Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s

In the decade and a half after the Civil War, the American public school rose and fell as a central issue in national and state politics. After a relative calm on matters of education during and immediately after the War, the Republican Party and Catholic Church leaders in the late 1860s and early 1870s joined a bitter battle of words over the future of public education—who should control it, how should it be financed, and what should it teach about religion. These battles often reflected very different world views. Leading Protestant ministers and Republican politicians waved the threat of a rising antidemocratic “Catholic menace” as the new bloody shirt and championed their own educational ideal as a remedy—religiously neutral, ethnically and racially inclusive common schools. While Democrats tended to downplay school issues, Catholic Church leaders countered with their own screed: common schools were hardly common, embodying either inherently Protestant notions of religion or the atheism of no true religious creed at all. New York City became the epicenter of these cataclysmic debates, and the brilliant cartoonist Thomas Nast immortalized the Radical Republican side of the issue in the pages of Harper’s Weekly.[1]

Because of his popularity and stature in the 1860s and 70s, not to mention the visual appeal of his images, Thomas Nast has loomed large in historical scholarship. Scholars of politics, art, and the media have returned again and again to Nast as an avatar of American political cartooning,[2] and he has been a central figure in the debate over the “power of the press.”[3] Historians of politics have found Nast’s art to be a rich visual representation of Radical Republican views in the 1870s.[4] And in the last two decades, major works on religion in nineteenth-century public schools have, almost of necessity, featured characters from Nast’s menagerie of battling bishops and common-school crusaders, scheming popes, valiant black men, and vicious Irish brutes, not to mention America’s mom-and-pop images of Dame Columbia and Uncle Sam.[5] As the issue of state funding to religious schools continues to challenge contemporary educational policy, that trend is likely to continue.

Historical examinations of Nast’s work on education vary in their treatment of his art as evidence. Consider the following: various authors have used a single Nast cartoon, “The Priests and the Children,” as evidence of widespread anti-Catholicism,[6] as evidence of Protestant “suspicion” of Catholic attempts at school reform,[7] and to demonstrate Republican Party attacks on the Catholic Church in the 1870s.[8] Despite the differences among these (and other) uses of Nast’s work, however, many scholars tend to share a common approach. They view each Nast cartoon in isolation, rather than placing it in the context of Nast’s work as a whole, its relationship to the editorial trends at Harpers, or its relationship to the actual events it depicts. While historical studies of education in the late nineteenth century have gravitated toward the rhetorical battles of the 1870s with increasingly nuanced and careful examination of the various positions, work on Thomas Nast has not kept pace with the advances in American history.[9] More importantly, no study has provided a coherent understanding of Nast’s educational ideals, placing his evocative images in their proper context.

Among those scholars who have studied Nast, Morton Keller and Ward McAfee have come closest to historically contextualizing his educational art—both in terms of the rhetoric of the Republican Party during the 1870s. Keller tied Nast’s educational work to his social and political “ethos” but paid little attention to its development over time, its political expedience, or its relationship to specific events. Moreover, Keller looked at the educational cartoons only in terms of religion.[10] The result is an analysis that well served a larger political argument but is of limited use to those who seek to understand the issue of education in particular. Likewise, Ward McAfee’s analysis, though sensitive to changing issues within the Republican Party and the complex politics of race and religious identity, looked at Nast only tangentially. And like Keller’s, MacAfee’s study is largely one of the rhetoric of the public school in state and national politics, not the actual lived reality of schools. To date, no satisfactory, systematic study of Thomas Nast’s art on education exists; given the continuing appeal of Nast’s work for historians of American education, such work needs to be done.

Viewing Nast’s cartoons for Harper’s Weekly as isolated images is an exercise in paranoia—conspiracies, violence, and threats to the American way of life abound. Obviously, as a political caricaturist par excellence, Nast exaggerated ideas and events. (The word “caricature” comes from the Italian “caricare,” to load or exaggerate.) Nevertheless, Nast’s images reveal three important facets of popular media’s portrayal of public schooling in the 1870s. The first is the grossly exploitative nature of public-school rhetoric—if visual culture might be included as a form of “rhetoric”—by Nast and, it would seem fair to argue, the political party he so dutifully served. A second facet of Nast’s work, not surprising in light of the first, is the degree to which his cartoons misrepresented educational realities. The hyperventilated text and imagery in Nast and Harper’s on school issues in the 1870s was not borne out by local school evidence. Finally, because Nast’s art toyed with visual representations of race and religion, it offers tantalizing views of the social constructions of both in their relationship to public education. Nast’s own inconsistency on religion and race in the common school suggests that such constructions were often deliberate, convenient, and recklessly politicized—not so much an expression of crisis as the expression of the need for a crisis; but seen as statements about American education, Nast’s cartoons do reveal a popular Gilded-Age notion of what public schools ought to have been. Nast clarified distinctions between a republican notion of democratically controlled, color-blind public schooling and what the “Romanist” leadership of the Catholic Church offered as the alternative: church-run, religiously particularistic schooling. In Nast’s view, bringing all children together into the public sphere, under democratic control, muted their religious and racial differences and molded a unified, multiethnic American society. When this ideal ran into conflict with the idea of America as a Protestant nation, however, Nast’s ideal of a common school began to resemble the particularistic Roman Catholic model he condemned.

I. The Politics of Race and Religion

Thomas Nast was born in 1840 on an army base in Landau, Germany. Six years later, his family fled the European political turmoil of the 1840s to settle in New York City, where Nast attended both public and Catholic schools. After excelling at neither, he persuaded his parents to pay for art lessons and later to enroll him in the Academy of Design, where he displayed precocious abilities. At the age of fifteen he took his first job as a paid artist. A series of increasingly successful stints with various papers landed him a position as a full-time artist at Harper’s in 1862. Nast worked as a Civil War correspondent for the remainder of that conflict and continued to focus on national politics after it ended. The increasing popularity of his drawings earned him a great deal of money and influence at Harper’s, and by the end of the 1860s, he had the freedom to draw as he pleased.[11]

Given his later enthusiasm for the subject, it is surprising to learn that Nast drew no cartoons relating to education before 1869. During the 1860s, however, he had already established the most consistent theme to appear in the educational cartoons to come: republican government under siege. This conviction grew out of his Civil War experience and would appear in drawings throughout his career. As Nast’s pen ranged widely over political and domestic issues of the Reconstruction Era, his (and Harper’s) warnings of a threat to republicanism by Copperheads and Confederates slowly shifted to threats by a foreign pope and violent Irish-Catholic mobs. Nast linked both—calculated scheming by the Pope and irrational brutality by Irish Catholics—to implications of conspiracy and treachery by the Democratic Party. Nast’s antipapal art reflected Harper’s coverage of contemporary events in Europe, as nationalistic movements swept across the continent and, simultaneously, Pope Pius IX stridently declared himself infallible and opposed to religious liberty and democratic reform.

The negative views of the Catholic Church in Nast’s educational cartoons echoed nativist themes from the Know Nothing 1850s, but they also reflected a more careful distinction, in Nast’s mind, between opposition to the Church’s public policies and its role as an ecclesiastical organization. When the Nast family left Bavaria in the 1840s, events in Europe pitted the Pope and Catholic orders—especially Jesuits—against liberal reformers and radical revolutionaries. Antagonism over church and state raged in the United States as well, hastened by increasing Catholic immigration, the virulent nativist response, and the migration of the antagonists themselves.[12] Another significant factor was an increasingly ultramontane, Romanist leadership in the American Catholic Church, which rejected earlier, more democratic traditions and encouraged philosophical and devotional practices that further isolated Catholics from mainstream America. The Romanist revival gave some credence to the charges that the new outlook of the church, which increasingly insisted on separate, publicly-funded schools, made it incompatible with republican government and unfit to offer mass education at public expense.[13] In this context, Nast would not have considered his anti-Romanist work exemplary of anti-Catholicism.

