“Something That Will Not ‘Blow Over’”

July 29, 1871

Thomas Nast

“Something That Will Not ‘Blow Over’”

Civil War, Remembrance; Irish Americans; New York City, Celebrations/Honors; New York City, Government/Politics; New York City, Riots; Religion, Protestant-Catholic Relations; Religion, Roman Catholic Church; Riots, Orange Day Riot; Symbols, Columbia; Symbols, John Bull; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring; Women, Symbolic;

Emperor Franz Josef; Queen Victoria;

New York City;

No caption

This elaborate double-page cartoon by Thomas Nast depicts the Orange Day Riot between Protestant and Catholic Irish-Americans, which occurred in New York City in July 1871.  

In early July 1871, the Loyal Order of Orange, an organization of Protestant Irish-Americans in New York City, requested a parade permit from the city.  They intended to display their ethnic and religious pride by commemorating the victory in 1690 of William of Orange, the new Protestant king of England, over the deposed James II and his mainly Catholic supporters at the Battle of the Boyne.  The city's Irish Catholic associations lodged protests in order to halt the parade, arguing that the celebration offended Catholic Irish-Americans, and citing the Protestants behavior on the previous year when the marchers taunted Irish Catholic street crews with insulting songs and curses.

On July 10, Superintendent James J. Kelso of the Metropolitan Police denied the permit on the grounds that the parade would threaten public safety, as well as the fact that obscene or violently derogatory language or gestures in public were misdemeanors.  Irish Catholics praised the decision, and the police chief had the further support of William Tweed, the political boss of Tammany Hall.  Irish Protestants objected, demanding equal treatment with the Catholics at whose St. Patrick's Day parade Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall attended and for whose charities and schools the Tweed Ring allocated public funds.  Protestants warned that cancellation of the parade would enhance the prospects of violent Irish nationalists, like the Fenians.  Governor John Hoffman, in consultation with Mayor Hall and Boss Tweed, reversed the decision, letting the parade proceed as planned.  

Irish Catholics were divided over how to respond, but some drilled in military units in case of trouble.  The governor ordered 5000 members of the New York National Guard to safeguard the marchers and keep the public order.  One member of the Guard's 7th Regiment was Private Thomas Nast, whose vantage point at 24th Street and Eighth Avenue allowed him to sketch scenes of the ensuing melee, as well as the featured cartoon, for Harper's Weekly.  

The parade began down Eighth Avenue from 29th Street at 2 p.m., with the Orangemen surrounded by the guardsmen.  Cheers for the Protestants clashed with jeers from the Catholics, many of whom began throwing rocks, bottles, and other projectiles.  Guns were fired on both sides, and a confusing battle scene unfolded.  The parade, however, reformed and continued forward to Cooper Union, where the marchers disbanded at 4 o'clock.  The Orange Day Riot resulted in 60 civilians and two guardsmen killed, and over 100 civilians, 22 policemen, and one Orangeman injured.   Irish Catholics hung Governor Hoffman in effigy, called the riot "Slaughter on Eighth Avenue," and turned out 20,000 strong for the funerals of the slain.

The July 29 issue of Harper’s Weekly (in print July 19) included a description of “The Tammany Riot” which began by blaming Tweed, Hall, and other Tammany leaders for not restraining their Irish-Catholic supporters.  The Orange Day Riot came in the midst of The New York Times exposés on July 8, 20, and 22 of Tweed Ring corruption.  Mayor Hall had dismissed the allegations, claiming they would soon "blow over."  Here, cartoonist Nast uses the phase to tar and feather the Tweed Ring as a whole.

The central arching design fills a space marked by the curving horizon of “The Promised Land. U. S. A.” stretching from California to Washington, D.C., to New York. It portrays an enraged mob of stereotypical Irish-Catholic ruffians charging a single unarmed Irish-Protestant parade marshal, as Uncle Sam draws his sword to defend him.  Real and symbolic world figures, including (left to right) Queen Victoria, John Bull, King Victor Emanuel of Italy, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, and Tsar Alexander II of Russia, turn away in fear and disgust. 

A line above the central scene asks pointedly, “Has No Caste, No Sect, No Nation, Any Rights That the Infallible Ultramontane Roman Irish Catholic Is Bound to Respect[?]”  The use of “infallible” alludes to the recent announcement of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, while “Ultramontane” refers to those supporting papal supremacy in the Church.  By contrast, Nast includes among the besieged world figures a banner for prominent liberal Catholics who rejected papal supremacy, Fathers Dollinger and Hyacinth.

Above the hypocritical phrase “Live and Let Live” are fallen bodies, while images of a lynched black man and the burning Colored Orphan Asylum incorporate memories of the bloody 1863 Civil War Draft Riots in New York City.  On the upper-left of the central picture an American flag flies inverted (a symbol of distress) near a demolished public schoolhouse.  It is paralleled on the upper-right by a flag promoting Tammany Hall, Irish-Catholics, and papal supremacy.

The center panel on the right shows “The Unconditional Surrender” of Tammany Ring officials, who grovel before ape-like Irish-Catholics. The Tweed members are (clockwise from front left):  Sheriff Matthew Brennan, Peter Sweeny, Richard Connolly, John Hoffman, William Tweed, Abraham Oakey Hall, and James Kelso.  A parallel image on the left shows most of the same group fawning on their knees before Columbia, who draws her sword.  Brennan and Kelso are absent, replaced by Tom Fields in the back. 

At the bottom of the page, there are two seven-verse poems constituting a dialogue of sorts between Columbia and the Irish-Catholic “Pat.” At the bottom center, the Tweed Ring sits in chains, guarded by two rioters, while surrounded by an Irish-Catholic crowd who jeer “Well What Are You Going To Do About It?”--a question famously posed by Tweed when the corruption charges against him and his cohorts surfaced.

Harper’s Weekly took out a boldface advertisement in the city's newspapers drawing attention to “The Late Riot” and to a “Splendid Double Page by Thomas Nast.” An editorial note in The New York Times of July 20 recommended that:  "Everybody should see, and seeing, retain Nast’s great 'Riot Cartoons' on the New Number of Harper's Weekly."  The artist work helped make the July 29 issue of Harper's Weekly a sell-out, and raise the following week's issue by 86,000.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Something That Will Not ‘Blow Over’”
May 29, 2024

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