Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Farrell Vaughn

Author: Farrell Vaughn

Lesson Title: Reconstruction and Thomas Nast


Synopsis and Rationale:

The nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast is remembered as one of America’s greatest commentators on the political and social issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. His illustrations provide an insight into some of the major issues of his day. Nast loaded his illustrations with detail and symbolism. His work is insightful and at the same time emotionally stirring. Nast is most famous for his creation of the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, and the jolly American version of Santa Claus, but the volume of his work eclipses those American icons. Nast’s compelling illustrations appeared in Harpers Weekly from 1862 to 1886. His political and social commentary encompassed the most divisive era in American history. Nast displayed the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the political machines of the “Gilded Age” in a way that affected his readers deeply. He exposed corruption in politics and culture that outraged the American public and forced social change. Nast’s illustrations represent a treasure trove of primary resources that are of infinite value to those who wish to gain a deeper insight into the social and political climate of the last half of the nineteenth century. By examining the commentary of Nast, teachers and students of American History will gain a deeper understanding of the volatile events that helped to shape this nation.

The Unit’s goal is to expose Eighth Grade students to primary documents that will enrich their learning experience. By examining pre-selected works of Nast, and other primary documents, the students will become actively involved in deciphering the formative events of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. It is vital that American History students realize that the divisiveness over race did not end with the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment. Reconstruction was a major factor in creating a South that was solidly aligned against the North for a century after the Civil War had ended.

The students will be engaged in the Unit for four class periods. They will begin by analyzing contemporary political cartoons. The students will then learn about the nineteenth-century political cartoonist Thomas Nast and his influence. Through Nast’s work, the students will learn about the antagonistic views of President Andrew Johnson and the political faction known as the “Radical Republicans.” The students will also examine several of Nast’s cartoons that expose the South’s inability to accept freed-people’s new status. They will do this by investigating the Memphis and New Orleans Riots of 1866. The New Orleans riot was in actuality a slaughter of pro-Unionists by former confederates. The Unionists from Louisiana were attempting to modify the state constitution to allow universal male suffrage. Harper’s Weekly published articles related to the “riots” which the students will read. Harper’s Weekly also published Thomas Nast’s illustrations dealing with the riots. In many of his political cartoons, Nast vilified the southern hegemony and President Johnson for their racist and tyrannical stance. Many of Nast’s cartoons portray President Johnson as a Southern sympathizer exhibiting no empathy for the welfare of African Americans. The impeachment proceedings against President Johnson were a focal event of Reconstruction and Nast provides an interesting and unique insight into the attitudes of that time. Through Nast’s cartoons students will examine the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, the plight of disenfranchised African Americans, and the political and cultural chasm that split the country.

The students will display their knowledge of the subject matter in several ways. Writing prompts will be used at the beginning of lessons to stimulate discussion and the thought process. The students will analyze Nast’s illustrations for content and context using U.S. National Archives & Records Administration “Written Document” and “Cartoon Analysis” worksheets. At the end of the Unit, the students will be required to create their own political cartoons using issues from the Reconstruction era. To close the Unit, the students will have a test on twenty Reconstruction era terms and definitions. This Unit will engage multiple learning styles and increase individual achievement. This Unit will be fun for the instructor as well as the students. It will de-emphasize the textbook, emphasize primary resources, and provide a unique way of examining American history. 


Objectives and Standards:

1) The students will be able to identify the division in ideology that existed in the United States concerning the best way to reincorporate the Southern States into the Union. 

2) The students will understand the reasons for impeachment against President Andrew Johnson.

3) The students will be able to recount the plight of former slaves and other African Americans after the Civil War.

4) The students will understand the power of political cartoons in influencing public opinion.

5) The students will be able to examine primary documents for content and context. 


Nevada Standards for History and Civics:

History Standard 2.0 History Skills: Students will use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision-making.
Benchmark 2.8.3: Read and use informational tools, including, charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, political cartoons, photographs, and tables.

History Standard 6.0: Students understand the people, events, ideas, and conflicts that led to the creation of a new nation and distinctive cultures.
Benchmark 6.8.21: Identify the causes, key people, events, and outcome of the Civil War, including; state’s rights and slavery/ President Lincoln/ Emancipation Proclamation/ Vicksburg and Gettysburg/ Gettysburg Address/ Generals Grant and Lee.

History Standard 7.0: Students understand the importance and impact of political, economic, and social ideas.
Benchmark 7.8.1: Identify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
Benchmark 7.8.2: Identify the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.

Civic Standard 1.0: Rules and Law: Students know why society needs rules, laws, and governments.
Benchmark 1.8.5: Describe how the U.S. Constitution serves as a device for preserving national principles and as a vehicle for change, including knowledge of the formal process of amending the U.S. Constitution.

Content Standard 4.0: The Political Process: Students describe the roles of political parties, interest groups, and public opinion in the democratic process.
Benchmark 4.8.5: Identify propaganda and persuasion in political advertising and literature.



The period after the Civil War, known as Reconstruction, was an opportunity for Americans to heal the wounds created by four years of violence and destruction. Instead, the ideologies that divided America became more entrenched. The defeated South resisted attempts by “Radical Republicans” in Congress to disenfranchise former Confederates and at the same time provide suffrage and civil rights to previously enslaved and free black people. The resistance to Radical Republican legislation and fear of African American political power in the South created a regional unity that came to be known as the “solid South.” For a hundred years after the Civil War, the solid South denied social and political equality to African Americans. During Reconstruction, it was the lack of political unity among the Northern victors that allowed the defeated Confederates to resist social and political change. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the succession of Andrew Johnson created an executive branch of the federal government that was sympathetic towards the plight of white southerners and antagonistic towards those of blacks. Because of President Johnson’s leniency toward the former Confederates, and the Southern whites’ opposition to the policies of radical Republicans, it has been said that “the South lost the war, but won the peace” (Hollandsworth, 150).

