Amanda Forman

PUNCH, (October 18, 1862): p. 160

his cartoon comments on America's dilemma over blacks freed after the Civil War. The artist predicts turmoil when the South must incorporate former slaves into their society. Doubt is raised as to whether this "inferior" race could ever coexist as equals with white men.
The cartoon depicts an anguished slave master ("Jonathan") sitting pensive on a stiff chair, while his newly freed slave leisurely relaxes in a rocking chair. (The slave master may be regarded as a symbol for America. Firstly, the name "Jonathan" in England was used to represent America as "Uncle Sam" is used today. Secondly, the slave master in this cartoon bears a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, the man upon whose shoulders the issue of the freedmen rested.) The slave wears a careless, twisted grin on his slanted face and prognathous jaw. He contemptuously asks his master, in degenerative lingo, what will be done "wid dis child." The master does not answer; he is lost in thought on the matter.
There are at least three striking aspects of this cartoon. Firstly, the slave is depicted in a manner typical of Punch. The artist uses phrenology to imply that the slave is inferior to the master; it was believed that the more slanted the face, the less intellectual and rational the man. For example, Pieter Camper created diagrams depicting how various races (such as Africans) had slanted skulls, as opposed to the English, whose faces were at a perfect right angle. (See Victorian craniology and phrenology. Here, the master has a straight face (his forehead is in line with his jaw) while the slave's jaw protrudes.
Secondly, the slave sits in a relaxed position with his leg extended and his arms folded. The master, on the other hand, sits rigidly with a stern expression on his face. Many Victorians claimed that slaves (and blacks in general) were lazy; it was a common assertion that without the help of white men, blacks would not work at all and would consequently lose their crops. In "The Nigger Question," Thomas Carlyle bitterly claims that the slaves are lazily "sitting up to the ears in pumpkins. . . [with] doleful whites sitting here without potatoes to eat." (Thomas Carlyle, "The Nigger Question," from The Nigger Question/The Negro Question, ed. Eugene R. August (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1971), p. 5.) This laziness was also seen as ungratefulness toward the apparent kindness of the Englishman or American for "saving" them from this fate.
Lastly, this cartoon expresses the fear that given an inch, freedmen would take a mile. Many Englishmen felt that in emancipating the slaves, America would find herself unable to control her freedmen. In his essay "The Negro and the Negrophilists," Charles Mackay asserts, "In liberating the negroes by the sword, the North has itself become a slave." (Charles Mackay, "The Negro and the Negrophilists," in Images of Race, ed. Michael D. Biddis (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), p. 93.) America will now be forced to cater to the desires of former slaves who will demand more and more rights as they taste more and more freedom. The slave in this cartoon speaks to his master in a condescending, threatening tone. How, asks the artist, can we be sure that once slaves are granted freedom, they will not attempt to gain power over us? This question is not answered in the cartoon.

[Victorian initial "T" by Harlan Wallach ©copyright 1994.]

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