Accounts of his religious upbringing do not definitively label him Catholic or Protestant, though evidence suggests that he could well have been the former.[14] (In Morristown, New Jersey, the Nast family attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church).[15] Whether or not Nast was born or raised a Catholic, the grown man was certainly not one politically. An 1871 article about Nast in Harpers described his religious outlook this way: “He was educated a Catholic, but that has not blinded him to the dangers of political Romanism, especially in a republic like ours, where the maintenance of law, freedom, and order depends upon the intelligence of the people. The Catholic Church as an ecclesiastical organization, has never been the object of his satire; it is only such members of that communion as seek to pervert its machinery to political purposes whom he castigates.”[16] Nast’s objection to “political Romanism” complicates modern interpretations of his art as merely “anti-Catholic.” In so far as they criticized the Catholic Church’s entrance into the domain of public policy, his cartoons appeared no more bitter or aggressive than those aimed at other antagonists—even fellow Republicans.[17] As visual culture, they remained consistent in tone with his pieces on other subjects and, indeed, images by other cartoonists in major magazines such as Puck, Judge, and Punch. In terms of their intended message, his famous critiques of Catholic attempts at winning public funds for parochial schools were not anti-Catholic per se, but political and anticlerical. On the other hand, Nast lacked consistency in his distinction between “political Romanism” and Catholicism as a religious belief and practice—especially the notion that lay Catholics could not think for themselves.[18] This latter stereotype proved especially true of Nast’s depictions of the Irish.

Nast’s vindictive caricatures of Irish Catholics grew from the draft riot of 1863, when desperate, predominantly Irish-Catholic mobs roamed the streets of New York City, savagely attacking various targets associated with the draft, including African-American men, women, and children, and from later experience with subsequent riots on Saint Patricks’ Day in 1867 and Orange Day in 1871.[19] Nast never forgave or forgot these events and epitomized the threat of Irish violence in the lines of an ape-like Irish male—a common stereotype in American and English cartoons, but one he seemed to sketch with especial poison.[20]

Nast’s simian-Irish images reflected those used in contemporary English publications like Punch, Judy, and Fun, which drew on popular notions of physiognomy that the angularity of a face connoted a lower stage of evolutionary development. The features of the Irish ape were “simous nose, long upper lip, huge, projecting mouth, jutting lower jaw as well as sloping forehead.”[21] Perry Curtis has found that, while English cartoonists used several different stock images of the Irish as Fenianism increased in the 1860s, the simian “Paddy” images became more popular.[22] Not only did the image of the simian Irishman suggest a propensity to violence and crime, but, more importantly, portrayed such a character as clearly unfit for self-government. In the English context, the Irish ape became an implicit political construction: not only a statement of Anglo-Saxon cultural superiority, but an argument for English hegemony and colonialism in Ireland. Nast’s application of the same trope to the American context served a similar political agenda: the unruly, riotous, ungovernable Irishman threatened Nast’s fragile republic under siege—not least because the Irish Catholic was a solid Democrat. Nor was Nast alone: the American weeklies Puck and Judge used similar images to similar effect.[23]

Nast did provide one notably humane vision of Irish-Americans in an 1870 cartoon entitled “The Greek Slave,” in which an uncharacteristically human-looking Irishman is chained by Tammany to a Democratic tree stump, atop which sit bottles of rum and whiskey.[24] The title’s allusion to slavery was obviously provocative and was made more so by side pictures of Irish workers being branded and herded by slave drivers for their Democratic “masters.” The cartoon invoked the old hue and cry of the Republican Party’s antislavery rhetoric for whites, as well as blacks, and invoked the (vain) optimism of Frederick Douglass when he had compared peasant Irish and African-American slave conditions on his trip to Ireland in 1845-1846.[25] Nast’s sympathetic image of the Irishman was an oddity, however. In most of his cartoons, Nast hammered away at Irish violence, degradation, and most importantly, politics.[26]

African Americans fared far better than the Irish in Nast’s imagery. Again, before he engaged the issue of schools directly, Nast had established themes that would later become central to his arguments. “All the Difference in the World” (1868) laid out the logic of Nast’s racial caricatures of blacks in two panels, each depicting African Americans in northern and southern contexts. At the top, in his support of Republicans, a northern freedman exemplifies nobility and hard work—tilling a field and hailing a distant Republican rally outside a public school. His facial characteristics are unmistakably African, but without exaggeration, and his clothing and general bearing are simple and straightforward. The signs displayed in the rally read, “Equal Rights to All,” “Malice Toward None,” “Let Us Have Peace,” and, of course, “Grant and Colfax.” The black man stands in sharp contrast to a nearby ape-like Irishman sitting with his children in a rum-littered sty with the sign, “Democratic Club,” posted above.

In the second panel, Nast reveals that such a vision of blacks over the Irish rests on the black man’s political allegiance. In the southern context, where black votes in early Reconstruction could wield considerable power, those blacks who supported the Democratic Party became stupid, clownish pretenders, vainly flattered by former Confederates. The black men’s lips thicken, their smiles widen, and their hair and gestures take on absurd, effeminate characteristics. (These visual cues mimicked those found in the negrophobic white press and minstrel shows.)[27] The context made “All the difference in the world:” northern Democrats exploited white supremacy—ironically (to Nast’s mind) embracing the uncouth Irish—while southern Democrats courted blacks and made them fools. The text, spoken by a northern Democrat, read, “The Odor of the Nigger (Republican) is Offensive; But…”

Within the context of northern politics, Nast’s images throughout the 1860s and 1870s consistently upheld a racially neutral vision of African Americans that placed them far above the Irish in their humanity, but only within that context and only so far as their support for his party never waivered. When blacks crossed Nast’s purposes, he assigned them popular, stereotypical racial attributes—not the violent Irish Gorilla but the Zip Coon-like character popularized in antebellum minstrel shows: happy-go-lucky, impulsive, and hopelessly stupid.[28] Irish gorillas were threatening and dangerous; black “coons” were stupid, but safe.[29] In placing blacks above Irish whites, Nast’s political motivation is clear, while his belief in the actual existence of such a racial hierarchy seems far less likely—especially in light of later work. (The comparison to blacks may also be part of Nast’s irony: Irish Catholic degradation was so extreme as to put them below blacks.) And as Perry Curtis points out, the “science” of human evolution and physiognomy of the day, from which the simian Irishman sprang, placed the Irish “race” far closer to the top with the Aryans than it did Africans.[30] Nast’s work supports historian Eric Arnesen’s recent critique of “whiteness” scholarship: the Irish were never unwhite, however unfavorably they may have been portrayed by Republicans and nativists.[31]

In “All the Difference,” the public school stands in the background, serving as a metaphor for the northern way of life and not as the subject in itself. Much like the church and the plow, the public school evoked the small-town Protestant backbone of the Republican Party. Indeed many northern writers expressed the conviction that the North had triumphed over the South because of its public school systems.[32] The connection between race, religion, and the common school would become clear as public education moved to the foreground of Nast’s work in the coming years.

Most of Nast’s work in the 1860s offered no link between Irish mobs or Catholic Church authorities and public schooling. Likewise, Nast’s attacks on the Democratic Party and the government of the City of New York contained no reference to public schools.[33] In fact, Nast’s first educational cartoon, “Physical Education” managed only a vaguely amusing poke at college reform. Nast’s lack of concern over Catholic threats to common schools was not for lack of news—in 1868, for example, Harper’s reported widely discussed Catholic challenges to Bible reading in Cincinnati.[34] But Harper’s did not regularly run feature articles on schools because public education had not yet entered the spotlight in New York or national politics, and Nast seems to have thought, or cared, little of any possible Irish or Catholic threat to public education. When public education became the center of Nast’s attention, he transposed the general elements of the northern way of life depicted in “All the Difference” onto the common school itself so that it became both a literal subject and a metaphor—a distinction Nast would happily obscure.

II. Discovering the New Bloody Shirt

In late 1869 educational events in New York seized Nast’s, and Harper’s, attention. Boss Tweed, head of Tammany Hall and a State Senator, snuck a provision in the annual tax levy bill for the city through the state legislature that provided that 20 percent of the excise funds of the city go to “schools, educating children gratuitously in said city who are not provided for in the common schools thereof,” in other words, providing public funds to church schools.[35] Two days later, the New York Times broke the news. Republican leaders and Protestant ministers rushed to start a crusade for the bill’s repeal. A Methodist paper charged that it was the result of a “Papal conspiracy,” while the Republican Union League Club of New York City circulated petitions upstate to win statewide political support. Protestant ministers and Republican leaders together organized the State Council of Political Reform in Albany to investigate and report findings and recommendations.[36]

Nast and Harper’s had already begun attacking the government of New York City for corruption, focusing on Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party headquarters. The “school steal” lent steam to their crusade. As Thomas Nast led his now-famous graphic charge against Boss Tweed and company, he also embarked on a string of educational cartoons suggesting a vast conspiracy to make war on American public schooling—with Tweed and the priest-controlled, Democratic Irish behind it.[37] His visual argument focused on four points. First, he argued that the Pope had now set his sights on America, a land ripe for conquest, swarming with sympathetic hordes of Irish Catholics and scheming priests. The school issue, he argued, was only one battle in a larger war between Catholics and Protestants for control of American society and the struggle among Catholics themselves over Roman versus American Catholicism. Second, Nast warned that dividing the school fund between public and religious schools would lead to the dissolution of public schools through lack of funding, resulting in a balkanization of American education and, eventually, American society. Third, he suggested that once in charge of state-funded schools, priests would teach children to regard the Pope as a higher political authority than the government of the United States.[38] Fourth, and most importantly, Democrats intended to allow all this to take place. To make these points, Nast (and Harper’s) pulled out all the stops, invoking strong language and images to depict the Catholic Church as the enemy of republican government.

Nast’s drawings did not usually report on or expose events to the public—his paper was a weekly. Rather, Nast’s church and school cartoons invoked images and words intended to rally readers to his own political cause using a paradoxical combination of intimidation (exaggerating or inventing enemies to public education) and encouragement (dehumanizing those enemies and emphasizing their weakness).[39] Just as he often included the phrase “Well what are you going to do about it?” in his anti-Tammany cartoons, his educational series in the mid 1870s goaded readers to action. In the context of Gilded-Age visual culture, in which caricature could be highly personal and viciously stereotypical, Nast’s arresting images were not unusual.[40] Rather it was his skill and creativity that set them apart. In “Fort Sumter” (March 19, 1870), Nast formally signaled the post-Civil War shift in enemy threats to the republic, depicting Pope Pius and his Irish and priestly henchmen firing a cannon on a Fort Sumter-like public school. The accompanying text used outrageous language: “The man that hauls down our public schools shoot him on the spot.”

Throughout 1870, 1871, and 1872 Harper’s and Nast blasted away at the church and public school issue as part of larger campaigns against the Catholic Church and Tammany Hall. Nast and Harper’s tried to argue that their campaign was not anti-Catholic per se, but antidespot, based on the Pope’s opposition to republicanism and freedom of worship. The objection was not the cultural or symbolic aspects of Catholicism, but the Pope’s insistence on his political authority and the ascendancy of the Church over the state—an argument that echoed American and European charges that the Romanist policies of the church were antidemocratic. Harper’s cooked up a “Modern Luther” in a series of articles about a defrocked liberal priest named Father Hyacinth to exemplify a liberal Catholicism the magazine could endorse. Nast obligingly depicted Hyacinth on a few occasions, and his name appeared in an inflammatory cartoon entitled “The Promised Land, U.S.A.” (July 11 and 12, 1871) under a banner reading, “Liberal Catholics,” part of a larger group of respectable people being chased away by an Irish Catholic mob.[41] Trying to be consistent, Harper’s also scolded Protestant clergy in February, 1871, for seeking political favors from the Grant Administration as clergy. Nast accompanied the article with an image of Columbia turning away representatives of all faiths, entitled, “Church and State—No Union on Any Terms.”[42]

III. The Priests, The Press, and the Children

The Harper’s attack on the government of New York City brought the publishing house into conflict with the New York City Board of Public Instruction. Harper’s was, after all, a business, and city officials preferred not to patronize an enterprise so actively promoting their own demise. Tweed directed the school board to pull all Harper’s books from public schools and replace them with those of a rival company, which happened to be owned by members of Tweed’s ring. Nast duly depicted the event in “The New Board of Education.”[43]

Harper’s and Nast did not easily forget the school board’s purge. In September 1871, Harper’s correspondent on Catholicism and education, Eugene Lawrence, kicked off the school year with a scathing (and scandalously unsubstantiated) article that accused the new school board of being in the hands of a conspiracy of Irish Catholics and Jesuits, who were slowly destroying the public schools through attendance attrition. Entitled “The Priests and the Children,” that article warned of dire international plots, beginning with the recent reorganization of the board of education. “…The Board of Education was swept away, and its powers lodged in a new board of twelve men appointed by the Mayor. It is stated…that no one can be appointed a teacher who is without influence with the ruling faction; that the Bible is being rapidly excluded from all Catholic schools; that an effort is apparently underway in several wards to drive away the Protestant teachers; that in one school the children were found celebrating the Catholic feast of the Ascension.”[44] Lawrence showed his hand a few lines later: “So faithful to its Romish masters is the new board that it has excluded from its list of schoolbooks most of the publications of an eminent publishing house because their periodicals have spared neither the Pope nor his New York vassals.”

