Thomas Nast

After being married, Nast considered joining the Union Army. Friends and family discouraged him, they told him " His pen was better weapon than the Sword"

Thomas Nast (September 27, 1840 – December 7, 1902) was a famous German-American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist in the 19th century and is considered to be the father of American Political Cartooning -Donkey and Elephant, Uncle Sam, and even Santa Claus,

Youth and education
He was born in the barracks of Landau, Germany (in the Rhine Palatinate), the son of a musician in the 9th regiment Bavarian band. His mother took him to New York in 1846. He studied art there for about a year with Alfred Fredericks and Theodore Kaufmann and at the school of the National Academy of Design. After school (at the age of 15), he started working in 1855 as a draftsman for Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper; three years afterwards for Harper's Weekly.

CareerNast 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 1861, 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] Later, Nast strongly opposed President Andrew Johnson and his Reconstruction policy.

The "Brains"
The Boss. "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
by Thomas Nast
Wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly newspaper
October 21, 1871

Campaign against the Tweed Ring
Nast's drawings were instrumental in the downfall of Boss Tweed, who so feared Nast's campaign that an emissary was sent to offer Nast a $500,000 bribe to "drop this Ring business" and take a trip abroad.[2] Declining the offer, Nast pressed his attack, and Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud. When Tweed attempted to escape justice in December 1875 by fleeing to Cuba and from there to Spain, officials in Vigo, Spain were able to identify the fugitive by using one of Nast's cartoons.[3]
Nast believed that the well-organized Irish immigrant communities in New York had provided the basis for Tweed's popular support. Because of this—along with Nast's Anti-Catholic and Nativist beliefs—Nast often portrayed the Irish immigrant community, and Catholic Church leaders, in an unflattering light. In 1875, one of his works, titled "The American River Ganges", Nast famously portrayed Catholic Bishops as crocodiles waiting to attack American families.


Famous 1876 editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast showing bishops attacking public schools, with connivance of Irish Catholic politicians
In general his political cartoons supported American Indians, Chinese Americans and advocated abolition of slavery. Nast also dealt with segregation and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, which was detailed in one of his more famous cartoons called "Worse than Slavery", which showed a despondent black family having their house destroyed by arson, and two members of the Ku Klux Klan and White League are shaking hands in their mutually destructive work against black Americans. 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 many cartoonists over the years, and he introduced into American cartoons the practice of modernizing scenes from Shakespeare for a political purpose.


A Group of Vultures Waiting for the Storm to "Blow Over"--"Let Us Prey."
by Thomas Nast
Wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly newspaper
September 23, 1871

Party politics
Harper's Weekly, and Nast, played an important role in the election of Ulysses Grant in 1868 and 1872; in the latter campaign, Nast's ridicule of Horace Greeley's candidacy was especially merciless. 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 moved to Morristown, New Jersey in 1872 and lived there for many years. In 1873, Nast toured the United States as lecturer and sketch-artist, as he would do again in 1885 and 1887.
He shared political views with his friend Mark Twain and was for many years a staunch Republican. Nast opposed inflation of the currency, notably with his famous rag-baby cartoons, and he played an important part in securing Rutherford B. Hayes’ 1876 presidential election. Hayes later remarked that Nast was "the most powerful, single-handed aid [he] had",[4] but Nast quickly became disillusioned with President Hayes, whose policy of Southern pacification he opposed. He was not given free rein to attack Hayes in Harper's, however; with the death of Fletcher Harper in 1877, Nast lost an important champion at the journal, and his contributions became less frequent. He focused on oil paintings and book illustrations, but these are comparatively unimportant.
In 1884, his advocacy of civil service reform and his distrust of James G. Blaine, the Republican presidential candidate, forced him to become a Mugwump, whose support of Grover Cleveland helped him to win election as the first Democratic president since 1856. In the words of the artist's grandson, Thomas Nast St Hill, "it was generally conceded that Nast's support won Cleveland the small margin by which he was elected. In this his last national political campaign, Nast had, in fact, 'made a president.'"[5] Nevertheless, Nast's tenure at Harper's Weekly ended with his Christmas illustration of December 1886. In the words of journalist Henry Watterson, "in quitting Harper's Weekly, Nast lost his forum: in losing him, Harper's Weekly lost its political importance."[6]


Self-portrait of American political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
In 1890, he published Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race. He contributed cartoons in various publications, notably the Illustrated American, but with the advent of new methods and younger blood his vogue was passed. In 1892, he took control of a failing magazine, the New York Gazette, and renamed it Nast's Weekly. Now returned to the Republican fold, Nast used the Weekly as a vehicle for his cartoons supporting Benjamin Harrison for president, but the magazine had little impact and ceased publication shortly after Harrison's defeat.
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 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.

The below print is Artist Thomas Nast's "The Press on the Field" from Harper's Weekly issue April 30, 1864

Nast burial grave in Woodlawn Cemetery
Bronx, New York.
Click here to see more on his grave site