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Thomas Nast was a product of his time

Tom Deignan writes a guest column in the NJ Star-Ledger stating that Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholicism was a view of the times. Nast is nominated for the New Jersey Hall of Fame, but has come under heavy criticism due to his anti-Catholic, anti-Irish views.

The truly shocking thing about Nast’s negative depictions of Catholics, as well as Irish immigrants, is how un-shocking they were for their time.
Nast was just one anti-papist in a long line of Americans that includes the Founding Fathers and presidents, Supreme Court justices and celebrated inventors.

I haven’t seen many come to Nast’s defense. This guest column is as close as I’ve seen.

Community Comments

#1 Mike Peterson
January/25/2012
@ 4:51 am

Two points: One is that, while anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments were common, Irish Catholics weren’t just sitting back feeling they deserved it. They hated Nast and Harpers Weekly, just as African-Americans protested the movie version of “Gone With The Wind” when it opened.

Just because someone is being ignored doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The other point is that Nast was specifically a shaper of opinion, and so his opinions need to be considered at a different level than the average. Granted, there are lazy, sloppy cartoonists in any era who simply reflect what they hear on the street rather than coming up with their own take on things — but they shouldn’t be going into any halls of fame for simply illustrating common prejudices.

(To repeat, I’d put him in the Hall, but with a large asterisk)

#2 Scott Bieser
January/28/2012
@ 2:01 pm

Somewhat ironically, the wave of German immigrants in the 1840s, of which Nast was a part, were likewise reviled by the ethnic-Britons and Dutch who established the country. I even recall reproductions of some editorial cartoons from that time caricaturing them quite insultingly.

I guess this puts “paying if forward” in a different light, eh?

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