Mirroring the approach of so many Nast cartoons, Lawrence’s article finished with a double message: a dire assessment of the threat and a confident call to arms, so that “every vestige of priestly rule be swept away, and that every citizen of New York may yet be suffered to speak the truth with as little danger of personal violence in his own city as if he were in Rome, Madrid, or Vienna.” It is important to note, however, that the article reached out to many different groups in its rhetoric and assured its readers that the threat came not from lay Catholics, but from foreign Church leaders and the Tweed ring. In an astonishing plea, Eugene Lawrence claimed the aid of “Every Protestant yet unbribed; of every liberal Catholic who has seen with joy the emancipation of Austria, Italy, or Spain from spiritual tyranny; of every German who, in his country’s danger, felt the sincerity of republican sympathy; of the Irish man, who has discovered with gratitude and joy that here, at least, he may find a peaceful home….”[45]

Nast accompanied the article with his most famous educational cartoon and the only one to be reissued by Harper’s.[46] “The Priests and the Children” tied together a number of elements in the artist’s anti-Catholic Church and anti-Tweed cartoons.Yet while the drawing is often used as evidence of the bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants over religion in public schooling, and as evidence of widespread anti-Catholic bigotry, Nast’s message proved more complex, and his major motivation may well have been a desire to revenge Harper’s on the New York City Board of Public Instruction for banning Harper’s textbooks. The cartoon shows Boss Tweed overseeing mitered bishops, horizontal like crocodiles, attacking American schoolchildren. The schoolhouse from “Fort Sumter” appears in the background, as does the Saint Peter’s Basilica flying Irish and papal flags. The cartoon, like the article, marked the start of the school year by accusing the New York City School Board of handing the schools over to the Romanists and Democratic party hacks, both of whom are depicted as intent upon killing the children and their teachers. (Those who escape the crocodiles suffer the gallows in the distance.) Was this cartoon evidence of widespread anti-Catholic bigotry in 1871 or of Protestant “suspicion of Catholic reform efforts?” Given the context, the cartoon is far better understood as Nast’s most extreme (and clever) use of the idea of a Romanist “threat” to impugn Tweed and as better than a bitten thumb at the New York City school board. “The Priests and the Children” blended the common critique that Catholic Church school policy was antidemocratic with Nast’s own campaign against the corrupt Tweed Ring. Both the leadership of Tammany and the Romanists within the Catholic Church were hostile to republican government—which rested, in the minds of many, on the central pillar of the free public school.[47]

IV. Sectarianism and the Public School

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it can also be more boring. As we have seen in Nast’s case, the exaggeration was the point, but that very exaggeration challenges modern historians to piece together the meaning and significance of his images. While many of his church-state cartoons warned of future events, or were obviously abstract and theoretical (thus granting him vast license), on a few occasions Nast made the telling mistake of including things “as they are.” At those times, we can see Nast’s attempts at blurring his use of the school as a metaphor and as an actual depiction.

The first example of such a situation appeared in 1870 when Nast attempted to elaborate on his argument against the distribution of the school fund to church schools in New York City. The cartoon, “Our Common Schools As They Are And As They May Be,” came early in Nast’s educational campaign. The first panel depicted Nast’s vision of public schools “as they are,” a happy circle of racially diverse children attending the same school—one that was “free to all” and had “no sects.” Revisionist scholars and their successors have ungently dissected the naiveté of this vision, pointing to segregated schools for African and Native Americans, no school for Chinese children in California, and so on. Nast’s own New York City conducted legally separated schools for African-American children, as well as de facto segregated schools for the children of the city’s many ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods.[48] To the modern historian, the image appears laughably fictional. To Nast, this vision of the socially inclusive common school served a useful symbolic function more than it did a representational one, building on the antebellum rhetoric of common school reformers that the nonsectarian, publicly controlled school was a “pillar” of an inclusive American republic.[49]

In the second panel, showing the distribution of the fund, Nast spilt his vitriol on the Catholic Church, conveniently overlooking the participation of Protestant and Jewish schools in the “school steal” as well. It also offers exaggerated motivations for each “side” of the steal: “death to us,” it warns, but “fun for them.” The third panel is Nast’s apocalyptic prediction for the near future, warning that education could become a battleground of individual interests. (The ominous predictions that appear in panels two and three—the financial starvation of public schools and balkanization of society—continue to appear in contemporary debates over school vouchers.) The third scene gives a worrying impression of impending anarchy. But was it any more accurate a view than Nast’s treacly portrait of common schools “as they are” or his conveniently nearsighted depiction of the “distribution of the sectarian school fund”?

Nast used the idea of “nonsectarian” education as a primary intellectual justification for his own liberal view of inclusive public schools and as a weapon against Romanist encroachments. In reality, however, Nast applied the concept inconsistently, and on occasion found himself on the opposite side of the sectarian debate, as lay Catholics challenged Protestant sectarianism in public schools. Harper’s writer Eugene Lawrence and Nast made much of papal conspiracies and seething Irish Catholic masses, but their accusations tended to lack specifics once the school steal had faded from daily news. In late 1871 though, events across the East River in Long Island City provided the duo with some local grist for their mills and actual evidence they could twist to substantiate their claims of a vast papal conspiracy exploiting the Irish-Catholic masses. Set against other evidence, however, Nast and Lawrence’s Long Island City series reveals the extent to which their preconceptions, political sympathies, and even bigotry could distort their versions of reality.

In 1871 the state legislature approved the incorporation of a collection of villages at the northwestern tip of Long Island into Long Island City. The new city charter provided for a central board of education appointed solely by the mayor, while each school now within city limits would also have an elected board of ward-level trustees to oversee day-to-day management.[50] This was a smaller version of the recently reformed Board of Public Instruction in New York City, which Nast and Lawrence had condemned in “The Priests and the Children.” For the first year of its operation, that board consisted entirely of members appointed by the same mayor at the same time. (In subsequent years, their terms would expire in rotation.) Yet unlike the Byzantine system of schools in New York City, which afforded individual schools a degree of autonomy by virtue of its unwieldy size, the system of schools in Long Island City was small (city population 16,000 by 1875).[51] The mayor of Long Island City was a Republican.[52]

Seizing on their new powers, the appointed Board of Education passed a by-law requiring all the schools of the city to conduct opening religious exercises, “reading, without note or comment, a portion of Holy Scripture, and the singing of secular airs.”[53] A trustee from the predominantly Catholic Ward One protested the by-law before its adoption, warning that a large portion of his ward would certainly oppose the provision. But the board ignored the request.[54]

When city schools opened for their first school year under the new board, the regulation immediately brought protests from Catholic parents and pupils of Ward One to their trustees, who in turn protested to the Board of Education. Notably, the children did not refuse to participate in the exercises until after their local ward trustees had acted. The trustees soon did. Late in September, a trustee of Ward One entered the school and read a protest in front of the teachers and pupils, demanding that it be written in the minute book of the school: “We admire the discipline acquired in this school, but protest and have protested this day publicly in this school in the presence of the above named gentlemen against the reading of the Bible or any rule of faith whatsoever in this public school.”[55]

The trustees’ protest outraged the teachers and the principal, who described it as “violent and denounciatory [sic]” and “calculated to destroy the good order and discipline of said school.” Most importantly for the trustees’ purposes, however, the protest jolted the Long Island City Board of Education, which had thus far ignored the concerns of Catholics in Ward One. Three days later the trustees of Ward One lodged a formal complaint at the Board of Education meeting. The board suspended the religious requirement one week later.[56]

The victory did not last, however. Apparently feeling that the majority and the mayor were on their side, the board reinstated exercises at the end of October.[57] Betrayed by the city government, a number of Catholic parents and pupils, and other taxpayers of Ward One, organized and protested on several fronts. First, the children themselves protested during the exercises—at first just by blocking their ears as the principal read the Scriptures. The principal responded to this “blasphemy” by expelling them. A few tried sitting outside the room during the exercises, but the principal compelled them either to enter or go home for the day. Over the next week some children continued to return to school to protest, covering their ears and shouting “I don’t believe in that” as the principal read passages from the King James Bible. At one point, the protests grew so fierce that the principal called the police, who arrested three young men for disturbing the peace. Other Catholic children did not protest—out of fear or lack of interest—and sat quietly throughout the exercises. Still others withdrew to attend a nearby parochial school, which enjoyed steady growth during these events. Adding insult to injury, the Board of Education announced an expanded religious exercises requirement that would include prayer in addition to Bible reading and singing.[58] Second, parents organized a citizen’s meeting and democratically determined a list of grievances and elected representatives to take them to the board of education. When that failed, a ward trustee and parents filed three separate appeals to the state superintendent.[59]

The Long Island City story was not an example of Catholic anarchy, or of scheming priests at all, but quite the opposite: the result of unyielding tyranny of the majority—expressed through a form of school governance that Nast and Lawrence had personally condemned only months earlier. Catholic children and parents had worked through proper legal channels as far as possible before turning to more colorful forms of nonviolent protest. They had organized a citizen’s group and followed the democratic process. They engaged in these activities not to destroy public education but to reform their local school in a way that made it possible for them to attend in good conscience. In the end, they appealed to the state’s legal system for redress using the same concept of nonsectarianism in public education that Nast had applied as a foil to “political Romanism.”

