A Nationalistic Narrative of the 1890s

Introduction

The idea of politics dominating the news isn’t anything new. For centuries, American politics and world news come to dominate the front page of every newspaper and always cause massive attention. This fact remains true in the American political sphere of the 1890s. This was a decade where not only the omnipotence of America’s empire steadily increasing, but its ego as well. Events such as Wounded Knee, the Spanish-American War, and the Wilmington Race riots of 1898 represented an emerging white-supremacy ethos along with a growing sense of imperialism that encapsulated the country. The overall dominance of the country was on the rise which lead to a subsequent rise in national narcissism and arrogance. The newspapers portrayed their attitudes towards the central government in the form of political cartoons. These cartoons would be depictions of either political leaders or specific foreign affairs painted in a more literal and sometimes jocular sense. Many of these political cartoons of the 1890s were propaganda that promoted nationalism and patriotism. Other cartoons depicted the rise of imperialism that was apparent in this country as well. These cartoons did a great job of representing the pompous nature of the American government and put the white supremacist ethos in visual form.

Cartoon #1:  “Out of the Frying Pan”, Louis Dalrymple, 1898, Puck Magazine

Out_of_the_frying_pan

This image is a classic example of pro-war propaganda during the 1890s. As tensions between America and Spain grew over the ownership of Cuba, the USA published cartoons such as this to gather support for the Cuban conquest. The cartoon depicts Cuba, a vulnerable and beautiful woman, looking for help as she is held in the frying pan of “Spanish Misrule”. Beneath her are the flames of anarchy, threatening her life. The woman, who looks very docile, is draped in the Cuban flag and looks like she is in need of guidance and assistance. The frying pan, on the other hand, is being held by a white hand, indicating that American (white, Anglo-Saxon) intervention is a necessity. There is a quote at the bottom of the cartoon lies a quote that says, “The duty of the hour-to save her not only from Spain- but from a worse fate”. By adding this quote to the cartoon, Dalrymple implied that this apparent “Spanish Misrule” was not only anarchy, but something that required American intervention. This cartoon most definitely inspired many Americans to the pro-war stance. At the end of the day, American intervention in the war lead to a fall of the Spanish state, and America got paid handsomely for their help. They were awarded new territories such as the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Although this military aggression seemed to be a giant step for American dominance, it breaks away from traditional American values. The United States broke away from their mother country, and promised to be a land of the free accompanied with natural born rights. After the war concluded, they absorbed many territories and stripped their inhabitants of their rights. A source from independent.org writes, “History taught that republics that engaged in frequent wars eventually lost their character as free states. Hence, war was to be undertaken only in defense of our nation against attack”(Raico 1).  America wasn’t under attack, but yet they still flexed their military muscles anyway.

Cartoon #2: “Uncle Sam and Little Aguinaldo- See Here Sonny, Whom are you going to throw these rocks at?”, Charles M. Bartholomew, 1898, Minneapolis Journal

aguinaldo

This cartoon is a depiction of what is known as the Filipino Insurrection. After the Americans won control over the Philippines from the Spaniards, a man named Emilio Aguinaldo thought that the country would be set free and be left to govern how they so chose. Aguinaldo was the leader of a Filipino rebel guerilla group, and had his hand in helping the Americans defeat the Spanish. In this cartoon, America is depicted as Uncle Sam, the leering, dominant figure we see so heavily injected in American political cartoons. Uncle Sam is looking down angrily at little Aguinaldo, who is collecting rocks himself. The cartoon is meant to mock Aguinaldo, implying that he is too weak and too feeble to seriously run an independent country. In the background, a much smaller and goofily dressed figure represents Spain. He’s there on purpose to indicate that Spain isn’t in the equation anymore. Bartholomew is questioning the legitimacy of the Philippine empire, and he strongly believed that they were too immature to self-govern. The whole idea of Aguinaldo depicted as a child and collecting rocks is a direct shot at the “American” belief of a Philippine dynasty. To conclude, it is apparent that this political cartoon resonates with the same message as many of the other cartoons of the time: America is a dominant, pure force that is rightful in its conquest of land and territory in the islands.

Cartoon #3: “School Begins”, Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1899, Puck Magazine

School Begins Image

There is a lot to digest when close reading this cartoon. Ultimately, Uncle Sam is portrayed as a teacher in a extremely diverse school room. There are many different races depicted in this cartoon such as African-Americans, Native Americans, the Chinese, and the newest territories that America was granted (Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, and Hawaii). All of these students in the picture are represented as misguided, immature oddities that need the assistance of Uncle Sam (America). For example, there is a black student in the top right corner who is washing the windows. This depiction might be the most appalling, because the authors are implying that the black student should not even be in school and stick to slave-esque labor. The Native American is depicted as reading a book upside down. Us Americans tend to question the intelligence of most Native Americans due to their different lifestyles. The Chinese student is not even allowed in the classroom. This is consistent with the American attitude towards the Chinese of the era. We wanted to exclude them from all American ideals. Lastly, the children of the new territories are right in front of Uncle Sam’s desk, with Uncle Sam giving them his undivided attention. This is very similar to when a new kid moved to town and is getting adjusted to life in a new area. I didn’t mention the white students that were present in the cartoon as well. They are in the back of the class and reading like normal students. They have order and are doing everything the right way. The authors wanted to imply that all of these other races are hopeless and need American assistance in order to even act normally. Again, this ties back to the white-supremacy and nationalistic ethos that warped this country during the 1890s.

 

Sources

“American Foreign Policy: The Turning Point, 1898-1919 – Ralph Raico.” The Independent Institute, http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1345.

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