Tag Archives: 1931

“Well, I’ll Be Blowed!”

"Well, I'll be blowed!"
John Bull, the personification of Britain, has a bewildered expression as he looks at a naval officer representing the Royal Navy, as he sits with Mahatma Gandhi on a blanket labeled ‘Passive Resistance.’


“Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is a political cartoon mocking the blow to Britain’s naval pride about the issues they were facing in 1931. The cartoon was illustrated by John Francis Knott and published on September 20th, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News. It was Autumn, 1931. The First World War had ended in 1918 and the roaring twenties followed until the stock market crash of 1929 (History.com). When the economy of the industrial world collapsed, more problems arose for Great Britain to battle. In September of 1931, Great Britain was facing many disruptions due to the start of the Great Depression and a loosening grip on not just their precious empire, but one of their own military forces.

The title of the cartoon, “Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is an expression that became popular in Great Britain during the turn of the century to mid-1900s and was used to express great surprise, similar to “well, I’ll be darned” (Simpson “well, adv. and n.4.”). The cartoon depicts John Bull, the personification of Britain, with a bewildered expression as he looks at a naval officer representing the British navy, often referred to as the Royal Navy. The naval officer is sitting with Mohandas Gandhi on a blanket labeled ‘Passive Resistance.’ Gandhi, named Mahatma meaning ‘saint’ in Hindi, was the Nationalist leader of the passive resistance protests in India during the late 1920s and early 1930s (BBC News). Gandhi and the navy are sitting on the same blanket of resistance against Great Britain, which is unexpected because the navy was Great Britain’s strongest military force. The military was how Great Britain kept tight control over India and all of the British Empire. In the background of the cartoon, many ships are out at sea, but on shore John Bull stares at the navy sitting the blanket of passive resistance that Gandhi laid out.

John Bull became the popular persona of England and all of Great Britain in the early 1900s.  He was commonly depicted as a stout middle aged white man wearing a tailcoat, waistcoat, and boots, all from the Regency Period of the early 1800s. He also usually holds a cane and has a low top hat. John Bull is the personification of Britain in a similar manner to how Uncle Sam represents the United States of America (Johnson). John Bull is supposed to represent the majority of Great Britain and his surprise to what is happening in the cartoon represents the reaction that Great Britain was having at the time.

When this cartoon was published, Britain had been struggling to keep control over India for almost 20 years. India, known as “the jewel in the crown” of Great Britain began non-violent protests for independence in 1920. India had been under the control of the British since they arrived in India in the 1600s (BBC News). Leading up to 1931, Mahatma Gandhi had been campaigning for India’s independence through passive resistance. Gandhi had been working as a lawyer in South Africa during the early 1920’s, but after the the massacre in Amritsar in 1918, where 379 unarmed nationalist demonstrators were killed, Gandhi decided India had to stand up to Great Britain and that they would be better under their own rule (Wolpert). He quickly became a prominent leader in passive resistance against the British rule.

In the Fall of 1930, Gandhi attended the first Round Table Conference in London to discuss a new form of government for India (Trager).  In September of 1931, Gandhi was back in England for the second Round Table Conference. He wanted India and Great Britain to “exist in the Empire side by side as equal partners, held together ‘by the silken cord of love.'” As it was worded in the editorial that accompanied the cartoon in the Dallas Morning News, “It is a conflict between an idealism of a far-away future and a realism that sees things as they are.” Although, Gandhi’s desires for the country sounded beautiful, many in Great Britain didn’t think that giving India autonomy to self govern would be good for the Indian people (Dallas Morning News). Also, Great Britain’s Empire was threatened.

Not only was Great Britain having trouble with India, but with their own military, which they used to enforce their power, began protesting against them. Headline in the New York Times read, “NATION SHOCKED BY NEWS”, on September 15th of 1931, the Royal Navy conducted a protest against Great Britain at Invergordon and on the 16th there was another at Rosyth Base (Selden). The Royal Navy was the pride of Great Britain and for the first time in centuries, there was discontent there. Since far before world war one, the Royal Navy had been considered the strongest navy in the world and put much of their resources and manpower into building up their navy and keeping it strong and growing stronger. The Royal Navy became the dominant sea power in 1805 when it defeated the French and Spanish fleets during the Battle of Trafalgar (“Royal Navy History”). When the Great Depression hit them at the end of the 1920’s however, many budget cuts needed to be made and they chose to make 25% pay cuts to the royal navy (Lowry). 

