The Graduate Center - City University of New York

The great American WHAT IS IT? chased by Copperheads.

A particularly busy cartoon with multiple symbols, this anti-Lincoln print’s title refers to the “What Is It?” exhibit in Barnum’s American Museum—displaying a handicapped African American as neither human nor ape—to represent the president and his emancipation policies. Pursued by snakes, the “Copperhead” northern Peace Democrats, the cartoon suggests that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional, politically motivated, and purposely ineffective. It was also, as viewed in this cartoon, unpopular, a point emphasized in the depiction of General Ambrose Burnside being squeezed by a snake he calls “Clement.” The Union officer ordered the arrest of Ohio Copperhead leader Clement Vallandigham in May 1863 for seditious speech; with controversy and protests swirling about the speedy trial and conviction, Lincoln reduced Vallandigham’s sentence from imprisonment to exile to the Confederacy.

Creator: E. W. T. Nichols

Date: 1863

Source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress