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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Political Cartoons: Public Opinion Forged with Humor from the Blacksmith Shop


How would Donald Trump look at the anvil? Traditionally, political cartoons have portrayed US Presidents as blacksmiths and, sometimes, farriers. Here you see President Woodrow Wilson portrayed in 1917  as a striker, not the smith. Uncle Sam is the smith, and he is urging Wilson to swing and hit, while the iron is still hot. The shoe has "crisis" written on it; it probably refers to the hesitation of the United States under Wilson to abandon isolationism and enter World War I on the side of the Allies. This old political cartoon by William Allen Rogers is from the archive of the Library of Congress's Cabinet of American Illustration.

Saturday Night Live notwithstanding, there hasn’t been much to laugh about during the 2016 US Presidential Election. And ever since former-farrier Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the Democratic primaries last year, there have been almost no tie-ins at all to hoofcare, horseshoes or even horses, unless you count Donald Trump's reference to Secretariat's big bronze statue at Belmont Park in his victory speech.


But it hasn’t always been that way. In the past, people got their news (and opinions) from reading newspapers, and the editors were clever enough to know that political cartoons would attract the eye and get people to read them, at least, if they didn’t want to read columns of type. Cartoons were important. They were the Twitter of past 300 or so years.

The common blacksmith shows up time and again in political humor, and in many spectacular political cartoons, the entire scene was set in a forge. And this is just in the United States; in the old Soviet Union and other communist countries, the noble blacksmith was the ideal icon of the worker proletariat, so he was a star of newsprint, not to mention his hammer and anvil.

To mark tonight’s election, and to take anxious minds off what may (or may not) lie ahead, The Hoof Blog offers a gallery of some outstanding political cartoons set in the smithy, or starring blacksmiths.

And this is not a new tradition: the oldest surviving political cartoon set in the forge was published in 1776--on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Forging Fetters for the Americans”: Fetters refer to a chain or manacle used to restrain a prisoner, usually by shackling the prisoner's ankles. This cartoon etching was published in England according to Act of Parliament, 1776, as the British response to the American Revolutionary War. 




“Forging Fetters for the Americans” shows the interior of a blacksmith's shop where not horseshoes but shackles are being forged by powerful British noblemen.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, is forging the links to a chain to re-bind the rebellious colonies. Prime Minister Lord Frederick North, author of the prohibition of trade act that led to the Boston Tea Party, is standing to the left holding his opera glasses and, in his right hand, his “tea act”. North’s trade restrictions also banned American colonists from making their own nails for shoeing horses, as well.

John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich (“Lord Sandwich”) was charged with waging a naval war on the colonies (which had no navy, at the start of the war). He is aiming a hammer rather weakly at an anchor, which he steadies in a bare hand. John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute is working the bellows chain between North and Sandwich, with other unidentified men coming and going. Looking through a window at left is King George III.

For more details or to learn more: Library of Congress file on this print.


A Word to the Wise, 1863


A more pointed example comes from the May 2, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, which carried news of the Civil War as it was draggedon. Yankee Doodle (a.k.a. Uncle Sam), cautions a British blacksmith against his over-confidence as he forges a sword for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy: “Wal, look out it don’t fly up and hit yer in the eye!” On the wall of the smithy is a sign reading "Palmerston & Co. Armourers to the C.S.A.", and below it: "England's Vice" with "rapacity" emblazoned on the reins of the vice. Lord Palmerston was Prime Minister of England during the Civil War, even though he was anti-slavery. He sought to keep the Confederacy as an English ally and source for cotton and tobacco, and also to limit the growth of the United States, which he saw as a growing threat in the picture of world powers. 

England exported horseshoes to the Confederacy, a commodity much needed; a few horseshoes lie on the floor of the forge.

This cartoon was published 60 days before the Battle of Gettysburg.

Canada's White Elephant, 1879

In Canada in 1879, the Conservative party under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald had a plan to unite their nation from end to end and stimulate employment, partly by using tariffs to remove competition on trade from US manufacturers and partly by  building a transcontinental railroad system.

Liberal opponents referred to Macdonald’s policies as a "white elephant". In this early cartoon, John Macdonald is forging leg bands for the white elephant, each labeled with a part of his policy at the anvil. 
This cartoon is reproduced courtesy of the McCord Museum of Canadian History.

The Democratic Smithy - Odd Shoes for the Mule, 1883

It takes a political party to shoe a mule. In this case, that party was the Democrats. True, the mule probably ought to be a donkey, since that is the symbol of the party, but this is politics! This cartoon by master artist Bernhard Gillam appeared in the magazine Puck on June 20, 1883 and features, among others, President Grover Cleveland, who is working the forge.

