The Irish in Cartoons

Harpers' Weekly was, with Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, a new and increasingly popular type of publication, a weekly magazine with a national audience, drawn largely from the middle classes. Both were published in New York. Leslie's sought to remain entirely non-partisan which meant that it did not take positions on such matters as "Bleeding Kansas" or other sectional disputes. Harpers' took strong, pro-Republican positions. It was, as a result, a self-consciously northern publication despite its desire for a national readership. Its editor also had a strong commitment to the Methodist Church. One should not, therefore, assume that everyone shared the views expressed in these cartoons. Democrats in the North welcomed the Irish into their party, often nominated them to run for office, and took positions on public questions which recognized their interests. It was the Republicans who were rapidly coming to dominate public life in the North, however, and Harpers' did express their views to a considerable degree.

Bridget, the Irish Servant, was a standard figure of humor. She was an endless source of discomfort to her employers, as we have already seen in the "B is for Biddy" cartoon from Vanity Fair. Bridget was, first off, a Catholic. She was very highhanded, always insisting upon having things her own way. Indeed, this became so proverbial that doing housework for a "Biddy" became one of the punishments Harper's Weekly suggested for "female traitors." She was stupid, often to a degree beyond her employer's endurance. And her chastity was dubious, at best. In fact, "Biddy" led a very active love life, despite the fact that celibacy was a condition of her employment. Even so, she was better than a German servant girl.

Patrick was her male counterpart. He too was often portrayed as an amorous servant, usually stealing the heart of the daughter of the household. How could one account for such an attraction on the part of a refined young lady? Patrick, as these examples show, could be a figure of danger, something Bridget could be only in comical ways. He was occasionally a Don Juan, often a brute, a willing participant in a mob. Patrick, moreover, could vote. It was something he reputedly did early and often and under the influence. And he voted as the ward boss or the saloonkeeper or the priest ordered. He voted against reading the Bible in schools. Why oppose reading the Bible? The priest told him. Here is how Thomas Nast, who was just beginning a long career of drawing anti-Irish cartoons, protrayed the election of 1864 in which Lincoln survived a challenge from General George McClellan, a peace democrat. Source: