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Berge’s Cartoon: Lenin and Wilson

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This week, the Graphical History Tour will pause to commemorate Vladimir Illyich Lenin’s and Thomas Woodrow Wilson’s 100th birthdays.

“Lenin †” by Ernst Schilling in Simplicissimus, Munich, Feb. 11, 1924

Vladimir Ilych Lenin (deadname Ulyanov) died on January 21, 1924, nine months after suffering a stroke — his third — that left him partly paralyzed and unable to speak.

“The Inexorable law He Could Not Defy”, by Sam Armstrong Tacoma News-Tribune, Jan. 24, 1924

The death of neither man was a surprise to the world. Lenin considered suicide even before he suffered his first stroke in 1922. Wilson spent the final year of his presidency as an invalid.

Edward Gale, “The Headless Horseman”, in Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29, 1924

But neither man had adequately ready his country for a successor. Wilson (or Mrs. Wilson at least) entertained the idea that he could still run for a third time as President of the United States, despite being bedridden. Lenin, for his part, didn’t trust his fellow Bolsheviks to the point that he would give them his blessing. He effectively undermined all of the more promising presidential candidates.

“Jettisoned”, Albert T. Reid’s Bell Syndicate for Jan. 30,1924

He felt that Josef Stalin wasn’t the best leader for Russia, but he was unaware of Stalin’s actions behind the scenes in order to boost his own position within party. Leon Trotsky, whom Lenin regarded off and on as perhaps the best choice for Russia’s future, was convalescing in the Caucasus and missed Lenin’s funeral — later alleging that Stalin had sent him the wrong date.

“Changed only in name” by Fred Morgan Philadelphia Inquirer Jan. 30, 1924

Other possible successors were then obscure trivia. The Communist International’s chairman, Grigory Zinovieff, was one of the politburo member who spoke at the funeral. (He looked nothing like Fred Morgan’s drawing of him.) He and Lev Kamenev were allies with Stalin against Trotsky. They turned against Stalin two years later. He did not have a good outcome in the end.

The ancient empires had primogeniture, and the representative democracies arising from the Enlightenment held popular elections. The world awaited how the Soviet Republic would choose the next Red Father.

“Zeremoniell bei den Neuen Kroningstagen in Moskau” by Arthur Johnson in Kladderadatsch, Berlin, February 24,1924

Woodrow Wilson died 100 years ago, two weeks after Lenin.

“His Eternal resting place” by Roy James St. Louis Star Feb. 4, 1924

Roy James delivers a tepid and neutral eulogy of the former president. Although he wasn’t alone, the majority of editorial cartoonists expressed gratitude to a man who was unable to keep us “out of war” but led us successfully through this war once we got there. And left the nation much better off than the countries that had been fighting the war for years before our soldiers arrived Over There.

“Unsying Fire”, by Nelson Harding Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1924

“Among Presidents Woodrow Wilson has achieved a supreme distinction. It is true that Woodrow Wilson, at the height his power, dominated the world’s affairs and the world’s thought, just as Stanton had said about the murdered Lincoln. In its moral and material aspects, the crisis that he faced was the gravest that civilization had ever faced. However, he died before his work to address it could be fully measured. — Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1924

“His work shall be finished” by J.P. Alley Memphis Commercial Appeal Feb. 6, 1924

Harding and Alley are generally considered to be sympathetic to the Democratic Party. Their cartoons show admiration for Wilson’s ideals, especially his commitment to creating an international forum in order to maintain world peace. 

“Woodrow Wilson”, by Arthur G. Racey Montreal Star Feb. 5, 1924

A.G. Racey was a Canadian cartoonist who was concerned about Wilson’s intentions, despite the fact that Wilson’s League of Nations had already proven to be ineffective. His Clio was titled “He who activated with a noble purpose and high resolve.” He worked for peace.”

“We Mourn the Death of a Truly Grand Leader” by Harold Wahl Sacramento Bee, Feb. 4, 1924

Harold Wahl’s tribute cartoon to Warren Harding stated that the late Republican “had the respect and love of both enemies as well as friends.” From today’s viewpoint, his eulogy of Wilson is equally exaggerated.

But death will make you do it. Just weeks earlier, Wahl drew a cartoon with an accurate assessment of Wilson’s postwar legacy.

“As Simple as A Mother Good Rhyme” written by Harold Wahl Sacramento Bee, Jan. 29, 1924

I want to make the point that, despite their political differences, Americans have generally put them aside when they hear the Grim Reaper’s voice. Here are two editorial cartoons by cartoonists whose Republican Party credentials were undeniable.

Carey Orr’s “The Chief joins his Legions” is available in Chicago Tribune Feb. 4, 1924

I can think of a number of my colleagues that will have a hard time drawing anything nice when Jimmy Carter and Joe Biden get called Up Yonder. I cannot imagine drawing a cartoon that is respectful when Donald Trump becomes extinct.

J.N. “That Peace which in Life was denied him” “Ding Darling” in Des Moines Register, Feb. 4, 1924

I’ll note that, despite his Republican tendencies, “Ding Darling”, Wilson’s designs of a League of Nations in order to achieve world peace were approved by him. Peace must now mourn his death. Are Death, War, and Hatred retreating to the heavens or are they allowed to roam freely throughout the cosmos.

Wilson’s image has declined significantly in recent years. It’s true that Wilson held racist views and opposed women suffrage up until it was no longer politically viable. You won’t find any cartoons from 100 years ago criticizing him after his death.

If you don’t look at some of the satirical German magazine.

“Wilson vor seinem Richter” by Theodor Th. Heine in Simplicissimus, Munich, Feb. 18, 1924

To find a cartoon criticizing Wilson’s legacy we must look to Germany. This cartoon shows Wilson standing before the devil, with the Fourteen Points of Wilson as evidence against him. 

In the same week that Wilson died, French government officials leaked a “yellow” paper that claimed that Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French President Georges Clemenceau had secretly agreed to France’s occupation of the Ruhr. Clemenceau and Lloyd George were both out of power at this point, but they denounced the allegation. Lloyd George stated that he had not been in Paris when the alleged pact took place; Clemenceau declared that there was no such pact.

“La recherche de la paternité est interdite” by Oskar Theuer in Ulk, Berlin, Feb. 29, 1924

Wilson appears as a draped portrait in Theuer’s comic strip, above portraits Clemenceau, and the former Italian Prime Minister Antonio Salandra whose government brought Italy into World War I.

Here’s an aside: I’ve translated the “Sieges-RauschI would say that the cartoon is a loose translation of “rush of victories,” but I believe I’m getting the gist. rausch can indicate euphoria or intoxication. The French “interdite” can also mean dumbfounded rather than “forbidden”. If you see this word on a sign assume that the sign is ordering you to not do whatever verb is next to it.

“Monuments of History”, by Carey Orr Chicago Tribune  Feb. 5, 1924

Orr didn’t cite his poem. I can’t find it on the internet. Either the poem was so popular that citations were not necessary, or Orr made it up. You can decide whether time has made Wilson’s boulder larger or smaller.

Unfortunately, I do not have any examples of editorial cartoons in the Black American or suffragette press to share with you today. Instead, I’ll close with an editorial assessment of Wilson’s legacy in a Black American paper:

“Woodrow Wilson could have been called the President of Humanity if he had been able to live up to his letter to Bishop Alexander Walters that he wrote before he was elevated to the presidency. But his southern antecedents were too strong. Unfortunately, some of the evils resulting from these connections were passed down to the Republican administration as a legacy. They still exist today. —The New York Age February 16, 1924


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