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Lincoln: The Image

Railing at the Candidates: Caricatures & Cartoons

Not all of the campaign prints produced for the presidential election of 1860 were designed to advocate, much less honor, the candidates. In fact, some of the same publishers who issued flattering portraits designed for Lincoln's admirers also printed savage cartoons, which were meant to appeal to his enemies.

The printmakers' motive was always profit, not politics. The resulting flurry of caricatures added a touch of clever humor to an otherwise serious electoral campaign. How they may have influenced voters is impossible to know, but editorial cartoons certainly enlivened the presidential campaign and introduced many of the essential, indelible elements of the Lincoln image.

As all of these examples demonstrate, American cartoonists rarely went in for caricature. Instead, they painstakingly copied faces from available photographs. Humor stemmed from the improbable situations, or was present in lengthy balloons of text, often filled with obscure puns and period references that require extensive explanations today.

We still know little about how cartoons were used. Published on sheets of heavy-stock paper, rather than on newspaper editorial pages, they were too ribald for home display. The scant evidence suggests that most ended up on tavern walls, political clubhouses, or in store windows. Charles Dickens noted a Lincoln cartoon in a shop along Broadway during his visit to New York in 1860.

These images will give you a sense of what people of Lincoln's era saw.