Former Confederates in the South “won the peace” through the use of threats and violence against black, and white, Americans who supported African American suffrage. If black males were granted the right to vote, and former confederates denied that right, the entire southern way of life would be turned upside down. The hegemonic groups in the South understood that the greatest threat to their way of life was the potential loss of political power. Radical Republicans in Congress, and a large percentage of their constituents, believed that the Confederates should be disenfranchised. In their eyes, the South had instigated the breakup of the Union and the most destructive war in American history. As a result, all former Confederates should be denied political participation. And at the same time African Americans, especially those who had fought for the Union, deserved their fair share of political power. If African Americans were given the right to vote, they were expected to vote for the party that had freed them, i.e., Republican. Radical Republicans in Congress were counting on the freedmen’s vote to help them maintain control of Congress in the future.

The brilliant political cartoonist Thomas Nast exhibited the sentiments of the Radical Republicans, and many Northerners, in his illustrations created for Harper’s Weekly. Nast identified with Northerners who wanted to remake the Union in to one that matched the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. His work appealed to a large segment of the American population. When General Ulysses S. Grant was asked, “Who is the foremost figure in civil life developed by the rebellion?” he replied, “I think Thomas Nast. He did as much as any one man to preserve the Union and bring the War to an end” (Paine, 106). Nast displayed the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the political machines of the “Gilded Age” in a way that profoundly affected his readers. His detailed, powerful illustrations exposed corruption in politics and culture that outraged the American public and often forced social change. “I try to hit the enemy between the eyes and knock him down”, said Nast (Murphy, 129). When Nast drew, he filled his detailed pictures with symbolic images that were familiar to Americans. He is most famous for his creation of the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, and the jolly American version of Santa Claus but the scope and importance of his work eclipses those American icons.

Thomas Nast was born in a German army barracks in Bavaria on September 27, 1840. At that time, his father was a musician in a military band. Like many other Europeans, the senior Nast was attracted to America by the promise of social equality and economic opportunity. When Thomas was six, the Nast family left Germany and moved to the United States (Keller, 7). Nast’s father instilled in him a sense of German values that would surface later as a major component of his art. “He was exposed from his earliest days to the nationalism, the secularism, the belief in progress that were the major elements of mid-nineteenth century German liberalism” (ibid). When Nast was twenty years old he covered one of the great adventures of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism for journals in London and New York, Garibaldi’s war of national unification of Italy and Sicily (ibid). No doubt this experience reinforced Nast’s liberal and nationalistic ideals. Nast learned his trade working for mass-circulation periodicals such as Leslie’s Illustrated Journal, New York Illustrated News, and Harper’s Weekly. He learned quickly that exposing social problems in the media could be a catalyst for reform. “He had a hand in Leslie’s campaign against the sale of swill milk from diseased cows, and commented on the conditions of New York tenements. His first drawing for Harper’s was an ironic examination of police corruption” (Keller, 8). Nast’s genius lay in his artistic talent, his sense of social conscience, and the force of conviction that he imbued in his work.

Nast’s compelling illustrations first appeared in Harpers Weekly in 1859 (Paine, 29). Harpers Weekly hired him full time in 1862. His career at Harper’s flourished until 1886, when he suddenly severed ties with that journal. Thanks to his attention to detail, scores of recognizable public figures could be identified in his crowd scenes. In those illustrations, Nast mercilessly exaggerated the physical and intellectual characteristics of his subjects to such an extent that they were easily recognizable to the viewer. His work could be insightful, humorous, and emotionally stirring. It has been said that Nast’s political cartoons could make or break presidencies. During his career at Harper’s Weekly, Nast’s illustrations brought down the corrupt New York City political machine of William “Boss” Tweed, and doomed the presidential ambitions of Horace Greely. His disdain of President Andrew Johnson “inspired a distinctive style of caricature” that artists around the world emulated (Murphy, 129).

Early in his career, Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh collected Nast’s illustrations and others from French and English journals: “van Gogh taught himself to draw in the abbreviated newspaper style by systematically copying these illustrations…” (Boime, 1). Nast also influenced the French artist Edgar Degas. Degas became attracted to Thomas Nast’s work when he visited his relatives in the United States in 1872. At that time Nast was being celebrated nationwide for his triumphant victory over the corrupt Tweed ring (Thomas Nast, New Orleans and Edgar Degas, Introduction).

Nast’s ideal of morality and justice was closely aligned with many of the “Radical Republican” leaders of the Reconstruction era. Radical Republicans emerged as a political faction in 1863 when President Lincoln announced his Reconstruction Plan. Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” offered general amnesty to all white Southerners who took an oath of loyalty to the Union and accepted wartime measures abolishing slavery. When 10 % of the voters in a secessionist state took the “loyalty oath” those states could establish a new government. Radical Republicans were outraged by the leniency of the policy. “The people of the North,” Radical Senator Jacob Howard told the Senate, “are not such fools as to fight through such a war as this, … and then turn around and say to the traitors, ‘all you have to do is come back into the council of the nation and take an oath that henceforth you will be true to the government’ ” (Foner, 60). The “Ten Percent Plan” allowed the re-enfranchisement of all but a few of the confederates of the South. 

In 1864, the governments of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were reconstructed under Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” When these states held their elections, the voters overwhelmingly elected former Confederates to political positions at the state and local levels. In response, Radical Republicans in control of Congress refused to recognize these governments or seat their elected federal representatives (blackhistory.harpweek.com).

