Boston Public Library

Social and Political Cartoons

Caricature is a pictorial representation of a person or thing through the gross exaggeration of its most characteristic features. It is the portrait that conveys the meaning, often playing on accepted symbols or repeated imagery. The text, if present at all, is secondary.

Caricaturists portray the world as they see it, using satire and moral purpose. They have long used their skills to attack, caricature, praise, and express their opinions on social and political issues of the day. The turbulent times in American history, resulting in the American Revolution and the establishment of a new republic, provided fertile ground for caricaturists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following ratification of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment, political cartoonists in the new republic enjoyed unprecedented freedom to express their views and were protected by the nation's courts from charges of libel or governmental persecution.

Warning: Website visitors should be warned that several of the words, descriptions, and images in these caricatures are considered racially offensive by today's standards. The materials are presented in order to give an accurate historical picture of American political prints.

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