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What is a Political Cartoon?

A political cartoon is a drawing or representation with symbolic meaning that makes a point by the use of satire or wit. Captions sometimes accompany the cartoon, and they may be more than one panel. Political cartoons appear in periodical publications, and their most frequent targets are politics and public affairs (Political Cartoon).

The original meaning of cartoon comes from the Italian word “cartone”, which means “paper.” Cartoons were originally preliminary sketches on large canvases or fresco paintings for an architectural drawing, pictures in mosaic, or a tapestry design. “Cartoon” didn’t receive its present meaning until 1843, when Queen Victoria devised a competition to get ideas and designs for frescoes for the walls of the Houses of Parliament. Many of the entries turned out to be hysterical, and John Leech drew a series satirizing them and political as well as social abuses of the day in Punch magazine. With the invention of printing, political caricature was able to circulate to a large public bringing with it the satire and controversy that laid the foundation of the modern political cartoon (Political Cartoon).

America’s First Political Cartoons

While flipping through the t.v. or newspaper, one runs across cartoons daily. The important thing to remember is that America’s first cartoons were political in nature. The first real political cartoon in America appeared May 9, 1754 in Ben Franklin’s newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette. The cartoon appeared in an editorial by Franklin that was dealing with “the present disunited state of the British Colonies” (First Political).

The drawing was entitled “Join or Die” and pictured a snake divided into eight pieces. Each piece represented a colonial government. The snake symbolized and was based on a popular superstition that a snake that had been cut into two pieces would come back to life if the pieces were rejoined before sunset. The drawing was reproduced in many other newspapers because it immediately caught the public’s eye (First Political).

Here Are Some Current Cartoons

Works Cited

“The First Political Cartoons.” Early America. 25 Jan. 2004 www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/firsts/cartoon/index.html

“Political Cartoon.” Encyclopedia Americana. 25 Jan. 2004 www.gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/side/cartoon.html