Cartoons have a long tradition in US politics. However, some of them can be frightening or just too confusing for children. Here are some classic political cartoons that are appropriate for use as teaching or discussion tools.
1. Fake News
This cartoon by Fred Burr Opper had already coined the term “Fake News” back in 1898. Over a 100 years later, the term is still a topic of political contention. Teachers can use this cartoon to discuss the role of media in elections. It also serves as a good introduction to the term “yellow journalism” from the same era.
2. The Mysterious Stranger
John T. McCutcheon penned this cartoon after the 1904 US Presidential election, which was won by Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the first Republican to win Missouri since Ulysses Grant in 1868. Traditionally, the “Solid South” had voted together for the Democratic candidates. Since then, Missouri emerged as a swing state. This cartoon is interesting for a number of reasons. It can be a starting point for discussing swing states, voting blocs, and the Electoral College. Also, note how the Democratic and Republican voting tendencies of states have since switched!
3. Income and Sales Tax
In 1933, there was a debate whether Congress should end the income tax and introduce a sales tax in the United States. This cartoon by Clifford Berryman shows the debate in cartoon form. Ultimately, the states introduced sales taxes in the 1930s, but not the federal government. This cartoon can be a discussion tool for the topics of taxation and state versus federal governments.
4. Join or Die
Perhaps the most famous political cartoon in American history is Benjamin Franklin’s Join, or Die cartoon from 1754. Franklin originally drew the cartoon to encourage colonial unity against British and Native American threats. However, the cartoon was re-used many years later to promote unity of the original colonies against the British Empire during the build up to the American Revolutionary War. This example can drive home the power of political statements. The teacher may want to contrast this cartoon with other kinds of modern political statements.
5. The Awakening
Henry Meyer’s 1915 The Awakening symbolizes the women’s suffrage movement. The white states have already chosen to give women the right to vote, and the woman symbolizes Lady Liberty. The teacher can use this cartoon to discuss voting rights, federal protection of citizens’ rights, and how society changes over time.
Looking for something a little lighter? You might want to check out our post on politics in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip!