“The Only ‘Emergencies’ We Need Fear (?)”

April 6, 1872

Thomas Nast

“The Only ‘Emergencies’ We Need Fear (?)”

Analogies, Literature; Congress; U.S. Foreign Policy; Wars, Franco-Prussian War;

Schurz, Carl;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

Don Carlos Quixote and Sancho Tiptoe Panza on "The Path of Duty,"

The French Arms Investigation

Q. By Mr. Ames.--My object in asking the question I put was to show that the military men of the nation are not at all concerned, so far as the safety of the country is at stake, with reference to the small-arms!

A. By Col. Benet.--Not in the slightest degree.

Q. By Mr. Schurz.--You give it as your professional opinion as a military man, that the supply of small-arms in this country at the present moment is sufficient for all emergencies?

A. By Col. Benet.--I think so, emphatically.

Thomas Nast draws from Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote to parody liberal Republican senators Carl Schurz of Missouri (left) as the title character and Thomas Tipton of Nebraska (right) as his sidekick, Sancho Panza.  The cartoonist depicts the liberal Republicans' effort to malign the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant by investigating alleged illegal arms sales to France as a quixotic (i.e., unrealistic) attack on windmills, as in the novel.

In February 1872, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts had introduced a resolution demanding an investigation into the charge that the Grant administration violated the official neutrality of the United States during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) by illicitly selling arms to France.  The preamble of the resolution assumed the guilt of the Grant administration.  The liberal Republican Sumner had long been a thorn in Grant's side by opposing the president's foreign policy.  The president eventually orchestrated Sumner's removal as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.  

The resolution sparked a heated debate in the U.S. senate, largely between liberal Republicans dissatisfied with Grant and Republicans loyal to the president.  Press attention focused not on Sumner, but on Schurz (as in this cartoon). The Missouri senator was a refugee from the failed liberal rebellion in Germany in 1848, and was a leading spokesman for the large German-American community.  He was also a key organizer of the liberal Republican movement which opposed Grant's reelection.  In January 1872, Schurz had issued a call for a national convention of liberal Republicans, at which he presided in early May.  Nast, also German-born, detested Schurz for opposing the cartoonist's hero, General (now, President) Grant.

A Congressional investigation into alleged arms sales to France during the Franco-Prussian War was generally viewed as a tactic of liberal Republicans to injure Grant politically in the eyes of the American voters, particularly among German-Americans.  Although the Senate approved the resolution for an investigation, the debate on the issue became acrimonious and personal.  Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York, Grant's chief supporter in the Senate, accused Schurz and Sumner of conspiring with French agents.  Both Schurz and Conkling quite accurately painted the other as a pompous, preening ass.

As indicated by the excerpts in the cartoon's text, the Congressional hearings did not produce any evidence of illegal sales or of a lack of American military readiness.  Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the demobilization of the United States armed forces led to the sale of $15 million worth of arms and materiel to various foreign countries, for which all was properly accounted in the official records of the Treasury.  The inquiry did not seem to have much of a political impact in the long run. 

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Only ‘Emergencies’ We Need Fear (?)”
June 9, 2023

Home | About | Contact || Access | Features 

Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to