In Harper’s, Eugene Lawrence reported the events of Long Island City in blistering terms, omitting any wrongdoing on the part of the Board of Education or the teachers, failing to mention a similarity to the New York City Board of Public Instruction and instead using the event as evidence of a vast papal conspiracy. He also failed to note the Catholic attempts at compromise and peaceful negotiation.[60]

A teacher, directed by the law to read a portion of the Scriptures in his school, endeavored to perform his duty. The children of Romish parents, instructed by their elders, interrupt the exercise; the teacher still persists, and punishes one of the offenders. He is assailed by half-grown boys; denounced, it is stated, by the Romish priest, the keys to his schoolhouse are taken by him from one of the trustees; the schoolhouse is temporarily closed; the life of the brave teacher in threatened and in danger; and the peaceful citizens of a quiet town are overawed by the violence of the Romish faction.
—Hunters Point, Long Island City.[61]

Lawrence continued his rant by linking the events to “a long series of acts of violence occurring in various portions of our own country and in Europe” that pointed to a conspiracy of Jesuit priests, who used Irish mobs as pawns in their game of global conquest. He appealed to intelligent Catholics to throw off their priestly shackles. He also concluded, in seemingly deliberate contradiction of fact, to chide the parents for their behavior. “Had those ignorant parents who excited their children to riot and disorder at Hunter’s Point been early taught a proper knowledge of their duties as men and citizens, they would scarcely have encouraged acts of violence….” Thomas Nast drew an accompanying cartoon that highlighted the gist of the article: a scheming priest inciting anarchy in ape-like Irish children, the portrait of a public school in danger.

Over the months that followed, Nast and Lawrence teamed up for a series of articles and cartoons that periodically revisited the Hunter’s Point controversy, focusing explicitly on the question of Bible reading in public schools.[62] These attacks moved from accusations of Irish mob rule to a more nativist theme that the Irish Catholics were ungrateful for the blessings of America.[63]

When the State Superintendent of Public Instruction ruled in favor of the Catholic protestors in Long Island City—abolishing Bible reading there—Nast and Lawrence turned their accusations of lawlessness and ungratefulness to sour grapes about the Democratic Party. (The State Superintendent was a Democrat.) A cartoon entitled “Romish Politics—Anything to Beat Grant” accused Horace Greely, presidential candidate against Nast’s hero Ulysses Grant, of pandering to irrational Catholic demands for the removal of the Bible. The text of the cartoon read, “IRISH CATHOLIC INVADER. ‘The YMCA want the Bible in the public school, assuming that this is a Christian country. We want the Priest, the Brother, and the Sister in our public schools, not assuming, but endeavoring to effect, that this is a Catholic country.’—Saint Louis Western Watchman, July 13, 1872.” The trouble was, those were not the demands of Catholic parents in Long Island City. They wanted, quite simply, for their children to not have to endure Protestant religious exercises at the start of the school day. Even the list of demands that parents themselves drafted at a citizen’s meeting contained no mention of clerical presence in the school. Nast had to plumb his quote from a newspaper in Saint Louis.

At the end of 1872, Ulysses S. Grant won the election in November, reform candidates carried New York, and the Tweed ring scattered. Nast, now a Don Quixote without windmills, depicted his own predicament in a humorous cartoon in November entitled, “Our Artist’s Occupation Gone.”[64] In 1873 he took a temporary leave from Harper’s. But before he left, he penned a parting shot at the Hunter’s Point controversy in a December 24 picture entitled, “The Herb That Will Heal the Discontented Wild Irishman.” Dame Columbia and “Our English Cousin Froude” search—in vain—for the cure for Irish mobbism. In the distance, figures riot around an Orange Day flag and a public school. The accompanying article by Lawrence gives a biting history of the Irish “problem.” Neither referred to any specific school-related events (aside from the implied reference to Hunter’s Point).[65]

V. What About The Wolf at the Door?

During Nast’s ten-month absence, Harper’s editorial staff redoubled their efforts at reporting, and distorting, events in the New York City Board of Public Instruction. But the artist’s return signaled a shift in editorial priorities.[66] Nast handed over several anti-Catholic Church cartoons to other Harper’s artists.[67] This may have been due, in part, to the magazine’s estimate that the old, corrupt New York City Board of Public Instruction had finally withered in the face of reform.[68] Another enemy checked off the list. Nast would need to find others.

Nast’s cartoons from 1873-1876 continued to engage occasional educational events, ever trying to link educational policies he did not like to Romanist Catholic Church plots, but their frequency, and effectiveness, could not compare to his earlier work. Indeed, other Harper’s cartoonists produced more work than he. When the Republican Party picked up the school question (what was the proper relationship between churches and common schools?) from mid 1875 to 1876, Nast did rejoin the graphic war. As historian Ward McAfee has shown, the Republicans scooped the school question in state and national politics as enthusiasm for Reconstruction waned.[69] Fear of Catholics and their church, leading Republicans hoped, would counter the Democratic negrophobia exacerbated by attempts to integrate blacks into American social life. As party interest perked, Nast served as a standard-bearer.

Although Nast produced several excellent cartoons from 1875–1876, one in particular deserves attention, both for its content and for its timing. As 1876 unfolded, Nast cartooned on behalf of the Republican Party’s presidential campaign. Yet he also approached the end of his own six-year campaign against the Catholic Church’s public-school policy. His final shot, in September, 1876, like so much of his work, revisited a theme first developed in 1870. In “Tilden’s Wolf at the Door,” Nast again detailed the idea of pluralism versus exceptionalism in education. The cartoon depicts multiethnic classroom children holding the door against presidential candidate Samuel Tilden’s Wolf—the Roman Catholic Church. The schoolmaster, Uncle Sam, is fetching his gun. Like “The Public Schools As They Are,” the piece blithely ignored existing segregation in New York City and New York State—despite the passage of a civil rights bill in 1874. The balkanization threatened by Nast’s wolf already existed to some degree in American society; and the neighborhood-based American common school reflected it, wolf or no wolf. Given a much-discussed peaceful petition of priests in New York City the year before to integrate parochial schools into the public system, the violence of the wolf, set against the violence implied by Uncle Sam’s gun, greatly exaggerated both the threat and the remedy.[70]

