(The following is an article written by Sara Duke and Martha Kennedy, both of the Prints and Photographs Division, for the May/June 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)
The Library’s vast collection of cartoon art chronicles the nation’s political controversies from its founding to the present.
Controversy sparks and fuels the art of political cartooning. Political cartoonists thrive in a climate that allows contention and freedom of expression. The compelling union of image and word that characterizes political cartoons sets them apart from other art forms, endowing them with the potential to inform, provoke and entertain.
Occasionally, cartoons can trigger violent reactions like those that occurred on Jan. 7, 2015. On that day, five cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo magazine were killed by Islamic extremists in Paris. A decade earlier, cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands- Posten sparked violent protests worldwide.
Political cartoons also have the power to generate healthy public debate, highlight pressing issues of the day, move some viewers to consider both sides of an issue and take positive action. Cartoons have contributed to political change by unmasking and condemning corruption, smear tactics and obstruction of justice. They have hastened the downfall of flawed leaders such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy and President Richard Nixon. And they have championed– and mocked–political movements such as the struggle for women’s suffrage and civil rights.
The following sampling from the vast array of political cartoon art in the Library’s collections provides just a glimpse of the rich holdings that can be explored online, and in person in the Prints and Photographs Division. The emphasis is on those that aroused controversy and likely contributed to the process of political and social change.
All images are from the Prints and Photographs Collection.