Can’t You Spare a Nickel More
John Francis Knott – October 20, 1933
The political cartoon, “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More,” was created by John Francis Knott and published in the Dallas Morning News on October 20, 1933. It depicts the cotton planters of the United States with regards to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the economic aspects that accompanied it. The cartoon reveals the economic issues faced by the United States and the twenty million cotton planters depicted in the image. Knott’s cartoon highlights the negative effects that the U.S. government and its New Deal policies – such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Commodity Credit Corporation – had on cotton planters nationwide. These negative effects included the acreage reduction’s failure to raise crop prices, the tenant farming system’s lack of productivity, the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931, and the overall economic incongruities which were created.
The Great Depression spanned from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. While the depression was most known for its negative effects on American society and the crash of the stock market, it was also associated with the sharp decline of profitable cotton prices; this was devastating due to the increased agriculture during that time period. Therefore, it was important for farmers and cotton planters to get back into business. In 1933, the U.S. government created a program that financially helped farmers for lowering cotton acreage, which reduced supply and thus created higher prices. The program, known as the New Deal, brought about interesting changes to the agricultural aspect of the nation – it constituted the Agricultural Adjustment Administration which called for a forty percent cotton acreage reduction and the Commodity Credit Corporation which provided a ten cent loan for each pound of cotton as long as planters promised to reduce its acreage in the following year (Golay 204).
“Can’t You Spare a Nickel More” depicts stress on the cotton planter’s face as well as Uncle Sam’s (Knott 2). These difficult times created a bleak outlook for the nation along with its twenty million cotton planters. Even after the Agricultural Adjustment Administration enforced an acreage reduction on cotton, thirteen million bales remained to sustain the world demand for the rest of the year. This countered the goal of raising the price of crops. In addition to this issue, the tenant farming system – a system in which tenant farmers contributed their own land and labor for capital – resulted in wastefulness and inefficiency. It caused trouble for the South’s traditional cash crop and created conflicts between planters and tenants due to its many internal economic problems (Hawkins).
The accompanying article, “The Price of Cotton,” explains the cartoon’s exchange of ten cents profoundly; it questions the unfairness of lending of ten cents per pound of cotton rather than fifteen cents and explicitly states that the discrepancy is inadequate (“The Price of Cotton”). The Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931 further emphasized the strains placed upon cotton farmers by requiring that the amount of cotton planted in 1932 and 1933 could not surpass thirty percent of that of the preceding year (Jasinski). The synthesis of these two sources develops the notion that the combination of reduced cotton acreage and lowered payment to cotton farmers only created an increasing lack of sustenance as well as an overall miserable lifestyle.
The humor in this cartoon is evident in the distinct contrast between the two parties depicted and their relation to the underlying meaning of the image. Despite the fact that the wealthier man is not explicitly labeled as Uncle Sam, it can be inferred based on the combination of the cartoon, the article, and knowledge of American popular culture. While the man representing the twenty million cotton planters of the U.S. is illustrated in tattered clothing with a grim expression, the man who appears to be Uncle Sam handing him the ten cent loan looks stern yet well dressed which emphasizes the economic gap as well as the issues which were created by the loans and cotton reduction (Knott 2). The prominent issue that Knott’s cartoon focuses on is the unfair loans given to the cotton planters by the government. The cartoon focuses attention on the twenty million cotton planters receiving a ten cent loan which insinuates that the planters are not receiving sufficient funds for their duties, thus creating a cycle of internal and external economic incongruities.
(1) “The Price of Cotton.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.
(2) Golay, Michael. America 1933: The Great Depression, Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Shaping of the New Deal. New York: Free, 2013. Print.
(3) Hawkins, Van. “Cotton Industry.” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
(4) Jasinski, Laurie E. “Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931-32.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.
(5) Knott, John. “Can’t You Spare a Nickel More.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 20 Oct. 1933, sec. 2: 2. Print.
(6) Novak, James L., James W. Pease, and Larry D. Sanders. Agricultural Policy in the United States: Evolution and Economics. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.