With the discussion for an independent India and their protests in the air, the disorder in the navy was a slap in the face that Great Britain should have seen coming. The political cartoon by John Francis Knott laughs at the discomfort that Britain was facing as their grasp on world power appeared to be slipping. Not only was “the jewel in the crown” seeking independence, but the pride of the military was in resistance as well. In the cartoon, John Bull looked surprised and maybe scared and he had reason to be.


Works Cited

BBC News. “India Profile – Timeline.” www.bbc.com. BBC, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12557384.

Dallas Morning News Editorial Staff. “Gandhi’s Idealism.” Dallas Morning News  [Dallas, Texas], 20 Sept. 1931, sec. IV, p. 6. America’s Historical Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/iw-search/we/HistArchive/ ?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=Q6EL5CCQMTQ4MDQyNDIwNC40ODI1MTM6MToxMjoxMjguODMuNjMuMjA&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=6&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=6&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-104D21319BD1D300@2426605-104D2133809DF0B9@37-104D213D50D94037@Gandhi%27s%20Idealism. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

History.com Staff. “Stock Market Crash of 1929.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.  History.com Staff. “Stock Market Crash of 1929.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Johnson, Ben. “John Bull, Symbol of the English and Englishness.” Historic-uk.com. Historic UK, 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/John-Bull/.

Lowry, Sam. “The Invergordon Mutiny, 1931.” Libcom.org. Libcom.org, 9 Mar. 2007. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. https://libcom.org/history/1931-invergordon-mutiny.

“Royal Navy History.” Royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy, 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/history-timeline.

Selden, Charles. “Disorder in the British Nave Follow Economy Pay Cut; Manoeuvers Are Cancelled.” New York Times (1923-Current file)Sep 16, New York, N.Y., 1931. http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/99307291?accountid=7118.

Simpson, John A. “well, adv. and n.4.” Def. P6. www.oed.com. Oxford University Press, Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Trager, James. “1931.” The People’s Chronology, 3rd ed., Gale, 2005. Gale Virtual Reference Library,  Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3460601931&it=r&asid=b446869dc318d220d9663e0d9c575d74.

Wolpert, Stanley. “Gandhi, Mahatma M. K.” Encyclopedia of India, edited by Stanley Wolpert, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 119-125. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3446500239&it=r&asid=2b657833b7ab29e7e1e5fd3c8699f99d. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.

We’ve Survived Other Bad Storms

Two business men wade through waist high water, "old-timer" is written across the man who is speaking. He says "Call this a bad storm? Why I kin remember back in 1873, and 1893--". Lightning outlines depression in the background.
Cartoonist John Knott mocks the depression and challenges Texans to persevere in the early years of The Great Depression.

The political cartoon We’ve Survived Other Bad Storms by John Francis Knott shows the optimism that older generations had in the early years of the Great Depression. In The cartoon there are two men in business attire, one of whom has old-timer written across his belly and the other is a younger man with a worried look. They are having a conversation while wading in waist deep water and avoiding floating debris. In the background there are fallen telephone polls and flooded houses, and depression is written in the thundercloud outlined by two lightning bolts. The old-timer is telling the younger gentlemen “Call this a bad storm? Why I kin remember back in 1873, and 1893–”, he is referring to The Panic of 1873 and The Depression of 1893 (Knott, 2).

The accompanying editorial titled “Survival of the Fit” emphasizes the strength that is needed to survive the depression. It comments on not doing as bad in the depression as other states due to it’s mainly rural population, and the drive of Texas men finding pleasure in a challenge (Editorial Team, 2). Although there are no ships in the cartoon the Editorial refers to the oncoming depression as an “Economic storm”, and makes many nautical references, comparing a ship to a business and it’s crew to businessmen.

The Panic of 1873 was a major depression in the U.S. caused by the Legal Tinder Acts. The Legal Tender Acts authorized the influx of over one billion in paper currency, or Greenbacks (Blanke). These Greenbacks were no longer founded on the gold standard, which was an idea that all paper money could be exchanged for gold. Since they were off the gold standard the actual value of the Greenback went down and the amount of Greenbacks needed to purchase something went up, also known as inflation. At this time a man named Jay Cooke who was a prominent investment banker decided to purchase the Northern Pacific Railroad (Encyclopedia.com). The land that the Railroad was built on was a sixty million dollar land grant from the government. In an effort to make a profit, Cooke sold the land around the railroad to the public for farming. The problem arose when Cooke found the land surrounding the railroad could not be used for farming. As prices for further construction and repairs for the railroad continued to rise, Cooke faced with a tough decision, lied to the public about the value of the land. When Cooke was found out the investors pulled out and with no source of income and no way to pay back investors Cooke sent the U.S. into a depression that lasted six years. However the U.S. beat the depression with the continued growth of the railroad and the influx of immigrant workers.

