Tag Archives: cartoon

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.

They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying

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“They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” comments on pre-World War II interactions between Europe and Secretary of the State Cornell Hull.

 

They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying

John Francis Knott — March 1937

Distinguished through his thought-provoking ideas and unique artistic abilities, John Francis Knott was a political cartoonist for the Dallas Morning News who illustrated more than 15,000 cartoons in his 50-year career. His work throughout the early 20th century focused much on presidential campaigns and wars of the time and attracted national and international attention. His cartoon “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying”, published on March 22, 1937 equally centralized around the upcoming World War and America and Europe’s atypical relationship leading up to it.

Characterized by historians as a time of political and economic unrest, the 1930s was turbulent for nations worldwide. Coming out of the midst of the Great Depression, the United States was slowly starting to become financially stable again under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership. Europe on the other hand became plagued with political crisis, with Adolf Hitler making plans to invade parts of Europe and Germany aligning itself with other strong nations, proving that a war was likely imminent. In an attempt to avoid an international feud, the United States, among other nations, called for a peaceful meeting to discuss the issues and try to extinguish tensions. This attempt is essentially what Knott illustrates in his cartoon.

“They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” depicts two characters: a woman holding cannons, muskets, and other miscellaneous weaponry with the word “Europe” on her chest and a man in a car with “Good Neighbor Hull” on it asking the woman if she “want[s] a ride.” The woman in this piece clearly represents the nation of Europe preparing for war with Germany and the Axis Powers. The man is noted to be Cordell Hull, American politician and Secretary of State to Roosevelt who strongly advocated for the meeting between nations. Although the European people were in favor of peace, the men in power were not heeding Hull’s please for compromise. In the background of the illustration are two signs reading “Road to World Peace” and “International Trade” which Hull is gesturing towards as if suggesting this is where he plans to take the woman on the car ride.

The humor behind the illustration is derived from the criticisms of how both American leaders such as Hull and the European nations handled the proposition to meet peacefully. Specifically in the cartoon, Knott ridiculously has Hull offer to give Europe or European leaders a ride to the conference. Equally, signs advertising the benefits of meeting happen to line the road which Hull plans to take. Paradoxically, Knott unrealistically has the European woman carrying heaps of advanced weaponry and warfare machinery through the streets. Overall, the cartoon is Knott’s humorous depiction of Secretary of State Hull’s overt attempt to ask Europe for a meeting to discuss the issues at hand.

In a companion piece published alongside “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” entitled “Advice to Europe” Hull’s relationship and overall influence over European nations is better exemplified. The article touches on Europe’s hesitancy on taking advice from “a young upstart” like the United States, despite America’s wealth and political establishment. Ultimately, Europe considers aggression the only practical solution despite Hull’s or other nation’s appeals to handle the issue in a peaceful manner. The article even goes on to say that even someone with more power and authority than Hull would likely have an extremely difficult time in preventing the altercation from being resolved through violence or force.

Essentially, “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” by John Francis Knott humorously comments on the Secretary of State Cornell Hull’s proposition to Europe to settle differences in a peaceful meeting to avoid an international war. Although Hull’s proposal failed, Knott permanently etched the idea into history with his cartoon and remarked on the tense and confusing times leading up to the Second World War.

 

Works Cited:

“Cordell Hull.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Knott, John F. “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying”. Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 22 March 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Smitha, Frank E. “Crisis and War in Europe, 1937 to 1940.” Crisis and War in Europe, 1937 to 1940. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Woolner, Diane. “Repeating Our Mistakes: The “Roosevelt Recession” and the Danger of Austerity.” Roosevelt Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.