Analyzing Political Cartoons

Analyzing Political Cartoons
The First Political Cartoons
• It's important to note that
America's earliest
cartoons were political in
nature. The first cartoon
appeared in Ben
Franklin's newspaper The
Pennsylvania Gazette on
May 9, 1754. It appeared
as part of an editorial by
Franklin commenting on
'the present disunited
state of the British
• The woodcut drawing entitled 'Join or Die'
pictures a divided snake in eight pieces
representing as many colonial governments. The
drawing was based on the popular superstition
that a snake that had been cut in two would come
to life if the pieces were joined before sunset. The
drawing immediately caught the public's fancy
and was reproduced in other newspapers.
• Another early cartoon from the 1700's
appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel
on January 30, 1788. Entitled 'The Federal
Superstructure,' the drawing shows a hand
helping to raise the Massachusetts pillar to
an upright position. The Centinel
newspaper, a supporter of the new
Constitution, observed that 'The Pillar of
the Great Federal Edifice rises daily.'
• Shown in position 'having already ratified the
new document' are pillars representing the
states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey,
Georgia and Connecticut. A story below the
drawing notes that the New York Assembly will
call for a convention to ratify the Constitution.
• While the style of America's early
political cartoons differs in
appearance from those of today,
central to all is a subject that is
obviously political. And the
objects in the cartoon symbolize
something other than what is
shown. They draw attention to a
problem in politics using humor
and satire.
Notice the dollar bill is
partially under water.
What do you think that
Notice the fish, what
type of expression do
they have on their
What is George
Washington’s fate?
These are all questions
that you need to ask of
this political cartoon to try
to figure it out.
Answer: This cartoon
represents the loss of value
the American dollar is taking in
the world economy.
Some times you have to look at
the images in the cartoon as well
as the writing to completely
understand the cartoonist’s
Read the title of the cartoon at
the bottom of the page.
Then read all of the plaques
posted on the wall around the
Who is Cheney? Maybe
you recognize his name
in relation to President
Is the cartoonist a supporter
of Cheney and the
Why would Cheney be
related to hunting in a way
he could be made fun of?
Answer: Vice President Dick Cheney
accidentally shot a fellow hunter in the
woods last year. This cartoonist is
probably a critic of the Republicans
considering he is taking a negative
view of Cheney’s actions.
Dr. Seuss Goes To War
Famed Cartoonist Dr. Seuss drew political cartoons
for the government during World War II to
encourage people to buy war bonds.
His cartoons also
helped instill a
dislike for all
things Nazi and
Japanese to
promote the
justice of warfare
against Germany
and Japan.
Questions to consider when
analyzing a political cartoon.
Before you move to the next page
examine the cartoon yourself.
• What do you see in it?
• What do you think cartoonist was
trying to say?
• What elements of the cartoon
confuse you?
Use your new skills and try to
figure out the following political