Political cartoons and freedom to express

mast head

Political cartoons have been around since 16th century Italy, satirizing their political personalities by caricatures of often unflattering likenesses. The addressing of political issues and events have since persevered and continues to be a niche through which visual rhetoric takes on observer’s voice, visual tokens of attitude, and persuasion. For the recipients, the interpretation of the cartoons is often a process necessitating a broad knowledge of past and current events, awareness with the cartoon’s genre and cultural symbols, and analytical thinking about real-world events and situations. Well- aware of its ability to influence, the cartoonist has the ability to impact a country’s brand or a person’s reputation; all the while, one may not assume that the encounter will produce the same reaction. For some it is baneful, for others it is poignant.  In a world of deep pluralism, the right to voice ones’ freedom of expression has sometimes been viewed as less than a mirror of our times and more as a hand- grenade.  join or die

And so, today’s post will take the jesters’ approach to politics and bring to you what is touted as the first American political cartoon, Join, or Die. First published in an issue of Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754, it was his warning to the British colonies in America “join or die” urging them to unite against the French and the Native people. Toward the head of the snake, “NE” represents New England, followed by “NY” (New York), “NJ” (New Jersey), “P” (Pennsylvania), “M” (Maryland), “V” (Virginia), “NC” (North Carolina) and “SC” (South Carolina).  Although there were four “New England” colonies, Franklin grouped them into one category to stress the need for colonial unity. At the time, the colonists were hotly debated the expansions ion westward into and past the Appalachian Mountains and fighting the French and their Indian allies.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a renaissance man of vision. Having had the foresight to use the power of images to create political conversation among the population, Franklin, through his “Join, or Die” cartoon, secured a strong opinion in a subtle, persuasive, and ingenious way.

First image: Masthead and part of front page of The Massachusetts Spy, or, Thomas’s Boston Journal showing a female figure of Liberty in upper left and rattlesnake labeled “Join or Die” symbolizing the 13 colonies, challenging a griffin, across the top created by Paul Revere on July 7, 1774.

Esteemed thinker: Samuel J. Tilden

NY public library

There is an adage that bears repeating, “the best things in life are free”; yet in spite of its hopeful message if you were to ask much of the population there would be a multitude of naysayers. After all, most of what folks are looking for can only be purchased. However there are many who would agree that Mother Nature does offer all her wonders, but often within her generosity are forces she possesses that can eradicate a home with an evening storm, capsize a way-faring vessel with a wave’s thirsty gulp, and destroy a city with a shrug of her fault line.

But to those who are willing to keep hoping and set skepticism aside, you have only to look within your neighborhoods. There are places where one can obtain knowledge, leisure, amusement, and harmony all for free. It is a location that welcomes you during the coldest of winter days and the hottest of summer afternoons. This place you say; all this for free? Upon which I remind you of the public library.

Today’s post brings to you the esteemed thinker: Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886), a prominent political figure and philanthropist. who was cheated out of the presidency by the electoral college. Born in New Lebanon, New York. His early education was sporadic due to chronic poor health that followed him into adult life where he attended Yale University and studied law at NYU.  Tilden_of_NY

A man of great principals, in 1848 he led the revolt of the Democratic party in New York State against the creation of five slave States. He opposed slavery and was an active supporter of the Union during the civil war.  Known as a reformer, he fought  against bribery and corruption, bringing down New York’s powerful and corrupt Tweed Ring that controlled and defrauded New York City for years.

Tilden was elected the 25th governor of New York. His popularity as a strong advocate against corruption won him the presidential nomination, becoming the Democratic candidate for president in the hotly disputed election of 1876. A look back in history would describe him as having been cheated out of the presidency by the electoral college.  However, Tilden’s acceptance of his defeat was most honorable and may have prevented the country civil unrest, even though he won the popular vote against Rutherford r B. Hayes.

Having never married he remained a bachelor and acquired considerable wealth. With no heirs, upon his death he left the majority of his estate in trust for the establishment of a free public library for New York City. This bequest eventually helped build the New York City Library in Manhattan.

I now bring you a Harper’s Weekly cartoon, originally printed in January 27, 1877 and drawn by the famous Thomas Nast.  Titled  “Compromise- Indeed” it conveys concerns the Electoral Commission Act passed by Congress to resolve the disputed presidential election of 1876.

