Uncle Brian

Monday, January 15, 2007


Nast drew for Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886. In 1860 he went to England for the New York Illustrated News to depict the prize fight between Heenan and Sayers, and then joined Garibaldi in Italy as artist for The Illustrated London News. Nast's cartoons and articles about the Garibaldi military campaign to unify Italy captured the popular imagination in the U.S. In the early 1860s, he married Sarah Edwards.

His first serious work in caricature was the cartoon "Peace," (made in 1862) directed against those in the North who opposed the prosecution of the American Civil War. This and his other cartoons during the Civil War and Reconstruction days were published in Harper's Weekly. He was known for drawing battlefields in border and southern states. These attracted great attention, and Nast was called by President Abraham Lincoln "our best recruiting sergeant".[1]

Even more able were Nast's cartoons against the Tweed Ring conspiracy in New York City. His biting wit was generally focused on political corruption, and was instrumental in the downfall of Boss Tweed. It was said his caricature of Boss Tweed was used by the officials of Vigo, Spain when Tweed fled justice there. They were able to arrest Tweed using one of Nast's cartoons.[citation needed] In general he was well known in his time for his political cartoons supporting American Indians, Chinese Americans and advocating abolition of slavery.

He is also infamous for bigotry towards Irish Americans and his recurring illustrative motif of this ethnic group as likened to apes. This animosity was borne of his belief that that the well-organised Irish immigrant communities in New York had provided the basis of Tweed's popular support. This bigotry towards the Irish was inextricably linked with his Anti-Catholic and Nativist beliefs, which he expressed in several of his cartoons. In 1875, one of his works, titled "The American River Ganges", Nast famously portrayed Catholic Bishops as crocodiles waiting to attack American families.

His cartoons frequently had numerous sidebars and panels with intricate subplots to the main cartoon. A Sunday feature could provide hours of entertainment and highlight social causes. His signature "Tammany Tiger" has been emulated by numerous cartoonists over the years.

Nast became a close friend of President Grant and the two families shared regular dinners until Grant's death. Nast encouraged the former president's efforts in writing his autobiography while battling cancer.

He did some painting in oil and some book illustrations, but these were comparatively unimportant, and his fame rests on his caricatures and political cartoons, and introduced into American cartoons the practice of modernizing scenes from Shakespeare for a political purpose.

In 1873, 1885 and 1887 Nast toured the United States as lecturer and sketch-artist, but with the advent of new methods and younger blood his vogue decreased. After the death of Fletcher Harper, he focused on oil paintings and book illustrations. He shared political views with his friend Mark Twain and was for many years a staunch Republican; had strongly opposed President Andrew Johnson and his Reconstruction policy; had ridiculed Horace Greeley's candidacy, and had opposed inflation of the currency, notably with his famous rag-baby cartoons, but his advocacy of civil service reform and his distrust of James G. Blaine forced him to become a Mugwump and in 1884 an open supporter of the Democrats, from which in 1892 he returned to the Republicans and the support of Benjamin Harrison.

He moved to Morristown, New Jersey in 1872 and lived there for many years. In 1890, he published Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.

He tried to start a magazine, which failed, and in 1902 Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as United States' Consul General to Guayaquil, Ecuador in South America. During a deadly yellow fever outbreak, Nast heroically stayed to the end helping numerous diplomatic missions and businesses close to escape the contagion. At age 62, in 1902, he died of yellow fever contracted there. His body was returned to the United States where he was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.