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AS THE UNITED STATES enters a period of uncertainty and related bullshit, many Americans have sought wisdom from their elders—men and women who endured World War II—finding comfort in their perspective and unselfconscious love of television. For those still too lazy to call the old people in their lives, we present this easy alternative: a historical overview of political cartoons.

from the Federalist Commentator magazine, 1803
Cartoonists then as now make heavy use of symbolism, allowing them to convey a startling amount of information and hilarity. Here, President Thomas Jefferson is represented by a figure who looks like him but has a mustache. The cartoonist has helpfully written in the meaning of other symbols into the cartoon itself. (The reference to a "Ms. Hemmings" by Napoleon is actually a reference to the American people, commonly referred to as "Ms. Hemmings" at the time.)

from the Louisville Dixie Caller, 1860
Note how President Abraham Lincoln is portrayed in this cartoon wearing a pocket watch, a practice Southern critics felt demonstrated Lincoln’s hypocrisy on the slave issue. (He wanted to break the chains of slavery and substitute the chains of pocket-watchery.)

from Harper's Weekly, 1915
This side-splitting commentary on ex-President Theodore Roosevelt's demands that the U.S. join World War I speaks for itself!

from the New York Times, 1933
Note Uncle Sam’s use of a curse word in this panel. This is a wonderful artifact of the Depression-era newspaper industry, which was eliminating many editorial positions in an attempts to cut costs. President Franklin Draelin Roosevelt is represented by a figure who looks like him but has a mustache.

from the People’s Press, 1942
Political cartoons are also a forum for dissent. After some incident in 1941 drew the United States into war against Japan, Japanese-Americans were forced to live in internment camps. Though the government degraded and stereotyped Japanese-Americans, this cartoon reminds us that there were those who felt differently, who recognized that the Japanese were at least as deserving of this country’s freedoms and opportunities as the far more devious Irish.

More by Dirk Voetberg:
Zoomy's Fun Page
New and Improved Office Talk

More topical humor:
Comedy Under Siege

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