Drawn On Stone [Political Prints from the 1830's and 1840's]

Previous Section | Reading Historical Cartoons | Next Section


In general, the men who adopted the new technology of lithography to create political broadsides were entrepreneurs, publishers and printers, not trained artists. To our eye, the designs are often awkward, even crude, but they served their purpose as political commentary. Viewers did not expect to grasp a cartoon's meaning instantly as we do today, but would have spent time studying each word, symbol and detail of the drawing. Cartoons could communicate a more complex message and tended to be more elaborate in design, text and content.

In spite of the differences, contemporary cartoonists use many of the same techniques as their predecessors in the 1830s and 40s in order to accomplish many of the same goals. Satire, symbols, metaphors and references to popular literature and theater were employed to comment on domestic policy and world events, to expose greed and corruption in the government, and to sway voters during an election.

Also, political cartoonists then and now rely on their reader's participation and shared cultural knowledge to communicate their messages effectively. Because most of us are no longer familiar with the people, issues and events portrayed in the cartoons here, background information and clues are provided to aid in their interpretation.