The Dis-United States. Or the Southern Confederacy.

This political cartoon was created for a newspaper publication in New York circa 1861.
Currier and Ives, New York
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 7 and 8.

white men sitting

Transcription of cartoon captions: 

South Carolina: “South Carolina claims to be file leader and general whipper in of the new Confederacy, a special edict! Obey and tremble!”
Florida: “We want it distinctly understood that all the lights on the Coast shall be put out, in order to facilitate wrecking business.”  

Alabama: “Alabama proclaims that ‘Cotton is King,’ and the rest of the Confederacy must obey that Sovereign.” 

Mississippi: “We come in, with the understanding that we shall issue bonds to an unlimited extent, with our ancient right of repudiation when they become due.” 

Georgia: “Georgia must have half the honors, and all the profits, or back she goes to old ‘E. Pluribus Unum.’” 

Louisiana: “A heavy duty must be levied on foreign sweetening in order to make up for what we have sacrificed in leaving the Union, otherwise we shall be like a ‘Pelican in the wilderness’!” 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/scsm000315/.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    In the cartoon, each man is sitting on something different. What is South Carolina sitting on? Why might this be significant?
    In the image, South Carolina is sitting on what looks to be an enslaved African. This fact may be an attempt by the cartoonist to suggest that South Carolina’s main reason for leaving the United States might be to sustain slavery. It could also suggest that the basis for South Carolina’s economy might be the slave trade, given that the man on top of the enslaved person is holding a whip and that the other men are sitting on other economic staples. (Alabama is sitting on a cotton bale, for example.)
  2. Question
    While slavery was practiced in all of the states represented in the cartoon, slavery itself is not directly mentioned by any of the men. Besides the drawing of the enslaved person in the image, what other indirect references to the practice of slavery are included in the cartoon?
    Students may make several connections here. However, the most important reference comes from the speaker from Alabama. He mentions that “Cotton is King.” Cotton was cultivated in Alabama and other southern states by labor of enslaved people, thus showing Alabama’s connection to the practice of slavery.
  3. Question
    Political cartoons often use sarcasm and satire to make a point. What point is the cartoonist trying to make here? Is he supportive of secession?
    The author seems to be making a point about the inherent problem of states leaving a country in order to join another one. All of the men in the image are giving their own interests as the most important, therefore possibly undermining the entire Confederacy itself. We are not fully clear if the cartoonist is supportive or not. What we can tell is that the cartoonist probably thinks the Confederacy will not last due to the division of interest among the Confederacy’s states.
  4. Question
    What does this cartoon show us about the role of slavery in the creation of the Confederacy?
    While the cartoonist points to a variety of interests that Confederate states held, it is clear that slavery played an important role in the decision to secede. This can be supported by the drawing of an enslaved person under the seat of South Carolina. South Carolina is attempting to claim a leading role in the Confederacy on the back of the slave trade. Alabama also points to King Cotton as a primary motivation, which is an allusion to the importance of enslaved persons' labor in the creation of cotton as a cash crop in the South.
Reveal Answers
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