Abraham Lincoln as the
"Federal Phoenix" rising from the fire
of the American Constitution (1864)
John Tenniel, "The Federal Phoenix", Punch,
Volume 47, December 3, 1864.
Allan T. Kohl, Minneapolis College of Art & Design. <http://www.arthist.umn.edu/aict/Tennielweb/punch/641203.html>.
From "The Federal Phoenix,"
Punch, Volume 47, December 3, 1864, p. 229.
This week is the 150th anniversary of the start
of the American "Civil War" or "War for Southern Independence" depending
on one's political point of view. The image above is by the British cartoonist
and illustrator John Tenniel (1820-1914) which appeared in the December 1864
issue of the satirical magazine Punch. Lincoln had recently won
a hotly contested presidential election against his Democratic opponent George
McClellan. To Tenniel and his English readers it seemed that Lincoln and
the Republican Party had "risen from the ashes" of defeat like
the proverbial phoenix. A rather stern and arrogant looking Lincoln is unfurling
his political wings ready for another 4 years in office. At the end of its
lifespan the phoenix is consumed by fire and emerges anew (or resurrected)
for another long cycle of life. In this picture the fire which consumes the
old phoenix and readies it for another life are logs with the names "Commerce," "United
States Constitution," "Free Press," "Credit," "Habeus
Corpus," and "States Rights." Tenniel (along with many contemporary
American critics of Lincoln) thought that the American Republic itself had
been consumed by the fire of civil war which had brought about press censorship,
the imprisonment of critics, the suspension of habeas corpus rights, the
imposition of the income tax, and other measures.
British and American classical liberals and constitutionalists were split
over the issue of the secession of the southern states and the "Civil
Those in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson thought that the original compact
between the states to form the union was a voluntary and mutual one and that
if any state or group of states wished to leave that compact they were free
to do so. Free traders, especially in Britain, supported the free trade South
over the protectionist North, although both Richard Cobden and John Stuart
Mill thought that this argument was exaggerated. Others saw the struggle
as one between a rising mercantilist North which wanted to raise tariffs
and impose a Hamiltonian "American System"
of government funded internal public works on an unwilling South. Those opposed
to slavery saw the war
as a "clash of civilisations" between a "free labor" industrialising
North against a slave-owning agricultural South. Others still, worried that
the means chosen to fight the war, whatever the merits of doing so, violated
important provisions of the constitution (as suggested by Tenniel's cartoon)
which did not bode well for the growth of the state and the condition of
liberty after the war.