The Depression of 1893 was again caused by inflation and the reliance on the gold standard. The economy was booming with the massive growth of the railroads, but they were using borrowed money to do it. At this time Europe was invested heavily in American companies, but when the British banking firm, Baring and Brothers, went bankrupt it scared a lot of people, and Europeans began to redeem their stocks for gold. Coincidentally the price of silver began to drop, and since gold was the preferred worldwide currency, people in the U.S. also began to redeem their cash for gold (Sioux City Museum). These things caused the major loaning companies to go bankrupt spiraling the U.S. into a 3 yearlong depression. But the U.S. beat this depression as well by borrowing sixty five million from J.P. Morgan and the Rothschild banking family of England, to get back on the gold standard.

The Great Depression came about because of the rapid growth of the economy, and people investing in the stock market with borrowed money (Procter). Knott uses the depression as an analogy to a storm in the cartoon because like a storm The Great Depression came about quickly and people were not prepared for it. It started on October 24th, known as Black Thursday, it continued into the next week with Black Monday and then to the worst day in Wall Street history, Black Tuesday (Silver). Within one week the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is a “price-weighted average of 30 significant stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange” fell more than twenty percent (Silver). With unemployment exceeding ten percent across the country the president at the time, Herbert Hoover predicted numerous times that the depression would be over soon, that the storm would pass, but it did not (Whitten). Not until the Second World War, which started in 1939, would the economy begin to look up as the U.S. began trading arms.

Knott is using his cartoon to instill optimism in his readers through the old-timer. The old-timer is saying that the storm will pass eventually, and he has been through worse even though he had not. By having the two men wading through water and debris, Knott is making light of the situation, as if to taunt the “storm” further. By referencing the Panic of 1873 and The Depression of 1893 Knott is showing that the old man is at least fifty-eight at this point, and yet, he is out in the storm giving advice to his younger friend. Knott uses this age difference in the men to show if an old man can make it through both of those depressions and still be ok then why can’t the young business man.

We’ve Survived Other Bad Storms was created to show readers that the U.S. has been through depressions before and they have survived all of them. The editorial provides words of encouragement and challenges Texans and Americans alike to face the depression head on. Knott mocks the depression with the old-timer, and the cartoon serves as a political commentary on not only the strength of Texas but the nation as a whole.

Works Cited

Blanke, David. “Teaching History.org, Home of the National History Education Clearinghouse.” Panic of 1873 | Teachinghistory.org. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Editorial Team. “Survival of the Fit.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 28 May 1931, sec. 2: 4. Print.

Knott, John Francis. “We’ve Survived Other Bad Storms.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 28 May 1931, sec. 2: 4. Print.

“Panic of 1873.” St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide: Major Events in Labor History and Their Impact. . Encyclopedia.com. 29 Nov. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Procter, Ben H. “GREAT DEPRESSION.” Texas State Historical Association. TSHA, 15 June 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Silver, Caleb. “Stock Market Crash Of 1929.” Investopedia. Investopedia, 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Sioux City Museum. “Financial Panic of 1893.” Financial Panic of 1893. Sioux City Museum, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Whitten, David O. “The Depression of 1893.” EHnet. Economic Historical Association, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.




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If They Would Exchange Presents

Cartoonist John Knott ridicules the post World War I predicament of U.S. and European relations in regards to the stalemate between war debt revision and disarmament.
Cartoonist John Knott ridicules the post World War I predicament of U.S. and European relations in regards to the stalemate between war debt revision and disarmament.

If They Would Exchange Presents is a political cartoon by John Francis Knott mocking the predicament of U.S. and European relations post-World War I. It depicts “Europe” giving the gift of disarmament to the U.S., represented by Uncle Sam, in exchange for war debt revisions. The cartoon implies that Europe would disarm if the U.S. would revise, or essentially decrease, European war debt; likewise, the cartoon suggests that the U.S. would gladly decrease European war debt if Europe were to disarm first (Knott 2). The accompanying editorial titled “The Reparations Problem” summarizes the context of the cartoon. It explains that by the end of 1931, the U.S. Congress finally gave approval for a one-year postponement of German reparations, acknowledging a proposal made in the previous year by then President Herbert Hoover. The U.S. Congress did not want to cancel war repayments, as it strongly indicated to the International Committee on Reparations, but instead wanted to suspend payments. The reason for Germany’s inability to pay was that it could only pay from borrowed money that it was no longer able to obtain or from money made off of exports that were heavily tariffed (“The Reparations Problem” 2).