Aside from its obvious defense of the supposed colorblindness of the common school against calls for funding for sectarian schooling, the “Wolf at the Door” also begged an important question: did Nast really believe the liberal fantasy that he championed in his depictions of the common school? Were his depictions of religion and race consistently neutral? The short answer to both questions is no. To be fair, as historian Morton Keller has observed, Nast often championed the rights of minorities, especially African Americans, in a time when much of white America reviled them.[71] His depictions of blacks in many images of the 1860s and 1870s were exceptionally human and humane—unusually free of the stereotypes that would come to characterize racial depictions in American visual culture in the decades to come.[72] In the 1860s in particular, Nast heroically depicted violence against blacks and sharply contrasted Democratic and Republican attitudes toward them. Yet as we have seen, when blacks somehow crossed his political agenda, Nast turned his bitter pen against them. Just a month after the 1876 election, and a mere three months after drawing “Tilden’s Wolf,” Nast vented his political frustration with a cover-page illustration depicting an ignorant black voter in the South being balanced by an ignorant Irish voter in the North. Keller attributes Nast’s negrophobic negativity to general trends in American politics as reconstruction sputtered and racial attitudes soured, even among Republicans.[73] One must then ask how a deep-seated sociopolitical ethos could wither so quickly in the space of a few months surrounding an election? In fact, the image is consistent with Nast’s 1868 cartoon, “All the Difference in the World,” in that his devotion to his political cause, as usual, trumped his commitment to the supposed virtues underlying its rhetoric. Nast’s racial archetypes of “coon” images of blacks appeared twice in 1874 as well, again as a scold for undesirable political behavior.[74] Race and religion mattered less to Nast than political behavior—a behavior that only an inclusive, nonsectarian public school could shape.

“The Ignorant Vote” (pictured above) suggests the complexity of Nast’s racial imagery. The African bumpkin is labeled “black,” the menacing Irishman, “white.” In a literal sense, the Irishman’s whiteness is unquestionable, whatever his other deficiencies might be in the artist’s mind. But beyond this straightforward interpretation, the Irish menace, politically speaking, threatened Nast’s politics far more than the black bumpkin. Because Irish Catholics formed the backbone of the Democratic Party in the North, especially in New York City, Nast had good reason to overemphasize (to caricature) Irish mobbing and stereotype them as savages. When blacks did not vote his way, Nast turned to negative racial stereotypes of them as well—ones centered on stupidity rather than violence.[75] The Irishman’s sin, depicted again and again, was his behavior—drink, corruption, poverty; the black man’s sin—childish stupidity—Nast presented as innate: his intellectual inability to engage in the full duties of citizenship. In this scenario, the Irishman’s sin was far greater because it was a choice, not a destiny. On the other hand, his “whiteness” made him more innately capable than the African American.[76] In both cases, however, the conceptions of “race” and “whiteness” and the idea of “innate” characteristics are something of an anachronism: Nast wielded stereotypes judiciously—as threats, in the case of the Irish, and scolds, in the case of blacks.

Nast’s unremitting visual hostility to the Irish had an unusual side effect in his educational art: the Irish children he chided for their supposed resistance to common schooling rarely appeared in his idealized multiethnic classrooms. In reality, more Catholics attended public schools than parochial ones, both nationwide and in New York.[77] The trouble Nast faced, however, was that the stock image of the Irish ape implied violent, antisocial behavior. With these characteristics gone, what would distinguish the otherwise “white” Irish child? One famous exception proves the rule. In “The Good-For-Nothing,” a recalcitrant Irish boy stands at the front of the class, at the foot of Dame Columbia’s desk, his rum, knife, and gun having been confiscated. Dame Britannia laments to Columbia the difficulties she has had with “the very same boy.”[78] The image works because the boy could still be associated with weapons, drink, and antisocial behavior within the classroom. In unified classrooms like that of “Tilden’s Wolf,” however, the artist would be harder pressed to render the Irish Catholic child in positive terms and had no real visual precedent in his own work to accomplish it. Thus while Nast’s partner Eugene Lawrence urged liberal Catholics to resist their conservative leaders and while tens of thousands of Irish Catholic children attended public schools in New York City alone, Nast’s poison pen prevented such a benign rendering.

“Tilden’s Wolf” was Nast’s last Harper’s cartoon devoted directly to the school question. By the end of 1876, Nast dropped his work on the school question as quickly as he had begun it. Eventually Harper’s did the same. Nast’s waning interest in education marked the final—and longest—phase of his educational cartooning for Harper’s. Over the next ten years, until his departure at the end of 1886, Nast drew only six more cartoons that mentioned schools at all and even then usually only as a minor metaphor for the American or northern way of life. With Tilden defeated, Nast retired from the field. Coming full circle in his work, the artist returned to higher education reform in 1879 in one of his last educational cartoons. Like his 1869 exercise, “Physical Education,” this cartoon, “Education,” reflected Nast’s interest in modernizing the collegiate curriculum toward more active hands-on subjects. The cartoon pictures a weak, bespectacled lad studying Etruscan, while a brainless Colossus walks by. “Is there no middle course?” asks the subtitle. The cartoon lacks the inspiration of his common school work, and, like its predecessor, “Physical Education,” is not particularly clever or funny. It does serve, however, as a bookend to Nast’s educational cartooning at Harper’s, as it was nearly his last, and so very much like his first. It is also a good reminder that Nast spent nearly three times as long in his career at Harper’s (1862–1886) ignoring the educational issues of his day as he did exploiting them.

VI. Conclusion

Ample evidence exists attesting to Thomas Nast’s popularity and that many people viewed, and even enjoyed, his art. He was the only member of the staff about whom Harper’s Weekly crowed in feature articles, and they did so repeatedly. During the magazine’s crusade against Tweed, in which Nast played a leading role, the magazine’s circulation tripled.[79]Harper’s featured an article by an English writer in 1878 attesting to Nast’s fame there.[80] And Nast’s departure from Harper’s in 1886 cost the magazine an estimated $50,000.[81]

The popularity of titillating cartoons is hardly a measure of their effect, however, and attempts to gauge the influence of Nast’s ideas on the shaping of public policy or voting behavior will probably never bear fruit. Progressive-era historians have pointed to statements by Lincoln, Grant, the Republican Party—even Boss Tweed himself—that Nast’s pen shaped public opinion.[82] Usually expressions of gratitude, however, such statements would be highly unreliable even if their authors had access to actual evidence. Tweed offered Nast half a million dollars to take an extended vacation, but he offered the New York Times five million.[83] And Nast’s success in the anti-Tweed crusade, or in Republican campaigns, should not be assumed to correlate with his influence in school issues.

By the same token, Nast’s popularity makes him worthy of study; not only because his drawings offer a window into his own times, but because historians continue to turn to Nast’s art as a kind of shorthand for the politics of public education in the 1870s. The most effective historical uses of Nast’s work are those that link it to Republican Party rhetoric, particularly that of “Radical” Republicans. Both Morton Keller and Wade McAfee have tied Nast’s work to changes in “sociopolitical structures,” and his own “Radical Republican point of view.”[84] Of course, historians should be wary of Nast’s credibility as a political commentator—especially in the case of schools. He did not depict, he incited. The public school, even as a direct subject, served more often as a metaphor than a mirror image. Nast’s idealized common school paralleled the idealized racial imagery that he wielded to meet the needs of the moment.

