The Best Political Cartoons from the 1800s

Take two centuries of steps back in time to a world of mud-streaked trails, plumb puddings, anti-slavery, and world domination in the best political cartoons from the 1800s.

Sometimes claiming to be messages to the president of their times, otherwise becoming satirical in nature of their very period, more often than not reshaping the very climate of policy and diplomacy in the range of world politics, caricatures, or cartoons, are the very promise of a smile in a time of fearful resentment. It is no different among the canals of misshapen abolitionist violence and civil unrest so associated with the 1800s, in which a time of peace soon became a time of war in many parts of the world, as with the American Civil War and the French inner-fighting between that of Bonaparte and Pitt. Though none will come as close as the satire on American politics made by the "Join or Die" cartoon drawn by none other than Benjamin Franklin, the following examples should give reference to the very quintessential of all cartoons that helped draw a line between the unfavorable and unlikable dimensions of government outreach.

Still, the history of political cartoons have shown us a wide berth of ranging topics, most of which stem on controversy, unrest, war, and much more. The very concepts of satire are shown within these cartoons and caricatures from around the world and give us some of the very best displays of political history, as well as political satire that which have ever been adopted. Whether in Harper Weekly, the Pennsylvania Gazette, or Boston Centinel, you'll discover some of the very best political cartoons from the 1800s, all of which are shown here to underline their ultimate prowess in our past, some of which even still help to redirect our future in more ways than the aesthetic dimensions already employed. 

The Plumb-Pudding in Danger (1805) by James Gillray

Satirizing the Napoleonic Wars in his most iconic cartoon ever created, one that deserves mention among the best political cartoons from the 1800s, James Gillray's The Plumb-pudding in Danger gives us a look into the world of 1805 as seen by the expansive inclinations shared between Britain and France. 

Seated on the right is Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, and on the left is William Pitt, the British prime minister at that point in time. The caricature is an attempt to paint one of the most stunning examples of globalization at its seething point. At the center of their grand meal is the earthen sphere on a silver platter, which they both slice and dice up into pieces of their own accord, as they had preformed in real life. It's not only an iconic look at two feverish world leaders in their most humiliating portrayal, it's also a testament of early 19th century mentalities, upon which rested a principle that seemed to underscore the world as anybody's up for the taking. 

The Political House that Jack Built (1819) by William Hone and George Cruickshank

This one saw so much pleasure and devotion that over 100,000 copies were sold in the years following its release, those being 1819 to 1820. That's a feat among the times of its existence, in of itself, even for one of the best political cartoons from the 1800s. 

Denouncing some of the affiliations made by the British government, one of which being a serious closeness to authoritarianism, and dealing with the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre, this cartoon evoked a mass-felt British opposition to their government's lackluster attempts of reshaping the diplomatic climate and framework. It's also based on a similarly named nursery rhyme. Catchy don't you think?

Boss Tweed and the Tammany Ring (1872) by Thomas Nast

Considered the "Father of American Cartoon," Thomas Nast is an unrivaled caricaturist who painted innumerable concepts throughout his long tenure of both political and noteworthy news satires. 

As such, it should be no wonder that his "Boss Tweed and the Tammany Ring" sits as an instant classic among the best political cartoons from the 1800s. Designed and published in 1872, it dealt with the Tweed Ring, or an early democratic party seemingly crushed under the weight of its own making in the wake of some rather conspicuous dealings in association with corrupted Tammany Hall. In its most grandiose of awards, the political cartoon itself was considered to be the very downfall of the Democrat's public opinion. Whoever said cartoons couldn't change the world? Maybe just a political landscape. 

Gargantua (1831) by Honoré Daumier

Rather poignant in its overall depiction, this French satirical cartoon even landed Honoré Daumier, its creator, some lengthy jail time. The style is realism, the year is 1831, and at its forefront is the machinations of lithography in showcasing one of the best political cartoons from the 1800s, called "Gargantua."

Portraying the king (as reason for the artist's eventual arrest) in a very sadistic display, "Gargantua" gives us a look at the nature of French king Louis Phillippe. The hideous depiction, a massive bowling ball shaped creature, is borrowed from the book Rebalais, to show how the ruler's overarching considerations of the obscene and unreasonable have likened him to a storybook monster. As already noted, he didn't like that very much. Goes to show just how far we've come, since there's yet to be a single anti-Trump cartoonist jailed, but we'll get there. 

The Gerry-Mander (1812) by Elkanah Tisdale

This map-like cartoon led to the understanding of the word we now know as "gerrymandering," which is more accurately considered tugging on one particular side of a political battle by way of manipulating district boundaries, oftentimes leading to that state or district then becoming deemed a gerrymander. 

In the case of Tisdale's cartoonish portrayal of history, which is more than not misconstrued as belonging to Gilbert Stuart, shows the atmosphere of a Democratic-Republican's slight gain over the Federalists as the party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry were aided by the Massachusetts legislature in adopting new boundaries for this very purpose. Initially published by Boston Centinel in 1812, the depiction soon became a political term that evolved into what it stands for today, which merely underlines a single aspiration that many cartoonist's dream of reaching. 

