An editorial in the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper, says there is "no justification for blasting" Thomas Nast, the 19th century cartoonist whose nomination for the New Jersey Hall of Fame has been heavily criticized by Irish and Catholic groups.
The newspaper says the political cartoonist's work "needs to be appreciated and understood in the context of his times."
Nast portrayed the Irish as apes and drunkards and the Catholic church as deadly crocodiles ready to feast on the people.
Nast's drawings, says the editorial, "exhibited a broad social conscience, with anti-slavery and anti-segregation themes. He championed better treatment of Native American and Asian immigrants."
Widely recognized as the "Father of the American Cartoon," Nast is credited with creating depictions of such famous figures as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, and the elephant and donkey that symbolize the American political parties.
"But that hasn’t stopped several legislators from calling for Nast to be removed from consideration because of what they believe to be bigoted representations of Irish and Catholics," says the Asbury Park Press.
"The list of legislators who have attacked Nast includes Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer; David Rible, R-Monmouth, and Scott Rumana, R-Passaic, all of Irish heritage. The legislators say they’re upset by offensive stereotyping that appeared in Nast’s cartoons about 150 years ago.
The editorial goes on to say: "There’s no denying that some of his drawings wouldn’t fly today. But as historians point out, the troubling cartoons in question represent a tiny piece of a much broader and admirable body of work."
The editor argues that Nast's depictions "need to be placed in context."
"The anti-Irish drawings, for instance, were linked to the Irish support for the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Nast was credited with helping to bring down Tammany’s notorious Boss Tweed. And the anti-Catholic cartoons were largely connected to Nast’s criticism of the Vatican for recruiting public schoolchildren for parochial schools."
The bigger problem, says the editor, "is the danger of viewing history through the prism of today’s morality."
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