Nevertheless, that idealized school, however fanciful, linked Nast’s educational art to a widespread, common-school ideal formed in the antebellum era. While common-school inclusiveness in the antebellum period generally referred to social class, Nast elaborated that theme in the 1870s to include race and, in his own fashion, religion. For an age that historians typically associate with violent racial and religious conflict, the vision behind Nast’s blistering images remains strikingly tolerant, however inconsistent it may have been in reality, or in his own judicious application. In Nast’s ideal, the common (or public) school embodied the best liberal principles of the American republic—particularly its form of democratic, civil governance and its openness to all types of children. When it came to the political issues of school control—democratic and public versus church-based and parochial—Nast invoked those pluralist principles to condemn the Roman Catholic Church’s educational policy. He objected to “political Romanism,” not the Catholic creed. The public school could welcome all faces and faiths, he argued, but only as individuals within a civil system. On the other hand, when lay Catholics in Long Island City invoked the same principle of inclusiveness to challenge Protestant Bible reading, the artist resorted to nativism and sour grapes. Their actions challenged Nast to separate Protestantism from republicanism and to admit a legitimate place for Catholics, typically absent from his cartoon classrooms, in actual society that his idealized schoolrooms represented.

Benjamin Justice received his Ph.D. in History of Education from Stanford University and is an Assistant Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He presented an early version of this essay at the History of Education Society’s 2002 annual meeting in Pittsburgh. A small portion of it appears in his book, The War That Wasn’t: Religious Conflict and Compromise in the Common Schools of New York (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005). He wishes to thank Amy Ferrell, Jon Zimmerman, Craig Peck, and the History of Education Quarterly’s anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback at various points in the process.


