Laughing at “Young Bull”: American Authority in Civil War Cartoons

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit


Publication Date

Fall 2020


Drawing on transnational approaches to American literature, this essay reconsiders the politics of US Civil War cartoons. Whereas prior studies analyze how pro-Union and Confederate periodicals satirize both the enemy and themselves to bolster their respective causes, I ask what is at stake in jokes about foreign encounters. In the largely unstudied humor magazine Yankee Notions, cartoons persistently touch on fears that the war would weaken the country’s status and fantasies that Union victory could affirm US global authority. The cartoons strive to manage these sentiments by revising familiar caricatures. In so doing, they implicitly assure readers that Americans understand foreign peoples and themselves well enough to make light of international relations. Moreover, the magazine defines who is worth knowing, as it focuses on how Europe views the United States and vice versa. The cartoons thereby assert that ostensibly white, civilized empires recognize the Union as their equal, while occluding questions of how peoples of color view US imperialism.


This article was originally published in J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists