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.
“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.