Antebellum Era

 “Rival Jockeys Coming to an Understanding”
  Source:  Phunny Phellow
  Date:  October 1859

Click to see a large version of this cartoon...

Click to see a large version of this cartoon

Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
When he was not quite 19 years old, Thomas Nast’s first opportunity to contribute political cartoons on a regular basis came in early September 1859 with the establishment of Phunny Phellow, a comic monthly supported by the hugely successful publisher of popular fiction, Street and Smith.  The young caricaturist’s unsigned work as a professional illustrator had been appearing intermittently in the firm’s flagship New York Weekly for several months.  He would maintain a working relationship with the two Street and Smith publications until August 1873, when a new contract with Harper’s Weekly obligated him to end the association. 

For most of that period (1859-1873), his cartoons for both the New York Weekly and Phunny Phellow were anonymous.  As Nast informed a collector in 1871, he was accustomed to provide Phunny Phellow each month with a front page, a back page, and a center spread, which he was not in the habit of signing because they were “very roughly executed.”  With the exception of a year spent abroad (February 1860 to February 1861), Phunny Phellow would afford him ample space, freedom, and an ideal laboratory to develop his gifts as a caricaturist.  With the exception of two isolated cartoons published in 1859, he had no relationship with Harper’s Weekly until the summer of 1862.

Nast’s decision to caricature Horace Greeley prominently on the front pages of both the first and second issues of Phunny Phellow may have been one consequence of his new friendship with the Tribune editor’s biographer, James Parton (who was his future wife’s first cousin).  The first of these anonymous Nast cartoons (October 1859) shows Greeley and New York Herald founder James Gordon Bennett Sr. as “Rival Jockeys Coming to an Understanding.”  Greeley, with a horse labeled ‘Governer,’ [Sic] is encouraging his rival, holding a dark horse named “Mayor,” to run for mayor of New York City in the December 1859 election.  Because Greeley cared little for the Herald editor or his politics, Bennett is not fooled and, therefore, rejects the implication that he should return the favor by backing Greeley in the next year’s gubernatorial contest.  (Bennett was born and raised in Scotland, which is reflected in his accent in the cartoon’s dialogue.)

The peg on which to hang the insinuation of “Rival Jockey’s had been supplied by a facetious commentary published in Greeley’s Tribune on August 24, 1859, under the headline:  “The Right Man for the Right Job.”  Noting a deadlock between two leading Democratic candidates for the next mayoral contest, and drawing attention to the fact that both were “energetic and unscrupulous,” the writer proposed, tongue-in-cheek, Bennett as the Democratic nominee.  Not to be outdone, The New York Times and the Brooklyn Eagle jumped in to endorse Bennett’s mayoral nomination.  Bennett initially refrained from comment after reprinting the remarks of the Tribune and the Eagle.  On September 1, however, he set the matter to rest by declaring that his preferred candidate, former Mayor Fernando Wood, intended to run again for mayor. 

Although Nast had been employed as a journalistic illustrator since August 1856 when he began working for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, the “Rival Jockeys” in Phunny Phellow represented a particular breakthrough for him into the field of editorial cartooning, which he would develop as his particular specialty.



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