A recently global history of cartoon figures who acted as models for their nations was recently published. We saw leading figures in America and Britain, and other Emperors, Kaisers and Kings around the world. Others were such the New York City Hall bosses; old relics from the Revolutionary Wars now seen to be getting in the way of progress.
The arrival of waves of Irish before and during the potato famines had them depicted as ugly little men with their pipes and funny caps. As with new immigrants, it was they who rolled up their sleeves and built the new Erie Canal to open up America.
The many cartoons touch on an important and little noted aspect of the evolution of American antique history. What began as a beacon of light and hope to the oppressed or sympathetic around the globe is often now depicted as Uncle Sam of America.
But the cartoon character in newspapers of the day who spoke as America was not that meat sup-plier Uncle Sam of early fame, but a withered character named Brother Jonathan, a British mockery of the poorer more rural America of the times.
Magazines and newspapers do not mention, but we shall, that the label Uncle Sam seems to have originated during the War of 1812, when an elderly supplier name Sam stamped U.S. On food products going to the soldiers. You can imagine this kindly old butcher that the soldiers created out this legendary character Uncle Sam.
Not very inspiring, I always thought, a meat supplier with a stamp. But let us look at these newly again cartoons of American antiques history that shows another story. These were influential cartoons that played in the major British and American newspapers of their day.
Yet the legendary old character Uncle Sam did not appear in cartoons until Abraham Lincoln. And since the days of the Revolutionary war, the British were always represented as a corpulent John Bull, with his British bulldog, smiling, holding money bags, facing off against a weaker American cartoon Brother Jonathan for many decades, a lean, underfed American to mock the solidarity of the American Colonists, who must all hang together so they do not hang separately.
Until Abraham Lincoln. After 1860, and as the Civil War grew more bitter and intense, Brother Jonathan disappeared from newspapers. In came Uncle Sam, and he looked more like Abraham Lincoln now. Uncle Sam grew stronger; stood more straight, was like Lincoln much taller.
And when Lincoln began growing a beard, so did Uncle Sam. And this more Lincoln like Uncle Sam now spoke in cartoons with more resolution and firmness than ever before. He now loomed over John Bull, who backed off.
This happened in the American Civil War, until at this point in history, John Bull was forced to respect the little brother who was outgrowing him, as all could see, from Kings to Kaisers to Emperors with the world looking on.
Cartoon history can show that Lincoln evolved into Uncle Sam, yet not to the extent that Uncle Sam speaks the words of Lincoln. Instead we see the powerful image and the firm tall resolve. To accept that a cartoon can only say so many words, we can accept that it is more in stature and bearing that the great humble giant of the world inspired the might of Uncle Sam, and his humility in power.
So you can feel that it is the face, beard and eyes of Abraham Lincoln smiling out you from posters some times saying Your Nation Needs You. And if you look in at an American history shop, and see Uncle Sam looking into your eyes, remember that America is still guided by such an exceptional human being; you are soon swayed to the right that was in the heart of Lincoln. Incorporate it into you.