Cartoon: John B. Gordon Takes Umbrage and Crisp Twenties, by Mark Wahlgren Summers

summers_ordeal[This article is crossposted at]

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 cartoon: duplicitous politicians fight (and feed) corruption. (Click image for full size.)

gambling gordon“Conservative John B. Gordon, in Rufus Bullock’s Railroad Aid Casino, Takes Umbrage and Crisp Twenties.” White conservatives raged against the stealing and financial waste in Republican programs to help build railroads across the South. They were right in some cases. In Georgia, Governor Rufus B. Bullock’s government was particularly lavish in promising subsidies to projected lines—though promises outran performance and some of the most controversial grants were scaled down or repudiated when Democrats came to power. What Democrats didn’t say was that the beneficiaries of that aid were nearly all businessmen in their own party. Some of their top politicians had cozy, even corrupt relationships with some of the foremost railroad corporations in the country. One of those was former Confederate general and future U. S. Senator John B. Gordon, whose services to California’s railroad barons were of the most intimate and dubious kind. But then, Georgia was no different than elsewhere. Former Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest, head of the Ku Klux Klan, was deeply involved in railroad-building schemes dependent on bonds guaranteed by Republican authorities in Alabama, and among those protesting corruption loudest in South Carolina were conservatives of property and standing who shared in the take.

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.