The Graduate Center - City University of New York

"What will he do with them?"

Anticipating the Emancipation Proclamation, this October 1862 cartoon by Henry L. Stephens in the weekly satirical magazine Vanity Fair was characteristic of many publications’ ambivalent stance toward slaves and their freedom. Burdened by caged blackbirds (symbolizing in uncomplimentary terms enslaved African Americans), Lincoln and the Union are portrayed here as beset by the issue of emancipation: lacking popular support for compensated emancipation (paying slaveholders for freeing their slaves), the prospect to just “open the cages and let ‘em fly” was also viewed with little enthusiasm by many northerners who feared that purportedly dependent and now rootless freedpeople would flee to the North. The War Democrat Vanity Fair was particularly hostile to the "contraband" slaves who had fled to northern lines, and portrayed enslaved as well as free northern African Americans as comfortably waiting out the war while white northern troops were sacrificed. Started in 1859, Vanity Fair went out of business in July 1863.

Creator: Henry L. Stephens

Date: October 4, 1862

Publisher: Vanity Fair

Source: HarpWeek