1864 illustration--help identifying figures

Leslie Schwalm's picture


attached is an illustration from a March 1864 publication of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  It is a fairly typical example of popular representations of the "threat" of social equality, as Kate Masur's work has shown.  I wonder if I could ask for your help in identifying the figures?  It would seem that Sumner is at the head of the table, perhaps Seward to the right, and 3rd from the right might be Stevens, but I'm not sure.  Any assistance here would be greatly appreciated.  And my apologies for circulating racist caricatures.

Leslie Schwalm

Dear Leslie,

Unfortunately, I cannot offhand help with specific identifications of figures in the March 1864 cartoon. I will, however, venture a few suggestions as to avenues to explore.

My own sense—I could be wrong-- is that the African Americans are generic: a soldier and a civilian. The two white figures closest to the viewer on both sides of the table also look like generic figures. For an organization concerned about sanitation, the idea that those at the table are ingesting food and drink from black bodies suggests a sort of contamination, perhaps linked to the contamination of the body politic. But that is only speculation.

I agree with you that Sumner is at the head of the table. Despite his vilification in recent biographies of Grant, he was the driving force behind linking Reconstruction with emancipation, citizenship, and equal rights for African Americans. As David Prior’s work shows, at the start of the war, many of those calling for “reconstruction” of the Union were conservatives hoping for reconciliation. They argued for a reconstruction based on recognizing state governments in the South prior to secession that recognized slavery. In a few speeches in Feb 1862, Sumner insisted that a “true” Reconstruction required a guarantee of a “Republican form of government” for those former states, one that recognized African Americans as citizens with equal rights. In March 1864, Sumner would have been identified as the prime advocate of equality for Blacks. Even the 1864 Wade-Davis Bill for Reconstruction that Lincoln pocket vetoed, did not include African American suffrage.

The question then becomes: who would the creator of the cartoon consider Sumner’s closest allies? George Frisbie Hoar, the editor of Sumner’s works, often includes a summary of debates on Sumner’s proposals and speeches. You might find the names of the few at that time who agreed with Sumner’s late 1863 and early 1864 speeches on Reconstruction and see if they match any of the figures at the table. (I think Sumner also published a piece in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY in October 1863).

Another consideration is: how much weight to put on the cartoon’s reference to wise men from the EAST? Would that rule out people from the Midwest, like Salmon Chase? Does it help focus on Senator Wilson from Massachusetts?

On “social equality”: I am sure you know MISCEGENATION, co-authored by Walt Whitman’s Democratic friend David Croly for the 1864 presidential campaign—a spoof designed to look as if Republicans were campaigning on a platform of interracial marriage. A bit later, but similar in ideology. Finally, it is important to remember that even Frederick Douglass did not share today’s views on “social equality.” In his stirring protest against the Supreme Court’s decision in the CIVIL RIGHTS CASES (1883), Douglass decries those who “stigmatized the ‘Civil Rights Bill’ as the ‘Social Rights Bill’ . . . Social equality and civil equality rest upon an entirely different basis. . . Social equality does not necessarily follow from civil equality.”

I hope these thoughts are of minimal help. Best of luck on your important work.

Brook Thomas

Hi Leslie,

I’ll toss in some brief suggestions on the identities of some of the cartoon figures. The person at the head of the table could very well be Charles Sumner, although in my mind the figure looks a bit more like Thaddeus Stevens. The person to his right may well be intended to be William Seward, however, Seward became somewhat less radical over time. A suggestion is that the figure may instead depict John A. Bingham who had a prominent nose and was most definitely a Radical Republican. As to the figure to the left of Sumner/Stevens, could that possibly be a depiction of Abraham Lincoln? If so, it basically shows him as being led by the figure at the head of the table. The other bearded man on the left side of the table could be any number of gentlemen, but could the figure represent Schuyler A. Colfax?

I agree with Brook that it’s difficult to know how seriously to take the reference to wise men from the East. It could simply be a literal statement that all of the “wise men” in the cartoon held elected positions in Washington, D. C.

Hopefully, these comments will be of some use to you. May your research and writing go smoothly!

Jane Johansson

Another suggestion. Horatio Bateman's 1867 lithograph RECONSTRUCTION (artwork by John Lawrence Giles) provides a compendium of caricatures of historical figures at the time. You might want to look at it with a magnifying glass to see if any of the caricatures in your cartoon match. The lithograph is a wonderful teaching tool on its own.

Good luck.

The wavy hair on the man at the head of the table seems to suggest Sumner, I agree. I don't see any resemblance to William Seward in any of the figures. Seward was clean-shaven and had a distinctive profile with a weak chin. The man to Sumner's left does not seem to suggest that. I'm guessing the artist was not very skilled at caricature. More to the point, what would Seward be doing at a banquet celebrating interracial equality, if that is what is going on here? This is an interesting puzzle. Thanks, Leslie.

Any chance the point of the cartoon is to mock Sumner in particular and the elite Boston phenomeon of "Clubs" in general? I remember from David Donald's _Charles Sumner_ that Sumner had a regular social clique, as did many others. Is this meant to mock that without much knowledge of the particulars?

Or perhaps the individuals are actually from the "Bird Club" that Sumner was a part of?

Or are they just the members of the U.S. sanitary commission with some generic racial stereotypes thrown in? 

Second from the front on the left could be Samuel G. Howe... maybe.  He would have been active in the AFIC around that time, and was a Sumner friend. Perhaps the man on our provisional-Sumner's left, with the pronounced nose, is Robert Dale Owen? 

Dr. Samuel Howe, husband of Julia Ward Howe, was indeed a militant abolitionist. He was also a member of the Sanitary Commission. After the war, Sumner, unsuccessfully, lobbied to have him appointed US minister to Greece.

I think the most prominent club including Sumner in the Boston area was the Saturday Club. Illustrations of members are readily available. (I find a slight resemblance between one of the caricatures and Whittier.)

In 1863 a British publication said that the chief "negrophilist" in the US were Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips, and Horace Greeley. (Steven's reputation got more public notice in the early days of Reconstruction.)

On the Sanitary Commission. In 1865 J. S. Mill directed that "whatever copyright may be allowed by American publishers of his works shall be given to the Sanitary Commission or some other object of national charity." Later Mill used the commission as an example to argue for women's suffrage, calling it "one of the most striking facts of modern times," showing "what women's powers of organization can accomplish in public life."

Brook Thomas