What is the message in Thomas Nast's political cartoon, Compromise with the South?
Thomas Nast was an ardent supporter of the Union cause in the Civil War. At the same time, Nast was aware that the public had grown weary of the war that had raged for some time. With McClellan running against Lincoln for President at the time and advocating a position to end the war, Nast understood the implications of his position. Essentially, Nast views compromise with the South as a repudiation of Northern efforts in the war.
Published in September 3, 1864, Nast's cartoon clearly states that the North gains nothing from a compromise with the South. The iconography in the political cartoon conveys this condition. The gravestone where the "compromise" takes place has etched on it that the soldiers who died were "Union Soldiers in a Useless War." The woman who weeps for these dead, soldiers whose efforts have become moot with a compromise, is further conveyed in the amputated soldier who reaches over to shake the Southerner's hand. In the cartoon, the Southern flag has the word "Treason" forged under it, along with a perfectly groomed Southern soldier who extends his hand towards the compromise. For Nast, compromise with the South was something that he saw as essentially teaching the South no lesson for their transgressions, listed on the flag. The inverted Northern flag speaks to a world where all has lost meaning if compromise with the South is pursued. The message that Nast conveys is a critical one: End the war through compromise, and nothing was gained. The South remains unpunished for their actions, while Northern soldiers died horrible and grizzly deaths. Nast's fear of this reality resonated with the public, who realized that to abandon the cause and not elect Lincoln for a second term negates the sacrifice that soldiers made.
Thomas Nast was a cartoonist whose political message, delivered through his cartoons, was so strong that Albert Boime, a recognized art history author, credited him with having possibly influenced Americans in their personal choices for president between 1864 and 1884, perhaps even changing their minds. Thomas Nast's imaginative art works had such an influence that he was even instrumental in the exposure of the Tweed Ring, a notorious group of businessmen and politicians which embezzled funds and ran New York City before the arrest of William Tweed.
Compromise with the South was published in Harper's Weekly on 3 September 1864 and is one of Nast's most powerful reflections. It is, apparently, also one of his own favorites. The "Copperheads," the strong arm of the anti civil war democrats, met with Nast's criticism, due to their dominance during proceedings in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in August 1864.
The Union soldier on the left, clearly a victim - missing a limb- looks dejected and beaten as he holds out his hand, having surrendered to the superior Confederate soldier, presumably Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. The ultimate insult is clear as the Davis lookalike even rests his foot on the grave of a late Union soldier. The flag is upside down on the "North" side, the left-hand side, and the surroundings are ravaged. Lady Columbia, often used to represent nineteenth century America, is sobbing revealing that, in fact, there is apparently no compromising with the South. This is Nast's message. A compromise such as this negates all the efforts and suffering and, in terms of the pictures of African Americans on the "South" side, a return to slavery is a likely consequence.
Thomas Nast's cartoon, Compromise with the South?, criticizes democrats, known as "Copperheads", who attended the Democratic National Convention. President Abraham Lincoln was criticized by these democrats about his choices for the country, including the Emancipation Proclamation, military draft, and the Union war effort. They spoke ill of Lincoln and thought of replacing him as the head of the Republican ticket. However, Lincoln gained support and was renominated. The political cartoon shows the convention as a betrayal of what the Union was fighting for.