Originally posted 16 May 2012
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast was one of the best artists of his generation, so it is unfortunate that his talents were frequently put to supporting bigoted candidates and causes. One of the odder examples combines two of Nast’s obsessions: alcohol and immigration to the United States. Given those two concerns, what could be better than a cartoon about rum-crazed Irishmen?
The cartoon is a savage caricature of a riot in New York that was provoked when police broke up a St. Patrick’s day parade. Rum isn’t the alcohol usually associated with Irishmen, but it was the cheapest liquor available and Nast, like many others of his day, associated it with violence and debauchery. Like many modern media personalities, he wasn’t about to let facts get in the way of a good story. Less confrontational cartoons by Nast have been more enduringly popular – he created the popular images of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, and other American icons, and toward the end of his life drew cartoons that showed sympathy for the plight of immigrants.