“We Have Not Given Up Ruling The Waves Yet”

September 26, 1885

Thomas Nast

“We Have Not Given Up Ruling The Waves Yet”

Anglo-American Relations; Sports and Recreation; Symbols, John Bull; Symbols, Uncle Sam;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

U.S. "Although I have no navy, you see what I can do, when I try."

This cartoon celebrates the victory of an American ship, Puritan, over her British rival, Genesta, in the America's Cup yachting race of 1885.  Uncle Sam, wearing his Puritan cap, holds the cup and dances jauntily in front of John Bull, who has doffed his Genesta cap and bows graciously to the winner.  However, the title, caption, and wall pictures indicate how artist Thomas Nast relates the yacht race to a political controversy over the dismal state of the United States Navy.  

During the summer of 1885, a few months before this cartoon appeared, tests on a new naval ship, the Dolphin, proved disastrous.  Here, the framed wall painting on the left depicts American naval vessels "built by 'practical' politicians" sinking in calm seas.  The center painting, above the laurel wreath, shows private ships (like the Puritan) weathering rough waves on a stormy sea.  The painting on the right is simply a question mark "in case of war."  The cartoon's title and Uncle Sam's caption express hope that the sporting victory demonstrates the American ability to construct an effective navy as well.

The Dutch originated yacht racing in the seventeenth century, and early Dutch settlers brought the sport to the colony of New Amsterdam (later, New York).  Following exile in The Netherlands, King Charles II introduced it to England when he assumed the British throne (1660).  The first yacht club was established at Cork, Ireland, in 1720, but organized racing did not begin until the mid-eighteenth century on the Thames River in England.  The first continuing yacht club in the United States, the Detroit Boat Club, was founded in 1839.  Five years later, sportsman John Cox Stevens and eight fellow yachtsmen established the New York Yacht Club to promote good health, sociability, pleasure, and American naval architecture.  

In 1851, Stevens's crew sailed their yacht, America, to a surprise victory over 18 other crews at the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta in London.  For their efforts, they were awarded the Hundred Guinea Cup, which they renamed America's Cup.  The victory generated great pride in the United States, and tripled membership in the New York Yacht Club, as nouveau riche like Cornelius Vanderbilt and James Gordon Bennett Jr. joined the old-money founders.  In 1857, the America's Cup was donated to the New York Yacht Club, which sponsored an international competition until 1987, when the San Diego Yacht Club resumed the responsibility.

Harper's Weekly began covering the 1885 America's Cup competition in July with an illustrated article describing the construction of the Puritan, and its impressive debut at the Eastern Yacht Club Regatta in Boston.  The victorious yacht, owned by several men from the Eastern Yacht Club, was designated "a possible competitor of the British cutter Genesta for the America's Cup."  In early August, the Puritan skillfully won in rough seas at Newport (note the center picture in the cartoon) before entering a trial competition against three other yachts on August 21, 22, and 24 to determine the American challenger to the Genesta.  The Puritan triumphed in the first and third races, while an error in judgment allowed the Priscilla to capture the second race.  The Puritan was chosen to represent the United States at the America's Cup contest.

In its September 12 issue, Harper's Weekly placed great weight on the upcoming America's Cup challenge:  "There has been nothing in the history of yachting in this country more important than the present race between the Boston sloop Puritan and the British cutter Genesta ..."  The issue provided details on the dimensions and movements of the British yacht.  Two weeks later, the newspaper declared, "The Puritan Wins," and editor George William Curtis characterized the America's Cup as a friendly, honest "contest of gentlemen."  He identified the Norse Viking heritage of the two nations of Puritan peoples (i.e., Protestants)—the United States and Great Britain—as the force compelling them to race on the seas.  A few pages on, an article delineated the course of the race for the journal's many readers.  Despite substantial coverage in the American press, a brief news item noted that London was more interested in reports on the death of Jumbo the elephant.

Robert C. Kennedy

“We Have Not Given Up Ruling The Waves Yet”
June 17, 2024

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