Mr. De la Cova's webpage on Thomas Nast is very strange. It's actually part of a larger section titled Nativism and Bigotry on Mr. De la Cova's Latin American Studies website. On this main page, you are presented with six images (three of those images are cartoons) and seven links. The seven links are important to look at.
At the top is the link to Mr. De la Cova's Thomas Nast page. THREE of the links are devoted to white supremacists. One link is outdated, and another takes you to a 1997 International Migration Review article about immigration and Nativism in the US. But, the last link is strangest. It takes you to a 2005 book review about William M. Tweed and his infamous Tweed Ring. It's an obvious connection to Thomas Nast, who's cartoons famously attacked the corruption of Tweed and his Ring. Reading the article, it becomes clear that Mr. De la Cova is using it to point out Nast's "virulently anti-Catholic" attitude and other criticisms of Nast's work against the Tweed Ring.
But, Mr. De la Cova leaves out a lot of history, which is strange coming from a Professor of History.
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that white supremacists are guilty of Nativism and Bigotry. But, as I had pointed out already, Nast was not a total Nativist because he supported the rights of Chinese immigrants, and he himself was an immigrant. Also, everyone at the time (the 19th Century) was guilty of bigotry, even the immigrants. To single out Nast as a bigot leaves out a huge piece of American history.
Nativism, defined as a policy "favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants," has a long, long history in the US, leaving Mr. De la Cova's webpage about the subject small and inadequate. In my opinion, its inexcusable since he is a history professor. During the 1800's, Nativism was everywhere, rooted in politics, economics, and race.
Nast's anti-Irish bigotry was was rooted more into politics. He was a staunch Republican favoring a Protestant American society, but mostly a post-war "Great Republic." At the time, Catholics and Protestants were mostly divided by political lines and Nast was a strong opponent of Democrats. To him, the "Democratic party... was bitterly anti-black and, at best, lukewarm on fighting the Confederacy." These were considered Nast's "defining issues."
The conflicts between Catholics and Protestants were brutal and went back to the 1830's. One big dispute concerned religious studies in school, beginning in the 40's and resurfacing in the 70's. Nast is famous for one of his cartoons tackling the subject. Mr. De la Cova obviously labels it anti-Catholic, but he neglects the important political background. Furthermore, Nast was not the only cartoonist to notice the suspicious connections between the Catholic Church and the wholly corrupt Tweed Ring.
Nast's insulting caricatures of Irish immigrants were also rooted in the racism they exhibited towards Blacks and Chinese. But, this Irish bigotry was complex. According to Social Scientist Stanford Lyman, "[u]nlike black slaves and many free Negroes, the Irish had the right to vote, to join political parties, to seek niches of influence, power, and control in urban politics each providing a competitive advantage in the struggle to get ahead in America."
But, that need for competitive advantage got really bad in 1863 when Irish immigrants, fueled by racism and mass hysteria, took part in one of America's worst riots against African-Americans. The Irish immigrants had succumb to the racist lure of what Lyman calls "the social, moral, and civic status of white men"; the culmination of earlier events such as shouting out "Down with the Nagurs!" The Irish assault on Blacks and Chinese continued for years. But, Mr. De la Cova does not mention that on his Nativism and Bigotry webpage.
History professor Morton Keller explains Nast's anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitude:
"Mid-nineteenth century liberals—and Nast certainly was one of them—regarded the Catholic church as the fount of anti-modernism and fanaticism. This attitude was reinforced by the commitment of many Irish-Americans to the Democratic party, hostility to abolition, and Negrophobia. The intertwining of his hostility to the Church, the Irish, and the Tweed Ring suggest that for him this was another chapter in the ongoing struggle to preserve the American Union, and Lincoln’s new birth of freedom, from its enemies. In this sense the Confederates, the anti-Reconstruction, pro-Johnson Democrats, and the Tweed Ring and the Catholic church were parts of a collective whole. It stirred in Nast the peak of his distinctive mix of artistic inventiveness and political passion."
And it was that passion that made Thomas Nast one of the greatest political cartoonist of our times. Some say he was one of the last great cartoonist who used "a tradition of ruthless, two-fisted attack." No doubt he was vicious, but Nast carried on the tradition of Charles Philipon, considered the Father of Political Caricature, who was repeatedly sent to jail for his political cartoons.
These were truly "[a] breed of troublemakers by profession" as Art Spiegelman once put it. And, that's the job of caricature or cartoonists. We should expect it, not condemn it.
In the end, they're just cartoons Mr. De la Cova. But you need to brush up on your history.