Lincoln in Caricature

Lincoln in caricature is a serious of cartoon collected explained and written by Rufus Rockwell Wilson, a prominent writer and recognized Lincoln scholar.[1] In the book, Wilson collected thirty-two plate of caricatures that described Abraham Lincoln though different perspectives. There are English perspectives from the Punch magazine that shows the Great Britain cynical view included; meanwhile there are counterpart view from Vanity Fair, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and from Harper’s Weekly caricatures from United States publishers.

Lincoln in Caricature[2]

Caricatures are so important to the society because what they described in a small picture was not only about the people inside the picture. However, they used few hands of drawing and limited imagination to metaphors the group of people’s mind, to waken citizen’s thought and spoke out the words that they waited and afraid to express. Just like what Wilson said in the book himself, “Thus the thirty-two plates from these sources here brought together have a value and interest already important and sure to increase with the passage of time, for they reflect with unconscious vividness, and as nothing else can do, the life and color of an historic era, and how his fellows regarded the grandest figure of that era” [2]Lincoln: Winding off the Tangled Skein[2]

Winding off the Tangled Skein

This is the Forth plate of carton recorded in the book. The Winding off the tangled skein was first published in March, 30th, 1961 in Harper’s Weekly. Person on the left is President Lincoln and person on the right hand side is President Buchanan. [3] They are untangling a skein of yarn labeled as “union”. The ax and split logs in front of the chair refer to Lincoln’s nickname, “Rail Splitter.” [4]. Click on the link from UT Arlington Library video for more information.

without title[2]

Without Title

This is a caricature without title that were first published in Vanity Fair (Nov.16.1961). It is easy for us to find the place of this caricature is in front of Mexico. We have Lincoln holding a sword and sitting confidently by a canon facing to there typical old European country which was believed to be England, France and Spain. [2] The pound below contains trout like people.

The Vanity Fair was established for the purpose to find something to laugh at the same time we worried most. This caricature shows that the start of the war and Lincoln were confident.[5]

The Overdue Bill[2]

The Overdue Bill

Not all the features of Lincoln in the caricature are confident and positive. The overdue Bill was first publish in Punch at (Sep.27 1862). In the caricature, Lincoln was sitting on a chair while losing his wits. The chair was in front of a speaking desk and Lincoln is looking desperately on the note that was hand by Union soldiers. The note has following words on it “I promise to subdue the South in ninety days —A. Lincoln.”

This caricature was published just few days after Lincoln issued the preliminary proclamation. The Punch Magazine had publish this caricature to mock that the Northern side wish to end the war in ninety days. Punch stated to focus on Lincoln and the Civil War after (1861). Between the year (1861-1865) almost (20%) of the pages on Punch were related to Lincoln and Civil war. [6]


Lincoln’s Last Warning

This is the fifteen in the book, coming from Harper’s Weekly on (Oct.11.1862). Lincoln is looking firmly and persistently while holding an ax toward the “Slavery Tree”. On the tree is Jefferson Davis hiding and avoiding Lincoln. Davis is holding firmly on the Slavery Tree which is supposed to be his life-saving straw.

The caricature is correspond to the war at the time. The north side finally realized what could make them win the fight towards the south. The caricature was accorded to Lincoln’s speech which would announce formally to abolish the slavery on (Jan.1st.1863). And the ax hanging by Lincoln is just the Last Warning to the South and Davis.

Why are the Caricatures an important memory of Lincoln?

Regardless of other memorial of Lincoln, we finally came to an important focus about the site. How do we in the modern world value the caricatures of Lincoln that was published more than a hundreds years ago? What are the difference between Caricatures as a memory and other memories like houses, memorial museum, status?

According to the definition of caricatures “A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way……Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment.”[7]

I think what makes caricature difference with other memorial way is that caricature are comprehensive. It includes Lincoln person as a general with his all-sides. It shows to us and let us remember President Lincoln is not a god, not a perfect great person; It shows that that Lincoln is just a normal person as we do. And it tells us Lincoln are always with us, lived by our sides.

Just like my classmate Alexi post said “There are parts of Lincoln that are not remembered because people want to think of him as someone who was a perfect leader.” However in the caricature, what we have is not a perfect leader, but a normal person. We could see sometimes he is confidence, sometime he is losing his wits, we could also see a Lincoln who is “just as political as many other presidents and did not want to hear from the radical factions of marginalized groups of people” in my group member Carolyn’s post on cartoon.

Just as what I said early before, caricatures have the ability to express more meaning and background than what is drawn on a piece of paper. What we need is to remember Lincoln as a normal person, not a perfect leader.


Works Cited.

[1]Rufus Rockwell Wilson
[2] Lincoln in Caricature, Rufus Rockwell Wilson, printed for private distribution.
[3] Winding off the tangled skein, Brown Digital Repository
[4] Lincoln: Winding off the Tangled Skein, Special Collections, UT Arlington Library
[5] Civil War Humor: The War in Vanity Fair
Civil War History Volume (2), Number (3), September (1956), Kent State University Press
[6]The English View of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War

2 thoughts on “Lincoln in Caricature

  1. Danielle Fraley

    I was attracted to this post because I am from a small Pennsylvania town about 25 miles away, and until now I never knew Lincoln memory lived so nearby. I am wondering why you chose this location (I am guessing it is the author’s hometown) and how the location may have influenced the authors views? There is great potential for this post since it is the goal of the caricatures to view Lincoln from various perspectives. I am fascinated by the idea you mention of the caricatures having the ability to express more than what is drawn on a piece of paper, and that this is helpful because people are afraid to publicly respond to memory. There is resonance behind the quote you pulled from Wilson about how the significance of the caricatures will only grow with time. I would definitely base my learning on period and poignant memories like these over an oral history or an official textbook. Though these caricatures do offer a less narrativized and conventionalized view of what may have actually happened in history, they also lose the possibility to analyze social bias and official distortion to as great of an extent.

    It would not hurt to add more analysis to each caricature mention. I really like where you went by describing what Vanity Fair was known for and that impact on memory; channel this type of connection when adding to your post. To improve the flow and readability of your post, try adding captions to the images. If you need more words, include an analysis paragraph that explores an idea from another Lincoln post in relation to your own. Looking first at the posts of your group mates would be particularly beneficial. This topic would be good to compare to my post about the Lincoln penny because it is much less driven by official memory and is open to more interpretations.

    1. Hanyao Qi Post author

      Thanks for you comments, your comments are truly helpful in changing my post. I choose Troy as the site is because that’s the birth place of author. Since this book is privately published, So choosing hometown of author might seems to work.

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