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Lincoln "Political Cartoons"-- Analyzing Political Cartoons--Student Work & Lesson Plan #1

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Abraham Lincoln Classroom: Cartoon Corner





A Plan Outline for Civil War Political Cartoons-

Click Here for the Stratton PDF.    Civil War Political Cartoons (Plan From Dona Stratton)

Introduction to this Project- Thomas Nast cartoons are actually very serious. As an individual, he was very opinionated, and had topics and sides of current events of his time. 

Nast was Very Biased against Irish-Catholic immigrants, religious education in public-supported schools, but was very supportive of Native Americans and Black Americans.  He would illustrate current 19th Century politicians including Abraham Lincoln.  He was very creative and made the first Santa Clause, as we know now, as well as inventing the use of the elephant as the Republican Party, and further defining the donkey as the symbol of the Democrat Party (did not invent this though).  His cartoons would actually be very appropriate int he 21st century political scene.  His artwork just demonstrates that the times don't change that much. There are still political cartoons in the present day editorial pages of our newspapers.  Perhaps these modern artists are the result of the work of Thomas Nast. 

Activity Goals--

a. In this project three 19th Century political cartoons by Thomas Nast will be viewed and analyzed for content, opinions (from the artist), connection to the times and events of the time drawn, humor vs. seriousness, exaggerations, style, where published and other considerations.  A final analysis form for the three cartoons is provided to print.

b. Create your own political cartoon about a topic or political person today.  Draw it including details of the person or event, and background details. 


1. Objectives—

a.   Students will analyze various political cartoons by Thomas Nast.

b.   Students will examine specific techniques that are used in Nast political cartoons.


2. Materials- Printout packets of Civil War era political cartoons


3. Activity Directions-

a.   Pass out a packet to each student or group of students. 

b.   Introduce students to three important figures in Civil War era political cartoons-



4. Political Cartoon Drawing Techniques--

1. What are the various techniques used in political cartoons?

2. How are political cartoons used to influence public opinion?


5. Four types of techniques- often used in political cartoons.

a. Symbols

b. Exaggeration

c. Labeling

d. Analogy


6. Write descriptive words- that would correspond to each character in the cartoon.


7. Assessment --

1. Students will be assessed by their handout “Analyzing Political Cartoons”.

2. Students will be assessed by their class participation.


Symbols- Cartoonists use simple objects or symbols to stand for larger concepts or ideas. Choose 3 of the Sample Thomas Nast Cartoons for this project. 

9. Exaggeration- Sometimes cartoonists overdo or exaggerate characteristics in order to make a point. Ex: Abraham Lincoln’s legs.  
10. Labeling- Cartoonists often label objects or people to make it clear exactly what they stand for.
11. Analogy- An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things that share some characteristics. By comparing a complex issue or situation with a more familiar one, cartoonists can help their readers see it in a different light.
12.  Final Report on Project-- Complete this Report on the Cartoons--

Describe each character with different words that he/she would represent.

Example-- South Carolina pulls away from the Union as a bull would pull away from the post.


Independently, you will complete the charts using the political cartoons provided.  List the three cartoon titles:

  Cartoon Title Main Characters Names
  Cartoon Symbols Used Overall Message (One Sentence)


1 The teacher will hand out packet to students. 


2 Do research on the cartoons you chose.  What did the artist want to describe or opinionate about?  Write a short description of the meaning of each of your cartoons in this chart.







3 Teacher will introduce students to four types of techniques often used in political cartoons. Define each of these terms.
a Symbols--


b (Artistic) Exaggeration--


c Labeling--


d Analogy--


4 Students will write descriptive words that would correspond to each character.


5 Students will work in groups to complete the graphic organizer on their handout. After students have finished their handout, students will create a political cartoon to represent Lincoln placing Maryland under martial law.


6 Teacher will remind students why Maryland was placed under martial law: - Marital law - the military was in charge and the citizens’ rights were suspended - Southern sympathizers destroyed railroad and telegraph lines  - To make sure Washington was not surrounded by the Confederacy - Maryland citizens who were suspected of disloyalty were put in jail without a fair trial.


7 Teacher will lead discussion about the use of political cartoons, the use of various techniques to get a point across, and the importance of being critical and looking for bias.



Lincoln's Political History

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