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian nationalists in 1914 catapulted Europe into the First World War. The assassination set off a domino effect, causing country after country to get involved in the escalating conflict that eventually developed into World War I. What ensued after the war was the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, a meeting that established the terms of peace after the war, and during this conference the Treaty of Versailles was established (Cochran). The reparation clauses of the Treaty of Versailles stated that Germany was to take responsibility for the damages caused by World War I and that it must adhere to a payment schedule to pay back the cost of those damages. The mindset of the United States and its allies was that they were essentially dragged into the war out of obligation, and therefore should be repaid for everything lost in the war. However, it was known that Germany could not pay the entire costs of the war and that it was nearly impossible to create a realistic repayment schedule in 1919, the year that the treaty was signed. The Treaty of Versailles did not have a definitive reparation settlement (Merriman and Winter 2207). Therefore, naturally, Germany wanted debt revisions. Germany, however, wasn’t the only European country in debt. For example, in 1934, Britain still owed the US $4.4 billion of World War I debt (Rohrer). For this reason, Knott’s cartoon depicts “Europe” in need of war debt revision and not just Germany.

The disarmament portion of the cartoon pertains to the U.S.’s insistence on worldwide disarmament, highlighted in President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points peace proposal that said, “All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels (Multilateral disarmament.)” (Fuller). The Treaty of Versailles initiated the notion of disarmament by targeting Germany in particular, forcing them to take full blame for World War I and to disarm. “The German army was to be limited to 100,000 men and conscription proscribed; the treaty restricted the Navy to vessels under 100,000 tons, with a ban on the acquisition or maintenance of a submarine fleet. Moreover, Germany was forbidden to maintain an air force” (“Treaty of Versailles, 1919″).  The Treaty’s main concern was the disarmament of Germany. Politicians, journalists, and academics argued at the time that the naval race for arms was one of the major causes of the war. Based on this idea, the victors of the war decided to force Germany to disarm due to its previous invasion attempts toward France. It was thought that by forcing its disarmament, Germany was being stripped of its power to wage war (Merriman and Winter 856). Soon, this philosophy was expanded to include all European nations. “Following the atrocities of World War I, both nations [the U.S. and Great Britain] hoped to avoid any future conflicts, and both faced difficult economic times that restricted military spending. As a consequence, the two governments were willing to consider serious limits on offensive weapons” (World History Encyclopedia 593).

Reduction of conflict, however, wasn’t the only motivation behind disarmament. The Great Depression diverted attention from the issue of disarmament to debt and unemployment. In 1932, everyone owed America money, but because of the depression, few countries could repay their loans. The U.S. decided that if nations didn’t spend money on arms, they would be able to repay the United States; therefore, the U.S. called for worldwide disarmament (Bradley 38).

Knott’s cartoon represents a very circular predicament. The two entities were at a stalemate. The U.S. was the world’s major creditor nation, and in order to get paid back, it insisted on worldwide disarmament so that funds could be redirected to debt repayment. Europe, however, would only disarm if war debts were lowered and revised first. It was as though this political stalemate could only be resolved by some miracle.

That is exactly the point Knott wants to impress upon his audience. The illustration of the Christmas tree, along with the fact that the cartoon was being published on Christmas Eve, gives the cartoon an air of Christmas spirit. The term “Christmas Miracle” is typically used to emphasize how unlikely an event is to occur, and that seems to be what Knott is implying as the only solution to this conflict – a Christmas Miracle – given how unlikely a compromise seemed in 1931.  What is also humorous is how nonchalant the gift exchange is, almost trivializing the damages and lives lost in the war. It is as if there is no rivalry or conflict of interest between the two parties; it’s not as aggressive, or desperate, or even as somber as one would expect. It is definitely not a gift exchange of good will either; Christmas is regarded as a time of selfless generosity and community, a time of giving rather than receiving without the expectation of anything in return. However this is a very self-interested exchange, defying the traditional, selfless ideals of Christmas. These contradictions serve as indirect attacks on the U.S. and Europe’s inability to reach an agreement.

If They Would Exchange Presents is a political cartoon by John Knott that focused attention on and mocked the diplomatic gridlock between the U.S. and Europe. It uses the setting and themes of Christmas to criticize the two sides’ uncompromising stances toward disarmament and war debt revisions, comparing the successful exchange of “presents” to a Christmas Miracle. The cartoon serves as political commentary on post-World War I negotiations and ranks as one of Knott’s many politically motivated cartoons.

Works Cited

Bradley, F. J. He Gave the Order: The Life and Times of Admiral Osami Nagano. Bennington: Merriam Press, 2014. Google Books. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

Cochran, Philip. Austin Community College. Austin, Texas. 27 Oct. 2015. Lecture.

