Presidential Cartoons and Caricatures: Studying Perceptions of the Presidency

In a previous Teaching with the Library of Congress blog post, one of our colleagues posed the question, “What can a political cartoon say that a drawing or photograph can’t?” Artists can use symbols, exaggerate or distort physical characteristics, or highlight ironic events or situations to make specific points in caricatures or political cartoons. To focus the question a bit differently as Presidents’ Day approaches, what can be learned about the artist’s perceptions of a president from the way a caricature or cartoon is drawn? What can a cartoon teach us about a wider community’s opinions?

The Library of Congress has a large collection of political cartoons as well as caricatures of presidents. Students can compare the caricatures of presidents made during their time in office, and the perspectives those images reveal, with caricatures created afterwards.


King Andrew the first, 1833


President Roosevelt and the third term nomination – is this a prophecy? William C. Morris, 1907


Cleveland. Oliver Herford


The Emancipation Proclamation. Adalbert John Volck, 1864

Caricature of President Richard M. Nixon. Edmund S. Valtman,


Another Saint Patrick? Louis M. Glackens, 1909

Here are some possible discussion points:

  • What events were taking place at the time these caricatures were created? What characteristics were the artists trying to show in each image? For additional information, you may want to explore Chronicling America and the recommended topics list.
  • Do you feel that the images portray a positive or negative image of the president portrayed?
  • How do you think readers might respond to these caricatures? What was the point of view of the artist?
  • What was the message of the caricature and do you think the artist was successful at communicating that message?
  • The caricatures presented are from different time periods. How have caricatures changed over time? Students can compare these and other caricatures with those from current newspapers or news websites.
  • Do you believe that caricatures can help the public better understand an event in history?

You can also use the Library’s primary source analysis tool and questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Political Cartoons to help students develop their skills in working with caricatures and cartoons.

Want to find more caricatures? Explore the Swann Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, the Cabinet of American Illustration, the American Cartoon Prints, and the Popular Graphic Arts collections. Search using the word “caricature,” the president’s name, or by a specific event.

How do you incorporate caricatures and political cartoons in the study of the presidency and the actions of the president during notable events in history? Let us know in the comments.

One Comment

  1. Sue Wise
    February 13, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    After thoroughly analyzing these caricatures, it would be interesting to have students do a similar study of presidential portraits. Artist perspective, of course, is key!

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