Unhappy with Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan, Radical Republican members of Congress passed their own plan for reconstruction in 1864. The Wade-Davis Bill required a majority of the voters of a state to take an oath of loyalty, but only those who swore an “ironclad” oath of never having fought against the Union could participate in the reconstruction of their state’s government. Like the Ten Percent Plan, the Wade-Davis Bill also required the state governments to include a ban on slavery, but the Radical Republicans bill was more punitive because it disenfranchised Confederate political and military leaders (ibid). The bill also guaranteed equality under the law for African Americans, but not suffrage. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill fearing that he might be forced to repudiate the newly created government of Louisiana that he had recently approved. Outraged, Senator Benjamin F. Wade from Ohio and Congressman Henry Winter Davis from Maryland accused President Lincoln of “defying the judgment of Congress and exercising ‘dictatorial usurpations.’” The Wade-Davis Bill was not the work of a small faction of radicals within the Republican Party. The Bill won almost unanimous support among Congressional Republicans, who believed that Congress should have a larger voice in forming Reconstruction policy (Foner, 61). The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln would cause an even greater rift between the Executive and Legislative branches. Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, and the radical Republicans had conflicting ideas about how to best reincorporate the southern States into the Union. 

Shortly after Lincoln’s death, Nast drew the dual illustration Pardon and Franchise (Nast, plate 61). In these opposing illustrations Nast used his female personification of America, Columbia, to demonstrate the mind-set of many Northerners. In Pardon, General Robert E. Lee and his fellow Confederates kneel at the throne of Columbia and beg her for forgiveness. The caption at the bottom of the illustration reads, “Columbia—Shall I Trust These Men-”. In the opposing illustration, Franchise, Columbia stands as an equal next to a one legged African American Union veteran and asks “–And Not This Man?” Both illustrations are packed with American symbols and icons. In Pardon, an American eagle is carved into the throne where Columbia sits in judgment of the Confederate leaders. She rests her arm on the American flag from which protrudes a sword. On a pillar behind Columbia is a Union battle standard and above her head is draped another American flag. In Franchise, the same flags and battle standards are present but there is an hourglass on the pillar signifying that time is running out. Nast’s powerful imagery sent a clear message, one that was obvious to the Radical Republicans. The military and political leaders of the Confederacy were not trustworthy and should be carefully monitored. The African American Union veteran had proved his trust through personal sacrifice and should be awarded the same rights as all American citizens. With one simple question “Shall I trust these men---and not this man?” and the clarity of his illustrations, Nast clearly defines the Radical Republican perception of morality and justice. However, the new Chief Executive did not share that view. 

From the very start of his administration, Johnson was at odds with the Republicans in Congress. “President Andrew Johnson carried out his duties as the chief executive with great controversy until March of 1869 when Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in” (Adler, Introduction). During Johnson’s term as President, Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and their ideas about how to reconstruct the former Confederate states were dramatically opposed to those of the Democrat Johnson (ibid). When Andrew Johnson was elected to the Vice-Presidency he was outspoken in his Union viewpoints and an acknowledged enemy of the slaveholder. But after his sudden rise to the presidency, “Johnson went over, body and soul, to the enemy” (Paine, 106). Even though he once owned slaves, Senator Andrew Johnson, Democrat from Tennessee, was the only pre-war Southern Senator to support the Union during the Civil War. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Johnson to the position of military Governor of Tennessee and later chose him as a running mate in 1864 (ibid). After Lincoln’s assassination, in April of 1865, Johnson was inaugurated the seventeenth president of the United States.

The new President made it clear that he did not share the Republican commitment to remaking the South. President Johnson pursued a policy of leniency toward former rebels while at the same time denying federal aid to former slaves. Johnson blamed a small number of wealthy southern aristocrats for the Confederate rebellion. He offered general amnesty to all former Confederates who would swear the oath of allegiance to the Union, except for those with a post-war wealth of $20,000. Those who exceeded that amount had to apply to Johnson personally for a pardon. He nearly always granted those pardons (Trefousse, 88). Johnson also ordered that abandoned southern plantations be returned to their owners. This order countermanded General Sherman’s Special Order No. 15, which held the plantations for future redistribution to former slaves (“Reconstruction,” Microsoft® Encarta® 98). Confederates were ecstatic when they discovered that they had an unexpected ally in the Commander in Chief. “Johnson’s amnesty proclamation in 1865 and the wholesale distribution of pardons in the months that followed enfranchised all but a handful of rebels, allowing them to elect Confederate veterans and politicians to public office. By the end of 1865, most southern states were under the control of the same men who had led these states out of the Union four years earlier” (Hollandsworth, 1).

The Radical Republicans, and a large percentage of Northerners, did not want the former Confederate states to be readmitted to the Union so quickly and easily. Besides electing past Confederates to positions of leadership, the rebel states were also refusing to grant voting rights to African American men, and their legislatures were enacting “black codes.” Like slave codes before the war, black codes were created to limit the rights and freedoms of African Americans in the South. Many aspects of these codes were an underhanded way of reinstating slavery. According to The Black Code of Mississippi, freedmen were forced to sign terms of labor contracts. If the freedmen quit the services of their contract before the expiration date they could be forcefully returned to their employer and the cost of their return deducted from their pay. African American children who were orphans, or whose parents could not care for them, were placed into apprenticeships where their labor was exploited. Males were remanded into these programs until they were twenty-one and females until they were eighteen.