Fuller, Richard. “The Treaty of Versailles – 28th June 1919.” rpfuller. rpfuller, 3 June 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Knott, John. “If They Would Exchange Presents.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, sec. 2: 10. Print.

Merriman, John, and Jay Winter. “Disarmament.” Child Care to Futurism. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 855. Print. Vol. 2 of Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction.

Merriman, John, and Jay Winter. “Reparations.” Nagy to Switzerland. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2206. Print. Vol. 4 of Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction.

“The Reparations Problem.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, 85th ed., sec. 2: 2. Print.

Rohrer, Finlo. “What’s a Little Debt between Friends?” BBC News. BBC News Magazine, 10 May 2006. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

“Treaty of Versailles, 1919.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

The Gold Standard of Politicking

Seated man (labeled Congress) playing a fiddle (labeled partisan politics) and an angry Uncle Sam standing and pointing out that the world is on fire and is experiencing distress to the seated man.
Knott’s depiction of an incompetent Congress fiddling around, and a furious Uncle Sam gesturing to the rest of the world burning.

Renowned for his critical illustrations of early twentieth century United States politics, John Francis Knott fueled debate on American policy through his work with the Dallas Morning News. The vast majority of Knott’s career as a political cartoonist consisted of criticizing the government on a plethora of issues ranging from welfare to war (Perez). In his cartoon “No Time for Fiddling!” Knott humorously denounces Congress, through symbolic images, for squandering valuable time over frivolous partisan politics instead of mobilizing to save the American economy during the onset of the Great Depression.

Knott’s piece, published December 15th, 1931, contains various symbols, each one conveying a unique concern of the times: the bearded man representing righteousness and action, the flames representing an imminent threat, the fiddle representing partisan politicking, and the sitting man representing an incompetent Congress. Through these symbols, Knott creates a symphony of critiques, which scolds Congress for their petty antics.

Uncle Sam, the man standing and aggressively gesturing to the flame-ridden world, represents American pride and strength. Used initially for war recruitment ads, Uncle Sam became associated with America’s call to action and impending threats (“The Most Famous Poster”). Knott utilizes this well-known American symbol to rhetorically attack the United States Congress, calling it to action to address and acknowledge the “WORLD’S DISTRESS.”

The accompanying editorial article titled “The Gold Standard” addresses the economic state of the world, and countries’ suffering due to reluctance to depart from the gold standard. It emphasizes that the United States is currently in a severe financial depression, later called the Great Depression, and continues on to request action from Congress to solve the economic suffering experienced by the world. Additionally, the departure off the gold standard by select countries (e.g. Japan, countries of the United Kingdom, Argentina) destabilized trade in regions since these countries were now trading in deflated currencies, which resulted in a significant negative impact on foreign economies (“The Gold Standard”). Beginning with Black Tuesday, the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, America spiraled into economic turmoil along with the rest of the world. The general consensus of historians blames the downward spiral primarily on Congress, which at the time was not willing or able to engage in some sort of expansionary fiscal policy or depart from the gold standard (Smiley).

Knott’s visualization displays Congress as a rotund geezer slouching on a chair with a fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” in his hand. The large man has a look of both anger and frustration on his face while confronted by Uncle Sam. Clearly, Knott’s physical representation of Congress serves to associate the politicians with languidness, incompetence, and ignorance. The cartoon serves as critical commentary on the lack of bipartisan action in Congress during 1931, when the members of Congress were split almost evenly between the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic (“72nd Congress”). Republican policy, primarily characterized by its isolationist view on foreign policy and disdain towards governmental intervention, essentially acted as a catalyst for the Great Depression (“Republican Party Platform of 1928″). The debate regarding individualism versus intervention played a key role in the Great Depression, since it was individualism, supported by the Republicans, that led to the Great Depression, and intervention, supported by the Democrats, which brought the economy out of the Great Depression.

The fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” generates most of the humor in the cartoon. The term “fiddling around” alludes to the colloquial phrase, “fiddling while Rome burns.” The phrase is a reference to a rumor that the Roman Emperor Nero played a lyre while Rome burned (“fiddle while Rome burns”). Knott draws a parallel, underscoring the point that in 1931 Congress was fiddling with partisan politics while the world was on the brink of destruction. Additionally, Knott lampoons Congress by drawing it as a plump old fogy, who appears to be clueless. The negative connotations created by the countenance and physique of Congress effectively delivers the point that Congress was absent-minded and only capable of fiddling around instead of acting.

