The primary source is a political cartoon that appeared in an 1864 newspaper on December 1. It was done by Frank Leslie, and appeared in the Illustrated Newspaper, The Budget Fun. During this time, the United States of America was popularly known by the nickname Columbia. In this cartoon, Columbia is given the choice of having the United States under the leadership of one of the two presidential candidates. It is the election year, and Americans will soon decide the fate of their nation by choosing their president.
Columbia must make a decision on whether to go through the “Abyss of War” through the path that is being offered by General George B. McClellan or Abraham Lincoln. John Bull of Great Britain and the emperor of France Napoleon the Third, offer their opinions.
Columbia bears American principles in her arms, such as “The Constitution”, “The Laws” and the “Rights of Man”. The American eagle is seen in the background, taking refuge in Colombia’s shadow.
The intended audience for this Cartoon was the American people, because they were the voters who had to decide who between the two became president.
The main Idea in the Cartoon
The1864 Presidential election was a critical point in the history of America. With a civil war going on, the United States of America appeared far from united. This was not the only problem it had to contend with. Slavery had torn the country apart, literally, and many Americans were aware that the civil war was going to be a defining trial of America’s founding principles. The people were worried. Many of them wondered what would soon become of their nation.
During this election year, many citizens of America realized that the political party that won the election would have the power to control the results of war. In the Northern part, the National Union Party, under the leadership of the serving President Abraham Lincoln was very opposed to the democratic nominee party, George B. McClellan. Even as the nation of America continued the fight, McClellan and Lincoln fought to demonstrate to their nation that they, together with their respective parties, had the power to lead them out of war.
The 1864 cartoon in the Budget of Fun, illustrated the competition that President Lincoln and the National Union Party at the time faced against the democratic south’s McClellan. The title of the cartoon, “The Two Platforms: Columbia Makes Her Choice” shows the two distinctive paths that the United States of America would take depending on which party they elected to office.
In the cartoon, Columbia has to decide whom to follow, whether she will follow Abraham Lincoln who is warning her of the dangers posed by following the other party, or McClellan, who also tries to persuade her and win her trust, so that he may lead her across the Democratic plank and over the dreadful “Abyss of War”.
In the cartoon, the artist depicts the democratic plank as a very unattractive option. The plank is divided in two pieces; half of it labeled “War Democracy”, while the other half is labeled “Peace Democracy”. This democratic plank symbolizes the Democratic Party during this time. Just like the plank, the Democratic Party at the time had split into two differentfactions: the Peace democrats and the War Democrats. The War Democrats supported the idea that the South and the North should keep on fighting in the Civil War, and this should not stop until they became triumphant. The Peace Democrats, on the other hand, believed that the South was running out of fighting resources and should discuss peace initiatives with the North.
The two planks in the cartoon are tied together using a rope to form the board belonging to the Democrats. The National Union Party’s own plank contrasted sharply with this, and appeared sturdy, strong and firm. The cartoon persuasively shows that the correct plank for Americans to cross over the dreaded “Abyss of War” successfully is undoubtedly Abraham Lincoln’s National Union Party. Columbia hold on to the “Rights of Man”, the American “Constitution”, and the “Laws”, with the American Eagle hiding behind her shadows. The cartoon is sending a message that the only way through which America’s most sacred documents and timeless values can cross successfully without dropping in the “Abyss of War” is through the proper guidance of Abraham Lincoln, together with his National Union Party.
In this cartoon, the cartoonist does a great job of showing all the characters in the election, and what the ideologies they represent. As in most cartoons, Lincoln is portrayed to be tall and strong. McClellan, in contrast, is very short. He was known for his under- average height; thus the nickname “little Mac”.
In McClellan’s caption, he promises Columbia that if she follows his lead, she is assured of no danger. This caption is quite obviously sarcastic, because there is apparent and clear danger with the idea of following the divided Democrats. The capitalization of the word “lead” is also part of the sarcasm. Ironically, McClellan was a major general and briefly the general in chief prior to his removal from command by President Lincoln. He this was due to his lacking leadership skills in battle (particularly the Battle of Antietam). The word “lead” is deliberately capitalized to mock McClellan’s leadership abilities. Maybe the cartoonist’s intent is to make their reader wonder whether he had the ability to lead the whole nation when could not lead in battle.
The French emperor Napoleon the Third and John Bull of Britain both try to convince Columbia to cross over with McClellan. It is clear from the cartoon that they do not have Columbia’s interest at heart. Their inclusion in this cartoon was because McClellan led the South in trying to make the British and the French recognize and accept their autonomy from the Union. However, he failed.
The 1864 election it was evident that there was no other way through which peace could be attained except through war. The cartoon does an outstanding job in showing that in order for America to reach Union City (that is, the South and North together again) is through War, and that the man for this job is Lincoln.
This document helps to show the political tension that was in America in 1964, and the dilemma the people of America found themselves in. It helps to answer historical questions such as the relationship between McClelland and Lincoln, and the leader whom the people preferred during this election.
Leslie, Frank. "The Two Platforms- Columbia Makes Her Choice." The Illustrated Newspaper,
December 1, 1864.