One of the most notorious aspects of the Mississippi Black Code concerned vagrancy. Section 1 states:

That all rogues and vagabonds, idle and dissipated persons, beggars, jugglers, or persons practicing unlawful games or plays, runaways, common drunkards, common night-walkers, pilferers, lewd, wanton, or lascivious persons, in speech or behavior, common railers and brawlers, persons who neglect their calling or employment, misspend what they earn, or do not provide for the support of themselves or their families, or dependents, and all other idle and disorderly persons, including all who neglect all lawful business, or habitually misspend their time by frequenting houses of ill-fame, gaming houses or tippling shops, shall be deemed and considered vagrants under the provisions of this act, and on conviction thereof shall be fined not exceeding one hundred dollars…and be imprisoned at the discretion of the court (Treffouse, 99-100).

Because of laws like the Black Codes, and the re-election of former Confederates to positions of leadership in the South, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to recognize the former Confederate state legislators when it reconvened in December of 1865. “Republicans were sending the message that Congress, not the President, should be in charge of Reconstruction” (harpweek.com).

Early in 1866, Congressional Republicans presented the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights bills as a counter to President Johnson’s Reconstruction legislation. The Freedmen’s Bureau was originally established in 1865 to provide assistance to the newly emancipated slaves of the South after the Civil War had ended. The Freedmen’s Bureau mandate was to expire in 1866 when Congress, with nearly unanimous Republican support, approved the bill and passed it up to President Johnson for ratification. “Virtually all Republicans assumed Johnson would sign the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights Bills…. To the utter surprise of Congress, the President vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill” (Foner, 247). Johnson referred to the Freedmen’s Bureau as “an ‘immense patronage’ unwarranted by the Constitution and unaffordable given ‘the condition of our fiscal affairs.’” Johnson went on to add, “such aid, moreover, would injure the ‘character’ and ‘prospects’ of the freedmen by implying that they did not have to work for a living” (ibid). 

Like the Radical Republicans, Thomas Nast was outraged that President Johnson would deny aid and hope to former slaves and at the same time return power to non-repentant Confederates. In 1865, Nast began to express his disapproval of Johnson’s Reconstruction policies in a famous series of “Andy Johnson cartoons.” “The “Andy Johnson cartoons” constituted Nast’s great beginning in the field of caricature” (Paine, 112). The first “Andy Johnson” cartoon was a response to President Johnson’s “Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon” (Paine, 108). The illustration is bordered by the phrase, “How The Stains Of Our Flag Are Got Out.” In the top half of the illustration, President Johnson is tossing pardons out to a crowd of Confederates while Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a fellow northern Democrat, looks on. In the bottom portion of the picture, Secretary of State William Seward is washing bloodstains from the Union battle-flags while Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles hangs the flags to dry. At the time, according to Nast’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, Seward and Welles were perceived to be responsible for Johnson’s lenient attitude towards the former Confederates (108).

Another of Nast’s “Andy Johnson” cartoons shows President Johnson kicking a bureau down the steps of the Capitol Building. On the front of the bureau is the word “Freedmen.” Falling from the drawers of the bureau are miniature black men. “The Veto” is above Johnson’s head in large letters. This illustration was one of a series of life size caricatures of “public men and women” that Nast created for the Grand Masquerade Ball on April 5, 1867 (Vinson, plate 20). “This mammoth exhibition immediately ranked Nast as the foremost American caricaturist and greatly added to his popularity” (Paine, 111). Some of the most popular personalities of the day were caricaturized his illustrations. The Ball was a theater style exhibition in which the audience sat while eight-foot by twelve-foot caricatures moved across the stage accompanied by spoken narration and an orchestra (thomasnast.com/nastanddegas/thegrandcaricaturama/). Several of Nast’s caricatures related to President Johnson’s lenient Reconstruction policies. The satirical illustrations parodied Johnson’s refusal to take actions against the racist organizations, such as The White League and the Ku Klux Klan, which were persecuting and murdering African Americans in the South.

One of Nast’s most important caricatures of President Johnson is his large, detailed work, Amphitheatrum Johnsonianum – Massacre Of The Innocents At New Orleans, July 30, 1866 (Nast, Plate 21). The setting is the Roman Coliseum. Nast’s illustration shows President Johnson and his Cabinet viewing the slaughter of helpless civilians by members of the New Orleans’ Police Department. The police are organized around a Confederate battle standard. Another nearby standard says “Monroe Police” in reference to the Confederate Mayor of New Orleans who ordered the attack. On the uniforms of the police is the acronym CSA, for Confederate States of America. Inside the Coliseum, blacks and whites are being massacred while futilely begging for their lives. The innocent victims plead for mercy while kneeling under an American flag and a white flag of truce. In the shadows below Johnson’s throne, two politicians hold an alligator with the word “Copperhead” just below it. Copperheads were Northern Democrats who allied themselves with former Confederates for political reasons. Directly in front of Johnson is Secretary of the Navy Welles. Behind President Johnson, Secretary of State Seward leans over as if to whisper into his ear. Next to Seward, and also behind Johnson’s throne, is Secretary of War Stanton. At the lower left of the picture, some distance from Johnson’s throne, is General Grant. Grant is restraining the sword of General Sheridan who wishes to come to the aid of the victims. Generals Grant and Sheridan are dressed in Roman armor to infer their roles as soldiers. Also wearing Roman armor, plus a helmet with the copperhead alligator on it, is the Union war-hero General George Armstrong Custer. Custer is leaning on a fasci, the ancient Roman symbol of power, and has the word “Policy” written on his chest. At that time, Custer had recently escorted Johnson on his “Swing around the Circle” campaign to promote the president’s Reconstruction policies. (http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com/06FirstImpeachmentDiscussions/iiib-8a.html). Engraved on separate pillars above Johnson’s head are the names of the cities where two scandalous race riots occurred in 1866, Memphis and New Orleans. Many Americans blamed President Johnson for the riots, especially the New Orleans riot. A March 30, 1867, article in Harper’s Weekly stated that “the massacre was planned by the Mayor of New Orleans and it had the “countenance of President Johnson, without which it would never have taken place” (ibid).

