South Carolina Topsey in a Fix

This cartoon is the third in a series of anti-secessionist prints created by Thomas W. Strong in 1861.
Thomas W. Strong
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 7.

SC Topsey in a Fix THH

The third in Thomas W. Strong's "Dime Caricatures" series of antisecessionist prints published early in 1861. Here Topsey, the impish slave child in Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," personifies the secessionist state South Carolina.


An elegantly dressed lady, Columbia, is based on Stowe's Miss Ophelia, the New England spinster who attempted the moral education of the child.
Topsey appears repentant at the steps of a porch before Columbia, who sits on a chair with an American flag on her lap and a liberty cap behind her.
On the floor beside her is a bald eagle.
Columbia shows the flag to Topsey, displaying the holes in its blue field.
She scolds her, "So, Topsey, you're at the bottom of this piece of wicked work--picking stars out of the sacred Flag! What would your forefathers say, do you think? I'll just hand you over to the new overseer, Uncle Abe [i.e., President-elect Abraham Lincoln]. He'll fix you!"
Topsey responds, "Never had no father, nor mother, nor nothing! I was raised by speculators! I's mighty wicked, anyhow! Ẁhat makes me ack so?' Dun no, missis--I 'spects cause I's so wicked!"
Behind her another slave turns to run down the steps exclaiming, "Hand us over to ole Abe, eh? Ize off!"
Several more slaves watch or clown about in the yard beyond.


This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/2008661618/.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Analyze the cartoon. List at least three (3) details that you believe are significant to understand the message of the cartoon.
    Answers will vary and may include these: the white woman holding the American flag, the eagle sitting next to her, the holes in the American flag, at least three enslaved people, two men fighting in the background, the fact that one of the enslaved people looks to be running away from the white woman, the discussion between the enslaved woman and the white woman, the porch of a house and the caption that reads “South Carolina Topsey in a Fix.”
  2. Question
    How are the enslaved people in the cartoon depicted?
    The cartoonist has depicted the enslaved people as helpless and uneducated. Based on their clothes and way of speaking, it is clear that he means to show that either the enslaved people have been mistreated or that this is a typical way that enslaved people were understood to behave at the time. They have exaggerated facial features as well, showing that probably these were popular ways of depicting African people at this time.
  3. Question
    The cartoonist was making a statement about the secession of South Carolina from the Union. The enslaved woman speaking to the white woman is meant to represent South Carolina. Based on their conversation, is this cartoon pro- or anti-secession? Support your answer with details from the cartoon.
    Students may not find a clear pro- or anti-secession stance but may have some of these responses: The cartoon is anti-secession: The enslaved girl describes herself as wicked for having pulled the stars out of the flag that the white woman is holding (representing states leaving the Union). The white woman holding the flag also points out that Abe Lincoln will need to step in to become the true master of South Carolina. The cartoon is pro-secession: South Carolina is portrayed as an enslaved person under an overseer, Abe Lincoln. While she has been wicked, South Carolina has made her decisions based on what was a bad upbringing. Therefore, it could be argued that South Carolina must secede to be rid of her "master."
  4. Question
    Political cartoons often use satire and sarcasm to make a point. This particular cartoon was printed in New York, a free state. What does this cartoon tell us about the author’s view of slavery?
    Answers will vary.
Reveal Answers
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