The media has long been every politician’s worst nightmare. That was never truer than with “Boss Tweed” back when political cartoons took off and caused an uproar with their honest messages and hilarious illustrations. Take a look into this famous dispute and the precedent it set for the interactions between the media and politics.
Who’s the boss
In the late 18th century, Tammany Hall rose to fame as a New York City political organization that bred corruption and controlled the Democratic Party’s nominations. William M. Tweed, aka “Boss Tweed,” rose to prominence as the leader of this group in the 1860’s, and proceeded to abuse his power.
He ended up controlling a large amount of the city’s government, appointing officials and using a large amount of public money to his own gain. Something had to be done.
Thomas Nast objects
Boss Tweed’s corruption was ripe for exposure, and Thomas Nast was the man to do it. Nast began as a German immigrant, illustrating various newspapers and magazines, but found his calling through political cartoons. He found popularity and fans through his work and soon embodied the American Dream of the immigrant to the American activist.
His political cartoons soon became so annoying to Tweed and the Tammany Hall party, that Tweed allegedly ordered Nast to “stop them damn pictures!”
The media will always be a staunch opponent to politics
Because of the time, most of Tweed’s constituents were illiterate. So while they couldn’t read articles written to chastise and expose Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall’s corruption, they could see Nast’s cartoons and interpret the meaning behind the caricatures.
This was perhaps the first form of the American media directly opposing the political heads in power, but it certainly wasn’t the last. This tradition persists today, with many media outlets seeking to expose abuse and corruption in politics, and teaching us all to take into account many opinions and to not always take what politicians claim at face value. Be wise!