While the New Orleans massacre may have taken place because of the Reconstruction policies of President Johnson, the Memphis riot was a result of pent-up racial tension. The Memphis riot was sparked on May 1, 1866, after the wagon of a black man collided with the wagon of a white man on a downtown street. When a group of African American veterans attempted to halt the arrest of the black wagon driver, a mob of whites gathered at the scene of the accident and a fight broke out. At that time, overcrowding in Memphis was putting pressure on black and white citizens. “During the Civil War, the black population in Memphis had quadrupled and racial tension was high” (blackhistory.harpweek. com). The increased population, combined with the newly gained status of African Americans, and the racist philosophy of many whites quickly turned an insignificant altercation into a massacre of innocent African Americans.

The instigators of the riot were primarily Irish-American members of the police force. Other groups of racist whites joined the police and directed their anger at the African American residents of Memphis. According to the May 26, 1866, issue of Harper’s Weekly, “The police force of Memphis is composed mostly of Irishmen, whose violent prejudice against Negroes was so shamefully displayed in the New York riots of 1863.” Like the New York City Draft Riots, innocent African Americans were assaulted and murdered by mobs of whites as they walked the city’s streets. By the time it was over, forty-six blacks and two whites were dead, five black women had been raped, and hundreds of African American homes along with many churches, were pillaged and/or destroyed by arson. The Freedmen’s Bureau School was also a target of the mobs and it was burned to the ground. (blackhistory.harpweek.com). The May 26, 1866, issue of Harper’s Weekly described the “riotous proceedings” as “a disgrace to civilization.” While the Memphis riot was an expression of the general hostility that many southern whites felt toward blacks during the Reconstruction era, the New Orleans riot was linked specifically to Reconstruction politics. 

The New Orleans riot occurred three months after the massacre in Memphis. President Johnson’s proclamation of general amnesty enabled former Confederates from Louisiana, and across the South, to regain their political power. Obviously, this meant the expulsion of Union loyalists from all levels of government. When the “riot” occurred on July 30, 1866, the Mayor of New Orleans was John Monroe, the same politician who had served in that position since 1860. In 1862, he was reelected on a Confederate, or southern Democrat, platform. The reelection of Confederate politicians was not unusual in the South, and most especially in Louisiana. According to Hollandsworth, “The Democratic Party in Louisiana was composed of former Confederates” (33).

During the Civil War, the Confederates of New Orleans had a special dislike for Northerners. This attitude was compounded by the Northern invasion and occupation of the city in 1862. In Louisiana, even the demure southern belles were staunch Confederates. These women made it a point to defy military law. “Like many others in the Confederacy, the white women of New Orleans spoke bravely of defying any Yankees who dared set foot in their city” (Rable, 137). After the city fell to the Union Army, the defiance of the women to Yankee authority became legendary. “Well dressed women hiked up their skirts and crossed to the other side of the streets rather than pass a Yankee on the sidewalk; they stormed out of churches and streetcars whenever they spotted blue uniforms. The less refined made faces, spat or dumped slops on the soldiers from second story windows (on one occasion a chamber pot was emptied on Admiral Farragut’s head)” (Rable, 140). Finally, the military commander of New Orleans, General Benjamin Butler, tired of the women’s open defiance, issued “General Order No. 28.” Butler’s commandment declared “when any female shall; by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation” (ibid). The Union occupation of New Orleans and directives such as Butler’s “women order” increased the animosity between the Northern occupiers and the citizens of that city. This animosity helped to polarize attitudes in New Orleans to the point that compromise between Northern ideals and Southern attitudes could not be realized immediately following the war. When President Lincoln allowed the readmission of Louisiana to the Union because the state had met the criteria of the Ten Percent Plan, the citizens overwhelmingly elected former Confederates to leadership positions. 

Once the Democrats came to power in Louisiana, their main focus was to reestablish dominance over the newly emancipated African American population of the state by enacting a “vagrancy law.” The Louisiana vagrancy law stated “every adult freed man or woman shall furnish themselves with a comfortable home and a visible means of support within 20 day after the passage of this act.” “Any freed man or woman who failed to do so was to be arrested, turned over to the parish, and ‘hired out, by public advertisement, to some citizen, being the highest bidder, for the remainder of the year’” (Hollandsworth, 35). Louisiana’s Democratic-controlled Legislature was intent on keeping the state’s African American population in perpetual bondage. To overturn unjust legislation like the “vagrancy law,” the black population of New Orleans began to demand their political rights.

In the 1860’s, “New Orleans contained the largest, the wealthiest, and the best-educated community of free blacks in the country. Not even New York City could boast having more black “doctors, dentists….silversmiths, portrait-painters, architects, brick-layers, plasterers, carpenters, tailors, cigar-makers, &c.”: “Hommes de coleur libre,” as free blacks were called in New Orleans” (Hollandsworth, 10). By the end of the Civil War, the free black community was very vocal concerning the issue of black suffrage. L’Union, a French language newspaper issued an appeal for equal treatment of African Americans. The editor declared; “We proclaim the Declaration of Independence as our platform ….You who aspire to establish true republicanism, democracy without shackles, gather around us and contribute your grain of sand to the construction of the Temple of Liberty!” (Hollandsworth, 11). At a rally to promote suffrage for free men of color, P.B.S. Pinchback, a former captain in the Louisiana Native Guards, told the audience, “They did not ask for social equality, and did not expect it, but they [free blacks in New Orleans] demanded political rights – they wanted to become men” (ibid).

