1864–“Planks” Cartoon–Randy Persaud
The 1864 Presidential was a pivotal point in American history. In the midst of a civil war, the United States of America was far from united. Slavery had literally torn the nation apart and many knew that the civil war would become a defining test of the principles that America was founded upon. Many people wondered what would become of the nation.
During the election year, many people realized that whichever political party won would be able to control the outcome of war. In the North, the National Union Party, led by incumbent president Abraham Lincoln opposed Democratic nominee, George B. McClellan. As the Nation continued the fight, Lincoln and McClellan fought to prove to the Nation that they and their respective parties would lead the nation out of war.
Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun released a cartoon on December 1, 1864 that illustrates the competition that Lincoln with the National Union Party faced against McClellan of the Democratic south. The cartoon, titled “The Two Platforms: Columbia Makes Her Choice” exhibits the two distinct paths that America would take based on which party got elected to office. The cartoon displays a woman named Columbia, a common personification of America during the time, heeding Lincoln’s warning to cross with him over the “Abyss of War.” The cartoon also has McClellan trying to persuade Columbia to cross the Democratic plank over the “Abyss of War.”
The cartoon portrays the Democratic plank as an unattractive option. The plank, placed over the “Abyss of War” is divided in two; half labeled “War Democracy” and the other labeled “Peace Democracy.” The Democratic plank is split into two in order to symbolize the Democratic Party at the time. Just as the plank was split, so was the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party was split into two factions: the War Democrats and the Peace Democrats. The War Democrats were Democrats those who felt that the South should continue fighting the North in the Civil War until they were victorious. The Peace Democrats were Democrats who felt that the South, whom were running out of resources to fight should negotiate peace with the North. In the cartoon, the two planks are tied together with rope in order to form the Democrat’s board. This is in contrast to the National Union Party’s plank which appears strong, sturdy and firm. The cartoon makes the persuasive pitch to not only Columbia but all Americans, that the correct plank to cross over the “Abyss of War” is clearly Lincoln’s National Union Party. In Columbia’s hands are the scrolled documents of the “Rights of Man”, “Constitution”, and “Laws”, while the American Eagle shadows over her. Here the cartoon is trying to send a message to the audience that the only way America’s sacred documents and values can cross the “Abyss of War” without being dropped in is through the guidance of Lincoln and the National Union Party.
The cartoonist does an excellent job of portraying all the characters and what they represent. Lincoln is portrayed as he often is: tall and strong in stature. McClellan on the other hand is very short in the cartoon and was known for being under the average male height; his nickname was “little Mac”. McClellan’s caption as he talks to Columbia is “This way COLUMBIA. There’s never danger where I LEAD.” Although it’s quite obvious that the caption is meant to be sarcastic and that there is actually clear and apparent danger with the divided Democrats, but note the capitalization of “lead.” Ironically enough, McClellan used to be a major general in for the North and briefly general in chief before he was removed from command- by Lincoln. He was removed from command due to his lack of leadership in battle (notably the Battle of Antietam). One of Lincoln’s famous quotes that evaluated McClellan’s performance as a leader was “If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.” In the cartoon, the word “lead” is capitalized to make fun of McClellan’s leadership abilities. Perhaps the intent of the cartoonist is to make the reader ponder if he couldn’t lead in battle, how could he lead the entire nation?
The two men in the background behind McClellan is French emperor Napoleon III (with handlebar moustache) and John Bull, a common personification of Britain at the time. Both are trying to convince Columbia to go across with McClellan. Napoleon is captioned saying “Go vid dis leetha man Ma’am, Ve recommend him.” John Bull is captioned “I hope she’ll take Little Mac’s lead. I should like to see her come to grief”. The reason why both are in this cartoon is because the South, led by McClellan tried (although unsuccessful) to have the French and British recognize their independence from the Union.
It was apparent by the Presidential Election in 1864 that in order to gain peace, war had to be fought. The election of 1864 made voters think who and which party would successfully lead the nation out of war. A sign behind Lincoln reads “The only path to UNION city is thorough WAR.” This cartoon does an exceptional job in displaying that in order to get to Union City (the North and South together again) is by War and the man to lead the country is Lincoln.