." The cartoon also notes that Wilson states that Roosevelt is pro-monopoly. Since trusts were a source of potent political anger, each candidate attempted to bolster his anti-monopoly credentials.

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