“No Time for Fiddling!” serves as a vessel both to criticize a self-interested and ineffectual Congress and to draw attention to the chaos and despair of the world around them. A progressive agenda was eventually passed under a new Democratic majority and FDR’s New Deal shortly after, but only because of critics like John Francis Knott was the American public informed enough to move towards reform (Smiley). Although Knott’s cartoon wasn’t enough to prevent the Great Depression, it will forever remain a part of important critical discourse through the Dallas Morning News.

Works Cited:

“72nd Congress (1931 – 1933).” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“fiddle while Rome burns.” Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. 2006. Cambridge University Press. 4 Nov 2015.

Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Knott, John Francis.” Handbook of Texas Online. Demand  Media, 15 June 2010. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“Republican Party Platform of 1928.” The American Presidency Project. Peters, Woolley, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

Smiley, Gene. “Great Depression.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“The Gold Standard.”  Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

“The Most Famous Poster.” American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

How Much Wood Would Congress Chop if Congress Could Chop Wood

A hard-working Congress asks Uncle Sam if there is more work for him to do.
A hard-working Congress asks Uncle Sam if there is more work for him to do.

In the midst of a cold winter, a fast approaching holiday season, a sixteen percent unemployment rate, and the Great Depression; December of 1931 was a troubling time for a lot of people (“Unemployment”). On November 19, 1931 John Knott illustrated to humorously interpret what was occurring at that time in history in Dallas, Texas. The political cartoon accompanied an article published on the same page of the paper titled “A Disposition to Work.” The cartoon depicts Uncle Sam facing a young boy with “Congress” on his shirt, . Knott used the cartoon to educate people about current events and also to poke fun at politics.

On October 24, 1929, Wall Street saw disaster strike. The Stock Market came down, and brought thousands of people’s investments down with it. The initial crash set the course for the next several years, which would be filled with hardship and suffering for citizens all over the country (“The Sock Market”). Within the next year, twelve million people would lose their jobs and fifty million would fall into poverty. It became clear that government action was necessary to relieve these dire circumstances (“The Hungry Years”). It was in the middle of these trying times – accurately coined the “Great Depression”- that Knott worked at the Dallas Morning News illustrating cartoons paired with editorials about the current events of the time.

In 1931 Congress had their work set out for them. As the cartoon illustrates, immense pressure to pass relief efforts was placed on Congress by the citizens of the US. This is depicted by the Uncle Sam figure (the American public) looking at the little boy (Congress).The President at the time, Herbert Hoover, believed that relief efforts should be the responsibility of individuals and the states; however, many people believed the national government should play a role (“Financing”).

In Knott’s cartoon the boy has obviously been chopping wood, and working hard at it. Amongst the chopped wood are the words “moratorium” and “relief measures”, clearly suggesting that these things were also a product of Congress’ work. The moratorium referred to was proposed by Hoover to postpone paying debts for a year to encourage economic growth (Kennedy). By December 1931, the moratorium had gained support and was ready to be debated on the floor, one step closer to being passed (“A Disposition”). The boy asks Uncle Sam, “Is there any more wood you would like me to split, Paw?” Knott clearly believed that Congress had been hard at work for the country and was willing to do even more.

Knott was not alone in his optimistic view of the work Congress had done in the winter of 1931. Accompanying with his political cartoon, a separate editorial titled “A Disposition to Work” was published on page two section two of the Dallas Morning News. The opinion piece defended Congress and explained how the moratorium and relief efforts were important in order to move the country in the direction it wanted to go. At the time, President Hoover believed that the government should not be involved in relief efforts, however the author of editorial makes it clear that Congress was expected ones to lead the effort to relieve poverty, hunger and unemployment, and they had successfully done their job The article took an optimistic view that the members of Congress were willing to fight and work hard to bring relief to their fellow countrymen. It claimed that “patriotism is not dead under the dome of the capitol” (“A Disposition”).

Knott used his illustration to promote humor during the political battle between Hoover and Congress involving relief efforts. The wood acted as a simile for the work done by the legislature; this is made clear by the words strewn about in the logs. As its title suggests, the cartoon was appeared “just before Christmas” when it was cold out. Many people, especially those who were impoverished and without adequate shelter, had to split wood in order to have fire to keep them warm throughout the night. Because Congress would not be in session during the holidays, they needed to get their work done before it was time to go home; and at that time there was a lot of work to be done so that their suffering constituents could make it through those difficult times.. The moratorium and relief efforts were the wood that would keep everyone warm throughout the break. The immense size of the woodpile was Knott’s way of humorously exaggerating how much work Congress had to do, and just how large America’s problems were.

