Satirizing Strife: Currier and Ives Political Cartoons

By Meg Sutter ’16

Currier and Ives’ prints were a large part of the media during the Civil War era. Not only were Romantic prints sold and hung in people’s parlors, but cartoons were also very popular. It is important to remember that Currier and Ives’ goal was not to produce fine art, but to make a product that was attractive to middle-class consumers. Thus, political and social cartoons became a way to attract customers. They tried to stay away from controversial topics; however, their Darktown series was one of their best-selling series of the day. Today, the Darktown series is rarely displayed and relatively unknown because of its controversial depictions of slavery and African-Americans. The press also rarely took sides, but when pushed upon took up the side with the more popular argument. Special Collections is fortunate to have two Currier and Ives cartoons. The first cartoon, discussed below, illustrates a common criticism towards the Union during the war, mocks a political conflict before the war, and the other displays a common criticism towards the Union during the war.

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For Those at Home: The Romantic Nature of Civil War Lithography

By Meg Sutter ’16

Lithography, the art of drawing on stone, was an important part of American Victorian culture during the Civil War. Not only did lithography provide news in pictorial form, but it also was widely displayed in the home. With the economic move from home to factory during the early 19th century, the home became more of a “sanctuary” in which women could decorate and display.

Lithography became a cheap and popular way to express a certain family sentiment; these lithographs were normally hung in the parlor where the family entertained guests. As Peter Marzio noted, this artwork was a sign of “a fondness for home and a desire to cultivate virtues, which made home peaceful and happy.” It also became a kind of media in which news and popular opinion reached the masses. Lithography is very important to historians today, because it gives great insight into the culture, home, news, and popular opinion of the Civil War era.

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