Revolutionary War political cartoons are the very first American cartoons. These appeared in both mainstream and subversive newspapers that were circulated as the tension between England and what would be America built up. They were made by statesmen as famous as Benjamin Franklin as well as by anonymous authors. Usually made from woodblock prints, these pieces of artwork usually fall into one of a handful of themes.
A Need for Unity
Many of these cartoons focused on the need for the colonies to unite together to fight a common evil: the oppressive government of Great Britain. Most famous in this category is the well known "Join or Die" picture which shows a snake divided into pieces, each named for one of the American colonies. While many people supported the Revolutionary War, just as many people were reluctant because of the danger to their lives and property. Papers and political cartoons helped round up support for this necessary revolution.
Criticism of Britain
Many Revolutionary war political cartoons also poked fun at Great Britain, which was perceived as a bloated and overbearing entity feeding off colonies around the world. These cartoons helped to rally the colonists behind a common cause and encouraged them to be more open in their disdain toward England. Because Britain at the time was truly not much better than its critics made it out to be, it was easy to find jokes and cartoons at the country's expense.
Criticism of the New Government Structure
There was a lot of jostling for power and bickering over the new government's structure even before the new government had won its independence. Some people thought that the concept of government by the people was too populist to be successful, while others doubted the ability of farflung and very different states to agree and work together on causes for the common good.
Being involved in the making and distribution of any criticism of the establishment was risky business at the time. Great Britain had no qualms about hunting down subversive elements and making an example of them. However, this did not stop the tenacious American colonists. They used these cartoons to gather support for their cause and eventually were able to overthrow the British government.
Political cartoons from the Revolutionary War era are treasured pieces of history. They allow modern American citizens to see the mindset of the people who had a huge role in the forming of our nation. Thanks to these preserved cartoons, we will always have a record of the sentiments that our Founding Fathers felt in the early days of the United States of America.