In 1866, desperate Louisiana Republicans attempted to reconvene the state constitutional convention in the hope of disenfranchising former Confederates and giving black men the right to vote (Hollandsworth, 2). Most white Louisianans believed the convention was illegal and contrary to the will of the people. “The will of the people, as the Democrats saw it, meant reasserting the supremacy of the white race. “We hold this to be a government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive benefit of the white race,” the Democratic platform read.” “People of African descent cannot be considered as citizens of the United States and that there can, in no event, be any equality between white and other races” (Hollandsworth, 33). The Republican Party felt that they had no choice but to amend the state constitution to allow universal male suffrage. Without the support of the African American population, Union loyalists would be outvoted at every level of government in Louisiana.

On July 30, Unionists held a meeting to gather support for a change in the state constitution to enfranchise African American males. Outside of the building where the meeting was held, a large angry group of whites opposed to the amendment gathered. At the same time, a large group of black amendment supporters was working their way toward the meeting. When the two groups met a pitched battle broke out. The Unionists were not prepared for a battle with the angry mob, which was made up of lower class whites and the New Orleans Police Department staffed almost entirely by Confederate veterans (Hollandsworth, 140). As the street battle raged, many members of the police force entered the meeting hall and began to indiscriminately kill any Unionist who could be found inside. The indiscriminate killing spread out to the streets as lower class mobs of whites attacked every African American in the area who was not in hiding. By the time the military intervened to end the slaughter, forty-eight pro-Unionists were killed and two hundred wounded (ibid).

Besides Amphitheatrum Johnsonianum, Thomas Nast expressed the outrage felt by many Americans over the New Orleans massacre in two more illustrations. Which is the More Illegal (Vinson, #18) shows a ghost hovering over the bodies of the dead. Writing on the wall of a building behind the ghost says, “Kill the niggers” and “Down with the Yankees.” Above the image it says, “Timely Warning.” Below are two more illustrations, one shows the Unionists peaceably meeting under an American flag and the other shows them being slaughtered by Confederates also while under an American flag. At the bottom of the illustration is the full title, “Which is the More Illegal, Convention or Massacre?” The other illustration is titled, Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction And How It Works (Vinson, #30). Around the perimeter of the illustration are scenes of African Americans being slaughtered at Memphis and New Orleans. On the left is written, “Pardon to Rebels” and on the right “Vetoes to Union Men.” In the middle of the illustration, President Johnson is consoling a wounded African American veteran. Written on the wall behind Johnson and the veteran are quotes by the President to African Americans such as “I am your Moses” and “Love Thine Enemies.” At the bottom of the picture a separate illustration shows Johnson playing a flute while a snake wraps around a black man. On the snake are the letters CSA. While Johnson plays the flute, his Cabinet members passively watch the snake strangle the man. Nast’s images of the New Orleans and Memphis riots increased the perception in the North that white southerners were determined to continue the persecution of African Americans. “The riot in New Orleans also discredited President Johnson’s policy regarding Reconstruction. Congress passed the Tenure of office Act in 1867” (Hollandsworth, 148). Johnson’s refusal to comply with this act gave Radical Republicans the reason they needed to impeach the President. Nast continued to satirize the President until his last days in office. Many journalists of that era reported on those divisive events as they occurred, but none did so as simply and concisely as Thomas Nast.

Nast is remembered as one of America’s greatest commentators on the political and social issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. His cartoons took many of the complex issues of the Reconstruction period and succinctly expressed them in such a way that argument and debate did not seem necessary. Nast revealed social injustice so that it was instantly identifiable to both the literate and the illiterate. “He was a successful cartoonist with an international reputation, and probably wielded more influence than any other artist of the Nineteenth century” (Boime, 2). Nast’s illustrations represent a treasure trove of primary resources that are of infinite value to those who wish to gain a deeper insight into the social and political climate of the United States during the last half of the nineteenth century. By examining the commentary of Nast, teachers and students of American History will gain a deeper understanding of the volatile events that helped to reshape this nation.


Lesson Plans: 4 Days. 75 Minutes Per Class.

Day 1:

1) As a class, examine: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration “Cartoon Analysis Worksheet. (5 minutes) Worksheet can be found at: http://www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/analysis_worksheets/cartoon.html 

2) Analyze Contemporary Political Cartoons. (15 minutes) Find them in the newspaper on your own or ask students to contribute. You may want to put the cartoons on a transparency and use an overhead projector.

3) Analyze Nineteenth Century Political Cartoon: Amphitheatrum Johnsonianum. (30 minutes) Cartoon can be found at: http://www.thomasnast.com

Then click “The Cartoons” Then click “Cartoons From Nast and Andrew Johnson”. An excellent analysis of the cartoon can be found at: http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com/06FirstImpeachmentDiscussions/iiib-8a.html. Copy cartoon to transparency and use an overhead projector. Use the NARA Cartoon Analysis Worksheet to guide the students through the process.

4) As a class, read: Harper’s Weekly; May, 1866: “The Memphis Riot.” (25 minutes) Article can be found at: http://blackhistory.harpweek.com/7Illustrations/Reconstruction/ScenesInMemphis.html  Article discussion questions:
a) Whom does the editorial blame for the Memphis riot?
b) Which ethnic group did most of the policemen in Memphis belong to and how did they feel about African Americans?
c) What did the policemen and some of the other white citizens of Memphis do to the African American population of that city?

5) Homework: Definitions for “Reconstruction” words and terms; # 1-10. Terms and definitions can be found at the bottom of the page.