Tilden cartoon

 

First image: New York Public Library

 

Esteemed thinker: Maud Wood Park

votingThe media can be the maker or breaker of a person’s claim to fame. It has a dramatic effect on the attention of the populous, dramatically influencing who will succeed and who may not. Yet, it is not always accurate, often giving more attention than deserved to those individuals that may not deserve such notoriety. It has the power to guide and influence in a positive way, yet regularly chooses paths that would ordinarily dismissed as follies. How often have we been bombarded by irresponsible reporting, leading us through the briar patch and around the same thorny trail… and then at the end giving the most sensational reports to those who have, shall we say, the squeakiest wheel.

And then there are those deserving souls who are never heard of, never acknowledged; ones we think of as the unsung heroes. Let us hope that those who are lead around by the media have enough sense to filter for themselves what is worthy of our time and our attention.

maude wood park Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Maude Wood Park (1871-1955) born in Boston, Massachusetts. Graduating from Radcliff College, Ms. Park became a leading activist for the women’s suffrage movement, advocating for the 19th Amendment (women’s right to vote).

In 1916 her friend Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA), persuaded Park to join the NAWSA’s Congressional Committee and to go to Washington to lobby directly for the federal suffrage amendment. Thus Park led the “front-door lobby” to win suffrage. As a result of her efforts Park became the first president of the League of Women Voters, an organization which preceded the passing of the Amendment, a nonpartisan organization to educate new voters.

Upon the passage of the 19th Amendment, Park continued to advocate for women, forming and running a most needed coalition, the Women Joint Congressional Committee. With leaders from several other women groups, they lobbied for and helped pass legislation of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921 and the Cable Act of 1922, which granted protected care for pregnant women and infants and granted independent citizenship for married women

Park continued to work tirelessly for the betterment of women, advocating for social reforms. I now present from her own Front Door Lobby a passage which gives you a heartfelt view of the passing of the 19th Amendment; a journey that began so very long ago which we should without doubt continue to laud.

“… So quietly as that, we learned the he last step in the enfranchisement of women in the United States had been taken and the struggle of more than seventy years brought to a successful end. We were all too stunned to make any comment until we were in the cab on our way to the Department of State, where we almost had to stick pins into ourselves to realize that the simple document at which we were looking was, in reality, the long sought charter of liberty for the women of this country…”

Second image: League of Women Voters, Maud Wood Park 1915

Esteemed thinker: John Locke

experience When we look back upon our day or night we often compile the hours as bits of experiences. What we did, what we ate, who we interacted with… and as a result of these experiences we often evaluate the day or night; whereupon if asked we would respond with, “I had a good day or bad day depending upon the experience encountered. And if we were to collect these continuances, we could stretch this element of time into years, thus compiling quite the grand allotment of experiences.

However, an experience is really an idea for you can’t manufacture in the same category with a tangible item…rather it is a personal state of mind, something that we have collected and stored in the crevices of our brain, only to retrieve at will or sometimes involuntarily as a resurrection of a nightmarish or traumatic “experience”.

Experiences formulate our conceptions, our perceptions, and even how we react to people, places and things… for if our episode was met with an unsatisfactory encounter…it can leave a lasting impression, and what is an impression…merely another intangible idea denoted by a strong feeling from the immediate effect of our experience…

John Locke Today’s blog takes us back a bit to the 17th century where we will meet the esteemed thinker: John Locke ( 1632-1704), English philosopher and physician whose influence on the philosophy of politics was so powerful that he is thought of as the founder of philosophical liberalism. His book Essay on the Human Understanding is considered his greatest work upon which he is most famous for. He opposed the foremost idea of “innate principles’ which contended that “we are all born knowing certain fundamental principles, such as “whatever is, is.” Rather, he presented his argument against innate knowledge, asserting that “human beings cannot have ideas in their minds of which they are not aware, so that people cannot be said to possess even the most basic principles until they are taught them or think them through for themselves.”

So, let us take time to ponder Mr. Locke’s idea and drift back the 1600s where we will read a selection from his Essay of Human Understanding, Book II…

“… All Ideas come from Sensation or Reflection. Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas:—How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the MATERIALS of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either, about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the MATERIALS of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring…

The mind thinks in proportion to the matter it gets from experience to think about. Follow a child from its birth, and observe the alterations that time makes, and you shall find, as the mind by the senses comes more and more to be furnished with ideas, it comes to be more and more awake; thinks more, the more it has matter to think on. After some time it begins to know the objects which, being most familiar with it, have made lasting impressions. Thus it comes by degrees to know the persons it daily converses with, and distinguishes them from strangers; which are instances and effects of its coming to retain and distinguish the ideas the senses convey to it. And so we may observe how the mind, BY DEGREES, improves in these; and ADVANCES to the exercise of those other faculties of enlarging, compounding, and abstracting its ideas, and of reasoning about them, and reflecting upon all these; of which I shall have occasion to speak more hereafter…”