Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Fiona Deans Halloran. Dr. Halloran teaches U.S. history at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Prior to her arrival at Rowland Hall, she spent four years teaching 19th-century American history at Eastern Kentucky University, as well as several years in the history departments at Bates College and UCLA, where she earned her PhD in 2005. Dr. Halloran is the author of Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons (UNC Press, 2013). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Huntington Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, and has served as an Associate Fellow of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford.
CWI: Who was Thomas Nast? What are some of his most famous illustrations and political cartoons? How did Nast’s personal background, motivations, and ideals influence his work?
HALLORAN: Thomas Nast was America’s first famous political cartoonist. Famous for his cartoons in support of the Republican Party and for his attacks on William M. “Boss” Tweed, Nast was celebrated for the force and wicked wit of his artistic commentary on American politics. The son of a politically-active father and a man who hated hypocrisy in public life, Nast’s fun-loving, idealistic personality infused his cartoons with a sense of fun that appealed to a deeply politically active generation of Americans. Continue reading “From Santa to the Civil War: Fiona Deans Halloran on the Political Cartoons of Thomas Nast”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Mr. Harold Holzer, one of the nation’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. A prolific writer and lecturer, as well as a highly sought-after guest on television, Mr. Holzer served for six years as the Chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and for ten years as the co-chair of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. In 2008, he was the recipient of the National Humanities Medal. He currently serves as the Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Mr. Holzer has authored, co-authored, or edited 52 books and 560 articles and reviews for both popular magazines and scholarly journals. His most recent major work, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War For Public Opinion (Simon & Schuster, 2014), won numerous prestigious awards, including the Lincoln Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Institute.
CWI: How did Lincoln’s relationship with the Constitution, the American people, his political allies and adversaries change or evolve over the course of the war? What were Lincoln’s priorities as a wartime president, and how did he strive to balance conflicting priorities?
HOLZER: Lincoln did a Blondin-like tightrope act as Civil War President—Blondin, by the way, was the most famous tightrope walker of his day—most adroitly when he tried to balance the interests, and maintain the support, of both abolitionists and conservatives. Nowhere was this delicate touch more urgently required than in his effort to maintain the loyalty of the slaveholding Border States, many of whose residents were dubious about Union, and certainly opposed to emancipation. That Lincoln actually gained support over the years in a once-hostile state like Maryland, where he had been driven in 1861 to wearing a disguise and sneaking through the state to reach Washington for his inaugural, represented one of his greatest political triumphs. He thought so, too. Continue reading “Abraham Lincoln as Wartime President: 4 Questions for Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer”
Currier and Ives’ political cartoons, while comical, also represent the general undertones of the time as well as people’s feelings regarding this era of political controversy. The election of 1860 was an incredibly important one because, not only were there numerous political and social divides, but the South had threatened to secede. The political cartoon “The Irrepressible Conflict” or “The Republican Barge in Danger,” released in 1860, gives historians a good understanding of the reactions to not only Seward’s speech but also the wariness of Lincoln’s nomination and eventual election.
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.