Daily Objectives: 
Students will be able to:

  • Identify the outcome of the Civil War.
  • Analyze a political cartoon for content and context.
  • Identify political division in post-Civil War U.S. relations.
  • Define Reconstruction.
  • Describe the roles of political parties, interest groups, and public opinion in the democratic process. 

Day 2:

1) Bellringer/Writing Prompt: Importance of Political Cartoons. (10 minutes) Students will write 2-3 paragraphs on the topic.

2) Group Analysis of 9 Thomas Nast Cartoons using NARA worksheet. (20 minutes) Students will work in groups of 2-3. Each group will receive a cartoon to analyze using the worksheet. Each group will give a very short presentation on their particular cartoon. A list of Nast’s “Andrew Johnson cartoons” can be found at: http://www.thomasnast.com Then click “The Cartoons.” Then click “Cartoons from Nast and Andrew Johnson”.

Select: (1) Andy’s Trip, (2) Johnson Kicking Freedmen’s Bureau, (3) King Andy,
(4) Pardon Columbia-A, (5) Pardon Columbia-B, (6) Reconstruction And How It Works, (7) Time Works Wonders, (8) We Accept The Situation, (9) Which Is The More Illegal.

3) Group Presentations: Analysis of Nast’s 9 Cartoons using NARA Worksheet. (20 minutes)

4) As a class, read: Harper’s Weekly; October 20, 1866. “The New Orleans Report” and “The New Orleans Massacre”; March 30, 1867. (25 minutes)

Articles can be found at: http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com/06FirstImpeachmentDiscussion/iiib-6.html and http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com/06FirstImpeachmentDiscussions/iiib-8ahtml Article discussion questions: “The New Orleans Report”
a) Who does the editorial blame for the murder of “white and colored” Unionists?
b) How are “Copperheads” trying to gain control of the federal government?
c) Why does the editorial say that there is a connection between the Memphis and New Orleans riots?
d) How do Generals Grant and Sheridan want to keep order in the South?
e) Why should “rebel chiefs” be made ineligible to vote and men of all colors given the right to vote?
f) How did President Johnson feel about the Unionists’ plan to hold a new convention?

Article discussion questions: “The New Orleans Massacre”
a) Who does the Committee Report blame for planning the New Orleans Massacre?
b) According to the article how many people were killed and wounded?
c) What groups are responsible for attacking the Unionists?
d) What did General Sheridan do about the upcoming state election?

5) Homework: Complete definitions for “Reconstruction” words and terms # 11-20.

Daily Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • Analyze a political cartoon for content and context.
  • Understand the importance and impact of political, economic, and social ideas.
  • Use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision-making.
  • Understand why society needs rules, laws, and governments.

Day 3:

1) Think/Pair/Share Activity: Review the New Orleans Riot. (5 minutes) Students will pair up and discuss what they remember from the previous class about the New Orleans riot. Instructor will help the class synthesize the information.

2) Cultural Context Exercise: In order to reference an event or situation from the perspective of specific groups of people, the students will describe the events of the New Orleans Massacre from the perspective of a Unionist who was there. The students will write 2-3 paragraphs on the topic. (15 minutes)

3) As a class examine: U.S. National Archives & Records Administration “Written Document Analysis Worksheet”. (5 minutes) Worksheet can be found at: http://www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/analysis_worksheets/document.html 

4) Circuit Activity: Using the NARA Worksheet as a guide, students will analyze six Reconstruction Era documents: (1) “Thirteenth Amendment.” (2) “Freedmen’s Bureau Act.” http://www.freedmensbureau.com (3) “Andrew Johnson’s Proclamation of Amnesty, May 29, 1865.” http://itw.sewanee.edu/reconstruction/html/docs/andrewj.html  (4) “Selections from the Louisiana Black Code (1865).” http://www.uiuc.edu/NewCourses/SurveyCourses/Readings/150-151/LouisianaBlac (5) “The Fourteenth Amendment.”

(6) “The Fifteenth Amendment.” US History textbooks are a good resource for the US Constitution, but if you can’t find it there try the Library of Congress’ website at: http://memory.loc.gov/const/const.html  

The students will work in pairs. They will visit six stations in the classroom to complete the circuit. Students will have nine minutes to read the article and complete the NARA worksheet. Allow 30 seconds to rotate to the next station. (50 minutes)

5) Homework: Create a Political Cartoon using one of the six primary documents from the Circuit Activity. * Prompt students to be aware of the Reconstruction Vocabulary Exam next class.

Daily Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • Examine a historical event from within its cultural context.
  • Define “Black Code.”
  • Use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision-making.
  • Examine a primary document for content and context. 

Day 4:

1) As a class, review: the 20 vocabulary terms and their definitions. (10 minutes) The review could be in lecture form (which will take more time) or simply as an informal assessment of the students’ comprehension. In any event, it will prime them for the test.

2) Presentations of Political Cartoons: Students must discuss the significance of the Reconstruction Era document they chose as part of their presentation. The Instructor will help the class to synthesize the information. (45 minutes)

3) Test: Match the 20 vocabulary terms with their definitions. (20 minutes)

Daily Objectives:
Student will be able to:

  • Create a political cartoon.
  • Identify propaganda and persuasion in political advertising and literature.
  • Describe how the U.S. Constitution serves as a device for preserving national principles and as a vehicle for change, including knowledge of the formal process of amending the U.S. Constitution.
  • Understand the importance and impact of political, economic, and social ideas.
  • Understand the people, events, ideas, and conflicts that led to the creation of a new nation and distinctive cultures.
  • Pass the test with at least an eighty percent.


Terms and Definitions

Reconstruction- Term that refers to the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War.

