Harper's Weekly, July 29, 1871: Thomas Nast, “Something That Will Not ‘Blow Over'”
Unlike present-day editorial cartoons, which typically feature a single, immediately recognizable image, Thomas Nast and his contemporaries assumed that readers would spend the time needed to completely "read" their works. In "Something That Will Not 'Blow Over'" students encounter one of Nast's most complex and most compelling cartoons, one that says much about the racial and ethnic tensions of the period surrounding the Civil War and how they were complicated by New York City politics.
Nast's double-page cartoon on the July 12th Orange Riot appeared only a few days after the New York Times began its exposé of the Tweed Ring. The Times editorialized on July 20 that: "Everybody should see, and seeing, retain Nast’s great 'Riot Cartoons' in the New Number of Harper's Weekly."
The Orange parade commemorated the victory of the Protestant William of Orange, the new king of England, over the Catholics in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1692 and was celebrated annually by Protestants in Ireland and, starting in 1870, in New York. Both Nast and Harper's Weekly thought that the Irish Catholics were a bane and that the Protestant Irish deserved the full protection of the city, state, and nation in their expression of their loathing of the Irish Catholics. The Catholic Irish had rioted during the 1870 parade. In 1871 they petitioned New York City officials to ban the Orange parade.
On July 10, Police Superintendent James J. Kelso denied the Orangemen a permit on the grounds that the parade would threaten public safety, an ironic tribute to the previous year's riot, and that obscene or violently derogatory language or gestures in public were misdemeanors. In 1870 both groups had engaged in such behavior before getting down to physical mesures. Irish Catholics praised the decision, which was endorsed by William "Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that controlled city government. Irish Protestants of course objected. They pointed out that not only did Catholic Irish routinely receive a permit for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade but also that the mayor and others routinely attended it. They claimed a right to equal treatment. Governor John Hoffman intervened, the permit was granted, and the parade and the riot got underway just after noon on July 12.
Nast's title drew upon the initial response of "Boss" Tweed to the Times stories of municipal corruption, that they were much ado about nothing and would soon "blow over." The central image, under the heading "Has no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights that the infallible, ultramontane Catholic is bound to respect," portrays gorilla-like Irish thugs assaulting a parade that includes not just Orangemen but virtually every other group in America. They include Chinese, Native Americans, blacks, Free Masons, liberal Catholics, and Germans. The burning orphanage and the lynching recall two of the most notorious excesses of the 1863 Draft Riot. The heading paraphrases the Dred Scott Decision in which Chief Justice Taney ruled that blacks had no rights that whites were bound to respect. Many New York Democrats, including the Irish, had supported the decision. The "infallible, ultramontane" modifiers of Catholic refer to the recent proclamation of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals at the 1870 Vatican Council and to the allegiance all Catholics owed to the Pope in Rome (over the mountains from a German perspective; Nast was a German Protest immigrant). Note that the American flag is flying upside down while the new standard of "Centralization" with Tammany and Popery flanking an Irish harp proudly waves from a flagpole topped with a cross.
The upper left panel shows Columbia rewarding the police and National Guard troops who protected the Orangemen. Just below the "people" rise up, led by Columbia before whom cower members of the Tweed Ring. Below that Columbia speaks. In the opposite corner is "Pat's Complaint." In between is another caricature of the Tweed Ring, this time portrayed as "slaves" of the Irish. The header — "Well, what are you going to do about it?" — turns another Tweed response to the corruption allegations into a taunt aimed at the Ring. The "slaves" description complements the panel just above "Pat's Complaint" in which Tweed and his cohorts give in to the Catholic demand that the city ban the Orange parade. The upper right panel indicates the significance of July 12 to the Orangemen and highlights their offer to discontinue their parade if the Catholic Irish would cease marching on St. Patrick's Day. A haughty Irish "pope" replies: NIVIR!