Political Cartoons

Thomas Nast was born in Germany in 1840. Six years later, his father sent him and his mother and sister to live in the U.S. while he finished a military obligation. Thomas was not a good student, but had obvious artistic talents. After one year at a design school, he got a job doing illustrations for a paper. At age 18, he illustrated a report on police corruption for Harper’s Weekly.

At age 20, Thomas was hired to go to England for two years. When he returned to the U.S., he again worked for Harper’s. His illustrations were sentimental in tone and were instrumental in building support in the North for a continuation of the Civil War. This was when his illustrations took on a more political tone.

His illustrations were sympathetic to Native Americans and Chinese Americans, but were dismissive of Irish Americans. He was an advocate for desegregation and eviscerated the Ku Klux Klan in his cartoons.

His cartoons were instrumental in attacking political corruption, most notable the reign of Boss Tweed in New York City. His cartoons were instrumental in five Presidential elections from 1864-1884. Often his cartoons ridiculed Presidential contenders.

Thomas Nast is still with us today through the illustrations that have now become iconic figures in American society. He is credited with the following:

  • The depiction of an elephant as the mascot of the Republican Party.
  • The popular illustration of the donkey as the mascot of the depiction of the Democratic Party. (He did not originate the donkey but his illustration gave it life.)
  • The popular depiction of Uncle Sam. (Note he did not draw the first Uncle Sam, but added the goatee and his version remains the image today.)
  • The depiction of Santa Claus. His version became the version we think of today but was updated by the Coca Cola Company in an advertisement.


Thomas Nast is considered to be the Father of the American Cartoon. His illustrations swayed public opinion and created an editorial feature present in virtually every newspaper today. The phrase: “the pen is mightier than the sword” has its origin in many faiths. But Thomas Nast might be credited with an updated phrase: “the cartoon is a mightier use of the pen.” The lasting impact of his cartoon images is proof to that phrase.

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“To laugh at yourself is to love yourself.”– Mickey Mouse


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