The Old Print Shop

February 22, 1876. Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). "We can not tell a lie! We did not do it!"

  • ARTIST: Thomas Nast

  • PUBLISHER: Published by Harper's Weekly. March 4, 1876.

  • MEDIUM: Wood engraving,

    DATE: 1876.

  • EDITION SIZE: Image size 10 1/2 x 9" (26.7 x 22.9 cm).

  • DESCRIPTION: Columbia, the female personification of America, is aghast at the death of the tree of "Truth." She points to it and asks the children before her who is responsible. They all claim innocence, yet each and every one of them hides and ax behind their back. These children represent the corrupt officials and, likely, corrupt business owners across America. <br><br> The sign above Columbia's head read reads, "School of the old. 1776," but a poster has been plastered over part of it. It reads, "Scandal. Journalism by Prof. Hoax. Political economy by Prof. Tweed. Law by Prof. D.D. Field. R.R. Engineering by FiskGould. Financiering by Prof. A. Numberone. Theology by Prof. Popestoe. History by Prof. Jeff. Davis. OUR RULE. MOB RULE. By the Pupils of the New school. 1876." The names refers to both real and metaphorical characters in their society, each as corrupt as the next. "Political economy by Prof. Tweed" refers to William Tweed, also known as Boss Tweed. He had been a politician in New York State for two decades before being ousted for corruption. Best remembered for running the Democratic political machine in New York City known as Tammany Hall, Tweed 's time in power was marked by threats, murders, bribes and extensive embezzlement. By the time he was ousted it was estimated he had stolen more than $30 million from tax payers. <br><br> "Law by Prof. D.D. Field" refers to David Dudley Field, an attorney who had worked for Jay Gould and James Fisk, owners of the Erie Railroad ("R.R. Engineering by FiskGould"). To save their company from being taken over by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gould and Fisk released fraudulent stock on the market and bribed state officials into legalizing it. This allowed them to manipulate the stock marked and pocket a fortune. Field nearly lost his legal license when the truth came out, but managed to avoid such a demeaning fate because he was otherwise well liked in America and England, where his legal writings inspired reform. Fisk was murdered in 1872 and Gould was forced to relinquish the Erie railroad to its board of directors. He later moved out west and continued his unscrupulous life in the railroad business. <br><br> "Financiering by Prof. A. Numberone" likely refers to the cultural desire to be the best and most wealthy in a given profession. "Journalism by Prof. Hoax" most likely references the slander and lies so often published in the news. "Theology by Prof. Popestoe" refers to the Catholic Churches attempt to take over the educational system in America (many schools at that point were run by Roman Catholics, an aspect that infuriated many Americans). And "History by Prof. Jeff. Davis" refers to the traitorous Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and the lingering Confederate views in the South. Despite being emancipated by federal law, many white southerners felt black didn't deserve the rights and liberties they had. The KKK had risen out of the Civil War and blacks faced death not only at the polls, but in every day life. These hateful elements were being passed from parent to child, spawning a never ending cycle. Even in this illustration a black child has been shoved against the wall in the background, as if unwanted by his white classmates. <br><br> Tacked onto the wall are posters reading "Hurra for Sensation," referring to the news; "Hurra for Jeff. Davis." A stick figure hangs next to it (likely a lynching). The noose reads "truth"; "Treason is not a crime," probably referring to how Jefferson Davis, even though he was deemed a traitor, had been bailed out of prison shortly after being arrested; "Hurra for Tweed. You can't punish him," a reference to the fight to have him imprisoned - the first trial was thrown out of court; "How are you Justice, Tiger" refers to Columbia as Lady Justice. The tiger was often used by Nast to represent the Democratic party before the donkey became the standard symbol. <br><br> Columbia holds in her hand a staff of wheat. It's wrapped in a ribbon reading "In union there is strength, patriotism, honor, duty." This references the principles she is trying to teach her delinquent students. Her bracelet reads "Strong arm" making it clear that she wasn't about to give up.


  • CONDITION: Good condition.