In a blacksmith's shop, politicians are hard at work in "The Democratic Smithy", which appeared in the humor magazine Puck in 1883. You can see tariff-defending US Speaker of the House Samuel Randall of Pennsylvania (far left) nailing on a shoe labeled "Protection". A white beard singles out Tammany Hall-era New York mayor (and later US Congressman) Abram Hewitt, who also was an iron industrialist who began the Cooper-Hewitt Trenton Ironworks and built the New York subway. His shoe is labelled "Free Trade".

Congressman and Civil War General Benjamin Butler, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, wearing a square hat, is nailing on the "Incidental Tariff" shoe.

 Louisville, Kentucky journalist (and later Congressman) Henry Watterson works on a shoe labeled "Western Policy" and Delaware Senator Thomas Bayard reaches for a shoe labeled "Elastic Policy".

In the right foreground, conservative New York Tribune editor Charles A. Dana is cooling rods; notice that each rod has a politician's head forged on it. At the forge fire itself are the man who would become the presidential candidate in the next election Grover Cleveland.

In the background on the right are Tammany Hall boss John Kelly, controversial journalist and Democratic politco Joseph Pulitzer of New York, and New York's Oswald Ottendorfer, editor of the influential German-language paper, all suggesting that the Democrats had the press on their side.

The poor mule--notice it is not a Democratic donkey--is labeled "Democracy". On the wall in the upper left, a notice states "Tariff Tinkering Done Here".

Puck was the first successful humor magazine in the United States and was published from 1871 until 1918.


The Big Shipper as The Village Blacksmith, 1906



The blacksmith shop was the setting for a parody of the plight of small companies in the pages of Puck in 1906. The illustration by Udo Keppler shows a large man labeled "Big Shipper" as a blacksmith flattening a tiny man labeled "Small Shipper" on an anvil labeled "The Rail Road". His hammer is labeled "Rebates"; on the floor, at his feet, is a pile of coins labeled "Illegitimate Profits", and eager schoolchildren (with the faces of known politicians of the day) gather at the entryway hoping to "catch the burning sparks that fly like chaff from the threshing floor".

Under the art, Puck has penned a politically-potent revision of Longfellow's great poem, "The Village Blacksmith".


Teddy Roosevelt as The Village Blacksmith, 1910


Here's Theodore Roosevelt as "The Village Blacksmith" in Puck Magazine in 1910 on August 3. The artist was L.M. Glackens.

President Theodore Roosevelt, with his hand resting on a sledgehammer labeled "My Policies", is standing at the entrance to his shoeing shop. "T. Roosevelt Horseshoer & Wheelwright" says the sign over the door; a sign on the wall states "Autos, Air-ships & Bicycles Repaired".

In 1910, when the cartoon was published as a lavish double-page spread, Roosevelt had finished his term as president. This cartoon represents the chaos of unfinished business he left behind. Roosevelt would run for president again in 1912, unsuccessfully, as a third-party candidate with the Bull Moose Party. He was shot while giving a campaign speech--and still managed to finish the speech.

All was chaos in his front yard in 1910, according to Puck. Road signs labeled "Republican Turnpike" are pointing into the background. At center and right is a jumble of ruined vehicles. A wagon labeled "Indiana Campaign" has lost a wheel, and President Taft is driving a sulky labeled "Aldrich Tariff". It is drawn by the Republican elephant, and has lost the rim to one wheel.

A woman labeled "Woman's Suffrage" is holding a bicycle with damaged tires, "La Follette" is pointing to the foot of a horse labeled "Wisconsin Campaign". "Parsons" and "Woodruff" are in an automobile that has had an accident, "Murdock" appears to be kicking one of the tires, an airplane labeled "Conservation" with "Pinchot" and "Garfield" on board, has crashed into a tree labeled "Ballinger".

In the lower left corner is the shadow of the Democratic donkey.


Between the Hammer and the Anvil, 1944




Have you ever been caught between a rock and a hard place?  Long before the Rolling Stones' great song, the more common expression was to regret being stuck between the hammer ("le marteau" in French) and anvil (l'enclume" in French). That expression took on new meaning during World War II, when French artist Jean Carlu published this bit of modernist French Resistance political art during the German occupation of France.

We all know that the Allies invaded Europe in June 1944 on D-Day when they landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. What is less known, and not always acknowledged, is that D-Day's master plan had two parts. The Normandy invasion was code-named "The Hammer", and an invasion from the south of France was code-named "The Anvil". The goal was to crush the German forces, signified by the swastika, that were occupying France between "The Hammer" and "The Anvil". Hence, this poster's double (and secret) meaning.

"The Anvil" invasion was delayed by campaigns in North Africa and the difficulty in freeing Rome, while "The Hammer" proceeded as planned.

Even though the meaning of the poster was out of sync when the two invasions didn't happen at once, this poster was still distributed to give hope to the French people that they would be liberated.

Thanks to the Library of Congress and other sources for assistance compiling this collection. These are just a few of the cartoons published in magazines like Puck and Punch.

To learn more:

Political Animals: Republican Elephants and Democratic Donkeys (Smithsonian Magazine website, October 2012)



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