Uncle Sam Protecting His Property Against the Encroachments of His Cousin John (1861) by Edward Stauch

Published in 1861, Edward Stauch's political cartoon is an impression rendered from the worrisome concerns shared amongst Northerners of a European intervention of the Civil War in protection of the South. Iconic as it is excruciatingly blatant, the portrayal has Uncle Sam, likened in the aspect of Abraham Lincoln, as he sneaks up on an unsuspecting John Bull. 

Stauch even goes so far as to include African American images in the form of cotton, as well as British-made canons, which were popular Confederate weapons, installed in the place of Bull's legs. In the background is a scarecrow with the decayed bodies of two Confederates, general P. G. T. Beauregard and president Jefferson Davis. It's a rather serious look at the civil unrest that left America in a crumbling wake of decay, expounded by these very fears of uncalled for British involvement. As such, it's one of the best political cartoons from the 1800s.

The Hurly Burly Pot (1850) by James S. Baillie

Pointing a menacingly blunt finger at the minds behind abolitionism, Free Soil and other sectionalist ideals apparent among 1850, Baille likens the scene to a Shakespearean classic: Macbeth. In the form of witches, the usurpers from various factions and ideals surround a cauldron, tending their bubbling concoction with such condolences of sectionalism as aforementioned; "Free Soil," "Fourierism," and "Abolition." 

As one of the best political cartoons from the 1800s, "The Hurly Burly Pot" is merely a testament to the overall considerations most Americans shared when concerning sectionalism. It appears, as by the hand of Baille, that more often than not these principles were viewed as contrivances of negative political awareness. If anything, these Southern mentalities were given less advocacy than most, and were seemingly ignored for their preposterousness and general misuse. 

The Dis-United States or the Southern Confederacy (1861) by Currier and Ives

Heralded by many as one of the most prominent cartoon publishers in history, and given credence by their years upon years of various works, Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives are known to be an exceptional duo in the world of cartoons. Their "The Dis-United States," aptly given a more concentrated name of "The Southern Confederacy," highlights not only their prominence as artists, but the very mechanisms that which drove the South into annihilation: improper guidance. 

The drawing depicts six Confederate leaders in deep conversation among themselves. Differentiated by their home states, the leaders sit on either a bale of cotton (those from Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia), the hull of a shipwreck (Florida), or a barrel of sugar (Louisiana). However, Francis Pickens, South Carolina governor and bandwagon leader of southern opportunists, finds a seat on an African American slave. In denouncing, or merely ostracizing, the five states that followed the succession of South Carolina, Currier and Ives expertly show the broadened dimensions of this disillusioned and disenfranchised sect of Confederates, who believed they could sway more states into adopting self-independence, therefore drawing one of the best political cartoons from the 1800s. 

The Apotheosis (1851) by Unknown

Singular among a larger lithography entitled “Invasion of Cuba,” this image is only but a small taste of the sentiments shared on the American invasion of Cuba, in addition to the naval blockade of Round Island and other similar occurrences. This picture points to the indulgences of expansion, specifically on Cuba’s ties with the Catholic Church and Spanish rule, for which America seemingly brought to bear by ending American attempts of capturing it. 

Despite the fact that its creator is more or less unknown to the world, the image is monogrammed with the letters "AW," but no other considerations have been unearthed. One underlying theme pertains to the various failed American invasions led by General Lopez, which helped give credence to Cuba's later distrust and misconceptions of America. With the intrigue of its unknown creator still lingering at the forefront of the image, plus its detailed imagining of this sweltering time of impaired Cuban-American relations, there's no wonder it's among the best political cartoons from the 1800s. 

Why Don't You Take It? (1861) by Frank T. Beard

Given the image of a bulldog in opposition of a greyhound, General in Chief of the Army Winfield Scott guards with object defiance a small piece of beef, for which can be understood as Washington, D.C. The greyhound, seemingly flea-infested and uselessly overpowered, stalks closer to a Confederate flag, tail literally drawn between its hind legs. 

This is Frank T. Beard's drawing of the 1861 scare surrounding circulating rumors that a political takeover involving warfare may be used by the Confederates to seize control over the capital. Despite the fact that we all know this never happened, the portrayal in of itself displays the way in which Winfield Scott's preparedness in protecting the capital led to the Confederates' abandoning of this plan, or the cartoon itself may have played a part in this hypothesis. Whatever the case may be, Beard's 1861 depiction finds its home among the best political cartoons from the 1800s by way of satirizing the Confederates and their lackluster attempts to ring fear in the eyes of the North. 

A New Catamaran Expedition!! by Isaac Cruikshank

This addition to the best political cartoons from the 1800s actually just barely makes the mark by five years. Cruikshank’s work, a satire again on the outward movements across the sea employed by the British, contains word bubbles over the figures he envisions, one of which being William Pitt the Younger.

In the background of the caricature a mass of boats filled with fishwives converge on a French fort, brandishing a bottle of gin and a sack of potatoes at the French soldiers who yell back at them: “Begar dese le Catamarans wid a Vengeance,” or loosely, “Bugger this, catamarans with a vengeance.” The piece is in reference to Pitt’s employ of 35 fisherman’s boats as a seaborne militia against French naval forces. Digging even deeper, and grasping the comical aspects of the picture, catamaran in this sense, while still pertaining to the obvious form of sea craft, can also be understood as a "quarrelsome woman." I think it's pretty obvious what's meant to be the takeaway from this hilariously blunt image on British military might in the face of French uprisings. 

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The Best Political Cartoons from the 1800s
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