CSotD Extra: Nast busts Tweed

Following Saturday’s mention of the time Boss Tweed was arrested in Spain with the aid of a Thomas Nast cartoon acting as a mug shot, Friend of the Blog Ann Telnaes retrieved the cartoon with which Spanish authorities identified the prison escapee and posted it on-line.

I knew the story, but the Harper’s clipping offered a date, which sent me searching, only to find that, while that clipping is dated October 7, 1876, Tweed had been captured in September, which cast some suspicion on the notion that this cartoon was the one that tipped off the Spanish authorities.

However, it was. Turns out Harper’s was bragging, and had republished the piece.

While I couldn’t make out the low-res words on the clipping, I was able to track them down through “Doomed By Cartoon,” a book by John Adler and Draper Hill, which is still available and copy of which I ordered and you should, too. For those of us who care about cartooning, it’s a helluva story.

As noted in that book, here’s what Harper’s had to say, in celebrating Tweed’s arrest:

A little more poking around reveals a complex story, because, while the Spanish were willing to arrest a fellow who — based on Nast’s cartoon of a big thief arresting two little ones — they thought was some sort of child molester, there was, as Harper’s noted, no extradition treaty between Spain and the US, and, although the Spanish-American War was 20 years away, we already didn’t like each other that much.

A little rifling through the archives reveals that, just as Fox and MSNBC seem to live in different realities today, the American press was firmly divided then as well, and that political division came out when Tweed — a convict who had wandered off from jail — was reportedly arrested in Spain.

Bearing in mind that Mr. Tweed was a Democrat, you could guess from the coverage that the Inter-Ocean was a Republican paper, simply by the headlines:

And you might also guess that the Rutland Weekly Herald and Globe, which was horrified by the entrapment and doubted the report in the first place, was a Democratic house organ:

The Richmond Dispatch, no fan of Reconstruction and suspicious of those Yankees, picked up a bit of anti-Irish doubt from New York’s Democratic-oriented World:

But, however the MSM of the day chose to cover it, it surely did turn out to be Boss Tweed after all, and, once the extradition issues had been dealt with and Tweed had been sent back, Washington DC’s National Republican devoted three full columns on Page One, plus additional coverage inside, to celebrating the return to justice of Tammany Hall’s erstwhile hero.

Echoing that exaltation, here’s the celebratory tone of The Graphic of London’s reporting on how a great cartoonist had figured into the arrest of a major villain:

To which this modern-day Irish-American observer will add that I consider Thomas Nast a great cartoonist, for all his bigoted faults against my people.

As for the Overseas Press Club stripping Nast’s name from its award, I dealt with it when it happened, and I stand by what I said then, much of which remains on the table today.

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