Cartoon: 1874 Arkansas Politics, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

summers_ordeal[This article is crossposted from]

Here’s the latest in a series of political cartoons from historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. 

Today’s feature: the messy politics of Reconstruction-era Arkansas. (Click image for full size.)

1980 MWS, Arkansas politics is to politics like

“1874 Arkansas Politics Is to Politics What Jackson Pollock Is to Portrait Painting.” Arkansas politics had always had the rest of the country bafflingly confused. By 1874, it made no sense to anyone outside the state. The regular Republican faction, known as the Minstrels, had run a wartime Unionist, Elisha Baxter for governor; Democrats had adopted a dissident radical Republican, Joseph Brooks, as their candidate. In November, the voters did not make the result; the vote-counters did. Backed by the legislature and the courts, Minstrels declared Baxter elected. Little did they realize that he would sell them out (but then, little did Baxter realize that eventually the Democrats would sell him out, too!). When Baxter’s apostasy became clear, Minstrel leaders had the state supreme court declare Brooks the winner after all. With a militia at his back, Brooks—now backed by most Republicans—overthrew Baxter—now backed by most Democrats. The brief civil war that followed, the Brooks-Baxter War, ended in the president throwing his weight on Baxter’s side, dooming Reconstruction in Arkansas. By the time the president had unscrambled who was on whose side and decided that Brooks may have been elected after all, it was too late to do anything about it.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.