Analyzing Nineteenth Century Immigration Cartoons
by Sarah Schnack
Table of Contents
What arguments made by Americans opposed to immigration do these cartoons reflect?
Political cartoons can be a very powerful classroom tool. At their best, they present issues clearly, and students can analyze multiple perspectives without the language challenges that they might find in a text-based primary source. Before teaching a lesson using political cartoons, read over the following two documents from the Library of Congress:
Review the persuasive techniques described in the first document with your students, and make sure to explain caricature, which is a drawing that exaggerates certain features or stereotypes, and which is commonly used in political cartoons. In this lesson, students investigate political cartoons created between 1869 and 1893. Immigration to America began increasing rapidly in the early decades of the 19th century, due to wars and famine abroad and increasing opportunities in America, including the 1849 Gold Rush and land newly available under the Homestead Act of 1862. Pressure from American Labor Unions and political groups such as the Know-Nothings led to legislation against immigrants, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. With millions of people arriving each decade from all around the world, immigration was a major challenge at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Project each image one at a time or distribute copies of image sets to the students and have them answer the questions that accompany each document
Document 1: "Be Just - Even to John Chinaman," 1893.
1. Who are the other "students" in the class?
2. What is their opinion of letting the Chinese man stay?
3. What does the school represent?
4. Do you think this cartoon is in favor of immigration, or against it? What reason might the artist give to support this view?
Document 2: The Mortar of Assimilation
5. What is the Irish man refusing to do?
6. Do you think this cartoon is in favor of immigration, or against it? What reason might the artist give to support this view?
Document 3: Looking Backward
7. Why do you think these men, who had been poor immigrants themselves, would want to stop this man from entering the country?
8. Do you think this cartoon is in favor of immigration, or against it? What reason might the artist give to support this view?
Document 4: Welcome to All!
10. According to this cartoon, what are five benefits that immigrants might receive in America?
11. The cartoon is not showing what the actual immigration policy was in 1880, but only what Americans thought it was. How might an American feel about this long line of immigrants being promised all of these benefits?
12. Do you think this cartoon is in favor of immigration, or against it? What reason might the artist give to support this view?