Knott’s ability to take the grim state of the country and turn it into a funny and optimistic cartoon is something truly exceptional. Both the editorial and the cartoon used their media outlet to focus on positives in a time of overwhelming negatives. Knott took serious daily concerns, such as the upcoming holiday and the struggle to stay warm, and highlighted their connection to politics. It is important that individuals stay in touch with current events no matter their social status or situation. Knott made it easier for people to get in touch with what was going on by making it relatable and light hearted. This still rings true today. Many people keep up with current events through comedic outlets. While the Great Depression was inarguably one of the most traumatic times in America’s History, Knott kept his spirits high, and worked to put a smile on the faces of those who needed it most.




Works Cited

“A Disposition to Work.” Dallas Morning News 19 Dec. 1931: 2. Dallas Morning News Historical Archive [NewsBank]. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

“Financing Relief Efforts.” 1931 – Herbert Hoover. Texas A&M University, Texarkana. 26 Oct. 2015. Lecture.

Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: the American People in Depression and War. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999.

Knott, John F. “Just Before Christmas”. 19 December 1931. Folder 2, Box 3L317, John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook. Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Kutler, Stanley I. “Hoover Moratorium.” Dictionary of American History. 3rd ed. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 456. Gale Virtual Reference Library [Gale]. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

“The Hungry Years: A Narrative History of the Great Depression in America.” Choice Reviews Online 37.06 (2000): n. pag. BRT Projects. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

“The Stock Market: Crash.” American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 3: 1920-1929. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

“Unemployment Statistics during the Great Depression.” Unemployment Statistics during the Great Depression. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Slavery Must Be Abolished

farmer labeled "The South" standing in a barren field chaned to a bail of cotton.
Cartoon by John Knott depicts farmer in a barren field, chained to a bale of cotton.


Slavery Must Be Abolished

John F. Knott- August 27, 1931

This cartoon published in August of 1931, is a raw depiction of a typical southern cotton farmer’s situation during the Great Depression. During the Great Depression era, before President FDR or his New Deal, little was being done to help cotton farmers handle the struggling market. The constant production of cotton at high rates caused the cost of the crop to drastically drop when the Great Depression hit, as consumer demand for these products fell. Farmers were left with copious amounts of unwanted crop that they could not get rid of. At the time, Southern leaders agreed the solution was to diminish cotton acreage, as to reduce the ample supply and therefore raise the market value of the crop. Texas proposed the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931 (TCACL) as the remedy to the cotton problem, and as an example for other Southern states. However, unlike President Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), passed in 1933, the TCACL did not directly offer subsidies to the farmers. Rather, it fined them if they overproduced under the provisions of the law (Jasinski). Knott compares these issues for farmers to the issues slaves had seventy years before with through his cartoon, “Slavery Must Be Abolished.”

The article that accompanies this cartoon, “He Owes Too Much Now,” explains the situation and relationship between the banks and the farmers of this cotton issue as well as sharing the author’s issues with the proposed solution. The article highlights that banks in Texas were not able to finance the large scale reduction of crop production for farms. Big banks were trying to keep a large supply of money in depositories in case of emergencies, and small banks had loaned out far too much to “take on a heavy line of credit” with the cotton industry (“He Owes Too Much Now”). After not receiving financial help from the government and being unable to borrow any more money from private investors such as banks, farmers were forced to sell their farms and lay off workers, including their tenants. Herbert Hoover, the president at the time, attempted to help with the issue by establishing the Federal Farm Board to “supervise agricultural cutbacks and levy a special tax” (Kentleton).  Despite Hoover’s endeavors, many felt he was not doing enough to affect much change in the market, typical of his laissez-faire approach to economics (Baughman).

The humor in this cartoon comes from the comparison of the struggles of 1930’s southern farmers with cotton, to the plight of African slaves to their slave owners in America up to the Civil War. The cartoon depicts an elderly man who is identified as “The South” by the writing on his shoulder. It is easy to surmise that he is a farmer by the hoe in his hands, the clothes he is wearing and the barren field he is standing in, specific characteristics of agricultural life during that time period. Knott uses the old man to represent southern farmers and the barren field he is in represents the mandated curtailing of cotton production to reduce the surplus that has slashed the market value. He also shows the farmer chained by the ankle to a bail of cotton, illustrating a metaphor for the fiscal issues southern farms faced with the surplus of their crop. The strongest factor of the humor of the cartoon is easily the title, where Knott points out the ironic parallel between the relationships of Great Depression farmers to their cotton, and pre-Civil War slaves to farmers/plantation owners. The fact that these farmers who are now slaves of their crops were generally the same people that participated in slave culture some seventy-plus years before creates the humor and apathetic message Knott wanted to portray.

