"The Political Quadrille": the 1860 Election
During the Nineteenth Century, political cartoons became very popular ways for people to learn about politics in a humorous way. One of the first American Political magazines, Harper’s Weekly (A Journal of Civilization), was one of the first magazines that published political cartoons. Arguably, some of the most important articles, illustrations, and cartoons came from Harper’s Weekly. One of the most popular and important political cartoon was named “The Political Quadrille: Music by Dred Scott”, released in the Weekly in 1860.
“The Political Quadrille: Music by Dred Scott” was a very complex political cartoon. Center and most importantly, sat Dred Scott playing the fiddle. In the upper right hand corner, republican Abraham Lincoln dances with an African American woman which signified his party’s alignment with abolitionists. The upper left corner shows democrats John Breckinridge and James Buchanan dancing together. The lower left corner shows Stephen Douglas dancing with an old, worn-down Irishman which implied that Douglas was Catholic and backed Irish Immigrants. Finally, in the bottom right corner, the cartoonists John Bell dances with a Native American which implied the Bell was interested in the relationship with the Indians.
So what does this cartoon tell us about the 1860 election? While the cartoonist is unknown, the meaning is not. “The Political Quadrille: Music by Dred Scott” comically told the story of the election in 1860. Dred Scott, sitting center and playing a fiddle, was used in this political cartoon to show the impact of the Dred Scott decision on the 1860 election. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 ruled that slavery could not be prohibited by the federal government or the territorial governments. This played a major role in the election, which is the reason why the cartoonists placed Dred Scott in the middle of all the candidates. By drawing the four major candidates of the 1860 election dancing and placing them around Dred Scott, the cartoonists implied that whoever was going to win the election was going to win it with how they viewed slavery and African Americans. Harper’s Weekly explained the cartoon by saying, “A general parody on the 1860 presidential contest, highlighting the impact of the Dred Scott decision on the race… The burning question of the future of slavery in the United States was addressed by several of the contenders during the 1860 race. Here the four presidential candidates dance with members of their supposed respective constituencies.” This political cartoon, along with many others, shows the main differences between the four major candidates and what the main issues of the time were. In the end, Abraham Lincoln proved to be victorious. The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association says that Lincoln was able to win by "fusing anti-slavery nationalism to the interest of free society." Thus, his views on slavery helped win him the election.
- Library of Congress: Originally printed in Harper's Weekly, "The Political Quadrille: Music by Dred Scott", Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008661605/resource/cph.3a17084/?sid=54b14ca9e6c6441e4bafd0956d9de32c (accessed April 14, 2010).
- Graham Alexander Peck, "Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of an Antislavery Nationalism," Journal of Abraham Lincoln Association 2 (Summer 2007): 17-18.
- Harper's Weekly: Online Source, "The Political Quadrille: Music by Dred Scott", Harp Week, http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-Medium.asp?UniqueID=39&Year=1860 (accessed April 25).