1 David B. Tyack, “Onward Christian Soldiers: Religion in the American Common School,” in History and Education: The Educational Uses of the Past ed. Paul Nash (New York: Random House, 1970): 212–255; Ward M. McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction: The Public School in the Politics of the 1870s (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998); Lloyd Jorgenson, The State and the Non-Public School, 1825–1925 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987).
2 See Lawrence Streicher, “On a Theory of Political Caricature,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 9:4 (July 1967): 427–445; W. A. Coupe, “Observations on a Theory of Political Caricature,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 11:1 (January 1969): 79–95; Isabel Simeral Johnson, “Cartoons,” Public Opinion Quarterly 1:3 (July 1937): 21–44; J. Chal Vinson, “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene,” American Quarterly 9:3 (Autumn 1957): 337–344; Roger Penn Cuff, “The American Editorial Political Cartoon—a Critical Historical Sketch,” Journal of Educational Sociology 19:2 (October 1945): 87–96; James K. Lively, “Propaganda Techniques of Civil War Cartoonists,” Public Opinion Quarterly 6:2 (Spring 1942): 99–106; Charles Press, The Political Cartoon (Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickenson Press, 1981); Stephen Becker, Comic Art in America: A Social History of the Funnies, The Political Cartoons, Magazine Humor, Sporting Cartoons and Animated Cartoons (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959); Allan Nevins and Frank Weitenkampf, A Century of Political Cartoons: Caricature in the United States from 1800–1900 (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1944). Coupe suggests that historians often overestimate the power of cartoonists, including Nast (see p. 82).
3 Thomas C. Leonard, The Power of the Press: The Birth of American Political Reporting (New York: Oxford Press, 1986); Morton Keller, The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968); Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865–1878 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994). Although it does not directly address Nast in a systematic way, McAfee’s, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction deserves mention in this body of scholarship as well.
4 For example, Keller, Art and Politics of Thomas Nast and McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction. More recently, see Samuel J. Thomas, “Mugwump Cartoonists, The Papcy, and Tammany Hall in America’s Gilded Age,” Religion and American Culture 14:2 (Summer 2004): 213–250.
5 Jorgenson, The State and the Non-Public School, 113 and cover; Timothy Walch, Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Crossroads Publishing Company, 1996), 171; Charles Morris, America Catholic (New York: Times Books, 1997), 66; McAfee, Religion, Race, and Recontruction, 48, 153, 193.
6 Morris, America Catholic, 66.
7 Walch, Parish School, 171.
8 McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction, 48, 153, 193.
9 In fact there has been no major progress on Nast since Keller’s 1968 book. Jorgenson and more recently McAfee provide excellent scholarship on educational politics of the period in general, however. See also, James W. Fraser, Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multi-Cultural America (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1999).
10 Keller, Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, 159–162.
11 Albert Bigelow Paine, Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (New York: MacMillan Company, 1904). Paine’s biography is the best and most comprehensive source on Nast’s life. Harper’s included brief biographies of Nast as his popularity increased. See Harpers Weekly, May 11, 1867, January 21, 1871, August 26, 1871, and March 15, 1873.
12 For an overview of Anti-Catholicism and its relationship to nativism in the 1850s, see John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 [1955] (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 3–11. On the connection between European and American turmoil, see John T. McGreevey, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19–25.
13 Jay P. Dolan, In Search of An American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 47–70; Jorgensen, The State and the Non-Public School, 125–132.
14 Keller, Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, 159–160 claims Nast was Protestant without citation, but Nast’s most comprehensive biographer, Paine, equivocates on the issue and offers evidence to suggest that he was raised Catholic—or at least his parents sent him to what sounds like a Catholic church in Germany and what was certainly a Catholic school in New York. See Paine, Thomas Nast, 6,14.
15 The Register of St. Peters Episcopal Church in Morristown, New Jersey recorded the baptism, confirmation, and marriage of Sarah Edith Nast. Baptism- May 30, 1888, Confirmation June 3, 1888, Marriage- September 26, 1891. The Episcopal Church would be the best choice for a culturally Catholic German who hated the politics of the papacy—as opposed to a Lutheran church, for example, or a Catholic one.
16 “Thomas Nast,” Harper’s Weekly, August 26, 1871.
17 See, for example, Nast’s characterization of Ben Butler as a satanic genie in “The Cradle of Liberty in Danger,” Harpers Weekly, April 11, 1874.
18 On anti-Catholicism and liberalism see McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom. Ray Allen Billington argued that anti-Catholicism was more of a social phenomenon which dated back to the early settlement of the colonies. See The Protestant Crusade: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: MacMillan, 1938). See also, Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
19 See David Grimsted, American Mobbing, 1828–1861: Toward Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), for an interesting argument on how to understand riots in context. See also Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: The Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).
20 There are many examples in Harper’s. Nast’s first anti-pope cartoon came on Feb. 9, 1867, his first anti-New York City government cartoon on that same day, and his first Irish gorilla on April 6. See also Paine, 106–123. On changes over time in late nineteenth-century newspapers’ depictions of Irish Americans, see Perry Curtis Jr., Apes and Angels, The Irishman in Victorian Caricature (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971). Curtis has noted a tendency among immigrant cartoonists, such as Nast, to overcompensate with strongly anti-immigrant art and rhetoric (96).
21 Curtis, Apes and Angels, 1–22, 29.
22 Ibid, 29.
23 Ibid, 58–67. Thomas, “Mugwump Cartoonists.”
24 Thomas Nast, “The Greek Slave,” Harper’s Weekly, April 16, 1870.
25 David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class [1991] (New York: Verso, 1995), 134.
26 Nativist attacks on the Irish varied in their brand of hostility. Roediger, Wages of Whiteness (p. 133), outlines scholarship explaining the various modes from racial to moral.
27 James Dormon, “Shaping the Popular Image of Post-Reconstruction American Blacks: The “Coon Song” Phenomenon of the Gilded Age,” American Quarterly 40:4 (December 1988): 450–471; Alexander Saxton, “Blackface Minstrelsy and Jacksonian Ideology,” American Quarterly 27:1 (March 1975): 3–28.
28 See “Colored Rule in a Reconstructed State,” Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1874; “The Commandments in South Carolina,” Harper’s Weekly, September 26, 1874.
29 Dormon, “Shaping the Popular Image”; Saxton, “Blackface Minstrelsy and Jacksonian Ideology.”
30 Curtis, Apes and Angels, 15.
31 Eric Arnesen, “Whiteness and the Historians’ Imagination,” International Labor and Working-Class History, No. 60 (Fall, 2001): 3–32. This special issue of International Labor and Working-Class History contains a number of informative articles exploring the concept of “whiteness.” See also Noel Ignatieff, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995).
32 Many historians have noted this phenomenon. See Henry J. Perkinson, The Imperfect Panacea: American Faith in Education, 1865–1990 [1968] (New York: McGraw Hill, 1991), 13.
33 For example, a November 6, 1869 cartoon entitled, “Democratic Platform Made Easy,” includes 17 panels describing failures of the Democratic Party; not one mentions public schools.
34 F. Michael Perko, A Time to Favor Zion: A Case Study of Religion as a Force in American Educational Development, 1830–1870 (Ph.D. diss, Stanford University, 1981).
35 Jorgenson, The State and the Non-Public School, 113–114; John Webb Pratt, Religion, Politics, and Diversity: The Church-State Theme in New York History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 196–197.
36 Pratt, Religion, Politics, and Diversity, 198; Jorgenson, The State and the Non-Public School, 114.
37 Harper’s Weekly, January 22, 1870.
38 In an April 16 cartoon entitled, “Foreshadowing coming events in our coming schools,” Nast offered his readers a vision of the threat in action: public school students being taught that the Pope is infallible, while a priest sweeps away academics and the Holy Bible.
39 Examples of the enemy’s strength abound. For an example of weakness, see Thomas Nast, “A Dangerous Game: An Old Fable with a Modern Application,” Harper’s Weekly, May 14, 1870. As they do in the fable, the aroused bees chase away the bears.
40 See Curtis, Apes and Angels, and Press, The Political Cartoon, for examples.
41 Thomas Nast, “The Flower of the Flock Leaving the Fold,” Harper’s Weekly, October 30, 1869. The Harper’s feature on Hyacinth came on October 16, 1869.
42 “The Clergy and Politics,” Harper’s Weekly, February 18, 1871, 131.
43 Paine, Thomas Nast, 158–160.
44 Eugene Lawrence, “The Priests and the Children,” Harpers Weekly, Sept. 30, 1871, 915.
45 Ibid.
46 The 1875 reprint no longer included Tweed.
47 On the development of republican ideology in American education see Carl Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983).
48 Carleton Mabee, Black Education in New York State, From Colonial Times to Present (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979), 193–212.
49 Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic.
50 Appeal of the Trustees of Ward One against the Board of Education, Reply of the Board of Education. Appeals Case Files of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, series B0496–78, B0496-78A, New York State Archives (hereafter referred to as appeals). The official title of the board was Board of Public Instruction. But in this case, as in that of New York City, I have used the term Board of Education for the sake of clarity. In fact, residents of the city at the time used the term Board of Education as well in legal documents.
51 C.W. Seaton, Census of the State of New York for 1875, (Albany: Weed and Parsons, 1877), 28.
52 Unnumbered appeal filed 2/7/1872, entitled Board of Trustees of Ward One vs. Board of Education of Long Island City.
53 Trustees vs. L.I. City Board of Education, statement of William Sieberg. The Board also fired an Irish teacher, P.J. O’Grady, who appealed to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. See unnumbered appeal filed 8/11/1871.
54 “Reply of the Board of Education” from unnumbered appeal filed 2/7/1872.
55 See all three appeals cases from Long Island City, 1872.
56 Appeal of the trustees, testimony of Sieberg.
57 Appeal of the trustees.
58 Point number 38 in appeal of the trustees.
59 Appeal of the trustees, testimony of Sieberg
60 Eugene Lawrence, “Hunter’s Point—Compulsory Education,” Harper’s Weekly, December 23, 1871.
61 Ibid.
62 Eugene Lawrence: “The Bible at Hunter’s Point,” Harper’s Weekly, January 6, 1872; “The Bible in the Schools,” June 29, 1872; “Romish Ingratitude,” July 13, 1872, Hunter’s Point—Romish Politics,” August 17, 1872; Thomas Nast, “Romish Ingratitude,” July 13, 1872, “Romish Politics—Any Thing To Beat Grant,”August 17, 1872
63 John Higham argued for a distinction between nativism and anti-Catholicism, although in terms of the latter he does not clarify the difference between Nast’s anti-“political Romanism” and a more straightforward bigotry. See Higham, Strangers in the Land, 12–34.
64 November 23. “It’s all very funny to you,” the caption read, “but what am I to do now?”
65 For an in-depth exploration of the absence of religious controversy in the common schools of New York State, see Benjamin Justice, “Peaceable Adjustments: Religious Diversity and Local Control in New York State Common Schools, 1865–1900” (Ph.D. diss, Stanford University, 2002).
66 From January to October, Harper’s ran near weekly articles on popish plots and school politics, 33 in all, in Nast’s absence.
67 Harper’s Weekly: C.S. Reinhart, “The Unseen Signal of the Jesuits,” March 15, 1873; C.S. Reinhart, “The New Romish Crusade Against Liberty and Law,” March 29, 1873. E.S.L., “The Public Schools,” April 12, 1873. August 30 featured two non-Nast cartoons roasting the former board of education, accompanied by an article entitled “A Defense of Tweed and Sweeny’s Educators.” C.S. Reinhart, “A Foreign Demand,” September 27, 1873.
68 “The New Board of Education,” Harper’s Weekly, April 12, 1873.
69 McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction.
70 Harper’s Weekly covered the proposal on April 3, April 10, April 17, April 24, and May 1, 1875.
71 Keller, The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, 105–106.
72 See Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in Adverising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994); M. M. Manring, Slave in a Box: the Strange Career of Aunt Jemima (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998).
73 Keller, The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, 220.
74 “Colored Rule in a Reconstructed State,” Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1874; “The Commandments in South Carolina,” Harper’s Weekly, September 26, 1874.
75 See “The Civilization of Blaine,” Harper’s Weekly, March 8, 1879.
76 See Roediger, Wages of Whiteness, 133–156; and Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White.
77 David P. Baker, “Schooling All of the Masses: Reconsidering the Origins of American Schooling in the Postbellum Era,” Sociology of Education 72:4 (1999): 197–116; Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1975), 405; McGreevey, Catholicism and American Freedom, 118.
78 Thomas Nast, “The Good For Nothing in Miss Columbia’s Public School,” Harper’s Weekly, November 4, 1871.
79 Leonard, Power of the Press, 123.
80 October 5.
81 Vinson, “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene,” 344.
82 For example, see Ibid, 338 and Vinson, Thomas Nast, 5–14. For a foil see Coupe, “Observations on a Thoery of Political Caricature,” 82.
83 Thomas Milton Kemnitz, “The Cartoon as a Historical Source,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4:1 (Summer 1973): 81–93, 84.
84 Keller, Art and Politics of Thomas Nast, 159–162. Keller paints Nast’s cartoons as reflecting the artist’s own fear and paranoia. I see him as being much more calculating than that, particularly given his mercurial relationship to the schools, and their frequent service to some other master. Nast played to fears, and incited them, to be sure.

By Benjamin Justice