Emancipation

April 3rd, 2009

This cartoon was a wood engraving by Thomas Nast and appeared in the Harper’s Weekly newspaper on January 24, 1863 on page 56 and 57. The cartoon depicts a nationwide response to Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of January 1. Emancipation marked the completion of the anti-slavery movement. The drawing contrasts slavery’s past with a fairly optimistic rendition of the future for newly freed slaves. While the left side of the drawing retells many evils of slavery, the right side displays a progressive future in which African Americans become productive, contributing members of society. Campaigning against the evils of slavery, and the Confederate cause overall, Nast displays a brutal whipping, an emotional slave auction, and the frightening hunt for fugitive slaves. The jubilant Columbia character on the right side links emancipation with patriotism. Former slaves are seen being treated with respect by their former masters, collecting pay for their work, and even attending school. At the center of all this is a reunited family representing the end to the forced separation of families due to the interstate slave trade. The cheerful family marks the end of slavery’s hardships across the Union and the beginning of a new era that Nast believes will be one of great progress. The cartoon, as it was half fiction, was an essential tool of propaganda commonly used in newspapers such as Harper’s Weekly to promote the victories of the war and the moral high ground possessed by the Union. The cartoon was meant not only to promote the political agenda of the Lincoln administration, but also weaken the position of the Confederacy and its sympathizers. In the same fashion that the Emancipation Proclamation only initially targeted slaves in Confederate states, the drawing depicts not only the evils of the slavery that was but also the mutual benefit that would come of freedom. By linking emancipation with a greater patriotic duty the need for a Union victory in the Civil War would have much greater popular support.

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