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

Nast Against Slavery

Slavery was practiced in the southern states; however, people in the North benefitted from the cruel practice as well. Slavery promoted cheap labor, which reflected on cheap cotton to fuel the North's textile industry. Because of this, many Northerners were willing to ignore the issue of slavery and the cruel treatment slaves endured. At the time, it did not help that blacks were still thought as objects, not people.1
The abolitionist movement was on-going in the North, but many Northerners were frightened by the extremities of abolitionist protests.

Print of wounded Black American Soldier with Lady Liberty after the American Civil War.

Nast strongly opposed slavery, and he used his talents to show how he felt. He changed perceptions about slaves without being too outrageous. His artwork included slaves as human, not property. Nast portrayed black men as important parts of the nation, fighting as Buffalo soldiers and patriots.

"In the 1870s the fine arts shifted to middle-class leisure activities and feminine beauty. It thus let to Nast and his cohorts in the popular press to continue their visual commentary on race relations".2
As with the drawing shown to the left, Nast shows the wounded black soldier as a person, not as an object.


1 Patricia Hills, "Cultural Racism: Resistance and Accommodation in the Civil War Art of Eastman Johnson and Thomas Nast" from Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. 105.
2 ibid. 116.