"The Political Death of Bogus Caesar"

March 13, 1869

Thomas Nast

"The Political Death of Bogus Caesar"

Analogies, Ancient Rome; Analogies, Paintings; Analogies, Shakespeare; Impeachment; Presidential Administration, Andrew Johnson;

Butler, Benjamin; Johnson, Andrew; Logan, John;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets."

"Some to the common pulpits, and cry out liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement!"

Thomas Nast drew this cartoon in May 1868 as the removal trial for the impeached president, Andrew Johnson, was occurring in the U.S. Senate. At the time, the cartoonist had not been working for Harper’s Weekly in over a year. He had intended to submit the cartoon to a would-be rival of the national newspaper, the short-lived Illustrated Chicago News (April-June 1868), but it went out of business. When Nast returned to Harper’s Weekly as a regular contributor, he brought the cartoon with him. With the removal trial ended (in a narrow victory for Johnson), the editors decided to wait until the end of Johnson’s presidential term to publish it.

The cartoon appears in the March 13 issue, which covers the inauguration of President Ulysses S. Grant, along with an editorial which harshly reviews the Johnson administration. "Andrew Johnson retires from the Presidency … with certainly as little general respect as attended the retirement of Mr. Pierce or Mr. Buchanan. … [I]t was possible for Mr. Johnson neither to comprehend the character nor to assume … the exquisite good sense and sagacity of his predecessor [Abraham Lincoln]. … He failed, and failed utterly … Mr. Johnson’s Administration has had, however, the good result of proving the character of the people. At every moment of his evil career it has been evident that the country condemned him. … [T]he people … contemptuously dismissed a President who will be remembered for not one wise word or one truly honorable action."

This cartoon is a close parody of a painting by Jean-Leon Gérôme called The Death of Caesar.  The impeached Johnson, whom Nast perhaps assumed would be removed from office by the Senate, lies dead on the floor, his throne toppled over, and his vetoes at his side. On the wall above the slain tyrant, Johnson’s own words "Treason is a crime and must be punished" hang as an indictment against his presidency. In the right-front, a scroll labeled "Tenure of Office" refers to the law enacted by Congress to limit the president’s power to interfere with the implementation of Reconstruction policy. The quotes underneath the picture are taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act III, Scene I), just after Caesar has been murdered; the first exclamation (left) is made by Cinna and the second (right) by Cassius.

The Roman senators with swords aloft, who have killed the American Caesar, are the Republican House managers of Johnson’s removal trial of the impeached president in the Senate. They are (left-right): George Boutwell of Massachusetts; John Logan of Illinois; John Bingham of Ohio; James Wilson of Iowa; Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts; and Thomas Williams of Pennsylvania. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania is shown exiting the scene on the far right. Since the ailing Stevens died in August 1868, it is obvious that this cartoon was completed before his death.

Robert C. Kennedy

"The Political Death of Bogus Caesar"
July 14, 2024

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