Harpers Weekly
The Chinese Question
“Hands off, Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”

Cartoon by Thomas Nast from
February 18, 1871,

The Chinese Question
“Hands off, Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”

New York Times source:

The Harper’s Weekly article dismissed the purported “Chinese invasion” as “altogether mythical,” and argued that most Americans “still adhere to the old Revolutionary doctrine that all men are free and equal before the law, and possess certain inalienable rights …” That sentiment is reflected in Nast’s cartoon, where Columbia, the feminine symbol of the United States, shields the dejected Chinese man against a gang of thugs, whom she emphatically reminds that “America means fair play for all men.”

The armed mob includes stereotypes of an Irish American (second from right), perhaps a German American (on the far right), and a “shoulder-hitter” (far left), who enforced the will of urban politicians (like Tweed) with threats or acts of violence. The imagery in the back alludes to the Civil War draft riots of 1863, during which angry, largely Irish American, mobs in New York City protested the Union draft and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by burning the Colored Orphan Asylum and lynching blacks. For years after, Nast incorporated those images into his cartoons as symbols of the alleged Irish-American and Democratic penchant for violence and mob rule.

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