Political Cartoon: Beware of Foreign Tramps

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Harper’s Weekly, 24 January 1880

I first saw this Thomas Nast cartoon in Ely M. Janis’ A Greater Ireland: The Land League and Transatlantic Nationalism in Gilded Age America.  It captured my attention because it plays into so many of the narratives propagated by Ulster loyalists about Charles Stewart Parnell’s visits to the United States and of Irish nationalism in general.

Parnell arrived in America in January 1880 for a three-month speaking tour to promote the Land League.  He spoke in 62 cities, addressed the U.S. House of Representatives, and raised $300,000.  Janis uses the Harper’s Weekly portrayal of Parnell to discuss the racial representation of the Irish.  The magazine does not “reduce him to the simianized or apelike stereotype commonly used in this period when illustrating Irish and Irish-American nationalists.  In fact, an extensive, though not exhaustive, review of American political cartoons and anti-Land League attacks in this period revealed no simianized images of Parnell.”  Parnell’s Irishness is signified through other means.  Janis concludes, “Parnell’s Protestantism, his half-American and half-Irish descent, and his upper-class background as gentlemanly landowner insulated him from many of the common stereotypes placed on the Irish character by unfriendly American commentators.”

In the cartoon, Nast depicts Parnell as “Pat Riot,” a tramp who goes door-to-door begging, hat-in-hand, from Irish domestic servants.  But when she offers him a ship “full of food for Ireland,” he responds, “Ah! you innocent Bridget, darlint, sure it’s not a starvation of food that troubles us, but it’s money we’re afther.”

Irish loyalists propounded similar themes as those depicted in the cartoon.  Innocent and honest Irish “servant girls” in America hoped to donate money to relieve Irish rural distress.  But the leaders of the Land League and Irish nationalism exploited them for their money.  Irish nationalists were depicted as unrepresentative of the Irish in Ireland or in the United States, working only to benefit themselves.  Unionists denied that the causes of Home Rule and separatism had any substantial backing in either country, with Land League funds coming from mere “servant girls” who were being manipulated by nationalist leaders.

Harper’s Weekly also published several cartoons in the same decade with negative depictions of nationalist dynamiters begging from Irish domestic servants in America. See Niall Whelehan’s analysis in The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867-1900 for further exploration of these depictions.

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