Farmers in the south faced a tough situation throughout the Great Depression. Many were forced to sell their land and move, either to support their families or because banks would foreclose on their property. Knott’s cartoon “Slavery Must Be Abolished” creates an accurate depiction of the condition of these farmers.  These families had so much invested in cotton as their livelihood, the market crash forced them to cling to whatever assets they had remaining. The farmers were bound to their way of life, and needed to bare through the painful remedy of withholding supply if they wanted any chance of recuperating their businesses.


Works Cited

Author Not Listed. “He Owes Too Much Now.” Dallas Morning News. 27 Aug. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015

Baughman, Judith S. “The Farm Crisis.” American Decades. Ed. et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Fred C. Elliott, and E. A. Miller, “COTTON CULTURE,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 02, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Jasinski, Laurie E. “TEXAS COTTON ACREAGE CONTROL LAW OF 1931-32,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 02, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 4, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Kentleton, John. “Success or failure? Herbert Hoover’s presidency: he sent the troops against the bonus marchers and gave his name to a shantytown in Washington, but has history been fair to President Hoover?” Modern History Review 14.4 (2003): 7+. General OneFile. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John F. “Slavery Must Be Abolished.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 27 Aug. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 01 Nov.2015


Germany’s Christmas Tree

A desolate Christmas tree without pine needles garnished with the burdens of Germany and strung together with thick chains.  Ornaments labeled with terms such unemployment, reparations, hunger, debts, communism, fascism, and revolution threat. Instead of a star, the top of the tree is decorated with small lit candle labeled hope.
Germany’s Christmas Tree


Germany’s Christmas Tree

John Francis Knott- December 23, 1931

This political cartoon, published on December 23, 1931, depicts the economic crisis Germany faced due to reparations after World War 1. The Treaty of Versailles, negotiated among the Allied Powers and Germany, stated that Germany would agree to pay reparations under the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan. Germany’s paramount issue involved foreign debts with the United States. During the 1920’s, Germany’s government borrowed excessive amounts of money abroad in order to fulfill reparations payments to France and Great Britain. In the summer of 1931, various German banks began to close while the percentage of bankruptcy and unemployment continued to increase at an alarming rate. Germany’s economic struggle ultimately became a catalyst for voters to consider political parties such as fascism and communism. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party reached its peak during this particular era. Hitler promised to end reparations, eliminate unemployment, overturn the Treaty of Versailles, eradicate debts, and lay the foundation for a strong national government thus recovering Germany’s sense of authority and pride.

The article associated with this cartoon titled “Center of Interest” capitalizes Germany’s strategy to rebuild its infrastructure and reputation. Hitler is confident that his Fascist party will be in power in Germany and Premier Laval loudly proclaims that France will never permit reparations to be sacrificed to private debts or permit the tampering of the Young Plan (“Center of Interest”). The economic interests of the French and United states would be jeopardized if Germany were to disclaim reparations and decide to pay short term credits instead. Ultimately, refusing to pay reparations could potentially lead to another war. President Paul von Hindenburg would no longer be a candidate for re-election in the spring due to his old age which leaves Germany with an unanswered question of who would obtain power. Hitler’s political claims for the economic stability of Germany are beginning to appear much more attractive to voters. Author John Hartwell Moore suggests that many in the international community such as British general Henry Wilson and economist John Maynard Keynes believe that reparations authorized under the Treaty of Versailles were unreasonably disciplinary, stripping Germany of its dignity which ultimately created geopolitical circumstances that aided Hitler’s rise to power in Germany (“Reparations for Racial Atrocities).

The humor conveyed in this political cartoon derives from an ironic representation of how a Christmas tree should be decorated. Instead of a beautiful arrangement of ornaments and bright lights wrapped around a healthy pine tree, the Christmas tree portrayed in the political cartoon illustrates a desolate tree without pine needles garnished with the burdens of Germany and strung together with thick chains. Ornaments on a common Christmas tree consist of ornaments and decorations that represent the Christian religion. Christmas is usually perceived as a holiday involving an abundance of gifts yet there are no gifts under Germany’s Christmas tree. Christmas lights which signify hope, happiness, and safety is substituted with thick chains representing bondage and enslavement. Germany’s Christmas tree vividly epitomizes Germany’s economic well-being at that time.  A small candle lit on the top of the tree labeled “hope” exemplifies Hitler’s proposal for safety, strength, and renewal for Germany utilizing fascism as a catalyst.

Works Cited:

John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Author Not Listed. “Center of Interest.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 23 Dec. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Knott, John F. “Germany’s Christmas Tree.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 23 Dec. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.

“Reparations for Racial Atrocities.” Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Ed. John Hartwell Moore. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 490-493. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.