Political Cartoon Assignment

Political Cartoon Assignment

U.S. History

HIS 206

Cartoon Choice 2 School Begins

The United States began building the country with diversity in the starting years of the twentieth century. With the expansion over the western hemisphere and declaration of war against the country of Spain, the US gained three of its colonies to include the independent nation Hawaii. Cuba Puerto Rico and the Philippines were those three colonies. Many political illustrators began debate about the extending of power and influence through diplomacy and military force. Some of them began drawing their depiction of how the expansion affected everyday life. For example, the illustration “School begins” delivered a depiction of the take over from Spain’s former colonies while influencing the imperialist that non equal treatment was the standard for the U.S.

The illustration “School Begins” exemplifies the well-known U.S. character Uncle Sam. He was an average meat packing businessman, who ultimately became the symbolization of the American Federal government. In this cartoon, Uncle Sam is featured as the teacher in a classroom, and the most recent established territories: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Philippines. The picture also focuses on several ethnicities. Based on the observations it shows that one group are the “good smart students.” One group seems to be shown as the “bad or unintelligent students” that are separated by their skin tone and located in the front of the class directly in reach of Uncle Sam. All students are labeled whether they are good or bad based off of society perceptions on how they should act. There is a character not labeled as African American, but you can clearly understand that that was the intent of the illustrator. The cartoonist has him in the window cleaning while he should be learning with the rest of the kids his age. This symbolizes slavery at this time period and this mistreatment of African Americans. Native Americans are clearly depicted in the back of the classroom near the door, not having any interaction at all but yet still segregated away from the entire class, and yet they are minding their own business. The native American is also having a hard time learning the English language as shown in the illustration with the book turned upside down. By having the book turned upside down this shows lack of basic reading fundamental skills and lack of book handling skills. The Chinese American not labeled is shown outside the door and seemingly afraid to enter the classroom.

The artist illustrated the cartoon as Uncle Sam taking in the other countries and providing education in exchange for their land. “The conflict began as a humanitarian intervention to dissolve the brutal control of the Spanish in Cuba. It ended with the United States gaining political and economic control of Cuba, fighting a war in the Philippines, and acquiring territories in Guam and Puerto Rico. The Spanish–American War allowed America to flex its muscles in the Caribbean and the Pacific and to demonstrate its dominant role in the Western Hemisphere” (Barnes, Bowels, 2014). What Barnes and Bowels means is that by defeating Spain in the war, it enabled the expansion into these territories, not just geographically but politically and economically.

When you analyze the impact of imperialism and how it changed the American way of life, one can say that it made racism exactly what is still is today. Imperialism made the U.S. more troubled with unfair treatment by taking something and then deciding to claim it when it does not belong to you. This is something that continues to rise even to this day. Even though it impowered the nation, and allowed immigrants citizenship, it still was unwelcoming by the white Americans who were also immigrants.

White supremacy came immediately after other nations started migrating their families and requesting citizenship. These immigrants and slaves wanted to be like the white Americans. Everyone wanted voting rights along with the right to be treated as an American. White supremacy made other races stand up and want to be treated equally, which soon brought the civil rights movements. “The anti-expansionists, however, utilize fear as their primary emotional weapon. Schurz, Carnegie, and Jordan all voice concerns with the negative effects of imperialism, emphasizing political corruption, the loss of national homogeneity, and declines in both racial strength and personal virtue.” (Merriam 1978) By having these political cartoons some may feel that it is just for humor while others take it as a learning moment to understand the past.


Barnes, L. & Bowles, M. (2014). The American story: Perspectives and encounters from 1877 [Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/

Merriam, A. (1978). Racism in the Expansionist Controversy of 1898-1900. on), 39(4), 369-380. doi:10.2307/274902