This cartoon, which was published on September 6, 1862 by Henry Louis Stephens, is titled “The Monotonous Minstrel”. It depicts Lincoln standing on a podium talking down to a man who is an abolitionist and playing an instrument. The man’s initials are H.G. and the text underneath says, “Go away, you tiresome vagrant! It’s always the same old croaking tune, ‘abolition, abolition, marching on!'” There is also a monkey on a string next to the man who is playing, and the monkey actually looks black. The abolitionist seems to be a white man, but it is interesting that he has a black monkey on a string. The monkey looks like he is begging for money as well. This is interesting because Abraham Lincoln is known for being an abolitionist, but in this cartoon he is talking down to the abolitionist and telling him to be quiet (“ABRAHAM LINCOLN CARTOONS”).
When I first looked at this, I assumed that the Monotonous Minstrel was the man playing the instrument, but upon closer inspection, it may be a play on words and a criticism of Lincoln himself. The cartoon could be referring to Lincoln as the Monotonous Minstrel who always talks about wanting abolition, but when it comes time to hear from other people about it, he does not want anything to do with it anymore.
Lincoln’s physical position is also above the man, which further demonstrates his position of power. This cartoon was published in Vanity Fair, which seems interesting because in this day and age, it does not seem to be to be a place that would publish political cartoons. Today, Vanity Fair focuses on fashion and style, as well as celebrity interviews and photoshoots. The “culture” section of the magazine features signature cocktails, popular galas and an article about Vine, the popular social media network (Vanity Fair). Vanity Fair has changed with the times and has altered depending on the kinds of viewers it is getting in 2015 compared to what it was getting in the 1860s.
This cartoon makes the viewer question if Lincoln’s views on abolition were as strong as he claimed they were, or if he was pushing for abolition only when it was convenient for him. If he was growing tired of people talking about it, then it seems he was a supporter when it was at its beginning stages but did not want to continue hearing about it when people kept pushing for it in bigger and louder ways. There are several historical accounts in which Lincoln said he was not an abolitionist, including on September 18, 1858 when he said he was not in favor of political equality between blacks and whites. He was running for president at the time, and being an abolitionist was not a popular position, which may have been a reason for this statement. He is also quoted as saying that it would be better for blacks and whites to be separated and for black people to return to Africa in order for the “problem of slavery” to be solved.
According to the Gettysburg Digital website, the minstrel man playing the flute is Horace Greeley, who was the editor of the New York Tribune at the time (Gross). He was a Radical Republican and wanted Lincoln to adopt a stronger abolitionist stance and for him to push harder against the Confederacy. Radical Republicans were dedicated to emancipating slaves, and interestingly enough, were located in the North. Greeley wrote an editorial called “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” on August 20, 1862 (“Horace Greeley’s”). The editorial talked about the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, which were supposed to free the slaves who were still being held by Confederate troops in the South (“Confiscation Acts”). The first Act was supposed to allow Union troops to confiscate all property from the Confederate soldiers, including their slaves, and the second Act said any Confederate person who did not give up their property within 60 days would have it taken from them (“Confiscation Acts”). This, however, only applied to people living in places already occupied by the Union army. Lincoln opposed both of these Acts because he thought they might force Kentucky and Missouri to secede in order to protect their slaves, but signed them into law anyway because they pushed towards emancipation (“Horace Greeley’s”).
Greeley was angry because he knew the Lincoln administration was not reinforcing either of the Acts, and neither were the Confederate generals. Greeley thought the only way to end the war, and one of the most vital aspects of war policy, should be to eradicate slavery. The Gettysburg Digital also says many people felt Greeley’s approach, in terms of his outspoken arguments, was not helpful (“Horace Greeley’s”). People saw him as obnoxious, which may be why he is portrayed on a lower stage than Lincoln and why Lincoln is yelling at him in the cartoon. Shortly after this cartoon was published, though, the Battle of Antietam was fought and Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (“Confiscation Acts”).
The official memory of Lincoln being an abolitionist and a fighter for marginalized communities is alive and well in the United States today, but stories like Horace Greeley’s are fading away into residual memory. Lincoln is generally thought of as someone who fought for the rights of slaves, no matter what, but the story of Horace Greeley shows that Lincoln was just as political as many other presidents and did not want to hear from the radical factions of marginalized groups of people. Political cartoons and parodies are meant to make fun of at least one person, and this cartoon pokes fun at Greeley for his so-called “obnoxious” ways. America (and people in general) have a history of taking members of marginalized groups who may fall outside of what is considered “appropriate” in terms of fighting for their rights, and labeling them as “radical” or “inappropriate”. This automatically writes off that person or group of people as unreasonable, and ultimately works to undermine the movement as a whole. Horace Greeley became the editor of the New York Tribune in order to further his cause as an abolitionist, but was ultimately reduced to a character in a political cartoon because of his “radical” stance that was seen as “obnoxious” at the time (“Horace Greeley”).
It is difficult to say who benefits from this site of memory, because it depends on how it is looked at. Official memory says Lincoln was an abolitionist hero and did everything he could to free the slaves, but this cartoon shows a side of him that is telling an abolitionist to basically leave him alone. On the other hand, it could been seen as an insult to Horace Greeley, who is supposed to look annoying and obnoxious. The cartoon requires research in order to fully understand what it represents and remembers about Lincoln, because Horace Greeley is not a celebrated figure in 2015. It is clear that, as Barbie Zelizer says, public memory is partial. People take pieces of memories and put them together, and, by doing this, some things are left out (Zelizer). Greeley has faded out of public memory, but Lincoln’s image as a close-to-perfect president still exists. As my classmate Alexi talked about in her post about the Association of Lincoln Presenters, there are parts of Lincoln that are not remembered because people want to think of him as someone who was a perfect leader. Parts of his history are sanitized in order to remember him as the perfect Father of our Nation. Back when people were actually looking at this cartoon in Vanity Fair, they probably would have seen it as remembering how annoying Greeley was and would have accepted Lincoln’s words towards Greeley. Looking at it today, it seems to bring up a part of Lincoln that some people did not know existed — that he was not on the side of every abolitionist; only the non-radical ones.
Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-39.