In our second On the Square article today, Melissa Musick Nussbaum and L. Martin Nussbaum recall the publication of Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoon “The American River Ganges” and see a likeness between the nativist anti-Catholic sentiments expressed in editorial cartoons, articles, and novels of the 19th century and the political cartoons reemerging today:
Nast needs few words; his sketch is a nightmare in pen and ink. There is only this caption, “The American River Ganges,” suggesting not only the foreign, but a land so distant from most Americans as to be wholly other, completely alien. In his book, American Catholic: the Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church, historian Charles R. Morris calls “The American River Ganges,” “Perhaps the most brilliantly poisonous of Thomas Nast’s popular anti-Catholic cartoons.”
One hundred and twenty years later, the cartoons of reptile-human hybrids, bishops on the hunt for America’s children, have reappeared. Nast’s trope of the alien, not quite human, Catholic has come out of hibernation to be printed in newspapers and magazines all over the United States and the world.