Illustrating the late 1800s from Honest Abe to Corrupt Boss Tweed

Nast Versus the Tweed Ring

Nast was always one to take on a cause when he felt that there was an issue of right vs. wrong. In 1868 Nast became involved in an effort to kick out the corrupt New York City government of Tammany Hall led by Democratic politician "Boss" Tweed. Tweed and his gang were called the Tweed Ring, and they stole enormous sums from the city treasury1 by falsifying municipal accounts and by creating false or grossly exaggerated expense records.

The Tweed ring from left to right, "Boss" William M. Tweed, Pete B. Sweeny, Richard B. Connolly and A. Oakley Hall.

Nast's drawings depicted Boss Tweed as a corrupt politician. Nast's attacks were so relentless that at one point Tweed dispatched his cronies with instructions to, "Stop them damn pictures. I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see the pictures."2. It was also reported that Tweed offered Nast bribes to "take an extended European vacation" in attempts to rid the artist of his cartooning post at Harper's.3
Tweed's fall from power marked the beginning of a new demand by the public and by the press for efficient and honest urban administration. Tweed and his corrupt counterparts were ousted from office in November of 1871. Tweed escaped from jail and fled to Cuba, but later in 1876, he was arrested by a customs official in Spain4 who did not read English but had recognized him from Nast's Harper's Weekly caricatures of Tweed.

1Albert Paine, Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures. (New York: Pyne Pr, 1974) 175.
2 (quoted from: ibid., 179)
3 (quoted from: ibid.)
4 Megan K. Moore and William D. Haglund. "Case of Boss Tweed: Identification by Caricature ." Journal of Forensic Identification 52, no. 3 (2002): 254 to 262.