The First Political Cartoons
It's important to note that America's earliest cartoons were political
in nature. The first cartoon appeared in Ben Franklin's newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette
on May 9, 1754. It appeared as part of an editorial by Franklin
commenting on 'the present disunited state of the British Colonies.
The woodcut drawing entitled 'Join or Die' pictures a divided snake
in eight pieces representing as many colonial governments. The drawing
was based on the popular superstition that a snake that had been cut in
two would come to life if the pieces were joined before sunset. The
drawing immediately caught the public's fancy and was reproduced in
Another early cartoon from the 1700's appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel
on January 30, 1788. Entitled 'The Federal Superstructure,' the drawing
shows a hand helping to raise the Massachusetts pillar to an upright
position. The Centinel newspaper, a supporter of the new Constitution,
observed that 'The Pillar of the Great Federal Edifice rises daily.'
Shown in position 'having already ratified the new document' are
pillars representing the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey,
Georgia and Connecticut. A story below the drawing reports that the New
York Assembly will call for a convention to ratify the Constitution.
While the style of America's early political cartoons differs in
appearance from those of today, central to all is a subject that is
obviously political. And the objects in the cartoon symbolize something
other than what is shown.