Monday, January 2, 2017

Lincoln, Don Quixote, and John Brown Pikes

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 brings you everything that 2016 failed to deliver.

In my seemingly never ending quest to knockout those books remaining on my "to be read" shelf (I guess it would help toward that end if I stopped acquiring more books), I recently finished reading Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War by J. G. Lewin and P. J. Huff. The authors offered a number of images for discussion and text interpreting them.

I was familiar with a number of the anti-Lincoln portrayals by Adelbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist, from previous exposure in which he offered demonized images of the 16th president and made vivid use of John Brown and the militant abolitionist's pikes.

However, Volck also made comparisons between Lincoln and Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes's wouldbe romantic latter-day knight as a way of showing Volck's impression of the president's incompetence. In the image at the top, Lincoln (as Quixote) and his sidekick squire Gen. Benjamin Butler (as the simple Sancho Panza) go forth to allegedly correct the ills of society. To assist in conquering the South, Lincoln uses a John Brown pike as his tilting lance.

Similarly, in the image below, Lincoln's pike is propped up behind his chair, while an ax and split rail help identify the subject of the image and a Spanish helmet strengthens the association with the ill-famed wouldbe knight . Lincoln sits in his best Don Quixote attire and ponders ideas of "improving society." He dips his pen in a artillery mortar shaped inkwell, while making a list of recent Union defeats. His foot rests on books labeled as the "Constitution," "Law," and "Habeas Corpus." This image was apparently produced early in the war, as on the wall, a portrait shows Gen. Winfield Scott, known popularly as "Old Fuss and Feathers." Scott was replaced as General in Chief in November 1861 by Gen. George B. McClellan.

Political cartoons are effective means and can be used for both good and ill propaganda. Identifying Lincoln as Don Quixote and connecting the president to John Brown through the use of pike images remind us that politics, especially combined with warfare, has always been contentious ground.

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