In his 1865 image titled "Emancipation," Thomas Nast celebrates the emancipation of southern slaves with the end of the Civil War by contrasting a life of suffering and pain before the conflict with a life of optimism and freedom afterwards. The central scene shows the interior of a freedman's home with the family gathered around a "Union" wood stove. The father bounces his small child on his knee while his wife and others look on. Below this scene is an oval portrait of President Abraham Lincoln and above it, Thomas Crawford's statue of "Freedom." On either side of the central picture are scenes contrasting African-American life in the South under the Confederacy (left) with visions of the freedman's life after the war (right). Fugitive slaves, located on the top left, are hunted down in a coastal swamp. Below, a African-American man is sold, apart from his wife and children, on a public auction block. At the bottom, an African-American woman is flogged and a male slave is branded. Above, two hags, one holding the three-headed hellhound Cerberus, preside over these scenes, and flee from the gleaming apparition of Freedom. In contrast, on the right, a woman with an olive branch and scales of justice stands triumphant. Here, a freedman's cottage can be seen in a peaceful landscape. Below, a black mother sends her children off to "Public School." At bottom a free Negro receives his pay from a cashier. Two smaller scenes flank Lincoln's portrait. In one a mounted overseer flogs a black field slave (left); in the other a foreman politely greets Negro cotton-field workers.
- According to the artist, what rights should emancipation ideally bring to previously enslaved people?
- In general, how would you characterize the artist's attitude about the future of former slaves? Provide the evidence from the image that led you to make this characterization.
- How did the artist structure his image to celebrate emancipation and share his vision for a vision free of slavery?
Nast, Thomas, "Emancipation / Th. Nast ; King & Baird, printers, 607 Sansom Street, Philadelphia," 1865. Courtesy of Library of Congress