Radical Republican- Members of Congress who wanted to punish Confederates for starting the Civil War.

Copperhead- Called “Peace Democrats” during the Civil War, after the War these members of Congress allied themselves with former Confederates for political reasons.

Confederate- A supporter of the Confederate States of America.

Unionist- A supporter of the Union or United States of America.

Freedmen’s Bureau- Agency designed to attend to the needs of newly freed slaves in the South after the Civil War.

The White League- Groups of former Confederates dedicated to the preservation of a “white man’s government.”

Ku Klux Klan- Ultra-racist organization created to terrorize African Americans in the South.

Impeach- To charge the President with improper conduct in office.

Amnesty- A general pardon granted by the government.Wade-Davis Bill- Bill sponsored by radical Republicans in response to Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan, which was much less harsh. The radical Republican Bill contained measures intended to punish the Confederates in the South.Ten Percent Plan- Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan. This plan would allow a southern State to rejoin the United States when ten percent of its citizens swore an oath of loyalty to the Union.Segregation- Racist policy intended to keep black and white people separate.Civil Rights- Rights belonging to a person by virtue of his or her status as a citizen or member of a society.Suffrage- The right or privilege of voting.Thirteenth Amendment- Abolished slavery in the United States. Fourteenth Amendment- All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and the State within which they reside. 

Fifteenth Amendment- The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


Annotated Bibliography

Teacher Resources:

Adler, John. Publisher. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com/. HarpWeek.com. 1998. Harpweek website provides electronic access to many of the articles written in Harpers Weekly Magazine. The website is amazingly detailed. It is an excellent resource that can be used by both teacher and student.

Boime, Al. Thomas Nast and Vincent Van Gogh. http://www.thomasnast.com/NastAndVanGogh/AlBoimeEssayMain.htm
This is one of several articles that Al Boime, Professor of Art History at UCLA, wrote for Harpweek’s Thomas Nast website. Boime’s essay is an excerpt from his book, “The Interactivity of Thomas Nast and High Art.”

Bowman, John S., ed. The Civil War Almanac. New York: Bison Books, 1983
This chronological look at the events of the Civil War provides brief explanations of the happenings on a day-to-day basis. The work also contains a section dealing with military history. The last section of the book provides short biographies of some of the major figures of that era.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. 1863-1877. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
A comprehensive study of the people and events of Reconstruction.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865. Microsoft ® Encarta ® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997. Microsoft Corporation.

Hollandsworth, James G. Jr. An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.
An account of the “New Orleans suffrage riot” of 1866. The author states that the riot was in actuality a massacre of blacks planned by the elite whites of New Orleans who feared African American suffrage.

Keller, Morton. The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
A large collection of Thomas Nast’s political cartoons broken up into different eras and themes. Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the topic and then details the works of Nast pertinent to that subject.

Lynch, John R. The Facts of Reconstruction. New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1913; reprint, New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1968.
John Lynch was an African American Congressman from Mississippi and a onetime chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1884. Lynch’s book on Reconstruction is valuable because he provides an eyewitness testimony to the political events dealing with Reconstruction from the perspective of an insider.

Murphy Richard W. The Civil War: The Nation Reunited; War’s Aftermath. Time-Life Books Inc., 1987.
One section, A Crusader With Pen And Ink, includes some of the political cartoons of Thomas Nast with short comments describing each piece.

Nast, Thomas. Cartoons and Illustrations; 117 Works. New York: Dover Publications, 1974.
This original work contains a collection of 117 of Nast’s political cartoons broken up into different eras and themes ranging from the Civil War, to the Boss Tweed Ring, to Christmas. Thomas Nast St. Hill, grandson of the illustrator, writes the introduction.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Thomas Nast: His Period And His Pictures. New York: Macmillan, 1904.
A detailed biography of Nast that includes a large body of his work. Although the book is dated, it was used as a source by many of the other works cited and most likely contains some excellent information.

Rable, George. ““Missing in Action”: Women of the Confederacy.” In Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, ed. Catherine Clinton & Nina Silber. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
This series of essays by historians examines gender issues in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. The introduction is written by James M. McPherson.

“Reconstruction.” Microsoft ® Encarta ® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997. Microsoft Corporation.
A short, but detailed, outline of the major events of Reconstruction.

Trefousse, Hans L. Reconstruction: America’s First Effort At Racial Democracy. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1971.
The first part of this book outlines the important events of Reconstruction. Part II is an incredible collection of documents related to Reconstruction, including; President Johnson’s Proclamation of Amnesty, The Black Codes of Mississippi, The Articles of Impeachment Against President Andrew Johnson, and many others.

U.S. National Archives & Records Administration. Washington D.C. http://www.archives.gov
This site has a feature for educators. The “Cartoon Analysis Worksheet” and the “Document Analysis Worksheet” can be found here. Vinson, J. Chal. Thomas Nast: Political Cartoonist. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1967.
The book contains a 40-page biography of Thomas Nast and 154 of Nast’s illustrations. The illustrations stand alone without comment. They are on glossy paper and will provide excellent material for copies.


Student Resources:

http://www.harpweek.com  An amazing resource for students and teachers of US History. The site has many “free features.” These features explore different aspects of American history. It is here in Harpweek that students can explore the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson and some of Thomas Nast’s “Reconstruction” cartoons. Both of these sites can be accessed more directly by going to http://www.impeach-andrewjohnson.com and http://www.thomasnast.com

http://www.loc.gov  The Library of Congress website. This website is an outstanding resource for students and teachers of American history. The “American Memory” feature provides access to a multitude of primary documents. The “America’s Library” feature is an easy way to access information on US history. Many short but concise articles, perfect for the classroom, can be found here.