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.
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.