Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

Looking to Buy Tickets & Gifts or Book a Vacation? Click Here

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

Primary Source of the Month

'Worse Than Slavery' editorial cartoon

Thomas Nast. "The Union as it was / The Lost Cause, worse than slavery."
Harper's Weekly, v. 18, no. 930 (24 Oct 1874), p. 878.
The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-128619.

After the Civil War, Reconstruction aimed to reunite the nation. However, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the White League resisted Reconstruction and terrorized African Americans in the South. In this editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast, a man labeled "White League" is shaking hands with Ku Klux Klan member over shield illustrated with African American couple with a (possibly dead) baby. In background, a man is hanging from tree, suggesting he has been lynched. A sign labeled "School House" is surrounded by fire, and a child's book is laying open on the ground. The Eagle above the scene reads: "The Union as It Was. This is a White Man's Government." The text over the handshake reads "The Lost Cause." The skull-and-crossbones on the shield says "Worse than Slavery."

Though institutional slavery had been dismantled, the struggles of African Americans were far from over. Discrimination, intimidation, and violence against African Americans was common in many parts of the country, especially in the South, where groups like those depicted here not only used political influence to curtail the rights of African Americans but also intimidation, arson, and lynching. Meanwhile, state and local governments made laws designed to circumvent the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, setting up poll taxes, literacy tests, and segregation laws. Here, Nast is making an emotionally-charged statement about the state of the nation—that the environment created by racist groups has made the African American experience during Reconstruction worse than slavery.