“The First of April, 1864”

April 1, 1864

Thomas Nast

“The First of April, 1864”

Civil War, Copperheads/Peace Democrats; Civil War, Homefront; Civil War, Union Military; Holidays, April Fool’s Day; Wars, American Civil War;

Greeley, Horace;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption

April Fool!  Thomas Nast's cartoon about All Fool's Day actually appeared in the April 2, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly.

April Fool's Day, or All Fool's Day, probably developed somewhat differently in various countries, but its observance is documented as early as the sixteenth century in France.  Under the Julian calendar developed by Julius Caesar, April 1 was celebrated as the first day of the year.  In 1564, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar, designating January 1 as the start of the new year.  In France, those who continued to celebrate April 1 as New Year's Day were called "fools" and became the target of ridicule and pranks by adherents of the new Gregorian calendar.  The tradition of performing practical jokes on April 1 spread to other European countries and their American colonies in the eighteenth century.  American author Herman Melville set and published his novel about a riverboat swindler, The Confidence Man (1857), on April Fool's Day.

Nast's cartoon is a mosaic of several April Fool's pranks.  The inset pictures on the upper-left and upper-right depict Union soldiers and sailors, respectively, tricking their comrades about where the Confederate enemy lurks, and obscuring their vision.  The small circles in the middle of each side show a phony newspaper headline announcing that the Union has captured the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.  On the center-left, "Mr. Shoddy" is upset because he will no longer be able to supply his inferior goods to the Union military at inflated prices.  (See the archive for the cartoon of February 7, 1863, "One of the Effects of the War." ) On the center-right, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley ("Mr. Fogey") is surprised (and fooled) to see that his headlines continually urging "On to Richmond!" have come true.  

Imposture was a frequent part of April fooling in the nineteenth century, and is represented in the lower circles.  On the left, a man wears his wife's hoop skirt and veiled bonnet, while the woman has donned her husband's top hat and coat, and added a false mustache and side-whiskers.  On the right, a soldier tries to convince the night sentry that he is confronting a talking mule.  In Scotland, April Fool's is celebrated over two days, with the second, called "Taily Day," featuring tricks behind or on a person's backside.  This tradition is seen in the center cartoons, where signs or strings with objects are attached to April fools.

In the top-center cartoon, Nast incorporates political commentary into an April Fool's scene.  The setting is an outdoor meeting of the Peace Democrats ("Copperheads"), a wing of the Democratic party in the North which favored a cease-fire and negotiated settlement with the Confederacy.  The Peace Democrats are presented as geese and asses, animals associated with silliness and symbols which Nast used for the party at this time.  

Robert C. Kennedy

“The First of April, 1864”
April 19, 2024

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