Commentary: Amphitheatrum Johnsonian Massacre of the Innocents at
New Orleans July 30, 1866 This is one of the most important cartoons that Thomas Nast ever
drew. He probably was influenced by Jean-Léon Gérômes 1859 painting "Ave
Caesar" (now in the Yale University Art Gallery).
Andrew Johnson is shown as a Roman
emperor impassively observing Mayor John Monroe (on the horse) leading the charge of his
police against the black freedmen. Secretary of State William H. Seward leans over him,
while Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles leans over the rail. The man in the Roman helmet
and armor is General George Armstrong Custer, who accompanied Johnson on his "Swing
Round the Circle" and at least once hurled invectives at hecklers. * 1868 Democratic
presidential candidate Horatio Seymour is peering between the wall and the post at the top
General Ulysses Grant is at the
lower left, staying the sword of General Phil Sheridan, Military Commander of New Orleans.
Sheridan was away from the city on the day of the riot. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
is over Grant.
Other government figures include
Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch (over Sheridan); Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the
House and Grants Vice President from 1868-72 (over McCulloch); Senator James
Doolittle of Wisconsin, a strong Johnson supporter (to the right of McCulloch); and
Postmaster General Alexander Randall (right of Doolittle). Governor James Orr of South
Carolina and General Darius Crouch of Massachusetts (in Orrs lap) are below Johnson;
their arm-in-arm entry into the Johnson-supported National Union Convention in
Philadelphia in August 1866 represented North-South reconciliation and "filled the
hall with tears of joy."
Nast probably drew this picture in
1866, but saved it for an appropriate time; that turned out to be the March release of the
report from the Congressional Investigating Committee. Within a week of its appearance on
March 20, 1867, General Sheridan removed Mayor Monroe, Louisiana Attorney General Andrew
J. Herron and Judge Edwin Abell from office.
* Thanks to Professor Gregory Urwin of the
University of Central Arkansas for Custers identification.