10 Political Cartoons Vital to the Course of History

Image by David Pope

In response to today’s horrific attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in honor of Charb, one of France’s most revered cartoonists, here are some of the most important political cartoons throughout history.

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1. Created by Ben Franklin, and first published on May 9th, 1754 in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the motive behind the cartoon was to influence the former colonies to turn against British rule. The cartoon features a snake cut up into eights, signifying the separation of the 13 colonies at the time. It is credited as the first American political cartoon.

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2. Published on January 18th, 1970, two years before the world would be stunned by Watergate, illustrator Herblock created this cartoon as a response to the exposing of the Civil Service Commission. The government admitted to wiretapping American citizens whom were believed to be participants of anti-Vietnam activities.

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3. Created by illustrator Herblock in 1972, this cartoon was a response to the Watergate scandal. Two days after the illegal break-in at the Democratic Headquarters, Block released cartoons representing the backlash and pressure Nixon faced during this time.

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4. To make a picture of Muhammed is blasphemous in Islam. The publication by Danish paper Jyllands-Posten of 12 cartoons depicting the prophet enraged the Muslim community, and tens of thousands took to the street in protest over the cartoons. Violence erupted on the streets, embassies were shut down, and the cartoonists went into hiding for their safety.

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5. In response to the Jyllands-Posten controversy, Le Monde published this cartoon by Plantu. Like a student writing his chalkboard responsibility on repeat, the cartoon reads “I must not draw Muhammed,” over and over again. The words, of course, form the face of the prophet himself.

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The Politics of Fear’, The New Yorker, 2008

6. The New Yorker went a bit meta when the magazine published a cartoon depicting then-candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle wearing terrorist garb and doing a fist bump. The cartoon wasn’t meant as a rag on the future president, but a jab at the “distortions and prejudices about him,” according to David Remnick, the publication’s editor. Still, Obama took time from the campaign to denounce the drawing.

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7. This 1999 cover of The New Yorker drawn by Art Spiegelman seems especially relevant again, given the controversy over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police. The cartoon referenced the shooting of an unarmed man. Police shot at him 41 times.

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8. As soon as President Obama was elected, bipartisanship all but disappeared. 

In 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted in the National Journal saying “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Poking at the constant stream of criticism, both warranted, and unwarranted, the cartoon from The New Yorker comments on the strained relationship between our party system.

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9. “All day long, hour after hour, I’m tormented by the same question! It keeps me awake half the night, tossing and turning. And the worst part is, I will never be able to move on with my life until I have the answer, and can stop asking myself, ‘What will Hillary do?’ ”

After Hillary’s 2008 bid at the presidency launched infinite think pieces, not to mention catalyzing books being written and courses taught on campuses, the questions remained. Will she or won’t she? And if she does, then what? … Questions The New Yorker caught on to. As the nation speculates about Hillary, we too reflect on the greater issues of gender (those like our right to choose, be it birth control or abortion) as well as those of gender as they regard particularly to who we let lead our political system.

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10. This week’s cover of Charlie Hebdo depicts novelist Michel Houellebecq as a cigarette smoking wizard translated as saying, “In 2022, I will do Ramadan.” Houellebecq’s book “Submission” features a France of the future run by Muslims and adhering to strict laws of dress for women, and the introduction and practice of polygamy. In Wednesday morning’s shooting, 12 were killed in response.

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