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.
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